“You can never learn less, you can only learn more”
R. Buckminster Fuller
The third day of skiing proved to be both the most educational and cruisey. The day started with a coffee at the top of the Bissane lift, now my favorite spot. I filled my eyes and my camera roll with pictures, although nothing in me believed it was really my last day in the Alps. I put a kit-kat bar in my pocket for later. I watched the trickle from the roof of the restaurant and the figures of families on skis against the snow-covered mountains.
The kids on the chairlift behind were playing music off their phones - Post Malone.
The lift climbed into new territories, and I confidently anticipated the transition . The first two days had not been so smooth on the lift, aka le telesiege.
One time, I fell under the lift as it deposited me on the top, and had to duck underneath as it whipped back around the corner.
Another time, the elastic string on my mitten caught and stretched completely as I tried to ride away.
Most often, I faceplanted immediately at the top.
But by the third day, I learned to be smooth. lift my legs and place my back foot preemptively, tip my board and just push off down the slope. I could even edge to a controlled stop this way. Brilliant!
And I learned so much more. Like if you drop your cellphone off the ski lift, you should drop a ski pole right away to mark the spot in the snow (or if you’re a snowboarder ask the nearest skiier!)
When I actually got off the lift and on to mountain, there was so much more to learn.
My thought process changed since last season, since yesterday. I could now turn both ways without really thinking about it. So I challenged myself to subtler angles and more time in the middle of my board instead of braking on either edge. On the flat parts, I learned to balance in the middle and not on the edge at all. I started putting all of my weight on my back leg.
Then it was time to try a red!
I had learned from my furthest skiing excursion prior, the OVO bus from Union Square to Killington, Vermont, that red pistes were the difficulty between blue and black, a European thing, like the metric system or open borders. The chatty skiier next to us on the 6 hour bus ride was from the UK, and explained this as a matter of course. I understood being able to take “reds” was a level of skill. That day, though, I was most concerned with breaking through from the bunny hill to blues!
Would I advance to red today?
As the signs everywhere will tell you— and I mean, real signs posted at the window to buy lift tickets— and metaphorical signs like the ski patrol carrying someone down the mountain in a flat red shipping container—snow sports are inherently risky.
Staring down the first few red pistes, I felt this, but also a certain confidence. Was I too sure of myself? Was my desire to improve a bit foolhardy?
I often have these thoughts, but this is how I put them aside.
I remind myself that life happens moment by moment.
It is in my power to focus, to do my best, to look around me, to control my speed, every second.
If someone rushes down towards me and doesn’t see me, I can use my voice. If this unknown trail becomes impossibly steep, I can take off my board and hike.
Life is always about the choices you make, and there are a lot of them to be made. They don’t just happen while you are staring down the mountain, they happen second by second!
So I went! down the steep curves, and came up with a strategy to take on the mountain bit by bit.
Saturday was a kind of empty day, mostly locals who zipped past and knew their way around, i just focused on the radius of 7-8 feet of snow in front of me. It made me feel calm, my eyes scanned like a lighthouse on the steady white in front of me.
I realized I mostly fell when I lost the flow, and then it was extremely hard to get back. So I imposed an internal rythmn, 1-2-3-4, then turn 1-2-3-4, on the steeper parts, I widened my curve and counted 1-2-3-4-5-6 on each side.
A few times where the trail was the steepest, my board lost contact with the mountain entirely, and I skipped in the air down the side of the mountain! Yikes, what a feeling! But still I kept my rhythmn.
So mostly, it worked. When I fell on my backedge, I learned a new trick. I could use my hands to pull myself back upright, and continue on my back edge! This saved me from my old trick, of going switchfoot on the toe edge, which made my legs so sore from constantly bracing. Crucially, it also helped me keep my rhythm and recover.
And I made it! Wobbly legged and sweating to the whirring lift, time after time.
Blue, red, red, blue blue, this was getting easier! And fun!
I left the mountain brimming with the excitement of every good run.
I would have just been happy to see the mountains in the snow!