This being my second stint living in the Green Mountains, I’m now surrounded by friends who work at Mount Snow and Haystack, and a million reasons for being productive in the wintertime. Usually I reserve these months for rooting (and crying) over the 49ers, eating too much (need my winter layer), and wishing I was in New Orleans’ Acme Oyster Bar. But this season I’m turning over a new leaf, putting on an extra layer, and trying cold things, and for your enjoyment, I’m documenting them through the mouthpiece that is my sports column.
The first cold thing I tried was snowboarding, something I’ve never had an interest in. With two bad knees and a fear of heights, I saw no reason to put myself through the torture, but this past Thursday I surprised even myself, and took a lesson in shredding at Mount Snow’s Discovery Center. Luckily, they had size 15 boots.
Perhaps they knew ahead of time that they would need their most patient teacher to show me the slopes, so they picked the best: Chris Shea, of Woodford. His reputation as one of the best shone through, starting me on the Magic Carpet behind a toddler, also taking his first lesson. Making sure I understood how to balance, steer myself, and walk with one boot strapped in was easy enough, but the intensity of the storm dumping another foot of snow on the mountain made for a trickier understanding of what a smooth ride was, but I got the hang of the balancing act quickly. Then it was time for the lift.
Getting onto a ski lift with only one foot at your disposal is a real pain, especially when the chair coaxes you to sit with a swift knock to the knees. Even harder was getting off the lift smoothly. As a 6’3” dude with goofball coordination, the act of propping oneself up, balancing on a board, and pushing off a lift is no easy task, and I only mastered it thrice in about 10 tries.
Shea put me through the wringer (in a good way) showing me how to traverse the slope, how to stop, and how to change directions. While all of these motions are tough to achieve, the act of looking in the direction you want to go is a challenge all its own. Your mind is so focused on the direction and lean of your hip and knee, as well as the motion of your feet, that it’s hard to focus on what’s ahead of you rather than what’s happening below. Snowboarding, I quickly realized, is as much a mind game as a physical act.
As a drummer, I’ve trained myself to multitask with four limbs at once, both feet playing a different part, but training the feet to snowboard is a whole ‘nother baby. Learning to traverse toe side, switching to heel side, and turning smoothly, is not something I was able to completely master, and I ended up doing the equivalent of 30 pushups just getting back on the board. But as Paul Simon once said, “You have to learn how to fall before you learn how to fly.” Following Shea’s lead, my attempts to turn from heel side to toe side were not smooth, but he gave me a great understanding of what motions needed to be used. As Shea explained, one foot is like the gas pedal, while the other is a brake, and both have to work as your steering wheel while you transition. While I knew the result of most of my runs would be my rear end in the snow, along with the occasional muttered expletive, there was definitely a sense of excitement each time we started at the top. It was like any other sport I’d played, song I’d learned or even article I had written, you just have to take it from the top.
By the end of my nearly three hours on the hill, I was wind-whipped, tired, thirsty, and sore, but in the end I found something truly enjoyable to do in the wintertime, and something I felt like I could see myself putting time and effort into in the future.
It was also the first time I could stand in a local establishment and join the conversation about my day on the mountain. Shea told me that my balance seemed natural, and he wanted to see me back on the mountain. I can honestly say, thanks to his tutelage, I will be back on the slopes.