Ten life lessons from skiing

Ski lift and snowy mountain.No, alas, I’m not skiing right now.  Time, money, and location have conspired to keep me from the slopes since Little Boy was born.  I’m thinking about it today because it’s Spring Break—whatever that means for a grad student—and Spring Break has often been, in the history of my life, a time for skiing.  I’m missing it pretty badly.

When you’re on the slopes, there’s a lot of time to get philosophical, and there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from a lifetime of skiing.  (Now if only I remembered to implement them everywhere…)

1. Learning a new skill takes time and practice.

Skiing is one of the few things in my life that I have been initially terrible at, but stuck with long enough to become really good.  Most things that I’m really good at now are things at which I had some base-level talent to start.  Definitely no base-level talents with sports, especially not sports that trigger my fear of heights.  But through some combination of familial pressure, personal pride, and just plain enjoying being out on the snow, I kept at it through the “sucking at it” stage, all the way through to the “can ski almost anything on the hill” stage.

2. You’ve got to face your fears.

See: fear of heights.  Also fear of smacking into trees.  You have to just take the plunge if you want to get better.

A rocky ski slope.

3. Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have left.

The first time I skied a black diamond run, every turn was terrifying.  When I paused, it was rather discouraging to see how much longer the run went on.  Until I turned around and realized that I’d made it quite a ways down the slope already; if I could make it that far, I knew I could manage the rest.

4. Never follow anyone blindly.

There’s a very specific backstory to this lesson: Once upon a time, I was trying to improve my control by directly following my little brother’s line.  Except my little brother decided to jump off a small cornice.  I wasn’t looking far enough ahead, and caught some rather unexpected air.

Snowy trees.

5. When you fall, get right back up…

Everyone falls in skiing, from the greenest beginner to the Olympians on TV.  (In one of the ski racing events at the 2014 Olympics, of the first 6 or so people to attempt the course in competition, only one made it down.)  Falling happens—and sometimes it can be pretty spectacular.  Everyone in my family has their favorite “fall stories,” whether it’s getting tangled up in the lift, skiing straight through a bush, or face-planting in deep snow.  Almost all of these are, in retrospect, quite funny.

6. …but if you fall hard, it’s OK to take a break.

Like if you catch an edge while trying to keep speed across a flat run-out and whack yourself in the head with your pole so hard that it cracks your helmet (true story), don’t feel bad about taking the afternoon off.  Similarly, if you find yourself falling noticeably more often than usual, you might want to think about resting up.  Sometimes pushing through it is unwise.

Looking up on a moguled ski slope.

7. There’s always going to be someone better than you.

I am a darn good skier, if I do say so myself.  I can tackle powder, moguls, even small jumps.  Almost anything on the hill.  But my little brother?  He can ski anything on the hill.  He’s skied Corbet’s Couloir, a run that the linked article helpfully describes as “America’s scariest ski slope.”  As I improve, so does he.  I will likely never catch up to him, and I’ve had to make my peace with that.

8. Don’t judge skill by appearance.

That same little brother?  He wears duct-taped snow pants, because they easily rip on race gates and he’d rather invest in new skis.  We both look absolutely awful in the lodge at lunchtime, with wind-reddened faces and helmet-smooshed hair.  Not that there’s anything wrong with fancy gear (and we do have some, it’s just less obvious), but it’s not a proxy for skill level.

Looking down across ski slopes and a snowy valley.

9. It’s OK to have different goals.

The first time I really encountered someone who was happy not advancing was on the slopes.  For as long as I remember, my mother has skied blue (intermediate) runs, making slow, careful turns in perfect formation.  She is entirely uninterested in joining the rest of the family on steeper, bumpier slopes, because she has found the thing that she enjoys.  As a kid, I couldn’t really understand this; as an adult, I believe I do.

10. Hand and toe warmers are amazing inventions.

OK, this one’s maybe not as widely applicable to life, but it is very, very true.