“Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.”
– Mark Victor Hansen
I started to sweat it on the ski lift.
I zeroed in on the slopes below with keen interest. Skis scraping on ice. Skiers searching for an edge – sliding, sliding … sliding. Sheets of ice glistening on the surface of the runs.
I was hanging with my husband, his cousin, and wife – all skiers above my grade. We were chatting, laughing, having good times sans kids (who were in ski school 3000 feet below).
Yet worry was ripping through me.
As I heard each cut of ice, I reassured myself: It’s fine. I can do this. I’m not a beginner.
As we reached the summit – almost 9000 feet, I was all in. I got this.
It wasn’t until I got to the ledge of the run – to what seemed like a near-vertical drop – that I started to panic.
I looked at the warning sign planted at the start of the run: Experts Only.
It was then that I fervently wished I was at the base of the hill with a pint of Sierra Nevada in my hand, warming by the fire.
What did I get myself into?
I contemplated the steepness of the slope, the entry, the first crucial turns. If I can make it past the drop in, the first back and forth, I will be okay.
The terror was in the start.
I stood there for a few minutes.
I just stood there. Heart racing, trying not to panic. Staring down the mountain. My legs stuck in the snow. Seriously, what at am I doing here?
I wanted to cry.
I watched my husband’s cousin take off like a pro.
I watched as his wife, leery of the conditions, opted to slide on her side down the face. I witnessed her colliding into a fallen skier.
I stared as my husband make one turn down the run to check the conditions. He barely came to a scraping halt 15 feet down the face.
My eyes filled with tears. The feeling to flee washed over me – I feared hitting a patch of ice, losing control, and tumbling to my peril. And yet … I’m strong. I’m game. I mean, I could just go on my side too, I reasoned with myself.
I starred at the Experts Only sign again.
Panic rising in my chest, I gestured to my husband, what should I do?
“You got this,” he said, fully thinking I could make it down the run in one piece. He knew I needed to make a tough turn or two and I’d be on my way. Yet he wanted me to feel comfortable.
As we ponded options – should I stay or should I go now – an older man approached the face. He peered down the mountain and said out loud, “No way.”
He then looked at my husband, “Do you want me to take her down the other side?”
I must have looked that pathetic, so fearfully paralyzed, that he looked to my husband instead of me.
“Yes, yes, please,” I said, jumping on his offer. I mean, I had no helmet. I hadn’t skied in eight years. … who was I kidding?
More than my hiatus (I do a lot of squats) and my lack of safety (I got a helmet straightaway), it was the terrain. The ice sheets lead to visions of me on the back of a ski-patrol sled in pieces.
In good powder conditions, I am certain this is a fantastic (and safe) run. But this ridiculous ice, well … mountains are unforgiving and one slip could result in a long and dangerous slide, broken bones at best.
I thought of my beautiful daughters in the ski school at the base of the mountain,
and knew I needed to bail out.
Following the man’s lead, I veered left to the “bail out” run. This run really didn’t feel like much of a bail out with 50-mile-an-hour wind gusts, a treacherous icy surface, and a narrow passage with a steep cliff on the right (see the top photo). I feared anything resembling a fast parallel would result in an unscheduled ski jump off said cliff.
Controlled zigzagging was out. A basic, wide snow plough was in. It was not graceful (rather Bambi-like), but the wider I turned, the slower I moved. So, I slide over the ice in that fashion, trembling.
I reminded myself: Don’t look at the stunning view. Just get down the ridge. I pep talked: You can do this. Just keep going. You can do this.
I dreamed of the blues (less icy!) that I would soon cruise on.
Once I was through the danger zone, it was smooth sailing. I started on my normal ski rhythm …
Lance, my 75-year-old helper, stopped mid-run at the bottom of a hill, and turned to wait for me.
“You can ski,” he said, surprised. “You’re a really good skier.”
I smiled. I ain’t bad, just eight-years rusty.
- Know your limits: Get adventurous, absolutely! But know your limits and push them in a mindful way. It’s easier to take calculated risks when you consider your boundaries. And remember: If you need to bail out, you need to bail out. Bailing out is okay.
- Look for the helpers: Lance was a helper. It reminded me of the Mr. Roger’s quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
(The photo on the top is of the Siberia run at Squaw Valley. You can see the “bail out” run to the right.)