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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Falling With Style

Photo by Paxson Woelber
For spring break this year we took the three kiddos up to Stratton Resort in Vermont. Hubby deemed all our skiing skills progressed enough to warrant a trip to a peak higher than 1000 feet of elevation, which is pretty much all you get around the mid-Atlantic basin.
It’s always been my husband’s dream to have a skiing family. For our tenth anniversary he called in the grandparents to babysit and took me to the mountains of West Virginia for my first experience of blind terror while hurtling downhill uncontrollably on waxed two-by-fours.
I mean skiing.
A blizzard struck on our way up the mountain, and we found our car snowbound on the quickly drifting shoulder of the winding pass. Thick swaths of snow fell out of the night sky and piled up on our stranded vehicle so quickly we feared if we didn't get out now we might never be able to. “We’ve got all our gear and it’s only five more miles to the top!” exclaimed my intrepid husband with his customary can-do optimism. “We’ll just hike it!”
Visions of the Donner party swirled through my mind. One of us is going to die, and he’s bigger, stronger, and even more stubborn than I am. He’s going survive this by eating my half-frozen carcass somewhere between here and Snowshoe.
I have never been happier to see anyone than when Cody, an employee at the ski resort, came down the mountain in his beefy truck and rescued us. An angel in a 4x4, Cody saved not only our lives, but probably also our marriage.
Thus began my odyssey in the snow.
Falling and Crying
The first phase of learning to ski, I discovered, consists of falling. A lot. I spent most of the first day of my ski adventure crumpled in a heap on the side of the mountain, weeping, skis and poles and limbs jutting out in various directions like the aftermath of a chopstick fight in a ramen shop. Why? Because Hubby thought he could teach me.
I should’ve known better. I taught high school back in the day. People who say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t do, teach,” are full of crap. A good teacher must not only know how to do the thing being taught, he must also know how to explain, demonstrate, transfer, infer, deduce, induce, and scaffold. He must be able to identify as well as remedy both cognitive and performance errors. He must exist in two minds at one time: that of the expert and of the initiate. Teaching is as much art as science, psychology as methodology, intuition as intellect.
My husband has internalized the physics of skiing to such a degree that he doesn’t even know what he can't remember that he forgot about learning.
Our marriage—and my body—seriously on the rocks by the end of the first day, he signed me up for a real lesson the next morning.
Bruce the Ski Instructor saved our trip from going down in the annals of family history as The Time Mom Cudgeled Dad With Her Ski Boot. Bruce taught me useful things like how to stop, how to turn, how to snow plow, and that it’s easier to get up after a fall if you remove your skis first. Oh. Duh.
“And if you really get in over your head, take off the skis and just hike down the mountain.” Thank you, Bruce.
On our way home after the trip I decided that I would never again strap those things to my feet.
When Hubby asked if I had a good time, I smiled enigmatically.
“What was your favorite part?” he pressed.
“The Jacuzzi.”
Falling and Swearing
Several interplaying factors caused me to renege on my vow of abstinence from skis. First, Hubby often gets his way through simple relentlessness. When he wants something he gnaws at me like a beaver at the trunk of a Sequoia:
What don’t you like about skiing?
We’ll get you another lesson.
You look really cute in your snow pants.
Do you want to be a quitter?
We’ll go somewhere that has a Jacuzzi.
Photo by Ian Page-Echols
Second, I hate to lose. If the skis at Snowshoe didn’t beat me altogether, I definitely took a beating from them. Whenever I start something new my ill-conceived mantra is, “How hard can this be?” I usually discover pretty quickly that it’s actually pretty stinking hard. Then my upper lip curves into this sneer, and my shoulders stiffen. “I’m going to get this if it freakin’ kills me.”
Finally, I am a recovering people-pleaser who sometimes falls off the wagon. I realized, with no little gravity, that Hubby’s dream of having a skiing family lay entirely in my hands. I could either help him realize it, or I would crush it completely.
“Okay,” I capitulated, with more resolve and resentment than felicity or goodwill. “I’ll go again.”
