In the spirit of trying to Carpe Diem and checking things off a bucket list, I visited the Grand Tetons last month. Along with the visiting, I did the skiing. Or rather, I tried.
For a year and a half now I’ve been working out like I never have in my life. My arms are strong, my legs are stronger, my core is the strongest it’s ever been. Knowing that I was going to try skiing for the first time in my life, I spent the weeks leading up to the trip focusing on my lower body with the idea that skiing is a lot of quads and hamstrings; basically, a continual crouch while shushing down the side of a mountain. To prepare, I did ten thousand goblet squats, two million squat jumps, infinite regular squats. I squatted on the Bosu (unstable, half-ball thing), I squatted in between sprints on the treadmill, I squatted with my back pressed against a wall.
I turned the resistance on the stationary bike up to 11 and climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest 1,000 times as I fantasized about gracefully winding my way down a snowy slope, coming to a complete stop at the bottom of the hill in a wide arc and pausing to shake the snowflakes out of my long hair releasing them into the wintry sun, a glittering, frozen aura surrounding me as a result. Oh, fantasy. You are so funny! 😦
I showed up for my three hour lesson dressed for the 23 degree weather on a beautiful sunny day. Patagonia set me up to be prepared for anything; their long underwear is MAGIC, my bright blue Snowbelle jacket was warm and flexible (this is not a commercial, I’m just saying their products are excellent. Extreme cold is totally do-able if you have the right gear). Super cute, overall snow pants that were on sale for nothing at Big 5 completed my ensemble. I was prepared and ready!
Two women in their 20s were my lesson-mates that afternoon. Both had never skied before either, so we were in good company. I high-fived them and said “We can do this!”. I was excited and nervous. The instructor turned out to be a crusty ski dude who paused a little too long before saying hello to us when he was informed that he was to instruct the ski virgins. He looked like he wanted to be in front of a fire with a stein of dark German beer, binge watching Breaking Bad, not escorting three nervous women to watch them hack their way down a bunny slope. His nordic (?) accent made it difficult to understand him and his brusqueness took away some of my good-cheer. My wide, open-mouthed grin drooped to more of a frozen gape.
I’m going to make this long story short(er): my classmate in the red snowboarding pants and black top, quickly became teacher’s pet. She was a natural. She never fell, she wasn’t stiff, she stood upright and let her lower body do all the work. The crusty Swede(?) focused on her.
My other classmate, while more timid in her approach, mastered the herringbone walk thing and was able to arc to a stop at the bottom of the rise.
Then there was me. Let’s just say, I WAS NOT A NATURAL. I fell. Quite a few times. I tripped over myself and fell, I skidded to a stop and then fell, I fell for no apparent reason. The worst part was, though, that I couldn’t get up. Even when Bad Santa held my hand and pulled with all his might, I could not get up. He shouted something like, “Roll over… your right knee..push your left ski pole and…” ???? What??? What was he even saying? I rolled and pushed and could not get up. Each time.
It was as if my muscles were lead and the earth had suddenly upped its magnetic pull. The other two students stood over me looking embarrassed and, I’m sure, secretly thrilled it was not them floundering in the snow; a red-faced, dead weight that even Old Man Skier couldn’t lift.
My quads failed me, my upper body failed me, my core failed me. It quickly became apparent, as I sat in the snow in my thankfully waterproof pants, totally exhausted watching Krampus carry on down the slope with his protegee’s, that it was actually my lungs that were failing me. I couldn’t breathe. Training so hard at sea level, didn’t do anything to prepare me for extreme physical exertion at 7,000-ish feet. My muscles and my brain were not getting enough oxygen. The altitude was taking me down. I would say that it was a classic Bridget Jones afternoon, BUT EVEN BRIDGET JONES SKIS BETTER THAN ME.
I made a conscious decision not to lie down in the snow and cry.
It’s just that I have worked so hard to be strong and in the process I’ve loved revisiting the inner competitive athlete that lives in me; the athlete that likes to be the best, to be perfect, and to win, which is self-defeating in cases like this. Faced with not winning and the absolute zero level of perfection in a new sport, the defeat hit me hard.
Only 1 hour and 50 minutes into my three hour lesson, I raised a ski pole in farewell to my classmates, gathered up my skis and headed for the gondola that would take me back down to the base of the mountain. In the silence of the gondola, with an expansive view of snowy Jackson Hole spread out before me, I lost the urge to cry.
I sucked at my first day of skiing. So what? Most people probably do. I spent the whole day OUTSIDE in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and found the courage to try something new. I also discovered that I WANT TO TRY IT AGAIN before the winter is over. There’s that saying that “Perfect is the Enemy of Great”. Perfection is such a roadblock to doing anything at all, at least it is for me. So, while my skiing wasn’t perfect, maybe it was great?
Ok, no. It just sucked. Honestly, I can’t even say it was fun. But what was great was that I did it. And I’m still strong, I just didn’t win the blue ribbon for skiing or even get to make an “S” pattern down a medium slope. Maybe next time. I’m now on the hunt for sea level ski resorts. Haha.
Carry on, athletes.