So yes, yesterday I donned ski boots for the first time, locked those into skiis, also for the first time, and checked off one more thing on the great list of "things i wish i'd done as a child because it's so much harder to start as an adult."
Well, it's not completely checked off the list. Maybe the first little part of the check mark - the shorter little line – has been drawn. Still have the bigger line to go, which would involve actually skiing down a hill, rather than learning things on a crowded slope right where people line up to get one one of the lifts, and other people, coming down from a couple of the trails, come gliding through, usually to a stop, sometimes to a face-plant, if they're ski-boarding.
But I'm jumping ahead a bit.
Yesterday the four of us piled into the truck, three sets of skiis and one pole in the bed, a gym bag full of 3 sets of boots, and another bag full of helmets. My helmet – odd helmet out – was in the bag with the food. I'd made ten peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches (strawberry-rhubarb jam I made last summer, in case you're wondering), and rather than wrap them all individually, thus wasting lots of foil or plastic, I just cut them all in half and arranged them in layers in two plastic containers. So much easier, and less garbage flying around in the truck. No, this has nothing to do with skiing. I'm just sharing because it's my blog and this is what I do. And it's food-related. I also added some cheese sticks and some other snacks, for variety. And four bottles of water.
And off we went.
Roughly 2 1/2 hours later we arrived at Crotched Mountain Ski & Ride in Bennington, NH, which is a bit northwest of Nashua.
The parking lots were packed. We went yesterday because they have a Family Ski deal on Sunday afternoons – lift tickets are only $19, rentals are only $10…and it's from 2:30 to 5:00, when they close for the day (on Sundays). Naturally this brings in a slew of families – as intended – and so, like I said, it was packed.
We carried all our stuff from the truck to the main lodge, and Bill and the kids got their boots on, everyone made trips to the bathroom, etc. We had to wait til 2:15, which is when the Family Ski lift tickets and rentals go on sale, and of course, at that point, the lines were pretty long. I signed up for a one-hour group lesson, which was at 3, so Bill and the kids left to ski together, and I headed into the rental room to feel like a moron get my boots and skiis.
I don't know what it is about times like this, maybe it was feeling rather extra puffy in the ski pants, or maybe it's the 8,000 pounds I need to lose, but I tend to feel like some giant, slow-moving, bumbling caricature of a person in situations where I am totally an unathletic newcomer in a world of slim, sleek Olympians.
So just keep that image of me – or the image of me that I had in my overstimulated brain – in your mind throughout the rest of the post, okay? Just so you get the full effect.
Anyway, I found a person to help me figure out which boots to get. It's kind of a self-serve deal – all the boots are on these huge racks, organized roughly by your shoe size, but not always. The first boots I picked were clearly in the wrong section, as I barely got my foot in. I learned, then, to pay attention to the numbers painted on the boots. I needed a 25.5. Finally found them, managed to get my feet in, get the clampy things closed and tightened (all thanks to this very helpful girl who worked there, zipping around helping everyone who looked lost – thank you blond girl who helped me!) I left my regular boots under one of the benches (This is a nice thing about ski places – everyone seems to respect everyone else's stuff – you just leave your non-skiing gear against a wall or in a cubby and it's fine. People don't generally touch it. Wow.), and got into one of the lines to get skiis.
I was all suited up for the cold, but still inside, so I was already way too hot. I don't like to be way too hot. I like to be warm enough. I kept taking my helmet off, and my gloves, and my neck scarf that my sister made me for christmas – it buttons on like a collar, with no trailing scarf ends flapping in the breeze – and then putting everything back on so my hands were free to hold the skiis, but then I realized I would have to fill out a form before getting the skiis, so I took the gloves off, and then the scarf, and the helmet…you get the idea.
I also kept peeking at the clock way over on the other wall. Closer and closer to 3:00….hurry upppppp, hurry upppppppppppp, people in front of me! I DON'T WANT TO BE LATE!!! I'M A VERY PUNCTUAL PERSON!!! I DON'T WANT TO BE LATE TO MY FIRST SKI CLASS!!!!!!!
