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To ski or not to ski? A beginner’s guide

From time to time, I like to practice what I preach. Open your mind and body to new fitness challenges. Try a new sport. Don’t be such a wuss.

For all those reasons and more, I decided to learn to downhill ski. I traveled to one of the great teaching mountains in the world - Snowmass, Colo. -- and gave myself five days of lessons and permission to fail. The results are just in: I am alive. I love skiing. Thank God for yoga.

The first time I tried this crazy wonderful sport was 30 years ago. GLM (Graduated Length Method) was all the rage, and I was in Killington, Vt., a very big ego on very short skis, hopping and flopping down the Bunny Trail.

At the end of three unsafe-at-any-speed days, I decided skiing was not my sport. I couldn’t turn. I couldn’t stop. I fell 1,000 times. I hated that feeling of flying down the hill, out of control, tense and terrified and picturing Intensive Care. I happily made the turn to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing as my favorite wintertime workouts and never looked back.

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Flash forward three decades to Day One of Snowmass’ 3-Day Beginner’s Magic program, to master ski instructor Stefan Palmberg’s opening remarks to my group of four panicked adults.

“Don’t overthink it,” he said, as he showed us how the newer, shorter, fatter parabolic skis were designed to turn themselves, with just the slightest weight shift. “Grownups overcomplicate things. Be like the kids I teach. Don’t think. Just follow me down the hill, and do what I do.”

And that’s what I did, knees gently flexed, hips forward over the skis, shins pressing into my boots, arms out front, feeling relaxed, balanced and 7 years old. It was a miracle. I wasn’t thinking right or left - concepts that confuse me even when I’m standing still - I was feeling what it was like to ski. Looking back -- the only way life makes sense - I allowed my body to do what it naturally wanted to do: float down a gorgeous mountain with grace and strength and (almost) no fear. First one turn, then another, easy does it, keep breathing. Stand up. Stand up.

OK, I’m not ready for black-diamond runs, or even a mogul, but by the end of five days of perfect weather, terrific instruction and a few-too-many celebratory margaritas, I was skiing down easy intermediate runs, making acceptable parallel turns, thinking beautiful thoughts.

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Here they are:

  • Yoga rules: Yoga didn’t teach me how to ski; it taught me how to learn to ski. To make those effortless turns, to ski in control, you need to be focused, at ease, in balance. Yoga has me working on that all the time. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t. But I know from this experience that I have the tools to deepen my enjoyment of sports - and life. It’s a good thing.
  • I am my body: News flash. When I skied 30 years ago, I had no awareness of my body’s center or how to align my hips and feet. Now I do. It’s not a matter of thinking as much as it is a feeling, sensing a flow of energy that excites you and calms you at the same time. That’s why skiing is addictive.
  • No fear and no failure: To learn anything, you’ve got to let go of ego and welcome the process. I smiled from beginning to end. I replaced fear with toe warmers. I just listened to Stefan (and on days 4 and 5, to Ole and Kim) and, here’s the secret, I listened to myself. I can do this. My body wants to ski. Relax and let it learn.
  • Practice patience: I’m giving myself 20 years to learn to ski. Why not? I’m on the path. That’s what matters. Turn by turn, breath by breath. Last night I dreamed I was skiing with Robert Redford.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.