I hate the cold. I’m not a fan of snow. And I particularly dislike things that involve any sort of athletic skill. This is why everyone who knows me thought I was absolutely bonkers when I told them I was putting skiing on my 213 in 2013 list.
“You’ll hate it,” they said.
“HA. Good luck with that,” scoffed another.
Despite the countless warnings I received, I woke up bright and early Saturday morning, layered in snow gear, ready for the 3-hour drive to the resort in Wintergreen, VA. Katie and Kevin, our friends from PA, had already made a three-hour drive the night before to join us for a day on the slopes.
The car ride was cramped and long, but a Wawa pit stop helped relieved our sore legs and empty stomachs. While everyone else loaded up on Sizzlies, I grabbed myself a hard cider and some pita chips – clearly the breakfast of a skiing champion. As we got closer to the resort, we began climbing higher and higher up the picturesque mountain, full of babbling brooks, wooden cabins and rows upon rows of trees.
After we found parking and loaded out of the car, we made our way over to the Living Social room where we checked in. The next stop was the rental check-out where we got our boots and skis. This was when I had a feeling I might not like skiing as much as I had hoped. After trying on around four pairs of ski boots, all of them crushing my feet and suffocating my calves, I realized it was highly unlikely I’d find a pair that were comfortable and didn’t make me want to throw myself off a mountain. I stopped my bitching, tried to ignore the incessant throbbing of my lower body and shuffled my way outside.
I grabbed my poles, learned how to snap on my skis and I was eager to take off on my first run. I’m not sure why, but in my head I envisioned myself being a natural – gliding down the slopes gracefully like an Olympian. Instead, I strapped on my skis and before I even tried to move, I wiped out and crashed into Kevin who desperately attempted to catch me and what little dignity I had left as small children whipped by us. Katie, the patient instructor she was, explained the difference between french fry and pizza positions to teach me how to go and stop.
But despite Kevin’s attempts to catch me, Katie’s efforts to teach me and Mike’s words of encouragement – all of it was futile as I went soaring down the hill, pizza-ing as hard as I could before I completely wiped out, face first with both skis and poles flying off and crashing down upon me. Unable to pick myself up, I immediately felt embarrassed, bruised and defeated. I started grumbling that I was done as I strapped my skis back on and attempted another go at it.
The pattern ensued for the next thirty minutes. I’d muster up some courage, shake out the piles of snow that had gone down my pants, stifle my fears and shame and attempt another run only to wind up face first in another snow bank.
After what seemed like an eternity full of crashes even worse than the last, I finally made it to the bottom of the hill and conquered my next fear of getting on the ski lift. Before I knew it, Katie and I were up in the air, overlooking the snowy mountain and the pain convulsing through my entire body ceased for a few moments as I took in the sights around me. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was serene.
Until that is, the ski lift was approaching the jumping off point, in which I immediately panicked and as I attempted to quick get off, winded up crossing my skis (a big no-no) and completely wiped out right at the top of the lift. The operator had to stop everything as I was obstructing the way and checked to make sure I was alright. Besides another bruise on my knee and another blow to my ego, I was fine.
I wanted to quit. I wanted to take off the cramped boots, clumsy skis and head over to the bar for a cocktail or ten.
I decided to take a break while Katie and Mike took another try on the slopes. I perched myself on an oversized rock right next to the lift drop-off and I watched in amusement as people would crash and tumble as their turn came to jump off. However, one little girl made quite an impact on me. Standing no more than 4 feet tall, with crazy, wild blond curls framing her chubby, red cheeks, she bravely jumped off the lift and fell down right in front of my feet.
“I’m sorry!” she said as she slowly picked herself back up.
“It’s okay,” I responded with a laugh.
“Why are you sitting here all alone on this rock?” she asked.
“Well, I’m not very good at this. I keep falling down,” I said, feeling silly.
“So! You fall down, you get back up!” she exclaimed and before I could even say anything she was already on her way down the hill.
How fitting, I thought. And how wise beyond her years she is, without even knowing it.
I knew I owed it to myself (and my friends) to try again. It was too early to throw in the towel.
We went over to the bunny hill, full of parents teaching their toddlers how to ski. Yes, that’s right… I said toddlers. Toddlers, who I might add, were really, really good and had clearly mastered the art of the french fry and pizza way better than I had.
We agreed to try going down the hill in increments. Mike went first and after a nice, juicy wipeout, he picked himself up and before I knew it, he was over the hill and out of sight. I went next and wiped out not too far onto the hill in an attempt to dodge a tiny blonde girl less than half my size. I could hear Katie shouting “It’s okay Niki! You’re doing great!”
She was clearly being nice as I was doing terrible. But I got back up anyways and took a deep breath. “Come on, Niki. You can do this,” I thought.
Before I knew it I was zooming down the hill, dodging little people to my left and my right, and I quickly started to panic as I continued to pick up speed without the ability to stop. I began screaming at the top of my lungs, “I’M PIZZA-ING, I’M PIZZA-ING” in the hopes that would somehow slow me down and not result in me finding myself buried in another snow bank. A gentleman off to the side yelled “PIZZA HARDER” as I zoomed past him.
At the bottom of the hill I saw Mike standing there, waiting for me. I dug the insides of my skis into the snow, poles waiving in the air with a look of sheer panic across my face. Mike started to yell “You’re doing it baby! You’re doing it!” and before I knew it, I began slowing down until I eventually stopped right in front of him. On both of my feet. It was incredible. I was so proud of myself and happy that I hadn’t given up after my first run like I had so badly wanted to.
We took a break, guzzled down some hot chocolate and made our way out to the slopes again. My confidence was up from my last run so I decided I could handle going down a slightly bigger hill, which later turned out to be a big mistake as I practically fell the entire way down.
We called it quits after a few hours and loaded back into the car, faces red, hands cold and bodies sore. I can probably say I’ll never be going skiing again anytime soon, but I can say that it made for an experience I will never forget.
Above all else, I’m proud that I continued to pick myself back up, despite how many times I fell and how badly I wanted to give up. I hope that my blonde, curly-haired friend would be proud of me too.