Finally the screams coming out of the pores in my skull convinced the people in front of me to move faster (at least that's what I'm telling myself) and it was my turn. Height? Have you ever skiied before? Weight?
Stressful squestions over, I got my skiis, got some poles, and headed outside.
All my panic-in-new-situations finished kicking in, and I'm looking all around at all the people and trying to figure out where I was supposed to go. To my right, a ton of people, skiis on, in what seemed to be a line. Were THEY in a line for the class???? Am I supposed to be in that line?????? I decided that no, I wasn't supposed to be with them. Too many people, and all different ages. And they all looked like they knew what they were doing, and I'm quite sure I did not.
Directly in front of me was a sign that said something like, oh, "Group Lessons" – I cleverly deduced that that was where I needed to go. I hiked toward the 3 or 4 men in matching mostly-black-accented-with-red outfits and one of them stepped forward, a friendly, helpful look on his bearded face. I said I was supposed to be in the 3:00 group class (it was after 3 by this point, AM I GOING TO BE PENALIZED????) and he asked if I'd skiied before, I said no, and he brought me to one of the groups, their class ALREADY IN PROGRESS.
Actually, it wasn't that bad – the teacher had just started, and no one was on skiis yet. Yay. Welcome to the group, and your name is?
I put my skiis and poles down, and the teacher – a nice, happy, ski-nut of an older guy – told me what they were just talking about.
There were five of us in the class. One guy, four women. I immediately noticed that I was the only dork wearing a helmet. Everyone else just wore regular hats. I certainly looked prepared for the worst. Or like an over-protective mother had dressed me. Oh well. Get over that.
So, the first thing we learned was the proper stance. Knees over toes, back slanted somewhat…we all crouched in our best imitation of professional skiers ready for the slalom. Then he (I wish I knew his name – he sort of reminded me of this helicopter pilot we had on our honeymoon when we had a tour of the Big Island – very relaxed and friendly – someone who absolutely loved what they did. I'll call him Skip.) told us to jump in place. So we jumped, dragging out two-ton boots into the air with us, and when we landed, he told us to freeze.
"That," he said, "Is exactly the stance I'm talking about. Your body just knows how to position itself." And we checked out ourselves and our classmates, and sure enough, we all looked like we were supposed to. And we looked relaxed and comfortable about it.
Next up, weight distribution. The balls of your feet, not the heels. Got it.
But before that – just to give you a feel for the whole setting, well, I think I need to draw a picture. Hang on, I'll be right back.
Okay, here's the sketch:
Okay, so, to learn how to sidestep, Skip had us go down that short slope (the zig-zag lines) to where the fence was (The fence blocks off the area below the chair lift, probably so that if people, or skiis or poles, fall from the sky, there's no one standing below to get injured.) Now, descending this sharp little incline wasn't easy either. You have to basically walk on your heels, because if you walk like you're wearing normal (i.e. flexible) footwear, you can probably keep yourself upright even as your feet are angling down. With ski boots, which are totally rigid to stabilize your ankles, you can't do this. If you try to walk down, your whole body is slanting dangerously forward, and you either run, completely out of control, to the bottom and crash into the fence, or you start to run and Skip chivalrously catches you before the crash.
Or, you can walk down sideways.
I know you're wondering. I walked sideways. I wasn't the person who tried to walk regular and who got caught before crashing. Phew! One potentially embarrassing moment avoided!
So, we got to the bottom of the little hill, and then sidestepped our way back up, bending our knees and pointing them toward the hill, and angling our boots in, toward the hill.
Finally, it was time to put on a ski. Yes. Just one. We planted our boots in the bindings and stepped down with our heels. Yay, we all did it. Locked and loaded, baby.
