The Ski Lesson

With ski season upon us, I thought it would be fun to share an essay about my first-ever ski lesson. I have shared this essay before, but it has since been edited, so I wanted to share it again. Enjoy!

We were at a small ski resort in upstate New York with friends. They invited us on a whim, our first vacation in over a year. But I had never skied, so while Justin and our friends left me to ski the real mountain and Reagan went to pre-ski school to play with other toddlers, I got a lesson from Gunther. 

I stood on the bunny hill with restricting boots, and peripheral vision-limiting goggles, suffocating base layers and fleece. I reconsidered my choice to come here. I was not adventure-seeking. I would’ve rather been inside enjoying hot coffee, or something stronger, by the fire. I reminded myself to not be a chicken shit.

“First toe, dann heal,” Gunther said. I didn’t even have the skis on yet. That task in itself seemed impossible.

I removed my goggles to get a better look at him, an elderly, slender man with blue reflective sunglasses on. In them I saw myself bent into awkward right angles. Hunched, tense. I rolled and straightened my shoulders, then focused on the skis. Fat snowflakes had started to fall, and white clumps landed on them, illuminating each scratch and dent from inexperienced skiers who wore them before me. They looked like big green boats. I hated the ocean, hated being out of my comfort zone.

The temperature crawled towards 20 degrees, but didn’t quite make it, and the cold air bit all my exposed skin. My upper lip, my cheeks, my nose were all numb. Still, I was overdressed. Underneath my ski coat, fleece, and base layer, sweat had gathered at the small of my back. 

I replaced my goggles over my eyes with mitten-covered hands, then pulled down the neck warmer for a dose of oxygen. I inhaled the icy air, exhaled steam, and returned the neck warmer to its position over my mouth. After that, I again focused on the skis or, more specifically, the scratches on the skis. How many beginners did Gunther coach down this hill with these exact skis on? How many actually lived to tell about it?

And why in the hell did I let my husband talk me into this?

“Toe dann heel,” Gunther repeated. “Downhill ski first.” His thick German accent reminded me of my mother-in-law. 

Kids less than half my size zoom around me, first to my front, then to my back. They traversed the mountain easily, back and forth, keeping their skis in a perfect pizza shape. Each of them safely stopped at the bottom, not far from me and Gunther.

Toe. Then heel. I can do this.

Balancing on my left foot, I picked up my right foot like I was told. The boot weighed at least five pounds. After several tries and misses, I got the toe of my boot lined up with the binding. I step down hard, and heard a click.

“Das ist gut!” he said. “Now your left foot. Dig the edge of your right ski in. Balance. Use your poles for support, right? Toe, dann heel.”

I tightened my grip on the ski poles and tried to dig them into the snow. One pole slipped on a patch of ice, and I lost my footing. I fell forward, but Gunther caught me with a firm grip on my upper arm.

“Again,” he said, righting my shoulders. “Das ist easy. Don’t think too much. Just do.”

“Okay, just do.” I found my center on my right ski and dug the edge against the mountain. I pressed my left boot in and it clicked. “Yay!” The small victory was huge.

“Cool, right?” Gunther asked. The wrinkles on his face announced themselves as his mouth stretched into a wide grin. He appeared to be having fun with my lack of experience.

“Yes,” I said. “Very cool.”

“Good. Now, we ski.”

“Crap,” I said. 

“Follow me, keep your skis in a wedge, like pizza. We go slow.” He went ahead of me, making gradual “s” shapes left then right. I kept my feet in the wedge like he said, leaning my hips left then right. My “s” shapes weren’t nearly as pretty as his, and I sailed slowly down the mountain in a zig-zag. But I was skiing, and I didn’t fall. I realized that when I challenge myself and go out of my comfort zone, I can surprise myself and do amazing things. 

Towards the bottom of the run, I came to a full stop. The mountain had flattened out, and I didn’t have enough speed to cruise along. I had to push myself with my poles to catch up to Gunther, who was waiting for me by the lift with a giant smile. 

“See!” he said. “Das ist easy!” He patted me on the shoulder a bit too hard. “Ready for the lift?” 

I looked up at the rotating chairlift, ascending up the mountain and gulped. 

“It’s fun. You’ll see,” he said, already gliding toward the lift.

I trudged along behind him, panting as I dug my poles into the packed snow to push myself. By the time I met him, I was gasping for breath. Exhausted. “Skiing is hard work,”  I said. 

He laughed and motioned for the lift operator to slow down the chair. “Hold your poles in one hand and look over your shoulder,” Gunther said. I followed his direction, and soon the chair was sweeping beneath my butt and we were gliding up the mountain, higher and higher.

“Can we put the bar down? I don’t want to fall.” I said, gripping the handrail tight with my free hand. My back was pressed against the chair, frozen from fear.

He lowered the armrest and said, “Look around. At the beauty. This is why we ski.” He was right. All this time I had been so focused on the fear of falling that I forgot to enjoy the views. I looked around us. The snow-capped mountain lined with evergreen trees and wide-open white trails took my breath away. I tried to find Justin among the skiers, but before I could find his tan jacket, Gunther interrupted me.

“We have to raise the bar and unload,” he said. I moved my hand away from the armrest so he could lift it. “Ready to ski again?” he asked. 

Don’t think, just do.

I nodded yes. 

Photo Courtesy of Pexels.

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