Dispelling fear within the black diamond trees

I’ve been sticking to what I know lately. Hanging out in that safe space of knowing what to expect, which comes with a contented feeling of control. This can be applied to many aspects of my life, but on the ski hill, it means sticking to groomed blue runs: a wide path, smooth and easy to manage with two waxed sticks strapped to my feet. 

That safe place is cool and all, comfortable enough. But at some point it becomes ‘meh’. I feel unsatisfied in the sameness, and I get the underlying feeling that I need to turn the dial up a notch. I need to grow and expand my safe space by pushing a bit past my comfort zone. But if I add some spice to the ski hill mix, I might fall. 

I am, certifiably, someone who is afraid to fall. I’m a few hairs shy of six feet tall. Trust me, it’s a long way to the ground from where I stand. My fear of falling, fear of hurting myself, puts a big damper on any desires to try out the moguls or dive into the glades of trees. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when someone suggests we try a black diamond run. I don’t want to spend my time trying really hard not to fall — because we all know that’s no fun (emotionally, that kind of fear sucks), and my quads are definitely not game for that physiological punishment of trying to stop… the Whole. Way. Down. 

No thanks.

My typical ‘go to’ runs ever since I can remember are ‘No bumps, no trees, not too steep.’ And that worked for the past few decades of winter skiing, which was typically a mere three to eight total days per season.  But this year is different. In the past three weeks, upon arriving in the little ski town of Nelson, BC, I have already spent eleven days at the ski hill and have logged more than 90 runs. That’s a lot of trail time spent in my comfort zone. And we still have over two months left of ski days before we leave. It’s no wonder I’m feeling some nudge to push the ski-skills envelope a bit. 

I’ve tried ‘advancing my skills’ on my own (the quotes are appropriate, believe me) on those cushy, smooth blue runs. I’ve been taking tips from my husband, and listening to my son when he says, “Mama, you need to bend more.” That’s fine and dandy, but as anyone who has ever tried to get better at a sport, or amplify their skills and abilities within any scope, it’s much easier when you hire professional help. 

So that’s what I did. Yesterday afternoon, I spent three hours with a ski coach. The first few runs made me feel like a total beginner again (terrified and unstable) because I was being guided to change one fundamental part of my skiing: lean into the downhill. I knew that phrase was coming. Everyone tells me that’s what you need to do (DON’T LEAN BACK), but that is the opposite of what my body does when I’m exposed to any steep slopes, regardless of ice, ripples of moguls, or the cramped space of skiing through trees. It feels like my body is saying, “RETREAT! RETREAT! DON’T GO THERE! THIS WILL BE HARD! YOU WILL LOSE CONTROL! YOU WILL FALL!” Immediately, I stiffen up, lean back, and coincidentally, I take away all of my ability to work with the terrain, to have any form of control, and all essence of fun has escaped completely.

My ski coach was excellent. She took me through some basic drills to get acquainted with the feeling of leaning into the downhill, on those easier blue runs. After a short time, she skillfully stepped it up a notch. “Let’s hit this black run, and then play in those trees.” I think my intuition stepped in at this point, likely erasing what my brain heard, and suggested instead, softly, ‘Trust her. She knows you can do this. And deep down, you do too. She’ll help you get there.’

As usual, my intuition was right. On that steep black diamond run full of irregular moguls, and our escapade through the trees surrounded by crusty, hard-to-ski snow, I leaned into my fear. And I leaned downhill. Through my coach’s specific guidance in the tricky spots, I DID IT. I didn’t fall. I felt in control. I learned how to keep my groove going, one turn at a time. I DID IT!! [Insert swirling, exuberant happy dance and a whopping topper of pride].

Main message here: Want to up your game? Hire a professional. We all know it works. We all know it saves a lot of time. We all know it amplifies you into your next level like a badass, without much suffering. Being guided and held during an expansion is the reason I do the work that I do. Pushing through your fears is way more fun (yes, I said ‘fun’) with a mentor by your side. 

Thanks to Nicole at Whitewater Ski School for skillfully expanding the limits of my fear, bringing me to the place where I feel confident when someone says, “Hey, wanna hit that black diamond run?”

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