Trudging clumsily off the bus and towards the village gondola, I clutched my skis awkwardly, trying to look like I knew how to carry them. The knot in my stomach was tightening by the second, so I concentrated on breathing steadily and trying to take my mind off what I knew was coming: humiliation, frustration and, ultimately, tears. You see, I was about to have my very first ski lesson as a last-ditch effort to master snow sports. I’ve written about my chequered past with snowboarding before (read about it here) and since publishing that post I’ve not so much as touched a board. When Brendan announced that he wanted to spend his 30th birthday snowboarding in California my heart sunk. California sounded amazing. Snowboarding? Not so much.
I don’t know when or why it happened, but one day the idea came to me that I should try skiing instead. In Australia skiing is considered old fashioned and uncool by many, including the group of friends I first went snowboarding with, so the idea of trying it had really never crossed my mind before. Still, I was desperate to try something – anything – that would allow me to enjoy spending time on the mountain with my husband without it ending in tears and tantrums. So with a glimmer of hope almost entirely overshadowed by sickening fear I arrived at the top of the gondola on Mammoth Mountain for my introductory ski lesson.
As soon as I met Rachel I was immediately at ease. Rachel has been a ski instructor for a number of years and I was grateful that she didn’t try to tell me that my fears were silly or that I should have switched from snowboarding years ago. She exuded a confidence in my abilities far beyond my own which is exactly what I needed, so I began to relax as she talked me through the basics of skiing and gave me some recommendations for our upcoming visit to Lake Tahoe. By the time I even touched my skis I was having more fun than I thought I would have in the entire lesson. Rachel pointed to the ski lift and the run beneath it and told me that if I did well enough we’d end the lesson there. I told her not to hold her breath and then trudged through the snow, feet securely attached to my skis, towards the magic carpet to try my very first downhill run.
Miraculously on that gentle, short slope, alongside a group of excited four year olds, I didn’t fall. I didn’t even almost fall. I gently slid down the nearly horizontal slope and, dignity intact, came to a stop at the bottom. French fries and pizza. So far so good.
I chalked up my initial gravity-defying feat to beginner’s luck as we progressed to the next level of learner’s slope (complete with a T-bar – which used to be my nemesis – and which suddenly on skis became a breeze to ride) and I practiced starting, stopping and turning on the way down. An hour or more had passed and not once had I fallen, cried or frozen in panic. French fries. Pizza. Perhaps if snowboarding instructions could somehow be linked to deliciously decadent foods I’d have better luck with the sport.
I’m certain Rachel got sick of me exclaiming ‘I can’t believe how much better this is than snowboarding!’ every few minutes, but I was genuinely in shock at how much easier I found skiing and how much more natural it felt. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suddenly a pro but I could get down the slope without major disaster and believe me when I tell you that’s worth celebrating.
Before long Rachel led me to the lifts to try my first real run, an easy green, but a real ski run nonetheless. I sat on the chairlift and took a moment to marvel at the spectacular views across the Californian mountains and the stunningly beautiful day – the sky was blue, not a cloud was in sight and I was so warm that a jacket was merely a convenience in which to carry my lift pass and phone. At the top, I dismounted the lift without a problem and a few seconds later was skiing (really, I was doing it!) down Mammoth Mountain. Granted, I was travelling at a snail’s pace, but in my mind I was flying, and it felt amazing!
I suppose I learned a number of lessons from this experience, some personal and some which may be of value to you:
1. I am so stubborn I’ll continue doing something long after it’s made me miserable
2. Trying new things can have surprising – and life-changing – results
3. I will never (I know, never say never, but really…never) snowboard again. Ugh.
4. The value of a great instructor can never truly be measured. Rachel made my lesson fun and completely non-threatening, and I am so grateful to her for that!
5. If you, like I did, struggle with snowboarding…try skiing. Really.
Mammoth Mountain is a short flight from Los Angeles and boasts 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. Thanks to Rachel for making my first skiing experience a fun one, and thanks to Christie from Mammoth Lakes Tourism for the fabulous photos!