The wind blasted my cheeks.
I’d forgotten my balaclava back in Charlottesville, which meant the lower half of my face was the only part of my body left exposed to the arctic West Virginia air. Rookie mistake. It’d been nearly a year since I was on a pair of skis. I was lucky to have even remembered where my ski pants were amid the chaos of my overstuffed Jeep and SylvanSport.
If you recall my Ski Newb video from last year, you’re likely well aware of my less-than-remarkable shredding skills. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t grow up going to the slopes in the winter, I’ve never had a lesson, and I really didn’t ski more than two or three times until I was 20 years old.
So you can imagine how completely uncoordinated my brain and limbs were acting this weekend when I found myself back in the saddle for the first time this year.
The majority of the magazine’s staff decided to spend this past weekend celebrating the 20th anniversary of Blue Ridge Outdoors at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. With two nights of music by The Infamous Stringdusters and a full day of skiing on the schedule, our weekend was sure to be jam-packed with good times. My only hesitation about the festivities was this: if there’s one thing everyone at the magazine can trump me in, it’s skiing.
Despite looking, acting, and feeling like a complete goon on the slopes, though, I love skiing. Downhill, cross-country, all of it brings to mind a sense of gliding down the mountain, a gracefulness not unlike that of ice skating (which, for the record, I’m also pretty rotten at). Skiers, even the amateur ones, make it look so easy, their turns coming so naturally.
When I was younger, my mother always told me that whatever it was I wanted to accomplish in life, whether it was blow bubbles out of my nose, become a dog whisperer, learn how to cartwheel, etc., all I had to do was simply envision myself successfully enacting that and then just do it.
It had worked for cartwheeling and bubble nose blowing (the dog whisperer thing didn’t really pan out). As I stood outside my hotel room with my boss Blake and Nick and Dusty (both from the Blue Ridge Outdoors team), listening to them try to convince me to tackle Cupp Run for my first time, I couldn’t help but think, why couldn’t it work for skiing?
The reckless side of me wanted to get my first taste of a black diamond run. Dropping 1,500 vertical feet in over a mile, this run was an icon in the region, so much so that we decided to include it in the magazine’s list of 100 ultimate adventures. I had to do it!
Mostly, though, that voice was drowned out by a much wiser, more realistic me who said, “you can barely come to a stop at the bottom of a run. You have no business being on a black diamond.”
“That’s bullshit,” was Blake’s response. “If Dusty’s going, you’re going.”
I looked at Dusty and he gave me a look that said, “Sorry, bro.” Nick looked damn near tickled at the thought.
“You’ll be fine,” he assured me.
Sure, I though. You’ll be fine. You’re being peer pressured, or boss pressured, into skiing down a run you lack the skills to safely maneuver, but hey, what’s the worse that can happen? Broken bone? Cut upper lip? Sprained ankle? A couple of tumbles? You’ll be fine.
As I waited at the top of Cupp Run, peering down the mountain to a horizon line that disappeared into a mist of snowblowers, I wasn’t thinking I’d be fine. I was thinking quite the opposite.
I’m going to die.
I know, a little overdramatic, but for what it’s worth, I was committed to the experience and to getting down the mountain, come hell or high water.
The first part of the run went surprisingly better than I had anticipated. It was well-groomed, though steep (to me) and I purposefully fell once out of fear that I’d never be able to stop if I didn’t somehow slow myself down. My heart was in my throat. I’d forgotten to breathe.
Blake had taken a front row seat to my shit show, choosing to stay behind my flailing limbs and desperate dives. As I sat on the snow catching my breath and praying to the ski gods, he casually slid by me, recording my humiliating display with his iPhone.
“What are you doing down there?” he said, unable to conceal his amusement.
“Ohmygahd,” I said, collapsing onto my back. “I’m going to die.”
I was shaken, no doubt, but I wouldn’t truly know fear until I found myself at the lip of the mogul section, watching skiers and snowboarders fly down the mountain and disappear over the horizon.
It’s not like you’re swimming through a class V rapid, I told myself. Just picture yourself at the bottom of the run, alive. Go slowly. Just do it.
On Cupp Run’s steep terrain, though, there was no going slowly for me. I fell once, then twice, then three times. I stood up backwards, then slid uncontrollably facing uphill until I crashed again. I lost a ski. I lost hope. Skiers sailed by me. Newbies dropped in hordes like soldiers in a minefield. There was a war raging. It was me against the moguls, me against gravity, me against that nagging voice in my head that said, “I told you so.”
I cursed my ski-less childhood. I cursed my burning thighs. I cursed the bruise I kept landing on. I cursed myself for letting my boss peer pressure me into trying this stupid run.
“We’re not even halfway yet,” Blake said when I finally picked my way through the moguls.
I was exhausted. Defeated. Totally checked out. Yet somehow, miraculously, I made it down the mountain. The rest of the run was a blur, a pinch-me-am-I-alive kinda dazed state of being where the only thing that could bring me to was the site of the ski lift ambling along and the bitter cold whipping my cheeks.
“You did it brah!” Nick said giving me a high-five.
I looked over at Dusty, who had had a similar experience down Cupp Run (it being his first time ever at Snowshoe).
I looked at Blake. He stood there, grinning like a kid at Christmas who got exactly what he wanted.
I remembered that feeling the first time I successfully completed a cartwheel as a kid, how accomplished I felt, how on top of the world. Though my performance on Cupp Run was by no means graceful, I’d managed to make it down. Maybe, I decided, peer pressure ain’t so bad…sometimes.