As much as I was always fascinated with climbing when I was growing up, I was just as fascinated with skiing. My one and only experience came when I was three years old in upstate New York. It resulted in a 10 minute slide down a small hill that didn’t even reach the bunny slope, and a flight into a frozen patch of ice which resulted in tears and a scratched face. It was clear, especially since we moved to Florida years after, that skiing was never going to be a part of my life. Still the more people I was meeting in the outdoor community, the more prevalent it seemed to me, and in mountain sports, it was exactly the direction I wanted to go. Sure I had tried snowboarding over the span of a grand total of four days on small trips in college, but watching the skiers elegantly carving out deep grooves in the snow and coming to such a smooth stop I decided right then and there what it was I wanted to actually do. It also didn’t help that this was around the time I was obsessively watching ski films in between documentary marathons, and studying the movement, the posture and the sheer size of the hills these guys were hurling themselves down, I was inspired. So I’ve joined a full alpine ski course taught through the Washington Alpine Club. In only two weeks, I’ve progressed at a level that I never imagined, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.
The Hill Isn’t As Bad As It Seems
My first Blue Square run came on a Thursday at Stevens Pass with my friend Joe, a snowboarder. As I looked down the hill, an image of tumbling end over end, skis flying, and a mouthful of snow crossed my mind as we made the first run of the day. As we kicked off the top, Joe could effortlessly carve down the slope while I was thinking about moving my weight from one side to the other, trying to catch the snow on the edges. I would ride down a little, and fall over, try to make a turn and careen into the snowbank. With thighs aching from pulling myself up to my feet, I awkwardly rolled my way to the next easier slope. As I tried to make my turns, I either had my tips pointed too uphill or too downhill and for the first three runs, although I was steadily improving, I knew that I could nail it. Just like learning to climb and getting a certain move down perfectly, failing once and getting up was giving me confidence. By the fourth and fifth run of the day, that hill didn’t seem so steep anymore. I didn’t have to race down, I wasn’t even thinking about doing it gracefully or making a good impression for the GoPro that was facing my direction, but I took the time to think and re-think each turn, making small adjustments when I knew I was going too fast and losing the fear of falling. At the end of the day, I came out only with a slashed up ear due to an unfortunate ski pole placement, but by falling over and over again, I was telling myself that it really wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be.
Talent and Ability Aren’t Judged On Where You Come From
To some in Seattle, I’m the equivalent of the Jamaican Bobsled Team. I’ve had one frustrating encounter after another with some of the hardcore professionals who doubt the abilities of someone who grew up training for Rainier by running on South Beach that he’s a climber with alpine dreams. I’d worked hard to travel so that I could train, climb, and reach higher goals, so when it came to getting on my first skis at Snoqualmie Pass, I would either get it naturally, or I would be an awkward mess who needed a tutor just to keep from slipping off backwards. The first time that I went down the bunny slope all I needed to do was let go, lean forward into the boot and relax. Almost instinctively, I pushed the snow right up the edges, finding control and stopping power. I had found a natural rhythm and pace that I was comfortable at. Maybe a little too fast and shallow in the turns, but I felt at ease. I’ve been lucky to be able to talk to, learn, and be inspired by some incredible Floridian athletes who moved out west to play in the mountains. Ability should never be judged by geographic origin, ability should be judged by instinct, the willing to learn, and the practice and dedication towards the sport. I’ve learned to no longer be intimidated by people who have had the mountains to practice on and instead move at my pace. Tenacity, practice, and the ability to perform will always trump things that I have no control over.
Age Never Counts
Age is just a number. Although I keep telling myself that I wished I had starting climbing as a child (I started climbing when I was 24) I put in the time to catch up to those who had these experiences from birth. Just like learning anything: a language, a musical instrument, a talent, it’s easier to do so when the mind is developing. However I’ve always kept myself relatively fit, I’ve absorbed as much of the culture as I could and in realizing that I was one of the youngest in my Snoqualmie group, there was the realization that we were all there for each other and all starting from ground zero. I’ve learned never to be put down by taking up a new sport or a new skill relatively later on. Passion and dedication are available to any age, and all it takes is the willingness and finding the means to go out and accomplish it.
I don’t propone myself on being an expert in any sense. In fact I’m still a complete amateur. However over the last two weeks, what started as an interest has become a full blown obsession. I constantly want the next big hill, I want to keep trying, and I want to eliminate the fear that comes in going to a bold new direction. Skiing is my new accomplishment. Although I’m not in a place to tell people how to, I’m in a place to tell people that they should always have the motivation to try something new and that what people think, whether its age or geographical origin, it will never matter when compared to absolute passion.