|Apr. 5th, 2004 12:13 am School of Hard Knocks|
This weekend I went snow boarding for the first time. I'm only able to type this because my fingers are one of the three places on my body that don't hurt right now.
My coworkers have been inviting me to go up to the mountain at least once a month for the entire winter. Since the first big snow, I have been stocking up on gear because for years I have been saying that I wanted to learn, but then I don't go because it's so expensive. I figured if I at least had the right clothes, maybe this winter I would finally make it. I spent November and December obsessing about pants, gloves, and coats and being appalled at how expensive it all was.
But finally things started to come together. My sister loaned me her jacket for the season. Mom kicked in with some killer pants as my surprise Christmas present (after I'd shopped and tried and rejected different pairs for weeks, she just walked into the shop, pulled a pair off the rack and they were perfect-- go mom!).
Now I had all the stuff, but my schedule, travel and unexpected bills kept me from actually putting it to use. Suddenly it was March and my obsessiveness has shifted to getting a road bike before spring was over. It looked like my snow boarding dreams might take a back seat for yet another season.
Then last week, Tiia and Mike from work said they were going up on Saturday and invited me to go. It was my last chance and I grabbed it. Tiia was even willing to sell me one of her cheaper lift tickets from her package deal. On Friday I went to the Mountain Shop next door to our work place and rented a board and some boots. I took them over to work for them to put in their truck on the way home. They would pick me up around 7:30am the next morning.
From the first moment that I talked to anyone about wanting to try this crazy sport, people have been telling me stories and giving me advice. The stories were all the same:
-You will be miserable the first time.
-You will do nothing but fall down.
-You will be sore in places you didn't know existed.
The list of tips was distressingly short as well:
-Keep your weight on your front foot and steer with your back foot.
-Try to land on your butt.
-Keep your hands in fists or you will kill your wrists.
You might be wondering at this point why, with such a grim prognosis for any possibility of fun, would I want to try such a thing? I suppose the closest answer I have is that, upon further interviewing, it seemed that people who actually survived their first time well enough to go back for a second and even third try eventually came to enjoy themselves. It was that promise that beckoned. Surviving the first time seemed like some trial by fire that everyone is required to go through.
The real truth is, despite the unwavering consistency of reports of body damage, I secretly hoped and prayed that I would be different. Some miraculous exceptional, undiscovered snow boarding prodigy who would pick up the whole mess in 20 minutes and be carving down the mountain screaming cowabunga. I mean, I used to skateboard when I was 12. That counts for something right?
Mike and Tiia showed up at my house just before 8:00am on Saturday and we got up to the mountain around 10:00am. We changed into our gear. My pants looked good. It was a warm spring day, 40 degrees on the mountain. The sky was clear and sunny. Tiia was somewhat disappointed because the warm weather would make the snow slushy and the runs slower. I was ecstatic. Slower was just fine with me, and I was happy I wouldn't have to worry about being cold in addition to all my other troubles.
As we all met up again outside the locker rooms Ivan, Mike's friend, asked me if I was nervous. I told him that I wasn't, which was true. I wasn't nervous before I jumped out an airplane the first time either, even though I probably should have been. I wasn't exactly excited either though. Mostly I was just feeling a sense of inevitability about the whole experience.
It did occur to me that maybe it would be a good idea to sign up for a lesson. It occurred to me several times in fact. Especially after I went to the MT Hood Meadows web site and read their cautions about well meaning friends telling you that you don't need lessons, and then leaving you to fall down the mountain while they shush off into the sunrise. Of course, they were trying to sell lessons so of course they would say that. Tiia and several others in the group told me repeatedly that they'd stick with me and help me out. Of course, they couldn't be trusted either.
The bottom line is that after shelling out for the rental board, the lift ticket and food for the day, I really couldn't afford another $65 for a lesson where I'd probably be impatient with the pace anyway. Besides, I suspected that in the end, no one can really teach you to snow board. You just have to do it, and fall down until you get tired of falling down and figure out how not to. School of hard knocks.
So I followed Tiia over to the main lift and we boarded without incident. So far so good. Our boards dangled crookedly from one leg as we took in the view. The ride up was peaceful and scenic and long. Really really long. We seemed to be going up quite high in fact. The beginnings of what might have been nervousness started to form in my consciousness. "So, what about getting off the lift?" I asked, since I'd heard that could be tricky.
"Oh, just set your board down sideways, put your back foot near the other binding and let the chair push you down the little hill. And you're going to fall, so just try to crawl out of the way of other people getting off the lift as soon as possible."
Great. Now she tells me.
Dionne Warwick couldn't have predicted more accurately. I managed to fall after going down the hill a ways so I didn't have to crawl as far. I was sitting in the snow with one foot strapped to my board, looking down an incredibly large mountain. Now I was definitely nervous. But there was nothing for it. Let the falling begin.
