What It’s Really Like Learning to Ski as an Adult

Source: Instagram user popsugarfitness

I’ll confess, I’m a runner because I love to run, but also for another reason: I’m pretty terrible at other types of fitness. Anything that requires hand-eye coordination, a better-than-average sense of balance, or a thirst for adrenaline-pumping thrill has always required more of me than my personality wanted to give. You’ll never find me playing soccer in the park on the weekend, balancing on a surfboard, or careening down a single-track mountain biking trail (tried it once; never again), and that’s always been fine with me.

While my lack of sports talent doesn’t discriminate between land or sea, it’s never more apparent than during Winter. Over the years I’ve made the hourslong drive to the snow with friends to try my hand at snowboarding, only to finally give up once I realized I’d never conquer the sport enough to actually have fun. I resigned myself to being more of a cabin-bound snow bunny than mountain adventurer ¡ª until last year, when I tried skiing for the first time. After one lesson, I already felt happier and more in control on the mountain than I’d ever been on a snowboard, starting with the fact that instead of slipping and falling off every chairlift, I actually wobbled my way off my seat, triumphantly upright every time. Turns out, skiing was the sport I’d been waiting for.

After a couple short lessons, I thought I had skiing covered. It was so easy and intuitive to glide down the bunny slopes and very reassuring to realize that I didn’t have to spend my day covered in freezing snow and nursing sore wrists as I had during my entire short career as a budding snowboarder. I was so sure of my abilities that I quickly determined I was ready to graduate to higher runs, so on my next trip to Tahoe, I skipped the bunny slopes and chose a beginner trail that my friend assured me was beyond easy. The problem: even though I’d mastered the almost-flat groomed bunny slope, once I made my way up to the top of the mountain for the first time I realized that my fear of heights (and speed, and falling) were going to get the better of me. My instincts to freak out are never more apparent than when I’m careening down a steep slope with what seems like no way to control myself, so every time I found myself approaching a “steep” section of the run, I’d get nervous, forget everything I learned, and make foolish mistakes. Instead of the leisurely run I’d envisioned my graceful skiing self making, I spent most of my time anticipating falling, losing control because I was nervous about falling, and then, of course, doing exactly what I thought I’d do. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: the less control I thought I had, the less I did. Needless to say, it took a lot of time and all my pride to finally make it down to base camp. I finished sweaty, tired, and cold, and way less sure about my newfound hobby than I had been just a few hours earlier.

Source: Instagram user popsugarfitness

After that embarrassing day on the mountain, I almost hung up my (rental) skis for good. But there’s so much to love about the sport that I was determined to master it enough to enjoy the occasional ski weekend with friends. So during a recent trip to Utah (as a guest of Ski Utah), I spent three days at three different ski resorts, ready to make myself a competent beginner skier. I trekked up and down the bunny slopes, reminding myself to breathe, be aware of my instincts, and trust that I could make informed, sure moves that would help me glide down the slopes, not tumble over them. I also was lucky enough to have help from each resort’s instructors; having someone there to spot my shortcomings helped pull me out of my nervousness and wipe away doubt. Every time I felt like I was zoning out or reverting to a lazy ski stance, someone was there to point out how just small changes, both mentally and physically, can mean all the difference in how in control I felt. Soon, learning how to not fall turned into learning how to make confident decisions that made my body do exactly what I wanted it to, and I was able to finally make my way down multiple beginner runs without falling once.

While I’ll say that I never was the picture of grace that I’d imagined myself to be, by the end of the trip I was a competent skier and, just as importantly, more confident about my body’s abilities and my instincts overall. It may sound cheesy, but the same skills that make you a better skier are those that you can apply to life ¡ª on the mountain, you’re taught to lean forward, not back; look ahead, not down at the ground; and remember to breathe and relax. While you could say almost any sport has the ability to teach you how to be more aware of your body and your mind, skiing helps me instantaneously correct myself when I’m feeling uncertain or anxious, and reminds me to take a deep breath, make sure movements, and know my body’s capabilities. I won’t say learning to ski as an adult has been incredibly easy to pick up; I may still never be the one who flies into the face of curves and dips or ventures off groomed runs like pretty much every kid (or adult who learned as a kid) I see on the mountain, but tackling my fear of heights, speed, and falling ¡ª?all while gaining a new sporty skill ¡ª has made me feel more confident and aware about both my body and my mind.