That “working title” bothered me until I just embraced it. That’s been my theme this entire ski season — forget what you think you can and cannot do and just give it a go.
I started skiing when I moved to Utah in my 40s. (No one would confuse my terrified, stiff-legged gliding down a cat track with the kids on spring break with actual skiing.) Although I continue to improve each season, I still have fears that learning to ski as an adult will implant in you, primarily falling and breaking stuff. Of course, they lessen after each new run (yes, the more days you ski on more runs at more resorts will help you improve more than anything else), but as I watched younger skiers and snowboarders move with abandon, I began to hatch a plan.
“I wanna learn a trick,” I half-jokingly announced to my spouse, family and, eventually, my friend at Woodward Park City. I find that once I say something out loud, it sounds less scary than the voice in my head. More importantly, it makes me less likely to back out when that voice snarkily replies, “Are you nuts?” Even at 55, my inner voice is still a bit of a mean girl. “Just don’t break anything!” replied my spouse as he headed out the door. I cringed.
“We’re going to start off easy,” Felix Sjӧstrӧm, my Woodward instructor, calmly said. He said this multiple times in some fashion. I think he was as nervous as I was. Looking around the indoor ‘adventure hub,’ I was clearly the oldest human to hit the trampolines and, soon afterward, ramps and foam pits, but there was absolutely no age limit…for anything there. Because my goal/declaration/mandate was to “learn a trick,” and I was only taking a single three-hour lesson, the biggest challenge — for Felix and me — was determining what that challenge would be! So, we started on the trampoline to see what I could actually and realistically do.
My instructor was excellent! Felix asked me to stand, bounce, sit bounce, knee bounce, bounce higher… you get it. He asked me to get confident and then more confident over the next three hours. With that, I relaxed and shared my fears and limitations, allowing us to discuss where to push and where to say, “another day.” (Note to folks ‘of a certain age’ or mums of so many children: bouncing on your back is a no-go if you risk whiplash or other injury, and bouncing on a trampoline will require a trip or two to the ladies’ room. Know your limits, and share them! There are often workarounds.)
So, we agreed that a 360-degree turn on skis wouldn’t happen in three hours. I felt better acknowledging this, but I suddenly realized what would happen — I was going to jump. Yes, jump!
When Felix asked whether I’d ever tried roller skis, I looked at the ramps behind me, smiled, and declared, yet again, “No, but I’m totally game.”
Roller skis are exactly what you imagine (or fear), short skis with roller blade-like wheels underneath. What you don’t expect is that they’re game-changers and fun! Remember: my biggest fear is falling and breaking sh…stuff. On roller skis, you’re on smooth ramps of increasing height and length with giant pits filled with black and yellow foam blocks at the end. Felix started by having me stand at the pit's edge and “trust fall” into it. It felt like being wrapped in 16” of Utah powder off Snowbird’s Baby Thunder, a great place to learn to ski Utah’s famed fluff.
But Felix continued his step-by-step approach. Finally, he rolled me on the flat part of the ramp towards the gentlest ramp and I fell…splat-hard, but that was the last time I did because I told that voice in my head to go walk Park City’s Historic Main Street and meet me later to celebrate. I had this!
I dropped in off the ramp numerous times. Launching, landing squarely, and spinning 180 degrees. I had it, I wanted to do more, but Felix kept bringing me back, “I want you to feel confident before we head out to the snow.” I knew where to put my weight, my arms, my head as well as my mind. I could feel my stomach drop without losing my lunch. I felt verrrrry confident…until I went out to the snow.
No foam pit. Lots of groms watching and sailing past me. Yeah, I was nervous. On the lift up, Felix’s boss, Lead Ski Coach at Woodward Park City, Jake Smith, introduced himself (he knew who the ‘non-traditional student’ from Ski Utah was) and talked about how he and everyone else has to “get out of their head” on any new trick or milestone. On a short lift to the top, his words resonated. He was talking about his voice, which shared a DNA with my own. It had nothing to do with age or experience. Everyone has a voice, and it doesn’t represent fear but the unknown.
As we age, we feel there is less that’s unknown, just more we cannot control, and that’s sometimes scary. However, approaching the unknown in a controlled environment unlocks doors, making other things possible, which is very exciting. The unknown might occasionally require a guide or instructor, but I never want it to keep me from traveling a path I want to take.
At the top were a series of bumps, jumps, boxes and rails. No, I wasn’t going to attempt the halfpipe (this time). Felix asked whether I wanted him to lead or follow. “Lead..just this time,” I declared. I watched and followed, gaining speed and confidence as we flowed down the mountain.
You know where this is going…we did it again and again, rolling the bumps and then catching air. I won’t suggest that I was Olympic-worthy, but I felt like I was. I heard theme songs in my head and after two-and-a-half hours, I was unstoppable.
“Can we try some boxes?” I asked. “Sure,” Felix replied. After learning how to approach and land jumps, flat boxes were easy-peasy. Rails? Maybe another lesson, but I’m definitely hitting the terrain park next time to try (show off) my skills.
I didn’t realize until the next time on the slopes that learning to jump—even small ones—eliminated a considerable fear and opened up swaths of other areas of the mountain. I won’t be hucking over cliffs anytime soon—ever!—but I won’t steer clear of every bump in the run or off-piste. I may even take a few. I even look at moguls differently, whereby the rhythm is not dictated by the terrain but by how I approach it. Learning ‘a new trick’ allows me to explore more.
Do I recommend taking a lesson at Woodward Park City? Absolutely. What you learn in three hours or three months, however, is entirely up to you. You can, indeed, teach an old dog new tricks on the slopes, on the trails and wherever your lives take you. Now, go out and enjoy!