Posts Tagged: Learning to Ski



A Confession: I Hate(d) Skiing

No, that isn't me. Image by flickr user jennoit.

Ostensibly, I’m supposed to be something of a specialist in the (cough) art and science of using ski lifts as mass public transit.

Would it surprise you, then, to learn that for the vast majority of my life I hated skiing? Seriously. It terrified me. If I’m honest with myself, it still kinda’ does.

People who know me well know that I’m a bit of a klutz. I accidentally injure myself frequently enough that it ain’t no thing. As a child, I was in and out of the emergency room so often, they might has well have named a ward after me.

So frequent and regular were my trips to the ER that during one visit, the doctors and nurses escorted my mother out of the suture room so they could ask me out of earshot if she beat me and if they should call someone to help.

And before you ask, no, that wasn’t a joke. That happened.

So you can imagine how excited I was when at the tender age of 9 my cousins announced their desire to take me skiing at their local hill. Thrilled, I was. I made sure my mother had the paramedics waiting on stand-by.

Don’t ask me what the name of the hill was because I can’t remember. But what I do remember is that it was a hill – not a mountain. The Netherlands is hillier than this place. This hill was so (to use the kindest word possible) modest that it didn’t even have a need for chair lifts. Simple platter pulls were enough to service the entire place. At the time I was certain that even I could handle this.

How wrong I was.

The skiing itself wasn’t the problem. I was uncoordinated and generally pretty awkward but I could get down the hill without incident and rather enjoyed the experience. Getting up the hill was an entirely different story.

You wouldn’t think that the lift would be the hardest part of a skiers’ journey, but for me it was.

For those who don’t know, a platter pull is nothing more than a wobbly, spinning disc you tuck between your legs and let pull you up the hill. It is a remarkably simple invention which a three-quarters-drunk chimpanzee could master in under four seconds. I mean, you don’t even have to leave the ground! You’re literally just being dragged up a hill! But for my 9 year old self, the platter pull was a complete enigma.

Something about sitting instead of leaning or whatever but I just could not for the life of me figure out how to sit my butt down on that stupid piece of plastic and enjoy the ride. Instead I’d trip, fall over, get generally all tangled up and find myself face-first down in a snow drift. And it happened constantly.

My most common memory of that day therefore had nothing to do with skiing. All I truly remember is having my snowsuit-clad body dragged repeatedly out of a snowbank by an irritated lift attendant while being gawked at by snow-and-spittle-faced pre-teens annoyed by my incompetence causing the stoppage of the entire lift until I was rescued and propped back up on a device I was certain to fall off of again. That’s right. My clumsy foolishness wasn’t just a detriment to me. No, I was ruining the fun for everyone. Not just me and my family, but strangers too. They knew it and I knew it.

As the sun set and the night skiing lights flickered to life, I retired to the lodge, returned my rented gear and proclaimed the drinking of hot cocoa to be a far superior sport than the carving of fresh powder. At least there – mittens safety-pinned and dangling from my jacket sleeves – I was unlikely to disturb or bother anyone else. And no one’s ever objected to the intoxicating smell of warm milk and chocolate.

I literally never skied again.

For over 20 years since, whenever I was presented with the chance to ski, I made up all kinds of excuses to avoid it. They weren’t excuses, of course. They were lies. But that was just semantics.

I’d say I didn’t know how to ski because I lived in an area without skiing. That was a lie.

Toronto has several ski areas within two hours’ drive. Are they great ski areas? No. But they’ll do in a pinch.

I’d say I didn’t have the money to go on class ski trips with my friends. That was a lie, too.

I’d been working part-time jobs since before I was legally allowed to do so. If I wanted to, I could forego the latest instalment of Sonic the Hedgehog or the new Batman movie and find the cash to hit the slopes with friends. And if I couldn’t find the money, my folks would’ve found a way to make it work if only to get me outside and moving.

Or I’d say I didn’t have the time. Lie! Lie! Liar!

I don’t even have to explain this one because we all know it so well. We all say this because it’s so convenient and believable but we all know it’s false. If I wanted to I could’ve turned off the reruns of Family Ties, got outside and made the time.

