As I woke up I felt a slight knot in my stomach, I couldn’t place why I felt it, until my eyes were fully opened and I realized I wasn’t at home. “This is my first day of skiing on a real life mountain.” I thought to myself, and then felt the butterflies take off in my stomach into full spasm mode. I took a few deep breaths and prayed to God under my breath, “Pleae help me to get through this day in one piece, and help me learn enough to have confidence in what I am about to do.”
I put on my glasses, rolled out of bed and headed to the kitchen of our beautiful condo. We are staying at Park City, literally right across the street from the chair lift that will wisk us away to the Park City Ski Slopes, but today we are going to travel to Sundance Resort to start our skiing adventure. There I will meet a ski instructor and hopefully learn that I need not be so afraid.
Eventually everyone gets up and dressed and we gather up all our ski equipment to head to Sundance. It will be about an hour drive, and my stomach will probably feel every mile. My stomach hurts, breathing is a little hard, and I fluctuate between being scared to death, to having faith that I will be ok. It’s so strange how a person can feel this way. One minute pretty ok with things, and the next, pretty much not okay with things.
I try to enjoy the countryside. The terrain is rugged, and the landscape looks arid, it reminds me a bit of the Oklahoma Panhandle. The soil looks red in places and I see a lot of sage brush and small cedar trees. But then I look up; the mountains rise towards the sky, one side brown, red and green with dirt, pine trees, and rock, while the other side is frosted with snow. I can’t tear my eyes away from the peaks, they are beautiful and the sky is as blue as it can be. The sunlight is dazzling and the snow reflects the light in such a way that there is a halo.
I’m dreading our arrival, and anticipating it with excitment at the same time. I try to place this feeling and the closest I come to it is how I felt on my way to all my track meets. Excited, nervous, scared of failure, and hoping for success. My body is tingly and my stomach flutters as we pull into the parking spot. Mary, John, Rob, and I get out of the truck. The three of them are talking to each other and I am unable to talk. My hands are shaking a little bit and I’m concentrating on breathing, which has become hard to do. I literally am shaking as I put my ski pants on, then the ski boots, which seem to be some sort of torture device. How can something be that hard to get on? Then once you get them on you walk like nothing I can really describe. Your legs are bent at an impossible angle, you have to take very short steps, and every footstep is felt through your entire body, especially your knees! I never did get comfortable with walking around in them.
We pick up our lift tickets, and I walk (hobble is more like it), to the shuttle that will take us to the ski school. By the time we get to the ski school and I say bye to my group and watch them ski off to the lifts to begin their day, I’m a hot mess. Of course I have to go to the restroom which puts me more into a panaic mode. What if they start without me? I check my watch and see that I have 30 minutes, so I get directions to the closest restroom and eventually make it back to my skis, get my gear together and walk over to the meeting place.
With my heart pounding loud enough for the entire mountain to hear it, I walk up to the nearest group of instructors (they all are wearing black and red jackets) and ask if I am in the right place. They all were nice, and they answered yes to my question loud enough for me to hear it over my pounding heart. The mountain rises right in front of me, and all I can think is “No, way! If I go up there I will never get down again!” The instructors must have been able to hear my heart pounding, or maybe it’s the look on my face, but they reassure me with smiles, and start asking me questions such as who I am, how much I’ve skied, and reassure me that I’m in good hands.
Eventually 10:00 rolls around and I, along with one other student are introduced to our ski instructor, his name is Lee and his smile is kind. He asks us how much skiing we’ve done, and because we both are pretty new at this he decides to start us over as brand new beginners. I was so relieved to hear that! Quickly he has us gliding around on one ski, then we switch to the other, then he teaches us how to side step up the mountain a little bit, he turns around and skis backwards down the slope and has us follow him, and before I realize it I’m skiing! Then I’m stopping softly right in front of him at the bottom of the slope. Then we side step up again a bit further and do it again. Then he has us follow him and we turn! Then we turn again and stop. At this point I realize that I’m skiing down a mountain slope and it was pretty easy. He got us skiing and we didn’t even realize it because we were so intent on the task at hand we forgot everything else. I was even smiling.
