How To Look Good Skiing (And Other Life Lessons)
I sat alone on the side of the mountain nursing my pride and a torn ligament. To be fair I didn’t realize how serious the injury was at the time. And while I considered asking for help, I was too shy and embarrassed to admit that I needed it. Instead I thought back to what got me into skiing in the first place.
Fourteen months ago, I went on the first hike of my adult life and was immediately drawn to the breath-taking beauty of the mountains in Canada. Eventually, I did my first ski course in Mount Washington, Victoria. I picked up the basic skills pretty quickly; perhaps owing to years of rollerblading and skateboarding. Whatever the reason was, I had a blast. Slowly, I was able to allow myself to go fast, but not too much. Waking up at 4am on the weekend and travelling by bus for 3 hours to the ski resort was worth every minute. Before I even knew it, I had progressed from beginner to intermediate. It was all snow blues.
One lazy afternoon at the ski resort, while resting and scrolling through my phone I stumbled upon a quote: “If you want to achieve at the highest level, you can’t tolerate weakness in yourself." The quote seemed like it was meant for me. Even though I was tired and it was towards the end of the day I decided that what I needed to do was to change my thinking. If I wanted to progress it was either go hard or to go home. So, I went hard. I skied a blue slope which I had never done before. Little did I realize the steep slope actually went way past my skill level. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into but I knew something was wrong. My breathing quickened and I felt my heart beat faster as I picked up speed.
Prior to learning to ski I started rock climbing. Unlike skiing, rock climbing is something that requires you to be in absolute control all the time. I am a methodical climber, whereas, on the ski slope I had to learn to let go to run fast and free. Back on the mountain, I was desperately trying to control my run in order to save myself. I ended up banging my skis on top of each other while working on a parallel stop. I wish I would have gone flying—even a yard sale (slang for eating it on the slopes) would have made a better story. But instead I crossed my skis on top of each other and fell flat on my face. Thanks to the adrenaline high I was unable to feel any pain for a few minutes. Then I made my way to the side of the slope and sat quietly, wondering what I had broken.
A few people stopped by to ask if I needed help, but my ego replied for me: “nope.” As the adrenaline wore off the intensity of the pain spiked exponentially. I settled for icing my leg. After 20 mins, a member of the ski patrol stopped by, noticed I was icing my knee and asked: “what did you do to your knee?” I explained the entire story. He asked me to wait until another patrol member could arrive with a sled to take me back down to the resort. He explained that a knee injury is quite common for beginners and that there was nothing to be ashamed of. I half listened to him politely while telling myself there was no way I could accept a ride back down in the sled without dying of mortification first! Yeah, that quote was still in my mind. But as soon as the sled arrived, my ego took a back seat and I thanked him several times.
The rescue operation began; the ski patrol members lifted me up, positioned me in the sled and asked if I was claustrophobic before covering my body and face with a blue nylon tarp that would offer some protection from the snow on our way down the mountainside. Although I wasn’t claustrophobic, it did feel weird to be strapped down to the sled and unable to move.
It felt strange on the way down. I lost all of my senses. I had no sense of direction and no perception of speed. All I remembered was a bumpy ride. Just as I was starting to enjoy it, the ride was over. The ski patrol took me to the First Aid Center where someone examined my leg and gave me the good news that it's probably not a fracture before suggesting that I get it checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible. They also gave me a drive out to my bus where I had to sit for another three hours to reach Victoria. Later I found out it was a MCL tear.
It was one of those times where I felt most vulnerable. At some point, it occurred to me that it would have been easier if I had friends around. Unfortunately, the majority of my friends from my home country (India) are not really into adventure sports and all my Canadian friends are way advanced; shredding big mountain powder in the backcountry.
On my way back in the bus I analyzed the situation and made notes of what I had learned. Out of all the ski lessons I took, that day provided the most valuable experience:
1. If you want to evolve beyond being a novice, you will most likely look stupid, but that’s how you learn.
2. It showed me what failure could look like, and helped me let go of fear.
3. It pointed out my physical weakness: a great way to work out and build up the necessary strength.
4. It showed me how I had overestimated myself: a great way to acknowledge my ability, take a step back and accept that I need more time and practice and that’s okay.
It filled me with nothing but huge respect for the mountain. This happened almost at the end of the season and although I haven’t made it back yet but I can't wait to ski black runs next year.
Meanwhile, here’s one of my favorite quotes from Charles Bukowski:
“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us”