The Sport of Chairlifting

**Photo of the Sierra Blanca peak, located in Ruidoso, New Mexico, where Russ and I first snowboarded together. 

 

“Are you regular or goofy?”

Silence.

“I’m sorry, what??”

“Are you regular or goofy?”

I was just trying to pick up my snowboard rental at the lodge.

“Umm…well I lead with my right foot??”

“Ok, you’re goofy then.”

I had to smile.

If that didn’t just sum me up in a nutshell, I don’t know what ever will.

I chuckled at the irony.

I’m goofy, and I snowboard goofy, too.

Russ and I drove to the Pocono Mountains to celebrate our first anniversary. Russ introduced me to snowboarding three years ago and it is something we love to do together. This was my fourth time. We chose Jack Frost Big Boulder over Camelback, hoping the smaller venue would be less crowded, and maybe a little more relaxed, but even they had 5,000 skiers on Saturday (compared to Camelback’s 10,000).

We picked up our boards and walked over to the top of a green run to sit down and strap them on. I instantly got nervous. It had been a year, just like it had been a year before that, and a year before that, and so on. I thought to myself, “You must be getting soft…or too old…or maybe it’s both. Or maybe you’re finally just getting smart. Maybe you are too old and shouldn’t be doing this at all.”

It’s amazing all the nonsense you tell yourself when you’re nervous.

Taking a deep breath, I stood up.

Too late now, Sucker. You’re here. So you better make the most of it.

Down I went. Slowly, but that is my default setting, after all. In fairness, I always believed when training horses, they learn to do things slowly before they can do them quickly. Whether that’s going cross-country, jumping through a combination, or navigating a tricky, technical question, it is key to introduce these problems in such a way the horse will have the ability to answer them successfully—either by approaching at a quieter pace to give them more time to think their way through it, or setting the question up easier, perhaps by lowering it a bit, so even if they slow down significantly on their own, they will still come out of it successful and having learned something. Snowboarding is a bit like that for me at the moment. I have to slow it down in order to actually keep up with what’s happening underneath me.

That said, it went like clockwork. I pulled up at the bottom after having a good first run. I almost felt like….I knew what I was doing. It’s a great feeling. Russ and I caught the chairlift up together.

And just like that, my euphoric bubble burst.

The…fucking…chairlift.

It’s never the mount, but always the dismount…

(In this way snowboarding and horses are different. Sometimes getting on a horse can be the most difficult part of the ride. At least when this happens though, you are more prepared for this also happening when dismounting. The chairlift, on the other hand, cordially invites you aboard, gingerly scoops you up, only to unceremoniously dump you like a bad date at the end of the evening.)

The chairlift slid smoothly to the top and I got ready to go. I was going to be ready for this two-faced asshole when the moment came.  I stepped off, stood up, and immediately spun out of control, before falling on my ass sideways, still sliding down the hill.

Bruise #1, check.

I thought, “Ok. That’s done. I got it over with. I’m good now.”

After my second run, I busted my ass so bad getting off the lift, I almost tore my knee apart. I felt the immediate sting of body parts being pulled in anatomically impossible, and opposing, directions with my knee at the center of the party. My upper body flipped up like a fish in a frying pan (I still don’t know how) in order to save my knee from twisting completely (and tearing).

“Oh my God,” I thought. “You almost just did yourself in. On your second run. NICE…Well that sure as shit would ruin the weekend…and in your first five seconds out here.“

I got up quick. I was going to ride that adrenaline gravy-train, good or bad, for as long as I could…until the next chairlift, anyway.

Chairlifting, it seems, is an Olympic sport.

It’s not unlike trying to stand-up on a SUP (stand-up paddleboard) in the middle of the ocean. (Ask me how I know this. Also a huge fail…over and over.). Chairlifting is not for amateurs, and not for the faint of heart. It spit me out over and over like I was a piece of dried-up, spent chewing gum and it was a speeding car with the windows rolled down.

For those few moments, when dismounting, I was like my very own one-man WrestleMania, all…by… myself…in the snow. Every time I landed, with a thud, on a different body part, sliding to the bottom, I kept thinking, “You really need more padding.” I made a mental checklist: tape for the knees, elbow pads, wrist guards…a masseuse. At least I managed to fall going down the hill, and not under the lift. In other words, they never had to stop the lift in order for me to extract myself.

That in itself was a damn good consolation prize.