Lee turned to us and said it was time to go up the mountain on the lift. My heart exploded again into that hard fast rhythm, but there was some excitement there too. We get on the lift and head up the mountain. It is beautiful up here, and Lee gives us instructions on how to get off. When we get to the top, I follow his instructions and am able to gently glide off the lift! Yay, I didn’t knock anyone down or fall down myself! Lee skied backwards and just had us follow him. We eventually broke up our group, I went with Lee and the other person went with a different instructor. Lee got to the point he would ski a head of me and I would follow his tracks, then, as soon as I got comfortable, he would add a new skill. I laughed out loud and told him he sounded like me when I teach my students, wait until they get comfortable, then push them a little outside of the comfort zone. He laughed with me and we started talking about how horsemanship and riding is a lot like skiing. Both sports use our cores, breathing is very important, keeping your eyes and your chest facing the goal, keep your center low, stay on task and ski (or ride) the part you are on right now, don’t focus on the whole part, but just where you are in the moment. I learned a lot from Lee, and I hope some day I can return to Sundance and take another lesson with him. He is a good teacher, he kept me focused, gave me rest when I needed it by telling me stories. I got to hear how he had a moose follow him down the slope, and the first time he met Robert Redford. After my lesson I met up with John, Mary, and Rob. We had a great lunch then I skied with them for two more runs! I would get a little scared, but now I had Lee in my head and his voice would come in loud and clear, “don’t panic, get low, and turn until you stop. Ski where you are, keep your eyes down the hill, the backside of the turn is where the g force is hardest and use that outside ski to bring you around.” I didn’t realize how much he really taught me until the next day of skiing………….
We had a day of rest between ski trips and when I woke up Monday morning the butterflies had returned to my stomach. The four of us quickly got organized, dressed, and headed across the street to ski Park City. We headed over to the ski lift and started up the slope, we rode up, and rode up, and then kept on riding up the mountain. The higher up we went, the harder it was for me to breathe and the louder my heart was beating. We rose up so high we were in the clouds, visibilty became very limited and I felt a few tears leak out of my eyes. Even as I write this I can feel my heartrate increase and the shakes return to my body. I started to understand how a cat feels while stuck in a tree. I wasn’t sure there would be a way for me to get down again! By the time we got to the top, I was in a frenzy, I was crying a little bit, my legs were shaking, and I was convinced that this wasn’t going to end well for me.
Rob, Mary, and John saw my distress and I thank God for their incredible patience. It’s very humbling to be the person who is struggling, but the three of them worked hard at making sure I was able to get a hold of myself and ski over to the next lift. Yes! The next lift, we weren’t up high enough….can you belive that?
We get to the second lift and picked us all up together, I do love the feeling of the chairlift as it scoops you up from behind and as you settle back into the chair it whisks you away. We had another long ride up the mountain, and then all four of us struggled off the lift, I almost fell down but John, seeing my mess, pushed me from behind so I didn’t bite the dust. We skied over to the map and found several green runs, we picked the one called Claim Jumper and start heading down. At first it seemed really scary, over to the right is a drop-off, so John tells me to stay to the left. He, Mary, and Rob head off and I hone in on Robs tracks, I hear Lee in my head to follow the tracks, to keep my chest and eyes down the mountain and ski the place where I am. Rob is making nice easy turns so his tracks are easy. Then, Mary crosses in front of me and I start following her tracks, she skis in the middle of the slope, I find there is less ice here. She’s fun to follow because she makes more frequent turns which makes me feel a little more in control. John is going too fast for me, so I don’t follow him down this run. I just go between Mary and Robs tracks. After about 30 minutes we make it down our first run. It was fun, but I’m still shaky and looking for a little rest. We all stop at the lift, and decide to do it again. We are quickly swept away by the chair lift, and whoosh, up we go. When we need to get off I exit before I should and, oops, the chair disappears out from under me and down I go, bam, ugh. I am stuck under the lift and I can’t move. The lift operator has to stop the lift, come over and get me out of my skis so I can humbly crawl away. Yep, that was me, if you were behind me on the lift I am so sorry……..
We head down the mountain again, this time I try to follow John as well as Mary and Rob. I’m starting to breath, I still hear Lee in my mind reminding me of ways to get down, I even play with my edges as he told me to when I want to slow down. I’m able to find my own rhythm and at times it just feels like it’s me, the mountain, and my breath. Turning is getting easier, I try pointing my skis down the hill more and pick up speed. The speed is a bit of a rush, and things get a little easier, but then there is too much speed and I lose control. “Sorry Mary,” I holler as I bomb past her a little too close. I take a breath, get low and start turning until I stop. “Whew, sorry Mary, I lost control there.” I say as she stops next to me. Mary tells me it’s okay and we continue down.
The rest of the day continues just like that. I go out of my comfort zone, then go back in. I try letting my tips angle down for more speed, then back off. I feel the mountain air, I hear the sound of the skis as they glide across the snow. I feel the edges of the skis and how they can change my speed and direction. A rhythm develops, I feel connected to the mountain, my skis, and my body. Breathing becomes part of the the rhythm. I’m on the edge of softness, the skis become my horse, and we move as one, I smile, I’m hooked. I understand how you can find God here and it is good.
