Shouldn’t We Start On the Bunny Hill?

The day after my sister’s wedding was the first time I was able to try out my newly purchased ski equipment. A friend’s dad, who had been skiing for most of his life, had offered to teach me the basics. I had gladly accepted the offer because the only other time I had been skiing had not gone as smoothly as I would have liked. A few years ago some of my sister’s friends from Connecticut were visiting our house and thought that it would be fun to all go to a nearby ski resort for the day. My sister had begged me to go along since she had never been skiing before and didn’t want to be the only one to look like a fool. I agreed to join them (mostly because my sister had offered to pay for my lift ticket and ski rental). Since skiing wasn’t exactly a regular occurrence, I didn’t have any proper ski clothes, so I chose to wear my dull, brown Carhart coat and Wrangler blue jeans. I looked like a farmer boy and felt like an idiot, but I told myself that other people there would be wearing work clothes. They weren’t. Once we were at the ski resort I rode to the top of the hill with my sister’s friend and she spent a total of ten minutes explaining what snowplowing was (in case you have never been skiing, snowplowing is when you make a large V with your skis to keep yourself from going too fast). After the much too short lesson, she said, “Good luck” and whizzed down the hill and out of sight. The rest of the day was spent sometimes standing and skiing, but most of the time making my way down the hill on my side. Thankfully, my barn coat stood out against the white backdrop, so I didn’t get run over as I reverse army crawled down the hill. Thoughts of my past ski experience disaster dominated my mind as we drove to the ski resort.

All too soon we arrived at our destination and my nervous feelings leapt to neurotic levels as I watched all of the people flying down the slopes at what I could only imagine were unsafe speeds. We got our lift tickets, put on our gear, and headed up the hill. On the way up I asked my teacher if we were going to start on the bunny hill. He told me that since I had been skiing once before it was unnecessary and reassured me that my skill level would be just fine for a green hill. I nervously smiled and said that it would be no problem, trying to mask the sheer terror that was sweeping through me. Along with stressing out about not using the bunny slope, I was also beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to get off the lift without a major accident occurring. Thankfully, my fears of being unable to dismount the lift were unfounded, and I successfully pushed off from the seat without falling on my face. I thought, “Wow, I am good at this; I have just gotten off the lift with no problem. I’m pretty much invincible.” The saying, “Pride comes before a fall” is quite accurate. I had little time to bask in my ski lift victory before my skis became tangled and I collided with the ground. My instructor patiently waited for me to pick myself up before starting off for the top of the green hill, which was called Northwind (I don’t know how that name is supposed to be reassuring to new skiers since the north wind seems like a violent element of nature to me). I would have quit then and there if it hadn’t been for his calm reasoning telling me that everyone falls when they start out and that it wouldn’t be too bad. Another reason that I couldn’t easily quit was that I was now at the top of a small mountain with no way to get down except by skiing.

Once I was able to get moving, I felt somewhat better about the whole experience. After a few minutes of skiing without falling, my instructor told me that I would need to turn around and ski backwards. I looked at him as if he had just told me to run to the edge of a cliff and fling myself off the edge. I forced a laugh (which sounded like something you would hear in a psychiatric facility circa 1910) and asked if he was joking. He wasn’t. He wanted me to get ski backwards in order to get a better sense of the motions involved. Not wanting to defy his instruction, I shakily turned around and slowly inched backwards down the hill. Once he deemed me capable of skiing backwards, he let me turn back around and we finished the hill facing the correct way. It took forty minutes, but we finally made it to the bottom of the hill and immediately started back up to the top. Much to my horror, he informed me that we were done with the green hill and that we would be going straight to the blue hill to continue learning. I was nervous to already be moving up a level of difficulty, but once again I decided to obey him instead of telling him no.

On the blue hill, called Mardi Gras (what a fun name to describe a hill that terrified me), we worked on sharpening my turns and building my confidence. By the time I reached the bottom I was feeling much more comfortable with my skis and was prepared to tackle the hill again. We went down Mardi Gras two more times and then switched to some hills in the back of the mountain to shake things up. As we skied down Mardi Gras for the last time before dinner I felt a rush of determination to try something a little more daring. I decided to let myself gain some speed before turning to the left on a slight incline. I felt like a boss whipping down the hill and turning sharply, feeling like nothing could stop me; until I felt myself falling. Both skis somehow detached from my feet and went flying away from me along with both ski poles. I slid on my face across the synthetic snow for a few feet before coming to a stop. It took me a minute to gather myself from the ground and begin collecting my ski equipment. Once I had reattached the skis to my feet I shakily finished the hill and headed to the lodge for dinner. It was after dinner that all of the confidence I had built earlier in the evening evaporated. My instructor sensed this (probably because I told him over and over how nervous I was to ski down the blue hill) and took me down a simple green hill to help me overcome my fear, but the confidence would not return. I was close to shaking from panic on a hill called Sugar Plum of all things. How can a hill called Sugar Plum ever scare anyone? Nevertheless, I was petrified of skiing down it. After safely making it down the treacherous Sugar Plum, we returned to our trusty blue hill, Mardi Gras, and skiid down it for a few times to rebuild the confidence I had lost. By the end of the evening most of the fear had dissipated and I felt like I could handle the hills without too much trouble.

I learned many things that night, and I have decided to share some of those nuggets with you, my readers:

1) Snowboarders truly are awful. I had heard that there was some tension between snowboarders and skiers, but I had not understood why. That changed when I actually went skiing. Snowboarders have a habit of flying by you with their gaudily colored coats, not regarding your obvious learner status. I would be happily making my way down the hill at a geriatric speed, only to have a snowboarder go off a jump right next to me, spraying snow in my face. It always startled me and many times I would come to a dead stop and wait until I was sure that no one was behind me before continuing. I can say that I have definitely joined the ranks of those skiers who resent snowboarders.

2) People who wear GoPros are in a category of their own when it comes to classifying people. I would hear someone coming up behind me on the hill and would turn around to see a red light blinking in the distance. As the person got nearer I would see that it was not a cyborg coming at me; instead, it was a person with a GoPro strapped to their helmet. Just from some casual observation, I gathered that most people using a GoPro to record their run act like they are starring in their own snow sports documentary. They would whiz down the hill as if they were Sean White instead of a high school student from the suburbs. Not only did I enjoy watching these young “pros” flying down the hill, but I also derived satisfaction from the knowledge that their epic documentaries (which would surely be put to a dubstep song before making its way to Facebook) would feature me slowly snowplowing down the hill in front of them.

3) Lots of people learn to ski when they are quite young. I cannot begin to count how many five year olds flew by me on their mini skis with a parent trailing behind them. I couldn’t believe my eyes, who puts a five year old on skis and lets them head down a blue hill at such dangerous speeds? At times, I would hear a kid near the top of a hill saying, “I’m scared to fall.” Their parent (often one of those forever young types who relive their own childhood vicariously through their children) would force a smile and say, “It’s ok Bobby, just take it slowly and you can make it down. This is the only way you will become better.” It was like a winter sports version of Toddler’s and Tiaras. I would always work my way around the drama, feeling bad for the kid who would most likely need therapy as an adult, and continue down the hill.

All in all, it was an incredible experience. I loved the feeling of cutting through the snow with my skis and felt invigorated whenever I picked up speed. Even though I fell quite a bit, I knew that over time I would improve and continue to enjoy the sport. I left the resort feeling sore and exhausted, but as we drove away I thought about how much fun the coming winter would be since I would get to ski on a weekly basis. It was by no means an easy evening, but it was certainly one that I will never forget.

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