Humility Lessons

I stared at my new nemesis in a snot-fest snowstorm on the bunny hill of Alta. Snotty-nosed Utah wunderkind made it look so easy but when I tried to load onto the button lift with its tiny little orange landing pad on the menacing rope, I got spit out and snickers arose from the kiddos. I gave up on that, and all other rope-tows, T-bars, and ridiculous means of moving uphill that didn’t involve a chair or climbing skins. The heck with the fact it seems all the fun terrain is high on mountains protected by such beasts. The fear was real, and frustrating to a husband that did not share the terror and wanted his ski partner cured. I zigged when he zagged towards T-bar lines.

It was humiliation than humility. I did not want to be that person that fell off the line. I kept skiing away from terrain that I knew I would enjoy just because a stupid button lift had created stubborn resistance. As the time to tune skis and check winter layers approached, I vowed 2018/2019 was the season I would set my intention to overcome absurdity. Despite my ambition, it took an exercise of humility and the shining brown eyes of a child twinkling with delight from the realization that she had taught her ski instructor something.

I went from the person that scorned ski areas as wanton scaring of forests and mountainsides to a hopeless addict of the sensation of sliding on snow. The evolution went to a surprising and wonderful place this past year with many more days on the hill wearing a blue instructor coat sharing the sensation with adaptive skiers of all ages, capabilities, and charms. Skiing with them takes the obsession with skiing to a level of infectious combustion. They laugh, they hoot from a chairlift, they smile until it hurts, and sometimes they get frustrated and tell you there’s nothing left to give to the effort. You feel each emotion with them. Their experience brings me to breathless admiration and humility. The drive home always requires quiet contemplation of the lesson’s successes and challenges.

It was a first grader that stared at me in disbelief that I was afraid of the Lynx lift at Telluride. “Oh, come on Melissa, it’s super easy. I can teach you.” The inner dialogue in my head freaked out and sent the nerves in my gut into knots. I tensed up internally and flashed a hesitant smile externally. An instructor cannot disregard a student’s potential for growth and what beats empowerment to a child than helping a goofy adult master a child’s lift? She jabbered as we skied to the loading zone about not trying to sit on it, stand straight up, and hang on tight. She went first and the liftie laughed at how I was getting schooled. As the rope grabbed her and pulled my young mentor away, she was shouting “you’ve got this Melissa!” The liftie was less sure as he muttered through a chuckle, “first time, huh?”

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Buttons aren’t so scary.

It was as easy as she said, I made it to the top where she waited to coach me through the dismount and then whooped it up and offered a high five for my success. She was proud. I was grateful. I told her that it had been one of my goals for this season to conquer that fear and how much I cherished the fact it was her that pushed me to get it done. It was the highlight of both of our days—maybe of my season.

I skied with her again recently. Her skiing had progressed tremendously over the season and she was carving out sassy little turns all over the mountain. Her confidence on the hill was such a delight to experience. She wanted an update and sat with pride on the chair as I rattled off all the other t-bars and button lifts I had ridden because she had given me the gift of encouragement to try it. Because of her nudging me onto a lift I had skied a glacier in Canada and cruised higher, more challenging terrain. We cruised around the mountain, two girls happy with our ski seasons because we had accomplished our own goals and made it possible for others to ski their best year as well.

So here is the lesson I have learned this year, skiing requires humility. There are days when the very best thing to do is take the advice of the 6-year-old and try it her way. For one thing, it will involve more giggles.

Ever grateful for each day I wear the blue coat of an adaptive ski instructor, but particularly the days with my little friend with the name that means dove.

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