Learning to ski at 30
The most astonishing fact about skiing is how much I’ve come to love it. I went snowboarding a few times as a teen, but all I remember was the paralyzing anxiety of trying not to fall down while exiting a ski lift and spending more time eating snow rather than riding it. Eventually, I bitterly decided winter sports were not for me. It was cold, painful, expensive, and I obviously sucked. What was there to like?
So for all of my 20’s, I avoided ski resorts. I buttressed my shitty snowboarding skills with stereotypes of winter sports being a luxury hobby for wealthy Americans. Skiing was like golf; a sport reserved for country club members. Even when I could’ve afforded the membership, I had already drawn boundaries around what i valued and enjoyed. It felt righteous and strangely comforting to turn down ski trip invites from friends. My self-appointed status as an outsider was a sign that I knew who I was and what I believed in. I was on the path to becoming a bonafide adult.
A little more than a year ago, my partner Michael gifted me ski lessons at Mammoth Mountain. It was pitched as a way to expand our mountaineering adventures (how cool would it be to ski instead of snowshoe down a mountain?) so I hesitatingly gave it a try. I was still cold, awkward, slipping all over the slopes, but for the first time I felt the exhilarating breeze and tinge of empowerment that comes from gliding down a snowy hill. Skiing, as it turns out, was awesome, and like that, I changed.
It wasn’t just the thrill of skiing downhill that affected me, but also the rare and wild places skiing enabled me to see. In the backcountry, I've skinned next to coyote tracks for miles only to accidentally surprise their creator. I’ve stood on top of mountains feeling spectacularly small, and haphazardly skied down them grinning like a toddler. For years, I believed I wasn’t one of “them,” as if the label meant anything in nature, but all I did was internalize stories of what I could and couldn’t do.
Skiing is still hard. I’ve tweaked my right knee and I’ve fell hard and fast enough to leave purple, palm-sized bruises on my legs, but becoming a better skier has, quite literally, expanded my world. I now question the stories I tell myself; the surreptitious claims we make and maintain for one another. If skiing is just one of the many things that have altered my worldview, I can’t help but wonder, what are the others?