68 Days: A Story About Skiing's Life Changing Power // Ski Industry News
I was born on November 28, 2014 at 9:30 am. I was 34 years old.
That was the moment I clicked into the bindings of two skis on snow for the first time. That was the moment that my life as I know it now – more joyful, more balanced, more assured – began.
I grew up just a few miles north of Stowe, Vermont. I don’t think it’s that uncommon to meet a Vermonter who has never hit the slopes. But, my parents had moved to the area because of the fun free-spirited mountain culture. Which they enjoyed, off the mountain. I guess it never occurred to them that there might be something to gain from spending time on the mountain too.
And, so it went like that for me. In my childhood winters, I went sledding in my back yard, and I made snow angels. I drank hot chocolate. I wore pink Moon Boots. And, I waited patiently for summer to arrive.
My first summer job as a teenager was waiting tables at the Cliff House. I rode the gondola to work and back every day. Up the mountain. Down the mountain. I listened to people talk about skiing. I worked with people who worked at the Cliff House simply because they loved skiing. For me, it was a job with a beautiful view.
I was fine. Life was fine. You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t know what you’re missing.
Now, I know.
While it’s a little weird that I grew up very near the ski capital of the east and never skied, it’s weirder that as an adult, I’d been the marketing director of GoStowe (the DMO for Stowe) since 2005. And, still did not ski.
I was embarrassed about it. So, I never brought it up. Very few people knew. I would go to ski shows and talk to skiers, and press would call me, and I’d talk to them. All winter, I’d wear a cute black and white Moriarty hat – sporting the Stowe swoosh logo and images of skiers. Everyone just assumed I was a regular on the slopes. I never lied. But, I avoided. I avoided actually having to confess.
In the spring of 2014, I got divorced. And, divorce makes you question everything about who you’ve been, who you are, and who you want to be. It’s a huge mental challenge, and for me, having a good physical challenge helped me find some balance. My physical therapy for heartache was mountain biking. And, it was when the bike season was coming to an end that I realized I’d connected with the land and the town and a new group of people in a way that inspired and thrilled me. And, in a moment, I knew I not only wanted to learn how to ski, but I needed to.
I wasn’t scared of embarrassment anymore. I wasn’t scared of the unknown or of being bad at something I should have been good at, or of telling the truth. And, so, in October, I told a friend, ‘I’m going to learn how to ski this year’, and from there, it became real.
People were shocked, confused, and happy. They wanted me to learn it, and they wanted me to like it. And those people made it easier for me, but I still had to do it on my own.
I got a pass.
I high-fived at least four people in the parking lot the day I picked up my Evolution Stowe Card. I had evolved: I had committed.
I got boots.
I went to see the ‘wizard’ at Inner Bootworks. It was like a visit to the foot spa with all the attention to finding the perfect boot and fit. As I sat on the bench chatting it up with a room full of veteran skiers, I started my collection of tips. The right ski socks, the right length of leggings, the right way to store my boots. ‘Come back if your boots need adjustments. And, if not, come back just to tell us how it’s going.’
I got skis.
I took one boot to the ski shop at Pinnacle to pick up demo skis. They were expecting me, and after just a few measurements, I had some poles and a pair of Blizzard Viva’s – ‘an easy, confidence building ski’, Steve said as he handed them to me with a big grin. He showed me how to step into the bindings, and how to release them. ‘Come back when you’re killing it, and we’ll try some other skis.’ I hugged him: I was thankful.
I got fashion advice.
I had ski pants. White. Now I had ski socks. Black. Other than that, I had nothing to wear. I had some hand-me-down ski gloves, and I borrowed a teal colored soft shell from a friend. Upstairs, in the apparel section of Pinnacle, I selected a helmet – white to go with my white pants, obviously. Then, with the giggling help of the women working, I picked out a set of goggles from an overwhelming selection. ‘Super cute’ said some strangers.
The night before my first day on the mountain, some friends raddled off answers to my panicky list of ‘stupid questions’. What exactly should I pack? Where should I park? What lockers should I use? What layers should I wear? Is it safe to leave my skis unlocked outside the base lodge? God, for someone who thought she could talk the talk... there was so much I didn’t know.
And, that is when the anxiety started.
I was nervous that first day. Until I met the other person in my adult beginner lesson. He looked awkward. As it turns out, he totally was. He was afraid. Afraid of the magic carpet. Afraid of the short little decline we’d have to plow down. Afraid of turning. Afraid of having to leave his poles behind. Afraid of getting on the lift. Afraid of the lift stopping with us still on it. Afraid of falling. I think he was afraid of snow. Poor guy.
If there was one thing I had going for me – in addition to the pass, the comfortable boots, the solid beginner skis, the cute goggles, and the encouragement of my community – it was that I wasn’t afraid of snow or of falling.
