My friend Holly is responsible for my addiction. She said it was what all the cool people were doing, and I wanted to be cool. She made it look so great, and fun, and freeing. She was my pusher, and after only one trip on the powder I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was taking a trip every other weekend when my kids were with their dad, sometimes even taking off work to maximize the experience. I fell madly in love with snowboarding.
The first time I tried snowboarding was the same day my ex was getting married somewhere in Pittsburgh. It was about a week before my 37th birthday, and I could not sit at home counting down the minutes. Instead, I agreed to take a snowboarding lesson at Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado. I guess I figured what better way to keep my mind occupied than by hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speeds? I wasn’t a total novice to the slopes. I had tried skiing once in college when my roommate wanted to go to Paoli Peaks in Indiana. I was super ready because the hills of Indiana are EXACTLY the same as the 12,400 foot peaks in Colorado.
The morning of my snowboarding lesson I was excited but nervous. My last trip on powder ended up with one ski wrapped backwards (and my knee along with it), a swollen ankle, some sort of medical snowmobile ride and young children whizzing past my mangled form on tiny skis. And that was nearly 20 years earlier. I was determined not to give in to the very real fear (some may say “common sense”) that threatened to talk me out of jumping on the board and taking it for a ride.
In the first few minutes of the lesson I learned how to strap my feet into the bindings (straps on the board that keep your feet attached when you fall again and again and again–and they’re supposed to help you actually control the board like reins on a willful stallion), and I learned to “skate,” by strapping in my lead foot and pushing my back foot along the snow, moving the board forward like a skateboard. I rocked skating. Rocked it. If skating on a snowboard was an Olympic event, I definitely would have received a silver medal. Feeling pretty cocky, I stupidly indicated I was ready for more. Eventually, I moved into the phase where both feet could be strapped firmly into the bindings, and my instructor and I took a magic carpet (moving sidewalk) up the gentle slope of “learner’s hill.”
The hill looked very sweet from the bottom. Its gentle sloping and harmless, cloud-like snow was inviting and safe–from the bottom. Once the carpet deposited me at the top of the “bump,” as my instructor called it, I made the mistake of looking down. The bottom was miles away, and seemed to be on an almost straight-down, death drop from where I was standing with my inadequate skating accomplishments. The instructor reminded me that I did, indeed, know how to stop (I had practiced several times), and we were here at the top of Mt Everest so I could practice “leafing,” which was riding down the hill, drifting from side to side like a leaf falling from a tree to the ground. I rocked falling. I fell trying to stand up on the board; I fell within a few feet of standing up on the board; I fell midway down the hill; I fell two or three more times before I reached the bottom of the hill; and I fell trying to get in line for the magic carpet to take me back up the hill. The snow falsely presented its softness and every fall hurt, a lot. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, and I couldn’t get enough. Traveling on the snow, even upright only a few feet at time, I felt unfettered. Despite being strapped onto the board, I started to feel parts of my heart and mind become resuscitated after years of flatlining.
I took another lesson a week later and the conditions were perfect. Inches and inches of fresh, soft, ample snow cushioned the slopes, and I started progressing in my skills. I was hooked. The feeling of riding down the mountain was enough to keep me coming back fall after fall, ride after ride. During those first few days, I could barely sit on my backside and I knocked my shoulder away from the comfy home of its socket. I didn’t care. Each time I got on the lift, my fear (common sense) would build, and my heart would flap its wings frantically in my chest. Was I really going to hurl myself down the 12,000 foot mountain? Seriously? Yep–over and over.
The first time I made it down the mountain without falling was a personal triumph–and my butt-bone was pretty happy about it, too. I don’t know what the triumph was over exactly, maybe loss. For the last few years going through a divorce and taking inventory of whatever was left, I had lost so much, even the ability to truly feel anything–but snowboarding helped me stir some embers and bring something about me back to life. And, even though there’s a line at every ski lift that’s clearly marked “Singles only,” I hold my head high, skate right to the front like a silver medalist would, hop on the lift with whatever 12-year old snowboard aficionados are heading up the mountain, and get ready to enjoy my ride.