10 LESSONS FROM LEARNING TO SKI AS AN ADULT
READ TIME: 9m 15s
Just a second, before I begin, let me just check whether there is any part of my body not either aching or properly actually painful…. Nope.
Ah well, it was worth it. Because today I skied all the way down a mountain without falling over or crying. Yes, the metaphorical mountain for me to climb was in fact to hurtle down one. And today I did it. So while I celebrate with an over-priced hot chocolate and half a ton of tiger balm on my aching neck (touch of whiplash after my head bounced off the piste two days ago… oops!), I find myself reflecting on all sorts of reminders and learning this week that have been great gifts in some fairly painful and frustrating wrapping.
This was my third skiing holiday (the first time I “skied” is a whole other post and not for the faint hearted!) and after thinking I had made some progress by the end of last year, by the end of the first day and a half last week, when I was still fighting my way down and scared most of the time, and none of it coming easily as people swished and swooped by me, I was not finding it any fun and it didn’t feel at all possible. On every single turn I made I was thinking about so many things to try and get right, trying to suppress my fear of falling off a mountain and trying so hard to remember what I’d learned in previous years as well as on that day, and feeling rubbish at all of it. And oh my it made my legs and hips burn… ouch ouch ouch – when you are constantly crouching down to stop on every turn because you’re scared of going fast, it’s hard on the legs! And hugely proud as I was of my children having picked it up so quickly, the truth is I was embarrassed and frustrated at everyone having to wait for me all the time, [and at not being able to keep up with my children, let alone everyone else whizzing down with ease].
That afternoon I made all those ‘when you’re ready to give up keep going’ clichés come true. Always darkest before the dawn et al. I believe in clichés as it happens – they exist, I think, because they resonate and have therefore been repeated. But, anyway, I was absolutely ready to give up and do whatever the skiing equivalent is of throwing in the towel. I had fallen into what looked like a fluffy wall of snow but turned out to be pretty hard packed snow and ice, and wept into my goggles whilst leaning on my ski poles and muttering expletives to myself between shouts at my husband that ‘if you say “just” one more time I will stick your skis etc’. I had had enough. I remember my lovely friend who was with us the first two years and endlessly patient and supportive of my efforts, said to me over an après ski (or in my case après slide on your bum) “You know you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to do it.” I thought about that moment, and thought “I don’t like this. I can’t do this. I don’t believe I’ll ever do it. Why am I doing it?”. My instinct in that moment was to unstrap the skis, walk down the mountain, order a vin chaud, say “well, I tried’ and call it quits.
And right there was my first reminder. To pause when the going gets tough and really think about why?
If a voice in your head is saying “What’s the point of...”, then answer that question. Not with whatever your equivalent is of “There is no point because…”. Instead, take that as a cue to really, truly answer the question. What is the point? Why did I start in the first place? Is it still what I want? Is it still what is needed? How much does it matter to me and why does it matter?
When I went back to my reasons for wanting to ski and thought about them, it was incentive enough to tip the tears out of the bottom of my goggles (I kid you not) and keep going. There are many things my husband and boys do together from a sport/exercise point of view that I watch, but don’t really participate in. Learning to ski was about having an activity we can all do together, in the outdoors, for years to come. Did I still want that, yes. A great deal. Did I also still want to conquer some fears and learn something new, yes to that too. So, I had a chat with myself and my ice wall. Together, the wall and I, having remembered that I really do want to be able to ski with my family for years and years to come, worked out what the goal for this holiday was. I decided, and said out loud (fortunately everyone else zooms by so fast they didn’t hear the lunatic chatting to the ice) that my goal for the trip was to be comfortably skiing blue runs so that I could see this as a family holiday we will all enjoy [for many years to come]. That would be great. I don’t need to be a brilliant skier. I do want to get good enough to enjoy it with my family. A few more falls are absolutely worth that.
Decision made to keep working at it and believing it would get better and was worth it, things improved from the moment I stopped trying to improve on my own and had a lesson. There are many occasions, in many aspects of my life, when things have been vastly improved by getting some help. On some of those occasions, it has been the hardest step to take, either because I couldn’t see it, or didn’t want to admit it, or didn’t know how to ask. It’s also one of the reasons why I love what I do. It truly is a privilege to be alongside someone who has taken the step (sometimes easy, sometimes needing great courage) of saying “I need some help here” and a joy to witness their progress.
There is very little, if anything, that we can get better at on our own. If you want to get better at something, find someone who can offer you what you need, be it teaching, sharing expertise, encouraging, coaching, mentoring, supporting, inspiring.
My lessons were brilliant (thank you fantastic Xavier – I know from experience not all skiing teachers are as good as you, and finding the right support is crucial) and as well as teaching me to ski, were reminders of so many other things. [I love it when in trying something different, the things you say and do so often that they have become habit are brought into sharp relief as either useful (so keep doing them and keep applying them in different ways) or not (so work hard to change them.)]
On the day of my second lesson, having been reminded of just how powerful a smile and an encouraging nod can be when the lady in the boulangerie responded to my faltering French as though it were perfect, Xavier continued that theme by being what I needed in a coach and teacher, and what I think we all need: encouraging and challenging. I loved the way he kept reminding me over and over again of all the things to think about – embedding them in my head for when I would be on my own and need them. How great it was to get a ‘Yeaaahhh, you did it.’ And how without judgement and with great patience he took me back to the basics and waited for me to work it out when I faltered. Towards the end of the second lesson, he made me follow him and copy him - then got me doing a tiny little off piste here, a wiggle there, a lift-one-ski-up here – all little things designed to give me the confidence to be more creative and to try things for myself. We can do things we didn’t think we could when we have a guide who believes in us.
