Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ski lessons and life training

We had lived in Colorado for two winters when my husband insisted that no one could live there and not try downhill skiing. So two weeks of lessons later I found myself in line with the class, which was taught by a very funny old guy from some place like Czechoslovakia, at the bottom of the Broadmoor lift. Everyone else had hopped on, ridden up, and promptly fallen getting off at the top of the bunny section. I stayed where I was; after all we were supposed to buddy-up and there were 13 in the class.

The instructor, who had been watching the others make their way down and giving them prompts for the next run, sidled over and said “come on, I’ll be your buddy.” “Uh uh.” I wasn’t moving. Nothing daunted he puts both poles in my left hand, grabs my left elbow and drags me through the empty lift line. Somehow he gets us successfully onto the lift. He’s shouting down to the students on the slope and waving while I hang onto the chair for dear life.

The first level is coming up quickly. I decide to ride the whole loop back to the starting point. The instructor has a different idea. “Here’s the plan,” he announced. Obviously we have different plans. “Those poles need to go in the other hand now,” as he takes them out of the left and pushes them toward the right. “Let go of the chair and take the poles.” He has commandeered the left arm so the right hand has to let go and take them.

Meanwhile, as I watch the ramp draw closer and closer, my head starts to shaking “no.” The instructor speaks into my left ear, “we are skiing off this lift and we are staying on our feet. I have been a ski instructor since I was 18 years old and none of my students has failed to become a skier; you are not breaking my record today.”

I cast him a skeptical sidelong glance.

“When your butt leaves the chair get your weight over the tips of your skis like I taught you.”

My stomach is doing flip flops.

“Okay, tips up, skis together. Wait… Wait… Now, push off.”

It wasn’t pretty but somehow we did make it off the lift and down the ramp on our feet; and didn’t lose anything vital in the process. When we came to a stop he turns and shakes my shoulders “see you did it. Didn’t I tell you you would not end up on your butt?” Well, okay he did and I wasn’t; so I was done right. Not quite I still had to get to the bottom of the hill again.

Before he moved on to help another student he pointed out the edge of the snowpack where the racing trainees had not worn it to a sheet of ice. “Stay over here, hold your snowplow and keep your weight over your tips to control your speed. Then do it again so I can watch you do it on your own.” I consider objecting but quickly realize that I can’t win that argument. So down the slope I crawl, link up with another student waiting at the lift for a buddy and hop back on the lift.

The view is supposed to be breathtaking from the lift. However, I am too busy reviewing everything I have to do to get off the lift without breaking either my body or my dignity. My chair mate is yakking nonstop the whole way up and requires no input from me other than the occasional “uh huh.”

As we leave the chair her left foot goes sideways throwing her body into my path. I can’t steer, don’t know how, but the voice in my head is commanding “weight over the tips.” Somehow she corrects to the left and I pass her without incident. At the bottom of the off ramp we stare wide-eyed at each other and then start laughing with relief realizing the near-disaster we had just avoided. We hug wordlessly and move to make our separate ways down the slope.

By the time I got back to the bottom this time, my blood was rushing. I could do it. Other, more experience skiers, or at least snobbier skiers, might not think I could do it at all. But skirting with disaster successfully was an empowering moment. Risk isn’t necessarily a comfortable prospect but it doesn’t have to portend failure because sometimes the outcome is success which can be scary in its own right.

Unfortunately the lessons associated with risk-taking aren’t well-remembered and have to be relearned over and over. Over the years my knees have decided they prefer to no longer be subjected to the strain of downhill skiing and would rather do the low-impact workout of cross-country skiing. But skiing is not the only situation where I can make a choice to take risks.

Some risk choices like whether or not to continue to ski have limited risks and most are fixed anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks (if you break a bone). But other risk choices are more long reaching like choosing how and where I situate my writing life which can determine how long I can afford to do the writing or affect the lifestyle I can afford to live as a writer.

Note: This is not the story I started to write today; and it’s Birdie Jaworski’s fault.
Birdie's outline on Three Lists of Three, it's at the end of her story.

This post has been edited.

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1 comment:

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

That's pretty much how I learned to ski too. I used to purposely fall off the chair lift so that I could control how fast I started heading down hill. Clumsy but effective.

As for the writing risk, just like the skiing risk, I find it works best for me when I don't look too far ahead but just keep your eyes on the next doable section.