I’m not good at skiing. I’m not terrible, but it’s only with concentrated effort. I can’t seem to go FAST down anything. I still end up in the snow banks on the side of a slope. I still stop in fear when I see small and unpredictable children in front of me, even though they’re usually better and faster than I am.
I spent my first season of skiing crying. There was a lot of crying that year in general, but looking back it feels as if all my sorrows and fears were magnified on snow. I signed up for ski lessons at Snoqualmie and spent wet and cold Wednesday evenings in January frightened of angles and slopes. I was on skis that were a gift, from a man who grew up skiing. He was patient, to a point, but I could wear his patience thin. On the best days, he skied ahead of me and said “Don’t think about it, just ski to me. Just look at me, not at your feet. Just come to me.” And I tried, oh how I tried. The sorrow. The heartbreak.
A lot happened after that, and it isn’t worth getting in to details. My skis went on the back burner, I walked away from most of the community I knew, and my life moved on. I met a man who doesn’t ski at all, with dogs who love snow but can only hike in it for so long before they are tangled masses of snowballs, and I loved them fiercely (the dogs first, then the man, because that’s the way it works sometimes). I started mountaineering and meeting new friends. Skiers were back, tangentially, and so were their stories about tours and photos from beautiful places. The memory of lessons faded to a funny anecdote about crying without the tang of fear because time smooths over the things and makes it all rosy laughter and snow and sunshine. And I wanted that snow and sunshine again.
So I signed up for lessons again, this time with a crew of friends and a different set of skis that a dear friend of mine gave me when she moved. I bought a pair of touring boots off of a woman online. On a Saturday full of rain I walked down to the local gear shop where a charming guide molded my liners and sold me my first pair of touring bindings. Wednesdays were still cold and icy and wet, but they were fun. We packed cars full of skis and people and snacks and our Wednesday crew ran out to do laps on weekends, regardless of weather. We skied in terrible conditions and we laughed and my friends were endlessly patient with me and kind. We had a few good days. I brought skins with me but never put them on, afraid to start something new again and lose the little bit of an edge that I could feel growing beneath my boots.
Warm weather came and went. I signed up for an AIRE 1 course to understand snow a little more, and I signed up for lessons. On a day where, again, the Seattle skies poured rain — a dear friend came over and together we waxed my skis and drank hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps and he showed me how to attach skins to the bottom, and how to turn my bindings to lock the brake. On the last day of the year of 2018, I finally did it. I drove up to the mountain with two friends by my side and we started to haul our way up.
And, oh dear. I think I love skinning. It’s almost like walking, but not. It’s almost like skiing, but not. There’s a rhythm to it like a good run – my body moving forward with each breath. At one point I stripped to my tank top and steam poured off of my body and the sun fought through fog and everything glittered. We stopped at the crest of the hill, piled on warm clothing again, switched everything around and went back down what we had just come up. And the back up again. And back down. And with two laps, I was done. So yeah, I’m still not a great skier. And our little ski tour was still inbounds at resort, on groomed hills with children zipping past me. And I don’t care, it was amazing and I am starting to finally understand what there is to love about this sport.