Learning to Ski in South Tyrol – As an Adult
There are a few things I have come to realise in the past four years of living in South Tyrol. One of them is that learning to ski is like learning a foreign language – it would have been a lot easier if I had started as a kid.
Growing up in sun-soaked Southern California, snow was a novelty to me – for that matter, so was rain. As you might have already guessed, I didn’t spend my winters in Aspen. The first time I had skis on my feet was when I was 23. That's approximately 20 years too late for the average South Tyrolean. So, what did that mean for me? I had lost time to make up for!
My first ski lesson was on our local mountain, the Rittner Horn. To say I wasn’t prepared would be an understatement. Luckily, my ski instructor brought me a mishmash of equipment he found in his attic: pink poles, skis that were too long, and boots that were too big – it was certainly better than what I had, which was nothing. I didn’t even own a pair of ski pants; I just doubled up on yoga leggings and hoped for the best.
At last, the time had come – the moment I hadn't been preparing for my entire life. There was no turning back. It was time to ski!
Once we were on the slope, my instructor explained how I should position my skis in the shape of a V to turn. “Like pizza!” I said. To which he replied, “Uh, no. Pizzas are round.” Right, how uncultured of me! Moving on.
Do you know how they call someone a "natural" when they are really good at something? Well, if you look in the thesaurus, you might just find a picture of me… when you look up the antonym. We slowly zigged and zagged our way down a couple of times. And although my instructor initially laughed when he saw me in my two-ply yoga pants, he later admitted that they were helpful because he could see what I was doing wrong – no baggy ski pants to get in the way. Ha!
If you’ve ever been to the Rittner Horn, you know that the last hill before you reach the bottom is rather steep. To a beginner, it looks like the hill of death. In fact, I was already picturing a little cross on the side of the mountain with my name on it and the epitaph, “She tried and then she died.” Not only did I “pizza” my way down, but my instructor was in front of me, braking backwards to help me make it to the bottom in one piece. When we finished, I thanked my lucky stars and my instructor and ended the day with a nice round pizza at the Burgerstube. It was a good day.
That winter, I went skiing several times with my husband. I skied down easy slopes and rode the ignorance-is-bliss wave of not knowing all of the things I was doing wrong. It’s like when you start speaking a new language, and you're blissfully unaware of all the mistakes you are making.
But as we tried out steeper slopes, I felt something ugly start to grow inside me. Fear. I couldn't help it, and it began to overcome me. Some days, my legs would shake uncontrollably, my brain would turn to mush, and I would forget everything I was taught. Any confidence I had was gone with the wind.
Bending over backwards, tripping, and stumbling… When you're learning a foreign language, these are just figures of speech; when learning to ski, things take a literal turn.
But there was no way I would let the fact I was terrified stop me from forcing myself to enjoy the thing that so many people in South Tyrol love. I knew I had to conquer my fear.
So what did I do? I bought all the equipment I needed (including ski pants!) and made myself financially obliged to keep trying. I left the ski shop with my hands full and a hole in my pocket, proclaiming, “That should do the trick!”
Now, after four years, countless ski sessions and lessons, my legs have stopped shaking, my fear doesn’t consume me, and I can even ski down black slopes – not very well, but I don’t care! I love skiing, and that makes me love South Tyrol even more.
I used to only enjoy doing the things that I was good at, things that came naturally. But now, I have a deep appreciation for the feeling that comes when I challenge myself, face my fears, and do what lies outside of my comfort zone.
On that note, see you on the slopes!