I like a good adventure. I like trying new things. I like being active. I like being outdoors.
I don’t like adrenaline rushes; which is why, contrary to the above statements, skiing is more of a nightmare than a fun activity.
But first, a little more context. My parents took me skiing in Michigan when I was about 5 years old. Both of my parents were competent skiers; my dad spent college spring breaks on black diamonds in Colorado and my mom grew up going on annual ski trips with friends from church. They were confident that I should learn the skills & that I would inevitably end up loving the experience.
My dad is an overachiever and a perfectionist and therefore we spent little to no time on the bunny hill. In my foggy child memory, he took me to the top of an actual slope pretty quickly, stood my skis between his, and down we went. I’ve never been one for extremes and I hate being out of control. I’m pretty sure I screamed the whole ride down.
Despite my hatred of going fast, this co-skiing went on tolerably well for a few good runs until one time, I fell off the ski lift as it ascended. To be more accurate, I dangled off the chair while my dad held onto me by my snow pants. Apparently my short little child legs made it hard for me to scoot my bum to the back of the chair so when it lurched forward, I slid off. None of this trauma resulted in physical pain, but emotionally, I was done. I wasn’t interested in skiing anymore that day (or potentially ever) and I was happy to avoid any other activities that might create the same out of control feelings.
Flash forward to high school winter retreats with my church youth group. While I stuck to tubing most of the years, I mustered some courage and tried snowboarding one time. It was so hard that my friends were content to stay on the bunny hill and I was overjoyed to avoid the ski lift.
In terms of achievement, I’ve always been an all-or-nothing type of girl. I either needed to be in the top 10% of participants or I resolved that an activity is “not my thing” and avoided it at all costs. I needed to be knowledgable or good at everything. If I wasn’t, I would gladly move on back to my comfort zone.
Fortunately, I’m maturing. This winter I again had a chance to hit the slopes, this time as a leader for high school youth group winter retreat. Leaders could snowboard, tube, or ski for free and I’m a decently athletic and coordinated person, so I really didn’t have any excuses not to try. I signed up to ski, forcing myself to conquer the fear, once and for all.
My best friend, Emily (conveniently also a youth leader), and I got our rental boots, skis, and poles and went in search of “ski school” at the bunny hill. Unlucky for me, we were late, which meant either waiting around for 50 minutes until the next session, or having Emily fill in as my ski instructor. I decided to just go for it. With some helpful hints to “pizza” my skis without letting them cross, I started the bunny hill descent.
Wanting to avoid crossing my skis, I failed to “pizza” them properly and whooshed down the hill in a matter of seconds. When I got to the bottom (alive, on my feet, in one piece, with no collisions) I nearly burst into tears. The adrenaline rush I was experiencing felt like what I would assume a heart attack feels like. I like to live my life at a steady level and I avoid extreme highs and lows at all costs. My body’s natural reaction to the experience put me at a scary high that I rarely encounter. At that point, I would have been more than happy to march back into the lodge for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, best friends don’t let each other sissy out, and Emily kindly directed me back to the bunny hill for a few more runs.
I had no problem zooming down the beginner hill so the inevitable time came to move on to bigger slopes and conquer the treacherous ski lift. I knew I needed to woman up, get in line, and take the short ride that a bunch of tiny children and old people could obviously handle, but my heart rate had only just slowed down and I had no actual desire to speed it back up.
When the time came to sit on the lift chair, the experience was unremarkable. I’m not actually afraid of heights. I didn’t have any real fear of the moving chair. I just needed to replace one traumatic memory with a new experience. With a bit of encouragement, a few deep breaths, and confidence that moving past my bad memory was the right choice, I got in line, got on a chair, and traveled to the top of the hill. Skiing down the hill was “terrible” because I still couldn’t quite master the control of inverting my skis and would consequently pick up more and more speed (which again made my body freak out). But I did it.
If someone asks me if I ski, I can now say yes. Am I good? Not really? Do I want to ski frequently? Definitely not. Am I capable? Absolutely – and embracing that capability is what mattered most. My ski lift experience as a child was scary, but I didn’t need to hold on to that memory forever. Living in the trauma of the past for so long only hindered my present. While I won’t be signing up for extreme sports any time soon, skiing this winter reminded me that periodically stepping out of my comfort zone is a risk worth taking (especially when it means getting to experience the joy of sailing down a ski slope) and that while adrenaline is certainly not my friend, it also won’t kill me.