We took the children with us after that, and enrolled them in ski school. The boy came out of his first class swishing circles around me. “I’m better than Mom!” he sang gleefully as he slalomed down a blue run on one ski, spinning backwards from time to time to taunt me.
That winter I graduated from falling and crying to falling and swearing.
Falling and Swearing You’re Going to Get This if It Kills You
“You cannot take a third first-timer lesson,” Hubby decreed. “You’re going in level two.”
I generally lack confidence more than skill, so given my choice I’d prefer to be the shining star in a remedial class rather than Forrest Gump in a group of the gifted and talented.
My ski instructor coached me to practice making left turns.
“I can only turn right,” I explained.
“You can’t go down a mountain circling to the right,” he insisted.
“Why not?”
Truly, my body would not cooperate in the opposite of its preferred direction. One leg asserted dominance. The other submitted. The one would not relent; the other could not speak up for itself.
Something about that reminded me of how I ended up back on the slopes again.
Our daughters’ skills were progressing, too. Because one of them has a tendency to get so focused on her area of interest that she loses sight of everything else—and thereby lost sight of her family and went down a slope the rest of us did not—Hubby put us in a line to go down a new run. The boy first, followed by me, then the girls, with Hubby bringing up the rear.
My son found the easiest path and led the rest of us. He frequently turned back to ask, “Are you okay, Mom?”
What has happened here? I thought. Is this not the child to whom I gave birth? Who I nursed, and rocked, and coddled? Whose boo-boos I kissed and hand I held? And now he is leading me, caring for my well-being and safety. I saw a glimpse of the man he was becoming, and it both saddened me and made my heart swell with pride.
Later that night, when he pushed one of his sisters into the hotel pool and dunked the other one and cannonballed so hard he sent a tidal wave over both his parents sitting fifteen feet away, I thought, “He’s not so big I can’t spank his obnoxious little butt.”
Falling and Laughing
For our fifteenth anniversary Hubby took me to Mont Tremblant in Québec.
I have died to the hope that vacations will ever again consist of warm pursuits. Sunbathing on a beach? Forget it. Scuba diving? Give it up. Cruising the Caribbean in a sailboat? Perish the thought. He’s already strategizing how to get the whole family down to Chile or Peru or Argentina this summer, where it will be the height of the South American winter and ski season.
Marriage is all about sacrifice, and I have been martyred on the altar of powder and après-ski for the sake of mine.
Hubby stuck me in another lesson—a blue run class—and said he’d be back to get me for lunch.
I was not alone at the bottom of the group this time. Andrew and I vied for last place as we kept a friendly competition going about which of us fell more often, and more sensationally. After about my tenth tumble down the 45-degree piste the instructor glided over to help me up, again. “Are you all right?” he asked with sincere concern in his eyes.
A lesser woman would’ve been crying by now. But I’d lost all sense of shame. Or pride.
“Totally okay!” I said, and sprang back up.
He nodded, clearly relieved. “That was spectacular,” he complimented me. The other students applauded.
Yep. If I can’t impress, I’ll entertain.
A Skiing Family
Hubby has realized his dream; all five of us are now competent skiers.
And Vermont was actually, really, surprisingly enjoyable. I finally got it. I understand the basic mechanics of skiing and can perform them with a reasonable amount of acumen. Skiing is no longer ceaseless hard work, fighting the mountain every moment to keep from being jettisoned off into the trees and dying in a lost, whimpering pile of brokenness.
It’s good for our family, too. We have something we can do together that no one is likely to outgrow or get bored of. There are always bigger mountains, steeper slopes, and new skills to master.
And as a good friend pointed out when I was just beginning this journey, we are a family of five. Five is an odd number. The hubby and the son already like to ski together, their skills fairly commensurate with each other. In just a few years the little one will be old enough to accompany her older sister on the lifts and trails.
And I will be the odd mom out. Welcome, but unnecessary. I will be at the lodge, all by myself.
But don't cry for me, Argentina.
‘Cause I’ll be in the Jacuzzi.

Echo Valley Ranch

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