At the end of your days, be leaning forwards, not falling backwards.
– H. Jackson Browne Jr.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to ski.
I’d already had a white-knuckle drive to come up the mountain on Thursday. Complete fog whiteout at the top of Rt. 421 before Boone, where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses over the highway. I couldn’t see six feet in front of me, and it lasted for miles and miles. I was still shaking when I got to our mountain house 45 minutes later.
So, fear already had a solid hold of me before the weekend even started. And I’d just written a blog post that mentioned giving up skiing, for fear that I would further damage my right hand, which is riddled with arthritis.
But my brother, my niece and her children were coming for a ski weekend. My great nephew Jack had just turned 10 years old, and the weekend was a birthday present for him.
We headed out early Saturday morning to rent their gear, and I didn’t even put my skis in the car. On the way to the slopes, I changed my mind last minute and ran by the house to get my stuff. My plan was to spend the day helping the children learn, on the bunny slope. It was all about the kids.
Our family has skied for years. We started in North Carolina, and then took the kids to Colorado once a year for a family vacation. I have never been an expert skier but could handle myself well on blue intermediate slopes. My boys are both solid skiers/boarders. Ben went to App State and spent his winters on the slopes. He was made for snow.
I learned to ski in high school, taught by my boyfriend, who had lived in Colorado for some time. We would go night skiing at a small Virginia resort 90 minutes down the valley from Winchester. It was all very romantic for a 17-year-old, and I caught the ski bug. I even talked my parents into buying me my own skis.
But I am A LOT older now, and, well, SHIT, skiing is dangerous – particularly on a crowded Saturday when the slopes are covered with first timers who have way more confidence than skill or sense.
But, back to the plan. I was on the bunny slope, helping Jack as he struggled to learn how to control his turns and, more importantly, how to stop. I talked him into getting onto the bunny slope’s “magic carpet” – basically a small escalator that pulls you up to the top of the little hill.
He got on and promptly fell off. Toppled right off the edge. And since there was ditch to the left, it was quite a process to get up and back on. He was frustrated but persisted. We got him back on, and I said, “Don’t lean back! – lean FORWARD!” as he took off.
Then I got on, and you can guess what happened. I LEANED BACK, and fell off, right into that ditch. Poor Jack was looking back at me with a face that said, “What do I do now?”
He kept going while I crawled out of that ditch.
Crawling out of a ditch in skis is not that easy. Particularly if you are a woman of a certain age. And I was absolutely mortified, while praying in that ditch that my left knee would not twist too badly, as my ski had not popped free. I had never been on a magic carpet before – chair lifts only – and trust me, will NEVER get on one again. For the rest of the day, I called it the ‘death trap’.
We took a break for the afternoon and booked Jack a private lesson at 5pm. My brother was wiped out from helping 7-yr-old Grace all morning, so I went back to ski with Rachel. Wasn’t really loving the idea, with that fear still sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.
You are OLD!
You fell off the F***ing magic carpet, for God’s sake!
What the HELL do you think you are doing?!
And Good Christ, you’re gonna do it at NIGHT?”
But I didn’t want to let Rachel down.
One of the most common mistakes beginners make is “skiing in the back seat”. Backseating refers to a stance where the skier is leaning back, putting too much weight towards the back of the skis. The front of the skis come up with less weight on them and you lose your center of balance. You want your shins pressing up against the tongue of your boots. A solid LEAN FORWARD position.
One of the root causes of backseating is FEAR. Fear of the mountain. An unconscious attempt to resist, to slow yourself down. In fact, leaning back actually makes you go faster, with less control.
Even with that fear on my shoulder, I got back on the horse again, so to speak – got on that chairlift with Rachel.
She wanted to ski. I will do a lot for people I love.
I didn’t even care when some nutjob ran into me from behind and I took another tumble.
We watched the sun set, in magnificent purples, pinks and blues from the top of the slope.
Jack was an excellent student – really stuck with it, even went up the quad with his instructor while Rachel and I watched with our mouths open – part in fear and part in amazement. Jack suffers from some anxiety, brought on in part by a father who left him at 3, followed by a bitter and acrimonious divorce. He struggles sometimes to manage his moods and cope in fearful, uncertain environments.
Jack was a happy chatter box on our last run together after his lesson, even schooling Rachel and me on “shins to the boots”.
You know, it feels really, really good when you conquer fear.
And even better when you watch someone you love do it as well.
On the drive home today, I thought a lot about leaning forward, and getting out of the backseat – as a metaphor for life.
I have been too focused lately on what I can’t or shouldn’t do now that I am in my sixties. I’ve been letting fear put me in the backseat position. Backseating while heading down whatever mountain you’ve chosen to ride is no way to go – whatever your age. In fact, it’s flat out dangerous.
Stephen Levine, the poet, said, “All fear has an element of resistance and a leaning away from the moment. Fear leans backward into the last safe moment, while desire leans forward toward the next possibility of satisfaction.” I think he was actually arguing for “presence”, the optimal state in between fear and desire. But Presence only will NOT get you down a mountain.
I won’t be bungie jumping or hitting a black diamond slope any time soon, but damn it, once I choose to do something, it needs to be SHINS TO THE BOOTS from now on.
Choose thoughtfully, lean forward, and conquer that mountain.
Whatever it is.
Only way to go.