I'm afraid of heights - so it's safe to say I had my reservations about skiing for the first time.
As a Florida girl with more life experience in the sun than in the snow, the thought of braving Whistler in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia was intimidating to say the least.
I am happy to report I not only made it off the chairlift intact, I managed - after two days (one at Cypress and one at Whistler), a lot of falls and a few tears - to ski fairly well. I can't say the same, however, for my Jamaica-native brother-in-law who managed to ski for about 10 minutes before pulling a hamstring and being hauled away via snowmobile, siren and all. Lucky for him, it was St. Patrick's Day and he could enjoy a much-deserved rest and a green beer in the lodge while he iced his leg and vowed to take the snowboarding route the next time.
The rest of us still had a full day left on the slopes after his injury and my stomach was in knots with nerves and excitement. Overlooking the downhill slope with my mile-long liability waiver and lift pass clipped to my jacket, I felt like a scared little kid with fare money pinned to my shirt and a pat on the head goodbye as my parents left me alone at the bus stop.
It may seem silly, but it was a helpless feeling that I haven't felt in a long while, in part because of my age, but mostly because I'm a perfectionist, the type of person that likes to stay in control. Whether it's with a craft project (don't even ask me how long it takes for me to make a single scrapbook page) or a story I'm writing, I carefully arrange every detail with precision until I am satisfied that I have done my best.
Skiing, for a newcomer, is not a sport that allows much control. Until you've felt what it feels like to slide down a mountain on skis or to hit a pile of fresh powder, it's almost impossible to map out a run in your mind and know the best way to make it to the bottom.
Without experience, the mountain had the control - not me. That fact alone was the hardest to overcome when I reached the top of the first green run at Cypress, which was much steeper than any learner slope I could have imagined.
I sheepishly tipped my skies over the edge and slowly snowplowed (or made a pizza shape with my skis, as I had learned from my husband and my lessons at Dodge City Ski Shop) a little down the hill. It was beautiful. The snow was softly falling around me and I was skiing...I was finally skiing! And then I was skiing faster - so fast that I couldn't stop. I was headed off the side of the slope, under the puny rope designating the run parameters and toward my certain death (at least that's what it felt like, anyway). I could hear my husband yelling, "Pizza, pizza, pizza!" as I careened toward the edge of the run, but my pizza-ing efforts weren't enough to stop my skis, so I forced myself to fall just as I brushed under the rope and skidded in a pile of powder off of the run.
I tumbled to a stop with skis in the air and heart pounding. I looked over my shoulder and followed the cliff's edge down to the valley, while my mind replayed over and over in startling detail what it would have been like to hit the bottom.
At that point, skiing stopped being fun. I was out of control and didn't like the way it made me feel. Before I knew it, big, sloppy tears began rolling down my cheeks as I lay there helpless, like a turtle on its back - too afraid to get up and face the mountain again.
While ski master 3-year-olds (I wish I was kidding) whizzed by me, my family made their way over and coached me back on the run. I fell, fell harder and fell some more, but eventually I made it upright on my skis and away from the edge. It was at that point, with sweat dripping into my eyes and mascara running down my face, I realized that I would be okay; the hardest part of my day was over.
Even if I fell again, gained a few bruises or hurt my pride, I could look back and know that I had done something that I find so very hard to do in my everyday life - I let go. With that knowledge and my renewed spirits, the remainder of my time on the mountain was spent gliding (and, of course, falling) on the snow, not caring who or what had the control. I faced one of my biggest fears, braved my first slipping, sliding experience on skies and lived to tell the tale - it doesn't get better than that.