It’s the first day of winter sports, and as I step into the lobby of the school, the kids are already lined up–and pumped up! Their voices match their energy, as we chaperones wind through their throng to receive our instructions and their Mount Snow ID cards. As soon as our group forms, they blow through the doors and start looking for their vehicles in the line up outside. They grab their boards, their skis, their helmets, their lunches, and they heap it all into the back. Seat belts at the ready, the five of them are all situated before I can even close the hatch.
In the car, there is one teacher whom they can’t stop talking about. She’s new, and she represents a certain unthinkable status to them: a teacher who doesn’t know how to ski or snowboard, someone new to the sport–just like many of them. “She’s going to learn,” one of them offers up to the group.
“I know! Can you believe it?” another answers. “I’m gonna watch her!”
“I want to see her, too,” joins in another. “I wonder where she’ll be!”
There is a symmetry to the chaos between the loading and unloading, as they eagerly grab their gear and start the long walk from the parking lot to the magical slopes stretched out before them. The weather is perfect, just cold enough to keep the snow crisp, not mushy, and not biting and painful to the skin. With the sun shining so brightly we all slip on our goggles or sunglasses, their mood of exuberance matches the environment perfectly.
We chaperones offer assistance as needed, especially to those who are at Mount Snow for the first time (and there are many of these). The buzz about the “teacher who is going to learn” keeps going, and she patiently just answers all their questions calmly. Yes, she, too, is going to learn, she assures them. She’ll see them out there.
I’ve chaperoned in various roles around the whole world of downhill skiing/snowboarding. It’s not my sport; it is my husband’s, and he is the one who is supposed to be here today, too. But for various reasons, it’s fallen to me, the reliable ol’ backup, to stand in. The school needs me as a driver, and having arranged far too many rides for kids over the past nine years, I know how hard it is to replace people at the last second.
When I first found out that I would lose most of my Friday to yet another stint at Mount Snow, I admit, I was frustrated. I am afraid my email to the organizer was probably not the nicest, most enthusiastic she received. I actually even made a very strong request: if I really had to drive, and they really needed me as a chaperone, I wanted to learn myself this year. (I backed it up noting how I could, of course, not ski, if that really didn’t work, and caused them tons of organizational troubles… but if it were possible, please, oh please, could it be that maybe this would be the year that I might feel comfortable with downhill skis?)
The wonderful two organizers heard me, knew of the work I’d done, recognized that it was my last year at the elementary school…. and the granted my wish. They assured me that yes, indeed, there were rentals ready for me, and that absolutely, I should ski. I would not even need to be responsible for anyone. I should, they said, “learn to ski”.
So, my fate was set as I headed to the mountain… but by the time I arrived, my enthusiasm no longer matches my car full of kids. I am pushing back my memories of terror from other experiences, all the times I’ve had to go up higher than I wanted. I could be the lodge chaperone, that’s perhaps the best spot for me, I think.
My daughter pushes me back to action. Just as she was about to scamper off to her group, she turns to me. “Mom, you aren’t really going to ski, are you?” I honestly can’t tell if she is worried about me… or, as an experienced sixth grader who skis black diamonds without thinking about it, is thinking her inexperienced mother just might make her look dumb. But I do know that she doesn’t believe I can ever downhill ski happily. She’s given up on me, I realize as I look at her face.
I look her square in the eye, and say–with infinitely more confidence then I feel–that yes, of course, I’m going to ski. I will stay on the bunny hill, I assure her. But yes, I am getting rentals. She throws a dubious glance at me one last time, and leaves for her black diamond level trails.
With feet stuffed into boots that make me feel awkward just while trying to walk, I shuffle over to the lesson area. The kids are bubbling over with enthusiasm. One instructor only allows them one ski, but the students are happily scooting about on it, pushing with the other foot. The snowboarding group is learning how to strap themselves in (a difficult act this first day out). Others are riding up the magic carpet, gliding down about twenty feet, and repeating, over and over again.
At the earnest urging of the organizing chaperone to not worry about the students during their lesson, I set off for the bunny hill. Just standing near the lift makes my heart race, and I seriously consider getting out of line.
But here are all these kids… and their fearless teacher… and all of her students are cheering her on. “Way to go!” they yell towards her as they see her. “You can do it!”
The first week, to my amazement, many of these students never leave the magic carpet. Some graduate to a tow rope area. Only a very few beginners even get to the bunny hill. What a nice way to learn, I think: no pressure, only moving up the hill as they are truly ready to do. Suddenly, it is clear to me that this has been my biggest mistake. I have always, always, allowed myself to be sent up the mountain upon the urging of skiing friends who figured I was “good to go”.
But, never, not once, have I ever felt ready.
Fortified with this new knowledge–and the overall happy attitudes all around me–I make my way to the lift. Seated alone, I push back against the fear that bubbles up even as the lift glides into the air, and I have to reach up to pull down the safety bar. I force myself to look out, not down, as I move ever closer to the top. I breathe deeply and get off, rejoicing that I have passed the first test of just getting off the lift.
I set off to the right, and start down. I listen to the instructors who are so positive with their charges. “That’s it, just to this section, that’s all!” I take their advice, breaking the little bunny hill into even smaller chunks… and soon, I am skiing down, under control.
I repeat this several more times, even feeling the snow under my skis and appreciating the gliding motion. A small thought goes through my head that perhaps this is why people enjoy this whole process, that maybe downhill skiing could be pleasurable, like cross country skiing has always been for me.
The kids end their lesson, and I am now “in charge” of some of them as they go up and down at the bunny hill. The fearless teacher joins me on the lift, too, and I congratulate her on how well she’s doing–and share how excited the kids in my car were that she is learning with them.
Some of them come by us, skiing and snowboarding pretty well for limited experience. “Looking good!” we encourage them as we join up at the bottom. “You’re doing great!”
They smile. We smile back, and set off for yet another run.