I had been given my first skis for Christmas when I was five. It was a big surprise and I remember being very excited about learning to ski. I imagined gliding effortlessly over the snow. They were wide wooden skis, painted blue, that I strapped onto my snow boots. My boots slipped out of them all the time and I found them heavy and cumbersome. At five I was not a good skier. I would take the skis out every winter for a few years after that and try them out, but I never got the hang of it and was always disappointed in how difficult it was. I preferred sledding or ice skating.
At 12, I got another pair of skis for Christmas. This time it was not a surprise. One evening my father took me and my two brothers, one a year older and one a year younger than me, to get fitted for skis. This time they were real downhill skis. We got outfitted with boots, poles, and even snazzy ski pants with heel straps so they didn’t ride up out of the boots. This time I was not so very enthusiastic. I kept asking my father why I was getting skis, I didn’t want skis. He insisted. I got the skis. My brothers really wanted their skis and they both became good skiers, in fact my younger brother became an excellent skier and even went to Europe one year and skied in the Alps with a friend of his whose family was living there for a year. I remember one of his skis broke on the return trip, in the cargo hold of the plane.
I tried skiing in those new skis, mostly around the neighborhood with friends, on hills in my backyard or other people’s backyards. I’d occasionally go to a nearby ski area with friends, a little mountain where there was a small beginner’s slope and a much larger expert slope. I spent my time on the beginner’s slope. I was the person going down the hill screaming, arms flapping and poles akimbo, crashing into the flimsy fence at the bottom of the hill in order to stop. I did take a few lessons and learned the “snowplow” to stop so I didn’t have to crash land. But I was still pretty bad, had little control, and often rode down the hill sitting on the back of my skis. I’d end my ski adventures bruised, with bumps on the back of my head, snow down my neck, and my ankles aching where the boots dug into them. I was just not a good skier.
When I was 14 I got convinced by a friend to go down the big hill at the ski area. My first challenge was getting up to the top of the hill. As soon as I grabbed onto the rope tow lift I found that the rope just slid through my hands. My mittens were fake red fur on the tops with palms made of a heavy plastic material that the frozen rope just slipped right over. I grabbed as hard as I could, but no luck. I was asked to get off the rope pull as I was causing a back up, people piling up behind me, yelling, “Go, go, go!” My friend and I moved over to the T-bar lift. I had never used a T-bar before.
“Just stand in the tracks, and grab onto the T-bar as it comes up behind and let it basically drag you up the hill,” said my friend, a much better skier, as we prepared to ride up the hill together, one on either side of the upside down T. Sounds easy, right? Well it wasn’t. For some reason I kept falling down every time the T contraption came at us. Finally after many attempts, the lift guard yelling at me to give up, I managed to somehow grab ahold of the dang thing and stay on my feet and up we went. Next problem, how to get off! My friend and I discussed this on the way up.
“Just ski away from the lift as we get to the top of the hill,” my friend said.
“Okay, right,” I said.
Luckily I always had a good sense of humor and could laugh at myself, so there was a lot of laughter as we went through the process of getting to the top of the mountain. Taking a big breath, I was able to “just ski away” from the lift, but even so there were other people coming up fast behind me yelling, “Move! Move!”
At the top of the hill I looked down and said, “No way! I am not going down that hill,” a frightening sheer drop. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” my friend said, and she explained how to go down by slalom skiing back and forth at the steepest part and then skiing straight down where it evens out. Sure. And then she took off, leaving me to fend for myself. Shit! I guess she thought I was just going to follow right after her!
I hemmed and hawed for a long time, getting up my courage, and then I went for it. It did not go well. I started out okay, basically skiing across to a spot on the other side, trying not to get in the way of other expert skiers who were shushing past me at incredible speeds. I went back to the other side, down a little further, and that went okay too. But then I fell and I kept falling. I could not stop.
Like a turtle on its back I went spinning down the hill, my slick ski jacket skittering over the icy surface of the mountain, my skis and poles flailing in the air as I passed everybody, going at such speed that I could not tell what was up or what was down. I barreled along like a bowling ball knocking down pins as all the people at the bottom of the hill, waiting on line to take the lift up to the top, scattered as I sailed past them and crashed into the fence beyond. It was mortifying. A woman asked me if I was okay. I said I was, as I pried snow out of my neck, from inside my jacket, and from down my pants.
