I’ve never been into “action sports.” I prefer to keep a (somewhat) swift and steady pace over long distances (running, hiking, biking). But skiing has been really therapeutic lately. It requires all of my concentration to keep the shiny side up and others unscathed. And it’s surprisingly fun to be outside of my comfort zone. (It’s also fun to drink après ski beers in hot tubs.)
Sometimes, operating outside of my comfort zone hurts – physically, sometimes mentally. To-date, both have only been temporary.
This year’s Annual Ski Trip was in Whitefish, Montana – the gateway to Glacier National Park and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. “Big Mountain,” as the locals call it, received record snowfall this season. Tally up all of its positive attributes – $55 lift tickets, zero lift lines and $5 pints at the summit – and it’s a strong contender for America’s next great ski destination.
It was just four of us this year. Ross, Luke and I skied together while Lindsey took lessons. Luke and Ross ski a lot faster and more proficiently than me. I’d classify myself as an entry-level Intermediate. I can ski any run in the Midwest, but get me on a mountain and I’m a solid blue square. A groomed one, preferably.
Luke was four when his Dad first threw him onto a pair of skis, secured a rope around his waist and let him have at it. Crashing isn’t an issue when you’re low to the ground and made of rubber. I had the misfortune of learning as an adult. No matter how proficient I get, the fear will always exist. I am also very stiff and very tall.
I experienced a few mishaps trying to keep up with the boys. One day, the snow was icy and fast. My legs were burning after holding turns for three damn miles. Near the bottom of the run, my ski caught an edge and I nearly slid into a tree. I managed to drag some sort of Spanish moss-looking vegetation back to base on my pole.
I also biffed it at the summit while admiring the incredible view of the Flathead Valley. I was in the middle of shouting, “WOW!!,” when I got caught up on some uneven terrain and my skis splayed out in a splits-like fashion.
The worst crash came when I was trying to be brave.
Luke, Ross and I took off from the backside of the mountain together. Luke ducked into the trees and Ross and I somehow found ourselves on a never-ending catwalk. We were tired of going slow.slow.slow and decided to hop onto a side trail named “Inspiration.”
It was steep, but short, and the snow was soft and untracked.
“Let’s do it,” I said to Ross.
“…okay,” he said hesitantly.
I led the way, taking a few turns at a fairly good pace. Suddenly, I was somersaulting through the air headfirst, landing on the tops of my shoulders. A ski flew off, which hasn’t happened in a while, so I yelled “yard sale” to be funny.
It took me 20 sweaty, swear-filled minutes to get it back on, while Ross and Luke waited at the bottom. I calmed down after having a lunch beer, but couldn’t fully shake off the crash.
Ross and Lindsey flew home the next day, so Luke and I skied alone. The snow was soft and slow and I made it through the morning without incident. We skied past Inspiration a few times before Luke stopped at the top of it and said, “Here’s your chance for redemption.”
“Do you think I can do it?” I asked
“Heck yeah you can do it.”
So I did.
At first, I skied slowly and cautiously. Then I realized the snow was predictable and the run was wide open. I smoothly and confidently maneuvered past the place where I fell the day before and realized nothing would go wrong as long as I made my turns.
I let myself go a little bit and picked up some speed. Luke followed behind me making a figure-8 with our tracks.
We reached the bottom and I paused to look back at the hill that previously got the best of me. It looked very steep from where we stood and I watched a man slowly fight his way down from the top.
I shouted, “Suck it, Inspiration!” and turned my back on my former nemesis. It was time to loosen up my sore neck muscles with a beer in the hot tub.