...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Monday, March 07, 2016

Reach for the slope!



I didn’t – like as I wrote on my New Year’s plans last year – go on a skiing vacation this season. To be honest, I realized that it would be more sensible to spend a season or two learning downhill skiing technique in the first place.

I learned downhill skiing three years ago. The teacher said she never saw anyone advance from never having had a pair of alpine skis on in her life. On the first day, I went from the children’s slope to plow turns and parallel turns. I thought it would just go uphill from there (mind the pun!), but the years that followed brought mild winters, and the first time also became the last for a long time. One year I even managed to book another lesson , but later that month the snow on the slopes melted away and it got cancelled.

video
 2013. First day on skis, second hour of lessons. Considering how hard it was to get back on skis again this year, I'm surprised it went this well back then!
 
Last year, I learned that even if it looked slushy and snow-free in the city center, the nearest ski resorts in comfortable driving distance were still actually open, and it paid off to check just in case. Ditching my skiing vacation plan, it was much better, I thought, to practice in some nearer and more forgiving slopes, than spend a considerable amount of money somewhere far away on just a few hours of lessons and the rest of the week scrambling down the slope. I haven’t regretted my decision. In hindsight, with my Plan B, I had so much skiing done than what I would have otherwise.

The first day of this season was not easy though. It was in many ways like starting from square one, when I hoped I could just pick up where I left off three years ago. To up the ante, I was on telemark skis with loose heels, also for the first time in my life. Memories of learning to cross-country ski on the infamous “Joy’s hill” got back to me, as well as all those years of slipping down on it, all well-documented. Joy’s hill was of course a fun laugh, but in the moment, it really can be frustrating when you want your body to move in a way that neither your mind nor your muscle memory has learned yet. Like that time you want your right and left hands to move independently when learning the piano. Or like the times, as a kid, when you practiced blinking on the other eye or raising the other eyebrow. Or when you were learning to blow bubble gum, or to whistle. Even though you still try to do it, it can still be frustrating enough. In downhill skiing, after falling a number of times, it’s quite painful too. 

It helps to have my own version of a Zen’s “beginner’s mind”: an openness and lack of preconceptions in learning. Actually, it’s not hard to have a beginner’s mind when you literally are a beginner. It also helps to think that nobody on the slope really cares how I look anyway (since they’re busy with their own stuff) so I might as well just focus on myself and my own goals. As for the friends I am skiing with – thanks go to Kristian and Susanne for much patience, encouragement and tips – they need a correlated “Joy’s companion mind”: an understanding that I am learning these things people may think are normal since childhood, for the first time in my adult life. I've also had four hours of individual lessons to help me on the way.

Like a child, I feel like a sponge in my capacity to learn. At times, it feels like taking two steps forward and one step back. But the point is, I am going forward. I clocked in 24 hours of skiing so far since January, all in nearby slopes. I have learned to make telemark turns, and one day even started to feel that it really had fallen into place (to be continued…). Like running, creating variation and sticking to a schedule helps to motivate me even when I mostly ski alone. I’ve been falling less and turning more. I have overcome my short-lived fear of ski lifts. I have also overcome another fear by skiing on the longer slopes without companions. And I am all for telemark now, training my balance and doing lunges when I’m exercising.

Down in Germany they were surprised that there were ski slopes as far down as in southeast Sweden, but there are at least two in good driving distance, Yxbacken and Tolvmannabacken. Both have well-maintained pistes. Järabacken might have been a good practice slope but quite icy and also further away.

 Yxbacken, Norrköping

 Tolvmannabacken, Kisa

Järabacken, Jönköping

At times when I practice on the children’s ski slope in Yxbacken, I observe the parents and their kids. Some parents ski behind very small children. The small small kids had small small skis on their small small feet. They really looked like miniature people in overalls. Their parents would instruct them to turn and they would exclaim in pride when their kid made it. At times, small kids would ski  alongside their parents. They would beam, proud to show their parents what they could finally do. Sometimes kids fell and they would whine a bit, but they usually got up on their feet again. At worst, there would be a few bouts of angry tears, which disappeared as soon as they were up riding the lift. Then, after a few hours, the parents literally have to drag their children out from the slope since the kids couldn’t get enough of the fun, yet need to go home. I can totally relate to all of this.

I have two positive mental images when I practice. The first one is of my friend Kristian on his telemark skis, dancing down the slope like a ballerina, looking light as a feather, playful and flowing. I think about this when I try to work on skiing less stiff / less square / more relaxed on the slope. The other image that I have is of three Chinese triplets on snowboards that I saw one evening. They may just have been 6 or 7 years old by the looks of it, but they were good. In their matching reflective overalls, they hovered down the slope like a breeze, easy peasy, looking like miniature teenagers just chillin’. A future goal would still be to go on a skiing vacation one of these years. I think I would enjoy it immensely. Perhaps I won’t look like Kristian or the Chinese by then, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to think that I would one day!

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