Friday, April 26, 2013

Bunnies to Blacks in one season

As I've mentioned previously, my major goal for the winter was to learn how to ski. It seemed silly that I've lived in Colorado for as long as I have without taking my place in the Sunday afternoon traffic jams on I-70. I felt left out. And it was also a logical next step in my mountaineering aspirations.

While there have been plenty of Spring powder days lately, the season for me is over. My weekends for the next month or so are spoken for by field trips with a class I'm taking with the Colorado Mountain Club, and the teasingly warm days we've had are drawing my mind to other pursuits. So now I'm reflecting on how things went, and whether my goals were met.

All said, I'm pretty happy with my progress this year, though there are a few things I didn't get to that I would have liked. So this post is about how I approached my first year of skiing. I think some of it probably applies to many new endeavors.

Riding up chair 4, Loveland Basin

0) Humble yourself. Everyone is terrible at first. Don't let pride prevent you from even getting started. Give yourself permission to suck. But don't worry. Falling isn't really all that bad.

1) Put yourself on the hook. For me, this mostly turned out to be in the form of a financial commitment. I bought all of my gear instead of renting, which obligated me to make the investment worthwhile. Telling people what you're doing can also help add a little pressure not to give up.

2) Start early. Skiing is obviously dependent on the weather, so there's a limit to how early in the year you can start. For me, this meant the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The snow wasn't what you'd call good - it was all machine-made, hard-packed corduroy - but it was enough, and I wanted to be off of the bunny slopes by the time the season was in full swing.

3) Start with lessons. Preferably from a professional instructor. You might have friends that are really good, but being good at something is not always the same as being good at teaching it. The first three times I went skiing, I took at least a half-day lesson. Make sure you take time either before or after the lesson to work on your own and just have some fun.

4) Go often. Most of the time I was only able to go once per week. And since that one day was my only day for doing things on my own, I had to give up some of my other favorite winter activities (e.g. snowshoeing). But I was up there every chance I got.

Hanging out at Ptarmigan Roost cabin, Loveland, during Spring Break

5) Go with friends. They say the best way to improve is to ski with somebody better than you. The couple of times I was able to go with other experienced skiers, I learned quite a bit. Jim taught me how to ski trees and moguls, and now that's some of the stuff I enjoy the most.

Me skiing with Jim at Winter Park

6) Learn with friends. I spent a lot of time skiing by myself, but I also talked my whole family into learning with me this year. It's fun to be able to spread around your beginner's enthusiasm. And sometimes, like Presidents' Day and Spring Break, this allowed me to increase the frequency of my ski days.

C at Loveland Valley

7) Ignore ratings. I know: the title of this post is all about difficulty ratings. We outdoors people seem to be obsessed with rating systems. And they can be useful for risk-assessment, tracking progress, and motivation. But I'm working on a universal scale that I can apply to pretty much any activity. It goes something like
  1. Boring
  2. Fun
  3. Fun But Scary. Or maybe interpret it as "fun, but I expect to fail."
  4. Too Scary to try yet
This is a scale that grows with us as we progress in our pursuits. And if you want to get better at something, try to stay in the FBS range. Eventually you'll gain enough skill and confidence that things in the TS category start looking like FBS.

Looking down Over the Rainbow at Loveland Basin

8) Explore new places. This year, Loveland was kind of my home turf, or so to speak. But I learned a lot on the occasions I was able to ski other mountains. And not all mountains rate their runs the same way.

Maybe it was because I was seeing all of Loveland's black runs while I was still just beginning, and that first Too Scary impression stuck with with me longer than it should have. But in my experience, the black runs at Copper Mountain were much gentler than the blacks at Loveland. So going to other places might allow you to break through the mental block and smooth out the transition from one level to the next.

9) Never fail to have fun. That's not to say that it isn't hard sometimes. But if I wanted to do something that feels like work, there's plenty of that waiting for me at home and the office. Fun is what motivates me to get out and learn something new.

Loveland Basin from the top of chair 1