One time when I landed in a pile at the bottom, I managed to sit on the heel cup of the binding that was released from my foot. (In snowboarding parlance, this is the non-dominant foot you release after every run, in order to shuffle over to the chairlift and ride it up. For me, my “regular” foot is released, as my “goofey” foot is my lead foot, and therefore stays secured in its bindings until finished for the day.).

I fell backwards, and landed on the heel cup…with the back of my thigh. With 100% certainty, I can tell you this is the one time landing on my ass would have been so much better. Landing on a binding would be similar to falling and landing on a boot jack planted upright in the ground. I have a nice bruise across the back of my thigh that looks eerily like a charcoal pencil.

I would like to be able to say this was the first time this happened…or even the second time…but no. This has happened a lot. It has occurred often enough that every time it does, I think, “Well that can only happen once,” but I’m never right. (I know, I know!! This is almost the definition of insanity…).  It has to happen at least once more before I finally acknowledge the odds are not what I think they are, and I should really fold the heel-cup down before getting on the lift.

(Why can’t I just do this from the very beginning???)

Only this time, my fourth time snowboarding, I thought I was good enough. “You know better now. That won’t happen this time. You’re fine.”

Fucking hubris.

The learning curve is painful. “Once and done” is a phrase that belongs no where in snowboarding lingo.  When I finally “mastered” the chairlift this weekend (after being a snow dart ten times in a row), patience was the critical factor. It is true one can “over-prepare” for a big moment, only to miss it completely.

Once again, just like jumping horses, the chairlift does the work for you, if you’re patient and you let it. In short, I realized I was ahead of the motion, in anticipation for what was coming up. As soon as I waited for the chairlift to push me down the hill, it was smooth sailing from there.

A miniature mogul, a baby show jump… it’s all the same.

Despite the chairlift shenanigans the first day, I was simply amazed how much I remembered and could do after a year’s hiatus. I didn’t miss a beat. In fact, I started out ahead of where I ended last year. All of my nerves evaporated as soon as I stood up the first time and immediately found the middle of the board. This seamlessness and seeming progress was a huge surprise.

The cynic in me kept waiting for all the cobwebs and shadows to show up, but they never did. Not only that, but I never got tired. I’ve heard many times the hardest part of snowboarding is standing up on the board and this isn’t completely untrue. Sitting down to fasten your bindings before every run means you are pushing yourself up to standing many times in a day. It takes a lot of core and quad strength to stand up with your feet attached to a single board. I can only attribute my improved strength and flexibility (when saving my knee), and my endurance, to one big thing:

My yoga studio. 

Besides never getting fatigued, I also didn’t get sore (besides the bruises from the chairlift!), which is saying A LOT. Yoga improves all of these things–your strength, flexibility, as well as your endurance. Not only that, yoginis spend half of their time upside down in yoga, just like you do when snowboarding.

(Umm, literary liberty…)

It’s excellent preparation for the unexpected.

Brimming over with a great weekend, I decided to use my day off today to try out the Bikram studio here in DC. I went to my regular studio this morning, then headed to the new one to try a class.

It was severely disappointing.

As much as I chide Corporate Yoga, it’s secret sauce is CONSISTENCY. This Bikram studio was an independent studio. It did things it’s own way, which I’m sure works just fine for them, as the class was packed. However, I walked in and the building smelled incredibly sour, like a petri dish of sweat and…well…let’s just leave it at that.

Strike one. 

Entering the studio, it wasn’t that hot. Bikram is known for its 105-degree temperature and substantial humidity. When you first open the door to a Bikram studio, the elements should slap you across the face, hard, and momentarily take your breath away. It had none of that.

Strike two.

It was no studio like the one I visited in Houston over the holidays, that’s for sure. 

It’s okay though. My studio is great and I get a lot out of it, especially if my snowboarding is any indication. My new plan is to start wearing long sleeves to create even more heat, the heat I am craving from a “proper” Bikram studio.

After two great days of snowboarding in the falling snow, and celebrating our first anniversary, Russ and I headed back south towards home. We stopped on the way to visit his parents, since we were driving right past. It happened to be his dad’s birthday as well–January 19th. It made our visit all the more special and wrapped up a great weekend.

Indiantown

**Photo of Indiantown Gap National Cemetary, where Russ’ parents, Wayne and Joan, are buried. They were both Navy veterans. Indiantown Gap is a beautiful place to visit. 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Sport of Chairlifting

    1. Haha! I think people like one or the other. I skied in college, which is to say, a long time ago. When I picked up snowboarding, I couldn’t really compare it to the skiing of my past. I think that helped a lot. And I’m not very good. I just do it, and love it, but that’s about it.

      Like

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