But, I didn’t fall. And while my ski lesson buddy was getting coddled by our instructors, I was practicing over and over and over and over again everything we’d learned. Which – I would find out later – wasn’t actually very much.
After that first day, I went back and rode the same lift, and skied the same itty-bitty slope for 2 more days. Then, I moved on to a slightly bigger lift and a slightly bigger beginner slope. Still no falls. My turns felt good, I was confident.
Too confident. There’s something about conquering two different bunny slopes that makes one feel they can ski anything. But, those slopes. They’re not very steep. And, they’re extremely wide. And, everyone around you is going very, very, very slow. So, after I’d been skiing for 4 days, I went to a party. And, after a couple drinks at that party, I made a plan to meet a friend to ski the following morning. On the big mountain.
I showed up. I was so excited. I wasn’t nervous. Just excited. I poled up to the lift with my neophyte skills and goofy grin. And, as we rode up over Liftline, I said to my friend, ‘uh, we’re gonna take it easy, right?’ ‘Yes, we’re gonna do a nice cruiser trail,’ she said.
We got off the lift, and we took off – me following her. And, I fell. Instantly. I didn’t get two turns in before I fell. And, I didn’t know how to get up without sliding down the hill. Not skiing. Sliding. And, people were whizzing by me. And, I was that idiot on a blue who wasn’t ready for a blue. And, I got up, and took off, and I fell. And, I fell, and I fell again. On my third fall, I ejected. It took me ten minutes to get my ski back on. My friend was way ahead of me at this point, and waiting and worried, and when I finally caught up she said, ‘is this too hard for you?’ Uh. Yes. I flashed a shameful smile and nodded instead of speaking. Too green and too bruised by the blue reality that I sucked at this.
It took us 45 minutes to finish one run. My friend was awesome. And, every time I’d finally catch up to her, she wouldn’t talk to me about skiing. She’d point out something beautiful about the mountain. The skyline, or the tree tops, or the critter prints in the snow.
And, that’s how I knew. I’d been bitten by the bug, but I needed the bug to kick me in the bum. I needed practice. I needed time on the hill. And, I needed to ski with people who were better than me… so I didn’t get lazy. Or forget that I really wasn’t good at all.
So that’s what I did.
I would meet a coworker or a friend to take me on a new lift or a new trail. Then, on my own, I’d ride that lift and ski that trail until I owned it. Pretty soon, I had deeds to all the green trails on the little mountain. And, I was definitely making payments on some blues.
I needed a landmark day. And, I had my eyes on Christmas. I was going to spend most of the holiday alone, and I wanted to spend it on the mountain. On the big mountain. All I wanted to do was tackle the one green trail on Mansfield from top to bottom: Toll Road.
On Christmas Day, I got up and rode the Quad lift by myself for the first time. I got off and put my pole to the ground. Sheer ice. What?! Wait, wait, wait?! WTF?! There was only one route I wanted to go down, and it was a cold sheet of ice. I contemplated my choices: Take the trail I intended to take, even though it was not what I expected, and was going to be quite hard. Take a trail that even in the best conditions would beat me up. Or, sit and cry and wait to be rescued.
I chose the ice. With some intense focus, and several time outs – looking around at the view and the quiet of the woods and the stillness, and the serenity of being where I was – I made it to the base with no damage. At the end of that run, I headed right to the bar for a celebratory mimosa. I skipped the orange juice. I decided this was the best holiday ever.
And that’s how the rest of the season went. Milestones. I built a pretty solid foundation by adding one new experience to my journey every day I was on skis. Which turned out to be 68 days.
Sometimes these milestones were planned. Like my first run under a lift line: I wanted to know if I could ski with eyes on me.
Sometimes they happened by accident. Like my first time skiing moguls: I took a wrong turn and decided the best way down was still to ski.
Sometimes I gave up control. Like my first time down a black diamond: I didn’t want to go. I didn’t think I was ready. My friend said I was ready.
Sometimes I took control. Like my first time down a black diamond: I didn’t think I was ready. My friend said I was ready. And, so I went as though I was ready.
Most times, I followed. Down blues, blacks, double blacks, into the woods, through a terrain park, over bumps.
At least one time, I led.
I learned to trust my gut.
I learned to look ahead.
I learned to celebrate little accomplishments.
I learned to honor big achievements.
I learned to keep a routine.
I learned to break routine.
I learned that what’s behind you is not as important as what’s in front of you.
I learned that different equipment makes a difference.
I learned no matter what equipment you have, you’re still responsible for your own errors.
I learned that while the ground you’re on is solid, the stuff that accumulates on top changes by a strange combination of variable factors, and can make your journey much easier on some days and much more challenging on others.
I learned to let go.
I learned to open up.
I learned to have fun. Pure fun. Big-smile-not-thinking-about-anything-else fun.
I learned that I love skiing. And everything it represents.
In 68 days, I became the me I wanted to be.