Fear, it can stop you in your tracks, literally. Fear was with me yesterday, I woke up with it this morning, and has settled into the pit of my stomach today. It can appear when you least expect it and hang on to you like a burr. Yesterday it not only snuck up on me, but I literally was frozen by it as I looked down the 1,463 foot drop off that I was about to ski down. Wait, wait….. I am exagerrating about the drop off, but in my mind it really was terribly high.
I woke up yesterday a little nervous about going skiing, I hadn’t done it in at least 24 years. Skiing is not something I grew up doing, even though I’ve lived in Minneosta most of my life. We just didn’t do it in my family, and once I got married we didn’t do it either, until….one year John and our friends decided to go skiing in Lutsen. Being an athlete myself, I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. John set me up with a local instructor at Wild Mountain, I took a few hours of lessons, and went off into the sunset with my new found skills. A few weeks later we went to Lutsen. For those of you that don’t know about Lutsen. We call it a mountain here in Minnesota, to those out west, I’m sure you would laugh at our mountain, but we think it’s pretty cool and really big!
We rented skis and proceeded up the mountain, got off the ski lift, turned left and John yelled out for me to follow him. I noticed a sign on a tree, it had a big black diamond painted on it. I went up to John and asked him what that sign meant, and he said, “it’s a black diamond, but don’t worry about it, just follow me.” So in my infinate wisdom I started to follow him down what looked like a gentle slope, but then it became steep, in fact it was straight down! I tried to do what my instructor told me to, and snow plow to slow down. It didn’t work too well, and I shot past John. I couldn’t slow down, couldn’t stop, so I tucked down and did what any normal person would do in that situation, I bombed the hill. When I got to the bottom I fell over, I was shaking and relieved I didn’t die. Our friend Pat, came over and asked if I had ever skied before, I told him of my lesson at Wild Mountain, he then asked me if I would like to learn how to properly ski, John had finally reached the bottom of the run and answered yes, for me. I guess I scared him as much as I scared myself.
Pat took me over to a small run and proceeded to teach me how to ski back and forth across the hill instead of shooting straight down. In the ski world they call that traversing the hill. I quickly learned how to do that and did enjoy my trip to Lutsen. But keep in mind that I was young, only 30 years old, and my body worked much better at syncing with my brain.
Now, today I’m 54 and I feel much older, but I guess not much wiser. That wisdom thing seems to elude me at times. I agreed to go skiing in Utah. Here is where the lack of wisdom comes in, I haven’t skied since Lutsen which was 24 years ago, yes you read correctly, 24 years ago!
But wait………before you totally write me off, I need to tell you something. I decided that maybe we should try to ski before we go, just to make sure we still can, and that is why I got so scared yesterday. We loaded up all our ski stuff and made our way out to Wild Mountain. We got our trail passes and headed over to the chair lifts, it takes me a few moments to get my skis on, by the way in case you are wondering, don’t point your skis down the hill when you try to put them on, it doesn’t work very well. I’m just sayin.
We get to the ski lift, my heart is pounding with exertion, or maybe fear? The lift comes behind us, hits me in the back of the knees and I flop into the chair. John lowers the safety bar, and I find my heart beating faster, ok, I guess it’s not the exertion, but fear making it do that. Danielle, John, and I chat for a bit then it’s time to get off. Getting off, really? It doesn’t seem easy, I lifted my ski tips up, let my skis touch down onto a mound of snow and then fling my body off the lift, which causes me to shoot down the mound and to reach out for Johns coat to steady myself. I let go of John and snowplow to a stop, my heart is beating so loud I’m afraid everyone can hear it. I look behind me and see how little that hill was and my heart almost stops. I couldn’t control myself on that little thing, what will I do now? I follow John and Danielle down a little incline and over to where we can see the signs. I see a black one, a blue one, and a green one. “Black, blue, and green, that’s how my body is going to look at the end of the day,” I mumble under my breath. We wisely chose the green trail, John and Danielle in the lead, and me behind.
At this point of the story I need to tell you, skiing is not like riding a bike, it doesn’t come right back to you. As I am going down the trail, I’m trying to remember how to do the back and forth thing, ok, I know I have to turn, lets see, plant my pole and pivot around it? Nope did’t work and I wobble and almost fall. Ok, here maybe I lean on my right ski, and lift my left ski, oops I turned but the wrong way, lean on my left ski, lift my right ski and turn. Whew, I did it, now I have to go back the other way, lean on the downhill ski, lift the uphill ski. Got it! I turned again. Now the run levels out and I have to push myself forward with my poles. I look up, Danielle and John are waiting for me and as I push myself to them I start to smile. I’m feeling a little more secure and stable. We finish the run with me getting smoother at traversing the hill and feeling more in contol. I’m even able to use the snow plow effectivly every once in a while. When we reach the bottom of the hill we have to ski over to the lift. I say “lets take a break, my legs are shaking.” but John replies, “your break will be on the lift, lets go again”. So against my better judgment I line myelf up at the chair lift and my behind makes a smoother contact with the chairlift aswe are swept up the hill. I look around this time, it’s actually pretty up here. Danielle takes out her phone and snaps a few pictures and a video.
