Tuesday, January 31, 2006


So I tried snowboarding for the first time last week. As one raised in a sunny clime with access to warm friendly waters 365 days a year, I've had little experience with snow and the sports that take place in it. I do recall one happy New Years when I was eight, I think, spent in the snow in Tahoe. We kids would get bundled up and go out and play for hours, making snow angels, hurling rocky snowballs at each other, and constructing elaborate forts. We'd only come inside the cabin when we couldn't feel our fingers and feet. The mothers would unwrap us, warm us, pour hot chocolate down our throats, then wrap us back up and shake their heads as we ran back out into the cold for more. At one point we surreptitiously hiked onto private land and found a long, gradual hill just perfect for sledding. I sat on a plastic saucer, cross-legged, and barrelled down that thing like a bullet through a rifle, screaming with delight until I bashed into a tree and went tumbling. But who cared? What a rush!

Since then I've gotten pretty good in the water, thanks to my near constant access to it and a father who let me hang onto his neck as he caught the waves at Bellows (my favorite beach -- see previous posts for pictures). Skiing looked like fun, but without snow in the vicinity I contented myself with waves. Six poverty-stricken years at college and grad school in Chicago offered no opportunity for snowplay, though I did force my roommates to join me in an impromptu snowball fight the first time snow fell my freshman year at the University of Chicago. When I spotted those initial flakes, my heart sang, and I rushed out, pulling my friends with me, calling "Snow, snow - yay!" More experienced Chicagoans were, of course, more sensibly thinking "Winter, winter -- oy!" Four months later, during the longest February ever recorded, I began to see their point.

Now that I live in Southern California, with easy access to snow at Big Bear about two hours away, I've got the opportunity to give the snow a try. I haven't rushed out there because of previous experiences with altitude sickness. I did venture to Mammoth one winter with friends, and after a glorious morning at ski school, I had to pole myself down the hill in slushy snow, nearly fainted, and ended up being taken down the mountain in a first aid toboggan by a cute but scornful ski patrol guy.

But now, in better shape than before, and with a group of friends determined to drag my ass to Big Bear, I went to snowboard classes at Snow Summit. It's good to stretch your limits, to try new things, to be uncomfortable for a while as you head into new territory. I coasted down the bunny slope with one foot in the bindings with relative ease. Sebastian, our instructor with a rubbery French accent, viewed me with approval as I turned and stopped both heelside and toeside without falling. Sure, I fell a few other times, but I was beginning to see how this could be fun. It wasn't that hard! I could do this! Tired, but satisfied, I boarded down the little hill, then walked back up it many times, dragging the snowboard with my left, weaker foot, breathing hard, feeling good.

Then Sebastian told us it was time to get on the chair lift. Uh -- what? You mean, now that I'm tired and cold and am just getting the hang of this thing, you want me to go up to the top of a more difficult slope and learn a new way of getting down the hill? My instincts told me no. Time to rest now, Nina. Time for hot chocolate and getting out of these wet things and then maybe a nap.

But I caved to the peer pressure and went. The chair lift wasn't too difficult to manage, fortunately. I have no fear of heights, and I coasted off it relatively unscathed to enjoy a breathtaking view of Big Bear Lake.

It was, literally, all downhill from there.

A hundred yards of groomed snow stretch down toward the bunny slope. Children as young as two zoomed past us, their parents shushing in front of them yelling out "Pizza, pizza!" The parents probably thought they were helping their kids keep their skis in the proper pizza slice form for beginners. But I know in my heart that this really worked as a sort of carrot dangling before the face of the donkey -- an incentive to get down the hill in one piece so that you can enjoy your pizza later, preferably while wearing jammie pants and sipping single malt scotch before a roaring fire.

Sebastian decided now was the time to show us a new way to go down the hill. Put both feet in the bindings and then face downhill in a sort of falling leaf back and forth motion. For me, alas, the phrase "falling leaf" was all to apt. I proceeded to fall all the way down the mountain. Not all at once in some long, glorious tumble, of course. No. I'd almost stand and coast for five feet, then I'd fall. Then halfway up, slip, slide -- woah! Smack! Grab snowboard with one hand, push up with the other, keep knees bent, don't lean, back straight, look up, push up, harder, I've got it! Slip, slide, lean -- woah -- smack.

And so on. Sebastian tried to encourage me. But I think he secretly despised me. How could he not? He of the easy swooshing motion, like a snow-dolphin, cresting hills and crevasses with ease born of long practice and powerful quads. I was more of a snow-flounder. My arms began to tremble. Not from cold, but from weariness at pushing myself up from prone over and over and over again. Snowboarding, I realized, was a very expensive way to fall down a lot. I had become the female Sisyphus. Instead of pushing the rock eternally up the hill, I was falling eternally down one. Just call me Sisypha -- emphasis on the sissy. I encouraged Sebastian to abandon me, and eventually he did. Sisypha had to face her burden alone, where no one could see her tears as she fell, once again, on her unhappy tailbone.

I took my feet out of the bindings and walked the rest of the way down to greet my friends. They all assured me this was a typical first day of snowboarding. I rallied, assured them I would try again -- that I had gotten too tired and that the beginning had been fun. But as I got colder and later viewed the deep black bruises on my knees and elbows, I had trouble remembering my early success.

We drove down the mountain as the sun set spectacularly into the clouds. I had tried something new. I had endured. I'd eaten delicious Porto's Cuban pastries on the way up, listening to Ricky Gervais' hilarious podcasts on Frank's Ipod. I'd watched Frank, Rod, and Maritza shush happily down the hill and had shushed, sort of, myself for awhile. The day itself was a success. But should I spend the money to try snowboarding again? Still I am not sure. Let me put on my jammie pants, sip my scotch and ponder. I'll get back to you.

1 comment:

Wendee said...

Hey, you never told me the ski patrol guy was cute.