Tiia showed me how to turn my board perpendicular to the slope and then strap my second foot in. After that, theoretically, I was supposed to stand up on the board. That part didn't go so well. I just didn't have the balance and flexibility to stand up from a seated position while my feet were strapped down. In the end I had to lay on my back and flop around like a stranded fish until I got the board turned over and could get up from a kneeling position.
Then Tiia showed me how to practice turning. She repeated the same tips that everyone else had given me and demonstrated 'riding the edges' of the board, making a nice figure eight to demonstrate.
Then it was my turn to try. In the few seconds between falls, I found that turning to the right, where you have to keep your weight on your toe edge was much easier. Turning left, or riding the heel edge, was scarier and there was a 50/50 chance that I would overcompensate, catch the toe edge in the snow and end up on my face. But I did make a couple of turns in the first few minutes. Tiia seemed impressed.
Of course, it was less than fun for her, watching me fall every 3 feet. She said she would stay with me through the first run so I would know which fork to take for the 'easy' run. It took less than three minutes for her to bail on me. She was hot, she was just going to run down and strip off a layer, she'd come back to check on me, just follow the middle fork, blah blah blah.... I can't say I was surprised. I mean, these were my coworkers I was with. I didn't expect for a moment that they would actually stay with me although I did think they'd last more than three minutes. But despite Tiia's claims that she 'taught' Mike to board, in actuality I knew that Mike had just kept falling down the mountain until he got it. It looked like I would have to do the same.
Tiia scooted off and I was left to my own devices. I soon found that mastering the turn thing was key. Turns slow you down. It was fairly easy to just point straight ahead but on the slope I was on, the speed got scary pretty quickly. Inevitably I would have to try to turn to avoid hitting something or someone, resulting in harder falls.
Soon I reached a fork. The left arrow pointed to MT Hood Express, which was the lift we started out on, so I headed that way (in between falls of course). But then there was a second fork immediately after the first. Tiia had said 'take the middle fork' and I knew I should follow the green arrows, but I didn't see a green arrow, and both hills looked equally steep from my vantage point.
I sat in the snow and cursed Tiia and pondered which way to go. Eventually I just kept asking the many people who kept passing me until someone passed by slowly enough to hear me. It was a man and I presume his teenage son, both on skis. They both had European accents. The dad started to point me right but then the kid said that left was the easiest way. OK. I went left.
I shouldn't have gone left. Maybe it was an honest mistake or maybe you just can't trust foreigners (Tiia is from Finland). Maybe the so called 'easy way' wouldn't have been any easier considering I didn't have a clue what I was doing. All I knew was that the slope was really steep. I started speeding again and before long I went down again, this time in spectacular Wide-World-of-Sports-agony-of-defeat fashion, cracking the back of my head hard against the snow and sliding a good 20 feet further before I stopped.
I lay there while cartoon birds circled over my head and tried to remember what the symptoms were for a concussion. I really really really did not want to get up. Getting up meant falling down again. I made two promises to myself right then: If I made it down alive, the first thing I would do is rent a helmet (who knew snow could be so hard?), and the second thing I would do would be to find the bunny hill and spend the rest of the day there. I might have to fall down the mountain to learn, but it didn't have to be the steep part of the mountain.
The next fall was a somersault into a face plant and when I came up, I noticed things seemed really bright. I had worn my sunglasses instead of my ski goggles because it was so hot and now the glasses had flown from my head. I couldn't even remember if I'd had them after the last fall. I was distracted and I could have lost them at the top of the mountain for all I knew. A feeling of dread came over me. Those were the glasses I bought to replace the shades that Carmen bought me for my birthday which I promptly lost by dropping them in a waterfall while hiking Silver Falls. I'm pretty sure they don't even make the model anymore.
Before I could start swearing though, I looked behind me and there they were, laying in the snow about 6 feet uphill from me. Hallelujah! I crawled over to them and stuck them gratefully in a well padded pocket. I'd deal with the glare and then get my goggles when I got down. If I did see something to avoid, it's not like I could turn anyway.
But there was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see the bottom with the lodge and the lift. And I could see it all really well because I was at the top of the steepest slope I'd yet come to. From my vantage point, it looked like about a 70 degree incline. With bumps. There was NO WAY, I was going to attempt riding down that. Scooting to the edge, I planted my board in front of me and slid on my heels and my butt till I got to the bottom. It took a while, but that was ok with me. I couldn't stand the thought of another agony-of-defeat fall. When things leveled out, I did my fish-flop and stood up again and made it almost all the way in before I fell again. But I was down. And I was alive. No thanks to Tiia.
I unclipped from the board completely, glad to have separate control of my feet again. I went back to the locker room and stashed my shades. I was kind of glad. This was after all, my first opportunity to use my ski goggles for their intended purpose after two years of only using them for biking in heavy rain.
Outside the locker room I ran into Rob and Andrea.
"How's it going?" they asked.
