Matthew and I are off on a ski retreat with West Valley Bible Church this weekend, leading worship for their youth group. Our girls are in the care of a 10-person tag team babysitting extravaganza, so for the next three days we will experience both the miss and the bliss that goes along with leaving them behind. Part of the bliss is chances like this, to write uninterrupted for hours at a time, so I will take this opportunity to document our adventures thus far.
Our first day on the slopes was tenuous, at best. We’ve both been skiing before, but once we had strapped them on we realized that skiing is not quite like riding a bike. Lathered in sunscreen and layered with clothing, we shuffled over to the nearest lift up an easy hill and away we went. The majority of the conversation on the ski lift was spent in a concentrated discussion on how we were going to accomplish getting off of the lift without colliding into each other and tumbling down the mountain in a tangled mess. We reviewed the disembarking strategies and agreed on who would veer in which direction, vowing not to take the other down with us. As the top loomed, we shifted into position. Eyes wide and breathes held we pushed off the chair and executed our plan. We slid to a stop. We were still standing. My ear- to-ear grin of relief and Matthew’s hearty “Woo-hoo!” must have made our state of affairs obvious to other greenhorn skiers as they smiled and laughed in acknowledgement and kindred spirit. Unfortunately, this would not be the only laughter we would encounter from other skiers that day.
Our first couple runs down were pretty uneventful. We spent them relearning the balance, coordination, and complete disregard for personal safety necessary for successful skiing. Avoiding falls is always my highest priority, as evidenced in my painstakingly slow descent down the mountain, providing Matthew with ample opportunities to practice stopping. About the third time down we came to a fork in the slope with an easy run (green) going one direction and a more difficult run (blue) going the other. We both decided that it was time for Matthew to move on to bigger, better, and steeper things. So we wished each other well and went our separate ways. I coasted off carefully down the winding green slope, and soon I came to another fork offering a blue run. I stopped and assessed the situation. It looked harmless enough. A little steeper, but it was certainly wider than the slope I was on now. With Matthew’s line of progress resembling that of the stock market in the 1990’s and mine the 1930’s, I knew I had to try something to improve myself. This ambition, combined with an insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain, led me to leave the safety of the green run and turn off onto the blue.
I started out okay, making wide, careful turns across the hill, until I reached a crest in the slope where I stopped to survey what was beyond it. It was only then that I was able to see what qualified this run as a blue: Moguls. For those of you who have never done something this stupid, moguls are large mounds of snow built up to create a landscape of miniature mountains that a skier must navigate through. Indeed, the wide road leads to destruction. I turned and looked back up the hill, considering hiking back to the green run, but wasn’t sure I was able to do even that. So I gathered my courage and began to make my way down.
The next 15 minutes were simply pitiful. I slid around like a Labrador on ice skates, barely managing to stay on my feet. About 20 yards into the moguls, my better judgment finally kicked in. “This is ridiculous,” I thought to myself. I wobbled over to the side of the run and removed my skis, planning to hoof it down to safety. As I sat in the snow, I heard skiers coming down behind me. “I’m going to watch how this is done,” I decided, turning up the hill to see them. And watch I did, as a mother and her six-year-old daughter went swooshing down, having the time of their lives. Now completely deflated, I rose to my feet to begin the walk of shame, only to quickly realize that walking down was not even an option. The slope was too steep and too icy to keep decent footing. It was time for plan B. I sat down in the middle of the run, lifted my feet off of the snow, and let physics take over from there. I must say, butt-sledding down the remainder of the run was probably the most fun I had all day. I slid to a stop at the end where another green run awaited me. It took me a good 10 minutes to reattach my skis, so by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain I had been up there for over a half-hour. I kept picturing Matthew worrying at the lodge, maybe sending one of those rescue teams after me. I scanned the mass of people surrounding the lift, but I couldn’t spot him. I turned around and lo and behold, there he was, just coming to the bottom of the slope. My first thought was that he had gone back up to look for me and was now returning, but in fact he too had just completed his descent. “That was horrible,” he gasped, and we took turns dramatically relating our respective miseries to one another.
It turned out that the blue run where we originally separated turned into an expert run about halfway down. Knowing his limits, he too took off his skis and decided to hike across the wooded area to an easier run. It wasn’t long before he was up to his chest in snow drifts, laboring over each step. He in turn was picturing me at the bottom of the mountain, worrying that he had been gone for so long. After enduring sweat and snowdrifts and the ridicule of grade-schoolers on the lift above him, he was finally able to make it down the mountain a mere 15 seconds after I did. Upon completion of the telling of our tales, we both heartily agreed- no more blue runs.
Matthew and I went out after lunch and stuck to the greens for a run or two. Matthew ended up back on the blue runs before the end of the day, and had an absolute blast. I stayed on the greens that time around and again managed not to fall for the rest of the afternoon. Matthew is back out on the mountain this morning, testing his limits and rising to new challenges. And as for me, I sit here by the fireplace in our room, enjoying the snow falling outside our window, my skis in the closet where they belong.
The last time I went skiing, I noticed that my level of ability was beginning to correlate with my age. When I was 11, I was amazing, speeding fearlessly down the slopes. Then at 15, aware of my mortality, I took a few more precautions but maintained a taste for the thrill. By 19 I was all about taking it slow-and-steady, but still enjoyed myself. And now, 24 and a mom, I think that perhaps my skiing and snowboarding days are over.
Skiing is not very much fun unless you are willing to take some chances, but the thrill in taking chances has somewhat faded for me. Perhaps it is because what I am chancing is infinitely more valuable now that ever before. But whatever it is, I resist this change of heart because I know that this is how people get old. They lose their sense of adventure and spontaneity, becoming fearful, worrisome people whose chief concern is to avoid hazards and prolong their lives. Growing old is a daunting prospect ( I’ve always prayed for death before dentures). I imagine that it must happen slowly and quietly, like sinking into quicksand, until one day you wake up terrified of eating a mad cow, boarding a doomed airplane, or investing in anything but your IRA. The fact that I no longer find skiing enjoyable is probably not going to mean my total demise, but it serves as a good reminder. When those risks that truly matter present themselves, those risks for the cause of Christ, I want to be found holding my life so loosely that at a moment’s notice I would lay it down for Him.
Someone just popped their head in the door and invited me to go inner tubing down the slopes with them. This is an invitation to put on layers of waterproof clothing, leave my cozy lodge room, and go out into the cold only to careen down snowy embankments at unreasonable speeds with no way of controlling myself, much less stopping.
Well then, I guess I’d better get going.