I learnt how to fly (slowly, with helmet, parachute and life jacket) eight years ago. This week, I am reliving those experiences as I ski the slopes of Panorama.
My first downhill skiing experience consisted of an unfortunate incident in Grade One during a class trip to mighty Moose Mountain. After a short lesson, we set off down what appeared to be the world’s largest and steepest slope. I fell over and could not get up. Someone would stop to pull me to my skis and continue on their way, as I proceeded to promptly topple over again. This processed repeated itself until the bottom of the hill, where the bus waited to take us home.
I was a timid child, afraid of heights, mud, strangers and skating without a support chair. This experience was enough to make me vow to never ski again for the rest of my life.
In 2005, I worked in a children’s home in Bolivia for a year. I was at loose ends when I returned to Canada, unsure of anything except that I never wanted to work with children again. I jumped at the invitation of my aunt and uncle to come and help them move house in the mountain village of Panorama.
By day three, Dave and my cousin Margot were asking when they could teach me to ski. By day four, they were insisting. By day five, I found my terrified self making cautious turns down the bunny hill to words of encouragement and advice. The most important: you can get up, laugh, brush off the snow, and keep going. By day ten, I had a job at the ski hill coffee shop for the rest of the winter.
I skied every day during my lunch break and then my aunt and uncle and I would ski all day every weekend. It was glorious. I woke up one day and realized that I had calf muscles and could do the French fry (parallel skiing), not just the pizza (snowplow skiing).
As we rode the lift weekend after weekend, Dave and Doris tried to help me figure out my future; I was quick to shut down all options. Librarian? No. Teacher? No. Doctor? No. Chef? No. I could not envision nor had sufficient confidence to commit to a future.
Looking back today, none of us had any idea that I would be in Colombia, working in peace and development. I am so grateful for the gift of skiing and the words of encouragement that pushed me beyond my boundaries to a place of confidence: of letting go, of trusting my skis, the mountain, and myself.
I am not an amazing skier and it is challenging to find my ski legs again. But sometimes, when I pivot just right, my ski blades bite the edge of the mountain and I glide in big swooping turns down the slope. The uncertainty disappears and all the remains is the joy of the wind and the snow and of flying. I am unstoppable.
2013 was a hard year and I do not know if 2014 will be easier. This is not a complaint but rather the need to remember what I learnt skiing years ago because I do not want to hide or run away from the opportunities awaiting me in the midst of challenges. Rather, I want to let go in order to experience the moments of fusion between tools, techniques, practice and environment. I want to acknowledge and then let the difficulty, the sadness, and the fear fade away in moments of soaring joy, laughter, and confidence. I recognize that my muscles are growing as my trust in myself and those around me increases and when I remember to believe the affirmation of others. 2014 is a year to get up, laugh, brush the snow off, and to keep going. It is a year to fly.