Skip stood on one foot – balancing on his single ski – and asked if we could do that. I know, it sounds like he's showing off, but he wasn't. It's all about balance. So we all tried standing on one foot, and no one fell over, so that was a success.
Then he had us sort of scootering in a circle. We'd push a bit with the non-ski foot and glide along on the ski-foot. Like follow-the-leader. On one ski. And you're supposed to be in that ski crouch position as you're doing it. Not pulling yourself forward with the non-ski foot and your poles, but leaning forward and gliding ahead with the skifoot and assisting with nonskifoot.
That non-ski leg got a hell of a workout, I'll tell you. It's sort of like you're on a scooter, but not all that much. It's strange and awkward and tiring, basically.
So we did that, first on one foot, then on the other.
And then, yay, it was time to graduate to two skiis AT THE SAME TIME! I think we were all glad to stop the scooter exercise.
So, there we were, on our two skiis.
Next up, snowplowing to a stop.
There was, if you look on the left side of the picture, a sloping area where people were arriving from a few of the nearby trails. We used a bit of that slope to dodge incoming human missiles AND to practice the snowplow to a stop idea.
I say "idea" because, well, I don't seem to do it right. I am sure that when I'm trying to angle my skiis into the pie wedge shape, I'm putting my weight everywhere but on the balls of my feet, or not getting my knees over my toes, or something. Whatever it is, my skiis seem to straighten and not form a wedge, and next thing you know, I'm barreling straight at Skip, both of us eyes wide and ready for death. He caught me, though, and just said "Don't stab me with the poles!" as he did.
Before he had us start doing this, he told us to keep our hands up in front of us, like we're steering, and look straight ahead, and if we couldn't stop, put our hands up in front of our bodies (which is where they were supposed to be anyway) and he'd put his hands up and stop us.
I think it was during this exercise that the first person, our lone guy, fell. The rest of us probably breathed a collective sigh of relief and also realized that somehow our odds of falling next had increased. Dummmmmm da-dum-dum!
Next we tried doing a snowplow turn. The technique was explained thusly: If you're going to turn to the left, for example, then you need to PRESS DOWN WITH YOUR RIGHT BIG TOE, like you've got a thousand dollar bill under there and you don't want the wind to blow it away. Got it.
One by one, we placed ourselves at the upper part of this slope (not the sharp drop near the fence, I'm talking again about the area on the left of the picture) and gave it a go.
Now, remember what I said about not being able to snowplow for some reason? Yeah. Well, I tried to make some sort of wedge, but felt totally inept at that, BUT, I pressed down with my right big toe (or my big right toe, if you prefer) and – TURNED LEFT! Woo hoo!
And the funny thing was, Skip said "Hey! You did a parallel turn – that's even harder! Good job!"
Hahahahahahaha. Why is it funny? BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING.
But there you go. I did a parallel turn to the left.
And didn't fall.
On Sunday we were at my cousin's house for brunch, and later, after the food, he was saying that after you fall a few times, it's kind of better because it's like, once you get over the fear or anticipation of FALLING, you can kind of relax. It's not that you're not going to fall again, because you ARE, but it's more that you lose the FEAR of falling. So it's no longer a big scary thing. Makes sense. Because my cousin IS rather sensible.
Anyway, it was time to try a snowplow turn to the right. Problem was, turning to the right would put us more in the path of the people skiing in (see left of the picture) AND, we might end up tangling with the really long line of people for the chair lift, because that was looped around in that direction (it would be in the area just below what I drew in the picture – the line coming down and to the left from over there on the right).
So Skip had us take our skiis off (because it would be quicker this way) and follow him across the area where the lift line was, to another slope. I'll draw another picture. Because it's fun.
Here it is:
So we did that and then had to sidestep up to our narrow area at the top of this slope. And really, if you read what I wrote up there, about the extreme sharp dropoff and the the parking lot, don't be thinking I crammed all that in because I ran out of space in the image file. Nope. That's how it was. There were markers or a fence of some (flimsy) sort, or flags or pylons or something to warn us away, but still. For total beginners who are only occasionally and by luck in control of what their skiis are doing? DANGER DANGER DANGER!