My friend was nowhere in sight. I finally found her and said I’d wait for her in the lodge. When I asked her, she said she hadn’t seen me go down. Luckily! That was one humiliation I would not have to live down!
A few days later I was on the school bus. Two girls were sitting in the seat behind me. Cheerleaders. They were talking, giggling. I didn’t really tune into what they were saying until I realized that one girl was telling the other about going skiing over the weekend.
“She went down the whole slope ON HER BACK!” I heard her say.
It suddenly dawned on me that they were talking about me. Oh no! Mortification! Someone I knew had seen me! Did they not know I was sitting right in front of them? Of course they did! More mortification! How will I ever live this down? I slunk down in my seat and finally accepted that I was a bad skier. The humiliation was just not worth it. I don’t think I ever skied again after that.
We take on “badness” and it manifests somewhere in us, psychologically, physically, emotionally, even spiritually. Not only did I take on being a bad skier, but I took on the humiliation and mortification that came with being a bad skier. It inhibited me from trying other sports, as I was sure I would be bad at them too. I stuck to what I knew I could do. I limited myself.
Years later, I was in my twenties and had moved to Sweden to live with my boyfriend, a very nice young Swedish man. One day he announced that we were going skiing. I explained that I did not ski. That I was a really bad skier. He explained that it was not downhill skiing, and everyone in the country basically did it and I was going to do it too. No backing out. The whole family was going, meaning his parents and sister, aunt and uncle and numerous cousins, most of whom I’d yet to meet. Oh boy, here comes the humiliation and the mortification!
I was nervous all week leading up to the winter break when traditionally all families got together for winter sports, the most popular being our equivalent of cross-country skiing. When I lived in Sweden during the 1970s, literally everyone skied.
By the time the day came I was ready, outfitted with a set of boots, skis, and poles and ready to go. I decided to just relax and enjoy, pretend I’d never been on skis before in my life, and just have fun. Like it or not, it was time to get beyond my ingrained idea that I was a bad skier. We set out into the wilderness, newly fallen snow on the ground, backpacks filled with thermoses and food, skis strapped to our feet. I got a quick lesson and then off we went. There was no time for hesitation. There was no time for limiting beliefs. I just began to ski because I had to; it was time to go and I had to keep up with everyone. But from the moment I started I loved it!
There I was gliding along, just as I had imagined doing when I was five and got my first set of skis. It was magical. I watched carefully how everyone else skied and started to add little techniques to my own process as we went along. There were no judgments, only kind encouragements, everyone just out to have a glorious day of fun in the snow. Over hill and dale, through woods we went. It was magical, and by the time we stopped for lunch on the edge of a forest, sheltered by large boulders, I was hooked. When asked if I was enjoying the skiing I declared that I loved it and everyone agreed that it was a marvelous sport.
A fire was built, hot dogs were pulled out and stuck on sticks, hot milky sweet tea was poured, and we all sat down in the snow and had a marvelous, delicious picnic. It was just the first of many such skiing trips I was to enjoy with those lovely Swedes, all of whom congratulated me on skiing so well for someone who had never done it before. I did tell them that I had done downhill skiing before, but nothing like that.
I learned something about myself that day, how an idea can be so limiting, how we plant ideas about ourselves in our minds and live them out, to our disadvantage. I really was mortified that day on the slope when I fell onto my back and the day I heard those girls talking about me only increased my mortification. But I learned that in order to get beyond our limiting beliefs we have to dare ourselves to override them, to live them down by facing them and daring to live beyond them. Limiting beliefs keep us away from having experiences that are life enhancing, that help us grow and change. That day in Sweden I discovered that I was no longer a bad skier, but a competent one, and have enjoyed many skiing adventures since.
We never really know who we are until we push ourselves beyond our perceived limits, beyond what we believe about ourselves. In the process of challenging those beliefs we not only discover more of our potential but we allow unforeseen joy to enter into our lives.
P. S.: There are plenty of hilarious Youtube videos of people trying to ride T-bar lifts. I was just like everyone of them that first and only time I ever rode such a lift.
A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries