What I’ve Learned From Being a Terrible Snowboarder

I took my first snowboard lesson nine years ago, at the age of 23, in Vail on a day that was bright and warm in that classic Colorado way. I was anxious and unsure about taking up the sport. I’m not very athletic, I’d never tried snowboarding before and had only ever tried skiing once, during a school outing in middle or high school (spoiler alert: I wasn’t a natural).

I had been living in Vail for about nine months when I took that first lesson. It was my first winter in the ski town and all of my friends skied or snowboarded and loved doing so. I decided to learn because it’s what you do here. And I figured, in that blissfully naïve early-twenty-something way, that I would love it because my friends loved it (and in that terribly insecure way I’ve always been, I was sure they’d love me more for loving it).

I did NOT love it. My first trip down the bunny hill was traumatizing. I fell. Hard. Anyone who has learned to snowboard will tell you that falling hard is simply part of snowboarding, especially when you’re learning. I’m convinced those people, the ones who readily accept that harsh rule and still claim to love the sport, are made of rubber.

That first fall caught me off-guard. I had made some micro-wrong move that caused the front edge of my snowboard to catch and throw me back so I landed quickly and forcefully, square on my tailbone. The impact reverberated up through my spine and throbbed in my head. When we got back to the top of the bunny hill I sat myself down (very carefully) in a pile of snow and refused to join the class down the run again.

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From Bunny Hills to Green Runs
Eventually, though, I did make it down the run again, and later I even ventured off the bunny hill. But it was too late. Anxiety had established itself as my go-to emotion associated with the activity. It grew as I watched other friends who started learning at the same time as me quickly excel; I gaped at them, wide-eyed, as they gleefully regaled me with tales of their first black diamond runs and powder days. I slowly, cautiously, slipped down the green runs, wondering what was wrong with me that I didn’t share their glee, skill and fearlessness.

I would have happily never strapped into a snowboard again after that first season, but there’s this unspoken rule (actually, that’s not true, it’s a spoken rule, said to me out loud, to my face, dozens of times over the last nine years by friends and strangers alike) that you can’t live in a ski town and not love – live for – skiing or snowboarding. So I kept doing it to varying degrees of success and enjoyment over the years.

I very slowly improved over time, but I’ve never excelled. I’ve ridden down black diamonds and through powder (never gracefully), all the while trying to out run that underlying anxiety. I’ve had a handful of outstanding, flat-out fun, days on the mountain, but most days I’ve been plagued by fear. Of falling. Of not being good enough. Of not really fitting in because I’m not good enough.

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Stressful Sundays
Last winter I snowboarded fewer times than in any previous season. For the first time since I moved here I was working full time in a job off the mountain so I didn’t have access to a free season ski pass. Season ski passes are expensive, at least for someone who doesn’t love skiing and doesn’t plan to do much of it, and, while I would have happily skipped out, I was scared of being left out if I didn’t have a pass.

So I signed up to work part time in mountain dining in order to earn an employee pass. This meant giving up the majority of my Saturdays to work in the restaurant, which, consequently, led to more stressful work weeks and even stressful Sundays; the last thing I wanted to do after working all week was snowboard on my one day off. I probably got out on the mountain less than ten times total last winter. Next year I’ll be more excited about it, I told myself on closing day.

Shockingly, I did not feel more excited about snowboarding when it started snowing this winter. But I reluctantly asked for a job on the mountain again for my ski pass and tried to psych myself up about snowboarding. As each weekend came and went during the early season, though, I found one excuse and then another to avoid getting on the mountain. One day I realized that not only was I feeling guilty for not snowboarding, but I was also dreading the day when I’d be called into work on the mountain and forced to give up a precious Saturday.

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Priorities, Authenticity & Letting Go
A little over a month ago I set an intention to live in honor of my priorities, to let my top five priorities guide and shape my thoughts, actions and decisions. And somewhere around then, it hit me. Snowboarding is not a priority for me. I don’t have to snowboard if I don’t like doing it, and if I don’t snowboard, I don’t have to have a ski pass, and if I don’t have to have a ski pass, I don’t have to work on Saturdays. Why am I putting myself through the stress of having to work extra to gain access to an activity I don’t enjoy doing? I asked myself. I promptly quit my job on the mountain and welcomed the immediate lightness that accompanied it.

It’s funny the things we do (I say “we” because I hope I’m not alone in this) because we believe other people expect it from us, to live up to the person we think they want us to be. It’s exhausting to be that in-authentic. It’s been a long time since I made a decision that instantly filled me with as much relief as choosing not to snowboard this winter. It’s just plain silly that I spent the last nine years carrying around that much extra anxiety over something I don’t have to do.

Sometimes, though, it can feel like such a risk to choose to be our authentic selves. While my anxiety over snowboarding was silly, my anxiety over whether or not my friends would like the authentic me, the one who does not snowboard, was not as silly. After all, that’s the one reason I spent nearly a decade participating in an activity I dislike. But, to date, none of them have disowned me since I hung up my board. In fact, no one even brings it up. Perhaps, just maybe, they like my authentic self, and that fact alone bears its own lightness.

Now I’m challenging myself to look for other ways in which I’m not being my authentic self and I challenge you to do the same. In the meantime I’m enjoying exploring all the snowshoe trails I’ve been missing out on during all those years spent on the ski hill. Happy trails!

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