I relayed my abandonment and near-death experience. This was only Rob's second time snow boarding, so he could relate. He said he was falling a lot but I got the feeling that he was having a lot more fun time between falls than I was. He offered to go up with me. At first I was going to take him up on it, but I quickly realized that would mean going back up the big lift, which I had no intention of doing.
Instead I rented a nice bright red helmet that became my new best friend for the rest of the day.
Someone pointed me toward the Easy Rider lift which sounded like just what I was looking for. To get to it, you have to ride the Buttercup lift which is filled with kids and their parents. On the short lift ride, I saw many more people who looked more like me--that is to say, they were on the ground a lot. It was comforting. I debated staying on the bunny hill, but I decided to go all the way up and took the Easy Rider lift. As soon as I was overhead, I noticed that this hill was obviously the place for trick jocks to do their thing. The whole run was nothing but hill-jumps with rails set up in strategic places along the way. People were doing some pretty impressive jumps, with the occasional painful-looking landing.
Fortunately there was room along the side to go straight down, without encountering any jumps so I wasn't panicked.
I managed to get off the lift without falling this time. Ahead of me there were three kids who looked about 12 and they were headed off to the right towards a different path. I asked them about it and they said it lead down to the Buttercup lift, it was just longer and slower.
Ah slower. I liked the sound of that. Because it was so relatively flat it took a bit longer to get going, but when I did, I actually executed multiple turns! It was at least 30 seconds of actual boarding before I fell, a personal best for the day. I was ecstatic.
Now a new problem asserted itself. While softer snow is nicer to fall on from my butt's perspective, it is also very wet. My gear had distressing gaps in it and now every time I fell, I was getting snow into places I'd just rather not have it. My gloves were long since soaked from the first run and putting my hands back into cold, wet gloves was miserable enough. But then towards the bottom of Easy Rider (what a stupid name), I took a header that sent a toaster sized chunk of snow straight up my jacket and shirt. Naturally when I tried to sit up and shake it out, it fell into my pants. Great.
I had to take the jacket off entirely (it was a pullover) and shake it out, then sit there in my tank top while I tried to dig snow chunks out of my underwear. At that point I was kinda glad the guys from work were too impatient to stay with me. I didn't need witnesses.
Things were better than they'd been on the main lift, but they were hardly great. Every time I fell, I thought seriously about digging a snow cave and sitting in it until it was time to leave. I was comforted by the thought that at least if I couldn't be different, I knew everyone else had gone through the same thing. I watched the kids, some of them speeding down the mountain without a care in the world and some just starting out, and wished I was that close to the ground. At least the falls wouldn't be so bad. Parents, if you love your kids, teach them to board or ski while they're still short.
I made it all the way back to the bottom of the Buttercup lift and with my brain screaming "WHY!??" I went up again. I decided to stay on the bunny hill this time. It wasn't too steep but I was still getting up respectable speeds. The only thing that kept me going was that in the stories people told me, they always said their second trip was 90% better than the first one. If I quit early, I wouldn't learn anything and my second trip would be as miserable as my first--and there was no way I ever wanted to go through this again.
Our group was supposed to meet for lunch at 2:00pm. I didn't have a watch or my phone to tell the time so every time I got to the bottom of the lift, I asked someone the time, hoping I would have a legitimate excuse to stop. After two more bunny hill runs, it was 1:30 and I was done in. I decided it was close enough and headed back to the lodge.
Tiia, Mike and Ivan were just finishing eating. They asked if I was having fun. I told them I could see the potential for fun, but actual fun was probably a ways off.
"Do you think you'll go again?" Mike asked.
"After today or after lunch?" I replied. Part my brain was telling me I should just go get my book from the car and wait for them in the warmth and security of the locker room. It was only two hours till the lifts closed...
I shut the voice off with an effort. I ate a cheeseburger and sat around for about as long as I could justify. After some adjustments to try to seal up my clothes against snow, I put my soggy gloves back on and headed out.
There were only two hours till the lifts closed and I resolved to get as many runs in as I could in that time. Things improved greatly after lunch. I started being able to actually control my direction pretty reliably. I was still working on controlling m speed and stopping. My version of stopping had improved from automatic headers into the snow to a slight controlled parallel slide ending on my butt. I only took three headers into the snow the whole afternoon, which I counted as a success. A couple of times I was able to stand up from a seated position instead of having to turn over all the time. And I was more successful at remembering to keep my hands in fists and not land on my wrists, which had been sore since my first fall. All in all I was happy with my progress.
At 3:45 I went up the lift for my last run. I had been taking the gentlest slope I could each time down the run. This time I decided to take a sharp left midway down and head down the steepest part of the hill which would put me close to the lodge. My theme for the run was controlled stops. As I got onto the steepest part, I was stopping every few feet, ending on my butt every time. The last slide though, I slide with my board perpendicular to the hill and coasted to a stop and I was still on my feet!
That seemed like a good note to end on. I was tired, sore, soaked and miserable but in the end, I think it was worth it. I will definitely do it again (thankfully not until next winter!) and when I do, I might even have some fun.
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