Fortunately none of us fell off and dented anyone's vehicles. I wonder who would be considered at fault for such a thing?
Back to us.
So after we did the turn (oh, and by the way, my skiis – totally of their own accord, because I was just along for the ride) decided to do another parallel turn instead of a snowplow turn. I got the credit, but really, the skiis did it.
I think it was learning a J-stop. I think that's what it's called. It's when instead of snowplowing to a stop (which we know already that I can't do) you TURNTURNTURN with every fiber of your toe and end up facing up the hill and – wonder of wonders – stopping. I think you are only supposed to do this on relatively flat areas, otherwise, well, if your skiis are facing uphill, wouldn't you then – in horrifyingly slow motion, like a cartoon character – start skiing backwards? Isn't skiing backwards kind of an advanced thing? Just checking.
Anyway. That was the plan – snowplow, turn for all you're worth, and…stop.
I headed downhill toward Skip, and all the time we're doing this, of course, he's hollering (in a friendly, helpful, self-preserving sort of way) things like "Look forward! Hands in front of you! Press on that toe! Don't kill me!" Okay, he didn't say "Don't kill me!" but it was my previous crash into Skip, where he didn't want to be stabbed with the poles, that burst into my totally confused brain. And, to clarify, it's not like I was skiing at him before with the tips of the poles aimed at his heart. I guess when I put my hands up so he could stop me, my poles probably angled to the side or something. I don't know.
All I know is, I was heading straight for Skip, I wasn't turning at all, and I didn't want to stab him with the poles.
So, with just a split second of thought – if that – I thrust my poles to either side and brought my hands back in front to crash – safely – into Skip's hands. It was kind of like a Stars on Ice flashy dance move, I think. I'm sure that's what everyone behind me was thinking. "Wow! Didn't we see her performing with Brian Boitano last year?" Oh yeah. I'm QUITE sure that's what they all thought.
Meanwhile, when I threw the poles, Skip's eyes kind of popped wide (even wider than they already were, what with HelmetGirl bearing down on him) and I don't even remember but I think he made some sort of questioning grunt – like "What the hell are you doing?" only without the enunciation. And I told him – "I didn't want to stab you with the poles."
Back to sidestepping up the hill.
And another J-stop.
And this time?
Yep. I was starting to turn to the right, and then I went back on my heels (probably – I have no idea really) and down I went.
And that was it. I took my skiis off, got up, put them back on (which seemed quicker then flailing around like a beached whale wearing a helmet) and sidestepped back up the slope.
And, time for another J-stop, and – yay! – this time I did it. No crashing, no falling, and no dramatic ridding myself of the poles. I turned and turned and stopped. Phew!
And that was about it. Skip talked for a couple of minutes about how to get on and off the magic carpet over on the bunny slope, and suggested how we should practice, and we all thanked him, and that was it.
My right ankle was killing me. It was doing some weird popping thing from about the midpoint of the class – not painful, but distracting. And it seemed hard to get it to pob "back" to wherever it was supposed to be. I don't know how else to describe it.
And also? Honestly? I was beat. Not just physically. Although I discovered lots of muscle groups that need improving. But mentally, too. Especially that. Why? It's not like it was all that complicated. But for whatever reason, my brain felt like any more of this and a few sparks would fly and then it would go black. Is this because I'm older? I mean, older than Alex and Julia? Seriously – it was like NOTHING stayed in my head for longer than a second. Skip would tell us "do this and this and that's all you need to do" and I'd start to do this…and then, once I started moving, the other "this" would have dropped out one of my ears and disappeared into the snow. No mind-body connection WHATSOEVER. That's how it felt.
