I went downhill skiing this weekend!
You might not know how crazy that is. It’s really, really crazy, for a variety of reasons, not least that I’m afraid of heights.
I’ve learned how to ski several times over the past few years or so — sort of in the same way that I have learned how to drive standard about 9 times, and after the last time, split the gear box of a friend’s car and quit trying. But that’s a story for another time. We’re talking about skiing, real downhill skiing at a ski resort.
I didn’t take my first ski lesson until I was in my mid-30s. Our family didn’t do this kind of thing — I grew up thinking of skiing as an upperclass sport, which costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. Our family was not about to drive to the mountains and pay for lodges and ski passes at pricey California ski resorts. Golf was in the same realm.
And, of course, golfing and skiing were normal things to do for my husband’s family. He grew up in a small mountain town that had what was once a tiny ski resort that has now expanded, and multiple municipal golf courses, all fairly cheap and accessible to the locals. (Oh, Canada!)
Because Matt loves these sports, I feel like I have to master them, or at least be competent enough that I can possibly join him and friends and family in doing these things. While I haven’t (yet) tried to golf, I have tried learning how to ski. I took ski lessons at a friendly little ski resort in Switzerland above the Wallensee with my friend T. I’ve been taught the basics by a young man named Gilles who had experience teaching little kids on ski week vacations. (Somehow, I managed to lose control in one lesson and slide between his legs, cartoon-like, somewhere in a glacial bowl in the French Swiss Alps.)
I have wiped out on another sun-drenched snowy slope in Switzerland, above the town where Dr. Moriarty killed Sherlock Holmes. Somewhere nearby, X-game competitors were skimming super fast over moguls and jostling to get the lead against each other on steep hillsides, as if in a roller derby. I so wanted to be competent, and thought maybe I could get close.
Falling on skis felt something like getting caught in a wave, a strong memory I have from swimming in the sea at Ventura Beach as a 10-year-old girl: tumbled around in the “washing machine,” saltwater up my nose, no control whatsoever over my own body. Only on the snow, the skis twisted my legs in the wrong direction, and the impact of falling hurt my much older body. I played it down, thinking I would try again and get over it. But that day’s fall became a rather scary memory planted in my head (even as friendly people tried to help me up and get me going, their dark heads loom over me in memory and I remember wanting to cry). I think that feeling of being out of control was too strong for me to tackle.
So, one might say that I have not been too keen on skiing, as you might imagine.
And yet, I love amusement park rides. Going fast downhill in a controlled situation is not a problem for me. It’s the part about not being able to slow myself down or make sure my trajectory isn’t taking me into the trees that throws me off of skiing.
But this past weekend, I felt ready to tackle skiing. I think the key may be an excursion Matt and I took with my dear friend D and her partner, into the Wyoming mountains to cross country ski last year. Over two days, D taught me to survive steep downhills on cross country skis. I was not the best, and definitely not in complete control, but somewhere in there, I felt a loopy happy feeling of speed while hurling headlong down a hill: My first taste of real downhill skiing.
But I’d never downhill skied, not really, despite all those lessons and experiments. And I realized that after this weekend, after finally feeling a bit more in control. On Saturday at Romme Alpin, I somehow figured it out enough to let go and hurtle downhill at 20 km an hour. Outrageous! I even enjoyed it!
When my colleague A had asked me to join her at Romme several weeks ago, I felt a little bit apprehensive. Let’s just say downright nervous and freaked out. We had planned to go on a Sunday toward the end of sportlov: for a few weeks every March, hordes of children descend on the mountains of Sweden to ski. We had second thoughts about joining the hordes and postponed.
Finally, last Wednesday, A bit the bullet and bought our bus tickets and ski passes. I paid her back and was basically committed — and I managed not think about it at all. Not until Saturday morning, really, on the 7 am bus on the way to Romme Alpin. Then I started getting a bit nervous again.
I got even more nervous after we arrived. We picked up our rental gear — skis, helmets, poles, boots. Romme Alpin was packed that morning, with cars filling the parking lot and half a dozen buses filled with skiers. Luckily, because we prebooked, we didn’t have to queue with everyone (typical Swedish system, where you take a “lapp” or number and wait until it’s called). We got ourselves dressed and ready to go in the Matsäckstugan, a kind of indoor picnic room with shelves for gear and changing stalls. A kept telling me it would be “calm och lugn“! I fumbled my way through bindings and whatnot, and then we walked out into the sunshine to the beginner slope.
I slipped and slid through the gate, and then failed to catch the disc seat multiple times. Suddenly I managed to coordinate everything and tucked the disc between my legs, talking to myself as I was being dragged up the hill — up ahead, A had already reached the top and was waiting for me. “Deep breaths, deep breaths,” I self-counseled, and I managed to disengage and slip over to the top of the hill, skis akimbo, heart beating fast. A said something encouraging and she was off. I cautiously started to follow her downhill.
And something clicked. I felt the edges of my skis dig into the snow. I snowplowed like mad to control my speed. But I was in control. Despite the clenched muscles in my right leg and foot, my heart fluttering inside my tight chest, I made it down the hill.
And A immediately led me back up. We took another run and I followed her in soft curves down the hill, feeling simultaneously stronger and just as nervous.
And then she said, ok! We’re taking the ski lift to the top! We can get a drink or lunch and then keep going! And led me to the 6-seat speedy ski lift that would take us up. I followed along meekly, and somewhere about halfway up, with the tips of pine trees at my feet and my gut wrenching, I told A that I am afraid of heights. She laughed, and that was that. She lifted the bar about 30 meters from where the ground would rise to meet us, I gritted my teeth and held on, and then slipped down onto the snow.
Feeling accomplished, I followed A to the restaurant. We had goulaschesuppe (goulash) and split a beer, drank lots of water, hit the toilets, and then headed out again into the sun. A consulted the map with an older gentleman who worked at the resort, and they decided we would take a blue run.
Without time to think, I followed A and steered my skis right onto the steepest slope of my day and promptly crashed. I righted myself, took another turn and wiped out again. And then, after pushing myself back up with my poles, I decided that was it — no more wiping out! I managed the rest of the run and met A at the ski lift, freaked out, elated and ready for more.
We took separate runs the next time, A on the blue and I on a green one next to it that seemed just as steep as the blue. I managed to wipe out only once at the top, and then actually skied properly down the steep part of the run — and then I shot past the turnoff to get to the lift. Or so I thought. Calm och lugn! I said to myself. And sure enough, another turnoff materialized a little farther downhill and I swooped up to A in line.
SO MUCH FUN. It was so much fun! And at this point, I felt SO TIRED! From the stress of the fear, clenching my leg muscles, I was ready to go down to the bottom. We took the green “Hemvågn,” or Home Way, all the way down the hill. It was SO MUCH FUN.
We settled in at the Matsäckstugan for coffee and chocolate, and we made a plan. While I was tempted to go back to the top again with A, I knew I was pooped. She went up without me, and I took three more loops on that first beginner’s slope, each one faster and more daring (for me at least) than the last. I hit no one, I didn’t wipe out, and I felt steady on my skis, leaning into my boots on the last run to try to go faster.
I felt like I was practicing for the next time. Now it’s spring, and next time will probably be next winter. I feel ready to really ski! Of course, the last time I blogged something like that, after skiing in Switzerland, I was still so frightened. But this time, I really do think (and hope) that my physical intelligence has improved to the point that I can get better, and will keep getting better. We shall see…