Eventually I stopped with the excuses altogether. They were inconvenient and laborious. When one needs to explain a philosophical stance, the argument’s already lost. Instead, I needed something simpler. I needed to stop explaining and simply state unequivocally why skiing was wrong.

So I simply crafted a line against the sport itself.

Whenever anyone asked about skiing, I’d simply scoff and state that “nailing oneself to a plank of wood and jumping off a cliff isn’t a sport – it’s suicide.” I used that line repeatedly because it worked to end any questions full stop. It was the ultimate defence. I’d reframed the question entirely. The problem wasn’t with me; it was with the skiers and their stupid, dangerous, irresponsible hobby.

And now today I’m known as the guy who says you can use ski lifts as public transit. Fate, it seems, has a particular fondness for irony and hypocrisy.

But as a result of my work (and my engagement to an avid skier) I decided a few years back to finally man-up and learn to ski. My return to the slopes was in the Swiss Alps with my fiancé and closest friend. And on that day the bunny hill was closed. . . due to avalanche.

Right. So that’s how they roll here, I thought. They put the children in the shadows of avalanches. These guys don’t play. That’s when I began to long for that little useless hill back home in Ontario.

But still I sucked it up and went to where the grown-ups go, but I didn’t like it. I protested. I sulked. I swore and cursed and said things that will prevent me from ever being accepted into any major or minor religion ever again. I probably (definitely) even cried a little bit. The entire experience was humiliating, terrifying and miserable. I fell and I fell and I fell some more. To put it in perspective: The first trip down the hill took 90 minutes.

But the second time took only 15. And – praise be to God – there were no lift incidents.

Over the last few years I’ve gotten better. I now ski regularly. Poorly, mind you, but regularly. And get this:  I love it.

It still terrifies me on a regular basis, but I’ve gotten used to that. A colleague of mine – sympathetic to the idea of a ski lift specialist who can’t ski – taught me that the way to ski without fear is to tune out the terror by singing Neil Diamond songs to yourself.

No one can be afraid when they’re listening to Neil Diamond. That’s her theory at least – and it’s a one I happen to know from personal experience is right.

Learning to ski in your thirties isn’t a thing I’d recommend to anyone. It’s awful. Everything in your body and mind resists it. You fear embarrassment, you fear failure and you fear incompetence. You watch the six-year-old girls and the sixty-year-old men whooshing past you and all you feel is how unbelievably far behind the pack you really are. You’re a grown man whose competent at things – lot’s of things! – but you’re no good at this one thing and you hate it because of that. You hate the fact that in order for you to actually enjoy this thing, you’re going to have to suffer and spend far more time than you’d like looking like a complete and total idiot. Your mind rebels against the entire experience with almost violent psychology.

Oh, and your body will bruise and ache more than you can possibly imagine.

But you get over it.

For me the most important lesson in all this has been that you have to get over it. Fear, shame and embarrassment only get in the way of doing the things you want and need to do. That may be the tritest thing I’ve ever written, but it’s true. I’d allowed my embarrassment of (barely) falling from a lift when I was 9 years old dictate my entire philosophy towards winter sports right through into adulthood. That was stupid and juvenile and I wish I’d never given into that fear. But I got over it.

So now I’m writing this from the reception area of my physiotherapist – waiting to get treated for a ski accident.

A couple of months back I took a fall that messed up my right shoulder pretty bad. Not bad enough to be permanent, but bad enough to warrant mentioning. I was riding one of my first black diamond hills and I hit a bad patch of snow on a ninety-degree turn I had no reasonable hope of making. I’d never fallen so hard in my life.

When I went to the hospital for treatment, literally every patient in the room was getting treated for ski injuries – and the first thing out of the doctor’s mouth upon seeing me was “Welcome to Switzerland.” That sort of goes to demonstrate my point about this not being the safest sport in the world, but I digress.

I did some damage to the ligaments and rotator cuff and the doctors say it will still take several months to heal properly – but it’s a common enough injury that I needn’t worry about. And strangely I don’t.

Sure my shoulder still hurts and it sometimes makes working hard. Admittedly, I don’t do my physio exercises as often as I should. But the therapist is kind enough to pretend that I do. So at the end of the day, it’s getting better. It’s all good.

And all I really care about is if it will be better in time for next year’s ski season.

Thanks, Neil . . .

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