And that's why I don't ENTIRELY count it as skiing. I had a lesson. Skiing is when you are NOT in that setting. There's no Skip standing there bravely to catch you when you totally forgot how to stop even though he just demonstrated AND told you two miliseconds ago AND he's shouting it at you as you schuss toward him.
But Bill was very kind (when I finally found him and the kids) and supportive and said he was proud of me. And I guess in some tiny way I am proud of me, too.
Because whatever it was, I did it.
So now my self-appointed task is to work on strengthening my abysmally sorry quads and glutes and core…and improve my cardio. Because in just about a month, we'll be going to Maine and we will be skiing. I'll be taking another lesson or two, because OH have I got a lot to work on, but Bill's suggestion – which sounded hideous last night but makes lots of sense this morning – was to try a few runs on the bunny slope FIRST and kind of get a feel for all of it, and THEN take a lesson, so that A) I'm not placed in a very-first-time class and B) I can work on improving the stuff I'm not good at. Like, oh, the snowplowing thing.
That's the plan.
And regarding Bill and the kids? They had a great time. Alex and Julia – from what Bill says, since I never got to watch them ski yesterday, are doing SO well. Alex skiis…how did Bill put it?…thoughtfully. And fearlessly. But Bill said his turns were beautiful and though he didn't say graceful, that's kind of the feeling I got from the way he was talking. And Julia was her usual tiny dynamo self. Julia fell twice – once on a trail and (glad I didn't see this) once just trying to get ON the chairlift. Alex was ahead of Bill and Julia with some other solo person, and Bill got on and Julia was (I guess) wiggling herself on but didn't quite get there and fell off, so Bill's got her hand, and he's holding on as the chair is moving because he thought, in athat moment, that they'd stop the lift. But no one saw what happened, so Bill let go so Julia wouldn't, I don't know, be dangling from the lift as it rose higher and higher in the sky (OH am I glad I didn't see this) and Julia slid a bit and then they finally stopped the lift and helped her on and everything was fine. Scared Bill more than it scared Julia, of course. Alex fell once and almost fell but didn't. And Bill fell once ONLY because he was helping Julia up when she fell that one time, and somehow she skiied ON TOP of his skiis and though he was standing parallel to the hill, like you're supposed to, somehow they were BOTH sliding downhill, her on top of his skiis, and so he fell on purpose just to stop them from going any farther. Bill is very clear on this. He fell ON PURPOSE. BECAUSE JULIA WAS ON HIS SKIIS. So it doesn't REALLY count. You know. Because I care so much about that.
Anyway, when they were skiing and not falling, which was 98% of the time, Bill would have Alex go first, and then he (bill) would ski with Julia. And Julia would follow Alex and kind of copy what he was doing, turn for turn, and then when they neared the bottom of the run, Bill would tell Julia "Go catch him!" and she'd tuck her little body into a crouch, point her toes at the bottom and try to catch – or pass – her brother. Go, Julia!
After I returned my rentals and left my helmet with our other stuff, I went outside to try to find Bill and the kids. I'd seen them once, going up the lift near my class, but that was it, though during the class I hadn't really been looking hard, either. I tried calling Bill's cell phone, but the reception in that area was iffy. Turns out he and the kids were on the other side of the lodge, where a couple other lifts are, and where it's MUCH less congested than the side I was on. After a bit of conversation on the phones once we both managed to get signals, we met up. I told Bill to ski a few trails by himself, which was what he'd wanted to do at some point on this trip, and I took the kids inside for a snack. Then Bill came back and took Alex for one more run while Julia and I took her boots off and hit the little store and got her a pin for her coat. Unfortunately the store was closed by the time Alex got back – I thought he'd want to choose his own thing – pin or sticker – otherwise I'd have bought two pins. Bad mommy. But he didn't seem too bothered after the initial bit of "where's my souvenir?"
And then we packed up our stuff, loaded it into the truck, and headed home. We hit rain about halfway there, so a lot of the trip was ugly, but we made it ahead of schedule, ordered Chinese food, and that was that.
And that's my story.