Thursday, March 20, 2014

When You Find Yourself on top of a Mountain Wearing Skis

When you find yourself on top of a mountain wearing skis, it's helpful to know how to get down. Between March 9th and March 17th, I found myself regularly on top of a mountain.

I grew up skiing. There are pictures of 5 year old Molly stuffed into a snowsuit with baby skis on. I've been to ski school. I was a regular attendee on the Church Ski Trip. I was in the Alps one day two years ago. It wasn't until the first day of the 7th grade Skifreizeit trip, however, that I realized my own version of skiing could be better classified as scraping and skidding and trying to reach the bottom of the slope ASAP.

It felt like I happened to be on top of a mountain, and my task was getting down.

This was an embarrassing realization, because I had spent the past week getting annoyed at everyone (I really mean everyone) asking if I knew how to ski: "Aber, kannst du überhaupt skifahren?" "Fährst du überhaupt ski?". Maybe if their tone of voice didn't seem to imply that Americans in general can't ski or that we don't even have mountains, I wouldn't have been so over confident in my reply. After the fifteenth time, though, the question was hitting a nerve.

And now, day two of "This Alp Adventure" I was eating my words. Due to unfortunate circumstances that morning, I ended up skiing down the mountain (Talabfahrt) alone around lunch time. I literally face planted myself down the slope to the extent that my goggles needed to be cleaned and pockets emptied of snow. I reached the end of the Talabfahrt swearing I would never board a lift again and slumped off to lunch.

Enter David (kami)Katze(r): a man known for his skiing speed
During lunch, I came clean and told David I was checked out of skiing. Didn't like it, wasn't particularly good at it and didn't care about improving.
David, however, loves to ski.
David also has an A+ in confidence building.
He was determined to show me that I was capable of and could love skiing, too. I must have been somewhat fishing for this motivation because it wasn't hard for him to convince me to get back on the lift only half an hour after I had sworn of the entire Alps.

True Confession: I'm a ski school drop out. On more than one occasion as a kid, I have left my ski school class after they graduated from the easy bunny slopes to the more advanced greens and blues. I'm fearful of most things (like steep slopes) and being the worst at things and as a result, decide to give up on them (like skiing). It's an unfortunate pattern.

Thats why it was good to have David, someone who wouldn't give me the option of giving up.

First, he took away my ski poles, my life lines. The sticks of safety I used to scrap myself to a stop anytime I got too fast. Until they were gone, I hadn't realized how much I was relying on them. I joined in on the exercises with the other students, carefully winding themselves down the mountain in exaggerated bent knee positions and triangle turns. It occurred to me then, that turning was sort of an essential part of skiing that I don't remember being instructed in. Turns out, bending your knees is kind of key.

Next, David taught me how to carve by bending your knees and leaning extremely into the side you wish to turn, in such a way that your glide on the very edge of your ski and cut a smooth line into the snow without scraping up debris along the way. Carving these elegant S's on the gently sloping hill was one of my favorite moments of the trip. It was the beginning of feeling in control of my skiing. Looking back on those moments, I can't say that I hate skiing, because it really was fun.

Now, I don't mean to allude that after a little carving lesson I was hooked on skiing. That afternoon, skiing the Talabfahrt with David was a rather miserable experience. It was a beat the clock situation: 20 minutes to get down the mountain before the bus left at 4 and it was going to be over my dead body if the bus left late because of me. Never was the need to get down from a mountain more urgent. But even as I screamed "I hate skiing!" going over countless moguls, I knew I would rather have been miserable on the mountain, than cozy in the gondola because sometimes it pays to make yourself miserable.

On the bus ride home that night, I felt exhausted and annoyed, but also proud. I did something I didn't enjoy, or feel confident in, but completed it all the same. And such went the remainder of my ski week. I repetitively found myself in situations I either didn't want to be in or didn't think I could do, and did them anyway. Basically I'm a poster child for the pedagogical principles of Skifreizeit: learning about myself, tackling challenges, conquering fears, and bonding with my fellow skiers. On the bright side, I was in the Alps (see picture), so I wasn't really suffering.

I tried the best I could to like skiing and there were some great moments where I really had fun, but over all its not really the sport for me. Perhaps more importantly though, if I find myself on top of a mountain wearing skis, I can get myself (safely) down.

There are many more stories from the week to be told, but I'll just conclude with these pictures.

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