Downhill skiing more than anything has been trial by fire for me. We had learned to cross country ski as children, back in the haze of memory where I can’t honestly tell you if it was hard or easy for me, if I took to it naturally, or not. Regardless, during my first experience downhill skiing, it gave me a bit of an advantage. I already knew what snow plowing was, and in fifth grade, I could follow a few friends with much more experience than I down a black at Snowbowl…slowly.
Fast forward five years in which I had one other grand Snowbowl adventure, and my brother asked me if I wanted to go on his annual ski trip to Telluride with him. I had been secretly sitting behind for years in envy and hoping for the opportunity to go with my big brother, so the answer, of course, was YES!
We took the drive to Colorado and stayed with friends where I had once petted my brother’s face. The next morning, we woke up early and drove to Telluride. I was nervous. To say nothing of the fact that I had skied twice, I was also with my brother and his ski-buddy. They had spent years on the ski team while I was tracking around the green loops at Mormon Lake. I wasn’t worried that my brother would leave me, and I was sure he would teach me what I needed to, but it was the deep seated desire of one who desperately wants to impress their hero that had me on edge.
We rented skis without much difficulty. They set me on beginner level skis which essentially means that the ski will pop off your foot if you sneeze at it the wrong way. There would be no twisting of legs on this adventure. We suited up, took the first chair lift up the mountain, and my brother gave me some tips on what to do.
The first run was a blue groomer. There are no real bumps, but it was steep enough to make me think WOW! I am going really fast. I hope I don’t crash because that would be bad.
I got down, and I only fell once. WIN!
We took the next lift and my brother, maybe sensing some of my nerves, suggested we do a green. We did. Let’s face it. Even I could admit that this was not what you could charitably call exhilarating, but it did build my confidence. Or, maybe the fact that we skate skied back up the run a ways built up my confidence. Either way, I was willing to take on something a little more challenging for the next run. My brother’s friend suggested we head up into the then-new Prospect Bowl. I said yes even when they said it had more difficult terrain. I even felt I could get down as I watched slopes that got steeper as you went up the lift.
We were about thirty meters from the top of the lift when my brother turned to me and asked, “Do you want to try a black?”
“Um…sure,” I said. What am I getting myself into? was my actual thought.
This was not just a black. This was a black at Telluride. It was a black that had moguls, which I had never skied before. It was a hike to. It was a black where you stand at the top and lean out wondering Where is the slope? It must be down there somewhere.
My brother gave me some good advice which I promptly ignored in my growing unease. I am sure I tried to follow it as I started, but I can’t honestly tell you what he said. They went down ahead a few bumps, and then waited. I psyched myself up for what seemed like hour long minutes and made my first turn. Scary, but successful. I just needed to do that another bazillion times, and I would be down. No problem, right?
The second turn went just as well. The third…well, the third turn I actually turned hard. It was steeper than the others, and I was trying to control my descent. The problem was, my skis had been set to beginner mode, not take-on-black-moguls-your-third-run mode. The ski promptly popped off my foot sparing me any kind of control or injury. I fell over (the right way, because falling downslope is not the right way, let me tell you). I stood up, pulled the ski over and tried to get back into it.
I was not actually sure how to do this since I had never lost a ski before. It turns out that you have to release the binding before attempting to get into the ski again for it to lock your boot back in place. I stamped at the ski more and more impatiently not comprehending why it wouldn’t lock in, and slowly but surely, it edged toward the side of the mogul.
Down the ski went! My brother and friend started shouting “Ski!” to all of the people downslope from me as the ski merrily took the direct road down the entire run.
I was left with no choice but to take the other ski off and sled down on my tush until I could reach the bottom of the run where my brother’s friend was waiting with the ski. That was fun, and I was relieved enough to not really feel THE SHAME at the disastrous attempt at my first black at Telluride.
The weekend went on. We skied easier things, and I took alternate routes when they wanted a challenge. I got the skis tightened so they wouldn’t pop off at a glare again, and slowly rebuilt my confidence. The last day, the two of them went off on their own for a while and I worked on just getting down whatever run I found. Finally, I went back to the Prospect Bowl, and I skied that run. I fell a bunch (I am barely getting to the point of blacks without falling at all now), but I got down without losing a ski or sledding down.
The truly nice things about this experience is that my brother is awesome. He was encouraging, understanding, and helpful the whole time. He didn’t shame me. He and his friend even built me up by talking about how blacks at Telluride are even harder than blacks in other places. They helped me and skied with me most of the weekend, and I was able to build back the confidence in three days to go and tackle that run again. This of course also proved that I can get down essentially anything, which has led to more hike-to adventures including ones where there are no tracks period until you are descending what would be a waterfall in the summer. It has taken me over the cornice when I was standing behind my brother and his friend and couldn’t see any of the slope at all. It has taken me down double black runs since my second ski trip. Now, I can confidently tell people, “I’ll get down anything. How fast and how many times I fall is a question, but I will get down it and safely.”
Apparently, this makes me a pretty good skier. Thanks bro!