The sun was out, the slope white with snow. I surveyed the vista below me – a mountain to be conquered. I could picture it now, the air whipping past, the powder spraying my face, the boys staring in awe at their dad shredding the hill.
“Come on, Dad, why don’t you have your board on yet?” I was snapped back to reality by my oldest’s voice.
The truth was, I couldn’t figure out which side of the darned snowboard was the front or which strap to put where. Maybe I was still lightheaded from having the kid in the rental office nearly fracture my ankle when he squeezed my foot into the boot. I checked my watch and decided that we could just walk down to the lesson area before attempting to get my younger son’s board strapped on. A better plan than explaining that I didn’t know how to do it.
An overnight trip to Wintergreen in the Blue Ridge Mountains was my idea, ironically. Partially for a fun family getaway, partially to try out the sport myself after hearing of my brother-in-law’s legendary exploits in the mountains both near and far. My oldest had already gone once last winter with said brother-in-law, and it seemed like a good challenge. After buying four lift tickets, rentals, and lessons for our family (we left the little guy at home), I knew that this would be a one-day adventure. Apparently holiday prices stretch over the entire winter break, and the cost of our “little” family escapade could probably feed a small country for several days. But that’s another story.
Thankfully, my sons and I were placed in two different instructional classes. They claimed it was because they teach kids differently than adults. I think that is a nice way of saying that kids pick it up faster. I proudly explained to my instructor that while I had never been a great skier, I could make it down the intermediate slopes fairly well. Unfortunately, he told me that knowing how to ski didn’t help in the least when learning to snowboard. Terrific. Since the fall, I’ve been making a lot of jokes at my wife’s expense about my still having a few remaining months in my “late 30s,” and her having turned the corner into her “early 40s.” I realized that the last time I’d been on the slopes at all was before we had kids. Now I watched my 10-year-old up ahead of me and wondered if I’d made a big mistake.
For the next 10 minutes, I was taught how to drag my snowboard around the snow with one foot in, one foot out. Sort of like trying to stand on an icy banana peel without falling while trying to get somewhere. I suddenly yearned for the freedom of two legs and poles to keep my balance. Surely if God wanted my feet to be strapped together he’d have made me a tree.
“Skating” on the board is very similar to skateboarding, ripboarding, and ten other kinds of boarding that I’d never done. Nonetheless, I tried to hop along on one foot, 14 inches at a time while dragging the bulky board beside me. Kind of like pulling a toddler who’s clinging to your leg around the room, but in the snow.
Supposedly, all that was needed to turn my snowboard was to point my hand in that direction and shift my weight. Conceptually, the same as on the balance board on the Wii. Somehow I didn’t remember repeatedly falling on my rear in the middle of the living room off the Wii board like I was constantly doing out here on the ice that was masquerading as snow.
We were ready to attach the second foot into the board, a final step to ensure that should I fall down, I would have even less of a chance to break my fall. Kind of like trying to ski down the hill while your legs are stuck in colonial stocks. I tried to think of surfing. I’d never done it, but my oldest has a poster of a surfer over his bed and I see it often enough. I visualized myself in the same bent-kneed, balanced position. Then I went into a vicious spin and fell on my face.
I glanced over to the other side of the training area at my sons sitting in their group. They seemed to be paying attention and enjoying themselves. I didn’t see a lot of falling. As my son balanced through a turn, I noticed how his butt was only about 12 inches off the ground. When he fell, he softly plopped down into the snow. I think I may have heard a chuckle as he landed. The sweat poured down my face as I struggled through what was turning into a full-body workout. I tried to concentrate. I pushed down on my toes, leaning my weight forward as I pointed my arm to the left for a turn. A girl from the ski school flew by me and I went into a sharp spin again. Like a redwood in the forest toppling to the ground, I went down hard. The sounds coming from my mouth were not chuckles. Probably another good reason for separating the kids from the adult learners.
Once the lesson was over, my wife (who in her early 40s wisely had no strange epiphanies to try to learn a new sport) casually pulled up to us on her skis with a smile and waited while we strapped on our boards. Those 10 yards away that she stood proved deceptively far, as I kept falling down. She and my oldest decided to head down the slope as I tried to focus my energies on the right pressure point on my board while fielding my youngest’s endless questions about why we weren’t going yet and which direction to head. Finally I told him to go first. He stood up and shot straight down the hill like a rocket for 30 yards and gently sat down in the snow in a stop.
I struggled to attach my loose foot to the board and get turned in the right direction. Except I couldn’t get moving right and kept falling hard on my butt. Since I was laid out prone on the ground more often than upright, my son couldn’t see me from his vantage point around the corner and started to get a little panicked, thinking I’d left him alone on the slope. I finally got up and made it over to him. Now moving downhill, I tried to follow my instructor’s directions about turning the board flat to stop and easing back and forth down the hill like a falling leaf. While I was starting to get better, it was slow go. If I ever see a leaf falling the way that I headed down the hill, I think I’ll run for cover.
Somehow my son and I managed to make it on to the lift. The awkward slant of the board nearly ripped off my knee as we left the ground. When we approached the end, I tried to walk my son through the steps of a graceful dismount as my wife and older son watched us. My son slipped off and immediately crumpled to the ground. I tried to stand on my board and go around him, but succeeded only in doing a slow roll on top of him. Piled in a lump partway down the ramp, I quickly hopped up and tried to one-foot drag him out of the way before we created a major pileup. My wife and son were doubled over in laughter at the sight of our slow-motion crash.
Bruised, battered and exhausted, I called it a day after three hours or so. My wife and oldest went down a few more times as I turned in our gear and checked us in to the Lodge so that we could burn some more dollars. I’m not sure if I’ll be strapping a board on again anytime soon. Sometimes you have to give new things a try, but the whole teaching an old dog new tricks statement might be truer than I thought. Perhaps next time I’ll stick to skis. Perhaps my sons will soon stop telling their friends stories about me falling. At least we were too busy to take any video so it’s their word against mine. What happens on the slopes stays on the slopes, right? Now if only I could stand up without pain.