There was a line drawn at one point though. ‘Lizzie, now this, dig your heels down and woo hoo’ (he may not have said ‘woo hoo’ – but something like that). He also at this point, did a 360 spin on his skis then carried on going. I’ll be honest. I said a polite(ish) ‘No, thank you!’. I honestly feel fine about achieving my skiing goals without needing to do twirls to boot!
So here are my top ten other things that skiing lessons reminded me are really very useful – in skiing, work and life in general!
Xavier worked before anything else on my breathing. The first port of call in any stressful situation, control your breathing to help you control yourself. The breathing gets the brain working from present thinking rather than auto pilot panic. It tells me I’m ok, and gives energy to the muscles when they need it.
2. Look ahead to anticipate:
Not to the bottom of the mountain, that goal is in mind and I have thought about it enough to know what it is and that it’s there and motivating me, but it’s not the focus of my full attention right now. Look where you are going. Do what you need to do now whilst preparing for what you’ll be doing next. Focus on what you need to do in the next [20 to 30] that will keep you on track and safe.
3. When you’re going through hell-keep going:
I know I’ve already said this, but that’s the point. The tricky moments aren’t confined to one big moment. They kept coming – I have the whiplash, cramp, thigh strain and unhappy wrist to prove it - but they got fewer, and the fact they were not as bad as the one that led to my chat with the ice wall, meant I could choose to see setbacks as part of progress, which after all, is never the straight line from bottom to top that we can all be guilty of telling ourselves that [it is].
4. Rest, refresh, restore:
Xavier told me to take a break when I’d had a great run, not just when I’d had enough. Celebrate it. Bank it.
Also he said, take a break when you are getting tired. Don’t wait until you are exhausted. Listen to your body and give yourself the best chance of doing better after a break.
I took the morning off halfway through the week. A part of me feeling terrible that I had paid all this money to be skiing so what was I thinking by not skiing??!! But I knew, as the afternoon did indeed prove, that to have rested and felt ready for my lesson that afternoon meant I got so much more from that day, and indeed the rest of the week. I was so glad I took that time to rest.
5. Trust... especially yourself:
Xavier drilled into me that I knew how to stop. So I had to keep reminding myself ‘You know how to stop.’
There was a run I had fallen on. Every time I went past that section my brain flew back to that moment of panic and before I knew it I was holding my breath and forgetting everything I had been taught. Remembering what Xavier had said and taught me helped. What also helped was to slow down and stop there one time. Edging my way closer and peering over at what I would land in if I did fall showed me that in reality, I wouldn’t have fallen far. In fact, from a bit further down the mountain, looking back at that point, I could see that going over the edge would have been undignified, but not dangerous. A change of perspective invariably helps with a challenge. And, if I trust the experts that make the runs as safe as they can be, I can get out of my own way a bit more.
6. Celebrate the progress and remember that comparison really is the thief of joy:
I can’t imagine I’ll ever go down a black run and I did succumb at times to envy of the confident folk shwooping past me, or dancing around the moguls and off pistes below the chair lift and making it all look soooooo easy – but too much looking over there and I lose sight of how far I have come and that I am doing what I wanted to do – and doing it pretty well! There really will always be someone better and worse than you. What matters is where you are in relation to where you want to go.
7. Words matter:
I had a lovely chat with a lady who is a very experienced skier and whose husband was like me, a beginner. We laughed about the words she, and my husband, used with the very best of intention to support us beginners but that infuriated us as we struggled. “Just” featured highly in the top ten of words to avoid! Rationally, I know how well my husband meant. My dog brain had other ideas. (more on dog brains and Sara Milne Rowe’s book the SHED Method coming soon). On a Transactional Analysis course I first heard the phrase ‘the meaning is made by the receiver.’ Never more so than when someone is stressed. Choosing our words carefully can make such a difference in these moments. As does taking a deep breath and remembering the positive intention someone has for us.
8. What’s really true - Is there a bit more to the assumption than meets the eye?
My chat with the same lady also revealed some interesting thoughts about the psychology of red runs. “If you can do this run, you can absolutely do this run” she said, pointing to a route on the piste map. “No, I can’t” I insisted “That’s a red”. She went on to show me how a piste map works and how there has to be a balance of runs, and how some stretches change colour but would be too complicated to show, and how a blue can be a red and vice versa and even how they often want the “blues” to take you to the places you eat and drink to suggest they are accessible for all! Fascinating stuff and great to challenge what I “knew”. Assumptions can play havoc with what we believe to be possible – always worth looking out for and testing an assumption or two.
9. Picking each other up:
We loved this quiet, small ski resort for so many reasons. For me especially, whereas on our first two holidays I spent much of the time embarrassed at getting in people’s way and having people whizz past me, here it was quieter and so friendly. One of the restaurant owners was chatting with us and said they like it because “Here, people pick each other up.” I can testify to the truth of that. And to the difference it makes when anyone, be it a total stranger, a teacher, or a loved one says ‘Let me give you a hand.’ And even more so, when you are willing to swallow your pride and, gratefully, take it.
10. Cod liver oil:
Taking care of yourself helps you take care of your challenges. Simple as that. I intend to start working now at aching less next year!
And finally, I’m thrilled to report that I can indeed now happily head down a blue run, and even did a spot of red running and stayed upright. Ta daa! Even better, I’m already looking forward to next year.