I am actually smiling and my heart is slowing down a bit. But before I know it, we have to get off. My heart rate increases as I look at the dreaded mound as we approach it. I panic at the last second and can’t figure how to hold my ski poles as I get off, my skis hit the mound I shoot down, arms windmilling with my ski poles whipping around next to me, my right arms makes contact with John, I hear a grunt as I shoot down the little hill and I holler, “I’m sorry!” I snow plow to a stop and fearfully turn around, I’m certain that I knocked John down and he’s laying in the snowbank. But he’s not, he is skiing up to me with laughter in his eyes. He turns to Danielle and says, “Watch out, she’ll take you down.”
John and Danielle escort me down the slope once again. I really get into the groove now, traversing when I need to, and snow plowing when I need to. The fear is retreating and I actually feel like I can breathe. Skiing is actually getting better and I can say I almost am having a little fun and feeling a little proud that I did it. We go to the lift again and head up the slope. This time I’m next to Danielle and I get off at the mound much better, I didn’t hit her or knock her down. My 54 year old body is starting to listen to my brain and I feel like I have better control of it. Then the ski lift for my little easy rider hill stops. John turns to me and says we can’t go down that way because there won’t be a way up again. We’ll have to do a blue run. I freeze, my heart rate instantly shoots up, and breathing has pretty much stopped. I can’t do it, I know I can’t. I tell them to do the run without me and check it out, come back up on the chair lift and let me know if I can do it. They left me there on the hill, and I ski over to the maintinance guys on their snowmobiles. One of them chats with me a bit as we watch tiny little kids shoot down the slopes at a million miles an hour. I tell him I’m afraid, he makes me feel better because he says he doesn’t ski at all and he has found as he gets older he has become fearful of the things he used to do so easily. I can’t believe how that little conversation with him helped ease my breathing and calm my nervous heart.
John and Danielle show up again, much too soon in my opinion! They reassure me I can do it, but the ending is a bit hard, it’s a hill that goes pretty much straight down, but if we stay to the right it is more gradual. They escort me to the edge of the trail, and I start to follow them, the trail is nice, the slope is very gentle and I’m able to traverse, I’m able to center myself, and take a few deep breaths. Then bam, the gentle slope turns into a hill, with jumps! John and I stop, he tells me to go to the right and follow him. I have deja vu back 24 years and following him down the mountain. I want to close my eyes and just bomb it! Just get it over with! But instead I snow plow, and traverse my way down the hill. When I get there I turn to John and Danielle and tell them I’m done for the day. My legs are shaking, my knees hurt, and my heart feels like it will jump out of my chest. They protest a little bit, but I know they want to ski, and I really don’t mind hanging out by myself at the truck or on the chalet. I finally convince them it’s okay, and then I hobble to the truck. I put my skis in the back of the truck, change out of my ski boots and sigh with relief at being able to walk like a normal person again. In the car next to me a woman is sitting with her window down. She gets out and asks me if I was done for the day and if I enjoyed myself. I give her a nervous smile and tell her of my day, then I tell her we have plans to ski in Utah next week and I don’t know if I can do it. She proceeds to tell me she is a ski instructor and works with women like me. She told me I’m pretty normal for someone my age who has little or no ski experience. We chat some more and I tell her I work with women my age and their horses and this experience will help me be a better teacher. I tell her of my fear, and the fear we sometimes have with our horses. She then offered some great advice. Take lessons on the mountains, don’t try to conquer your fear without help from a professional. Then she finished getting her ski gear on, and I jumped in the truck to warm up and ponder what I went through. Danielle finally called me, they were done and we met in the chalet to have a beer and talk about our day. We ended with smiles on our faces and pretty good memories and I was happy to go home in one piece!
This morning I woke up with the fear still with me, I still have to go to Utah, I don’t want to wreck everyones vacation by not skiing, but every time I think of it I panic, there was a lump in my stomach that won’t go away and I am afraid. The fear affected how I was handling the horses, I couldn’t put meds in Addies eyes. She felt the fear in me. Buzz rushed ahead of me, the horses don’t want to be around me when I’m humming like this. Shoot, I don’t want to be around me. When I came in from chores John was here, he helped me book lessons on the mountains. The fear is still there, but it’s different some how, there is some excitment in letting someone teach me and give me the skills to stay safe on the mountain.