“Wow, you look better on your skis today than you did all last season,” my ever-so-charming husband said to me after our first run one day last month.
It was an awkward compliment, but I couldn’t argue with him. While I did eventually get to a point where I could make it from the top of the mountain to the bottom without falling last winter, I’m pretty sure I never actually looked like I had a clue what I was doing. Yet somehow, despite close to a year elapsing between my final ski day last season and my first ski day this season—and only a couple of snowboarding days prior to dusting off my skis this year—my first run that day had been my best ski run up to that point.
“Thanks,” I mumbled through double neck gaiters (it was one of those below-zero-for-a-high-temperature days), “I still don’t feel 100% confident, but at least I’m not scared of it anymore.”
I was psyched to have had such good luck so early in the day, but in the back of my head, I assumed that’s all it was: good luck. I was convinced that a hilarious fall was lurking somewhere on each subsequent run. But it never happened—not that day, not a few days later on a Pats Peak dawn patrol, not even on the next few ski days after that. (A mogul did eventually take me down at Mount Snow last weekend. Whomp!)
When I was first learning to snowboard, I thought I’d never get the hang of it. For the first few seasons, it felt like I spent more time on my butt or knees than on my feet. It seemed reasonable to expect that my first few seasons on skis would go the same way—and perhaps even take a season or two longer to figure out since I wasn’t only skiing (after all, why would I abandon snowboarding now that I finally feel comfortable doing it?). Nobody is as surprised by how well I’m skiing this year as I am, and it took a few trips to the mountains to figure out what the difference between this season and last season is. This season, I have a “secret weapon” under my belt (in my belt? up my sleeve? sorry for not knowing the appropriate concealed carry metaphor)…
It suddenly hit me on the chair lift a few weeks ago. I remembered a conversation I had with Tim in my early snowboarding days. After what was probably the 37th fall of the day, I tried to hold back my frustration as I asked why he was so good at it and made it seem so effortless. “I basically grew up mountain biking,” he shrugged. He went on to explain that because of his mountain biking background, he was really good at finding lines, wasn’t afraid of moving fast, and had great eye-body coordination. I grumpily ignored most of what said and resigned myself to sucking at snowboarding forever—or just taking a lot longer to not-suck—because mountain biking was too scary and I would never do it.
Now, seven years and one season of mountain biking later, I finally understand what Tim was trying to tell me that day.
On a mountain bike, you have no choice but to get good at evaluating the trail ahead and picking the best(-for-you) line. You think you’re just out in the woods having a grand ol’ time, but really you’re training your eyes and your brain to assess situations—and your surroundings—more quickly than is normally necessary so that you don’t wipe out. Guess what else requires this ability? Yep, skiing and snowboarding.
On a mountain bike, you also sometimes have no choice but to move fast. When I was 9 years old, I fell off my bike going down a teeny, tiny hill and ended up with nine stitches in my chin (and spent an hour in the ER waiting room convinced I was going to die because of how much I was bleeding.) When I finally decided to start riding a [road] bike again nine years ago, I learned two things: 1) I don’t like riding fast, and 2) I hate riding downhill. It was those two things that led me to believe I would never set my butt on a mountain bike. But then last summer, I learned two more things: 1) if I wanted to ever actually hang out with that charming husband of mine, I’d have to get over my fear of mountain biking, and 2) mountain biking is actually pretty effing awesome. Even if you have to ride downhill half the time. Even if you sometimes end up riding faster than you think you’re comfortable with. And where else do you encounter this fast, downhill movement? Ski slopes.
Lastly, on a mountain bike, you essentially spend every single ride—whether it’s 45 minutes or 4 hours—refining your eye-body coordination. If what you’re seeing and the way you’re moving don’t add up at any given point, you fall…as the bruises that covered most of my body from June-October last year can attest to. Now that it’s ski season, the ski gods are either
taking pity on smiling down on me or all that falling off my mountain bike over the summer is benefiting me now because I’ve learned to stay more in tune with myself on my skis (rather than getting all up in my head about it like last winter).
Now, I’m not saying that learning how to mountain bike turned me into an expert skier. Far from it. I’m still not very good at either sport. But there’s no doubt that learning to mountain bike left me with a little more skill (and a lot more confidence!) on my skis this season. Progress is progress, whether it comes as baby steps or giant leaps for mankind. And when you choose sports that are, for better or worse, all about progression, you learn to appreciate victories of any size.