The afternoon progresses. We have lunch, do a few more runs, then realize the mountain lifts close in an hour. It’s time to think about heading down. Rob and John head over to the map, and talk to an instructor. Rob lets him know that I am a beginner and we only do green runs. We need to find the best way to get down the mountain and into town again. The instructor tells John and Rob that we will take two green runs down, but to get to the bottom we have to take a short but very easy blue run (for those of you that don’t ski green runs are the easiest, blue is harder).
We start down the mountain, the first green run is easy, we’ve been on it already, then we went to the next green run and it was really nice. We all are in rythm and enjoying ourselves, but then the green run splits off to the left, and the blue run that will take us down it to the right. We go right, and it’s okay at first, but then we see a sign ahead, it says “No easy way down this way.” Now at this time we could turn left and go down a green run, or turn right. The instructor said to go right, so we do. I’m telling you right now, we should have paid attention to the sign!
At first it was okay. A little scary, but I could snow plow and stay under control, but it’s not too long before the little easy path we were on opened up to a hill that was straight down and long! I started side stepping down, but it was icy and I started to slip. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from having a good day to having a very bad day. My heart beat accelerated, my limbs started to shake, and I must admit, at this point I started to cry. I was using all of my power to keep myself from sliding down the slope, my arms and legs were shaking from the exertion. John, Mary, and Rob were all stopped in front of me, searching for a way down. I had given up on searching for anything, I was clinging for dear life on the side of the slope, at an impossible angle. I knew I couldn’t hold on much longer, my legs were burning and my knee was on fire. I hollered and told John that I was going to take my skis off and go down on my butt. I’m not sure how I got my skis off, but I did, and sat down with my skis and poles cradled in my arms and proceeded to slide down the mountain as best as I could. There were times I went pretty fast and had to dig my heels into the snow to keep control, and other times I paddled my feet and hitched myself down, and other times I went sideways like a crab. I don’t know how John, Mary, and Rob stayed upright, but they did as they eased themselves very carefully down the slope. Going the way down like I did took all the energy I had left. My legs, stomach, and knees were on fire, and don’t even get me started on how my backside was feeling. There were times the snow bunched up underneath me, and other times I slid over sideways out of control and then get stopped by a hard knob of either ice or a something else under the snow.
Finally, after getting to the bottom of this part of the mountain, the run turned into a cat track, which caused a bottle neck. A few skiers were congregating while waiting their turn. A woman was there that was struggling like me, we got to talking while trying to figure out how to proceed and she informed me that we could have taken the town lift down! We could have avoided this entire ordeal!
She started to ski down and I continued on the cat track on my butt, I wasn’t going to try to get up on my skis here, it was too icy, and too tight. There was a pretty steep drop off to my right. John was jut in front of me and I watched him struggle, the exhaustion in me was so great, that I wasn’t sure if I could continue, but I somehow reached down deep and pushed myself forward, with my backside and my legs protesting loudly! The cat trail turned tight to the left and we were behind some houses, there was a woman there and she asked me if I was okay, tears welled up in my eyes as I answered yes, and then I asked if it gets any easier. She came out of her yard and walked over to me, she smiled and said, “I can give you a ride down in my van if you would like me to.” The tears in my eyes spilled over, I wanted to lay my head down and let her take care of me in the worst way, but there was a side of me that said no, you must do this. I lifted my head up, with tears streaming down my cheeks, my body shaking all over, and I shook my head no. I whispered, “I have to finish this, I can’t stop now.” I then asked her, “does it get any easier?” She smiled, I noticed how kind her eyes were as they crinkled up into her smile. She said, “yes, right around the next bend, you will be able to stand, put your skis on and ski down the rest of the hill.” I felt energy surge through me, and I smiled through my tears. “Thank you,” I said, “Thank you so much.” She went back to the yard and I continued a little further on my butt, then stood and limped around the corner where I put my skis on, looked up at John and smiled a little bit. I waited my turn since there was a line to cut across to the mountain. When it was time for me to go, I heard Lee in my head again. “ski this part, you can do it, feel your center, and look where you are going.” I turned my skis straight ahead, skied across the hill, made a controlled right hand turn and proceeded to ski down the hill. I saw John in front of me stop and turn, he had a huge smile on his face, I skied towards him and felt the wind on my face, the mountain under me, and for a moment I was one with my skis again. I stopped at the bottom, Mary was standing there and ready to help me, she ended up having to hold me up on my shaky legs until I could get myself under control. Then we slowly made our way back to the condo, with me painfully hobbling behind on legs made out of jelly.
As I write this I realize I learned a great deal on this trip, such as; it’s okay to learn at your own pace, patience is a gift that we can give to each other, when someone shows you patience, you not only feel humbled, but you feel cared for. And finally, it’s okay to find a different way to get down a mountain.
PS. When you see a sign that says no easy way down. You might want to change your course. 🤠