Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Mountain Top Moment. Where Else? On A Mountain.

Snowboarding is a bit like love. Before working out the kinks and existing, peaceably, in a relationship- with the mountain or another person- you must first experience abject failure, humiliation, heartache, and frustration. I'm not sure why. I didn't make the rules. I'm just relaying experiences, and from what I can gather, the pain felt during day two of snowboarding (Hi, have you met your coccyx?) versus catastrophic break ups ends in a draw. Yet, in both cases, it's well documented that the wipe outs eventually lead to something better, a personal triumph over what was once impossible.

The last time we addressed shredding powder while strapped to an unassuming-looking device of torture, also known as a snowboard, I recounted for you a complete and utter meltdown on the bunny slope at Mount Sunapee. Like a break-up, my mountain top meltdown was ugly, self-indulgent, and downright pitiful. Want to see any gifted athlete (surfers and skateboarders excluded) reduced to a pile of uncoordinated limbs and seething frustration? Stick 'em on a snowboard! Om Gal's S.O. had the experience of learning to snowboard alongside a four-time Olympic gold medalist (the sport and identity of this athlete will remain undisclosed to protect the innocent), and the guy was, by far, the worst in the group, proving that certain skills simply don't translate. Apparently, neither does sanity because I'm a relatively well-adjusted person, and day two on the slopes was enough to onset the previously documented panic attack.

Day three, however, brought renewed hope and possibility, which came in the form of a private lesson at Stowe, where my instructor's first direction was to "stand on the board, and be normal." I had to laugh at the simplicity of it but also immediately realized that this young, relaxed teacher with the straightforward approach was my perfect learning match. I simply wasn't going to become overwhelmed this time when I had an instructor who could distill the challenge into a manageable task like "standing." More importantly, I felt the fear of past wipe outs dissolve and the bruises to my battered ego mend. On a physical level, I just needed to reacquaint myself with standing in a relaxed, confident, and balanced manner, on a board, moving down a mountain, for which it was designed.

During the rest of the two-hour lesson, the clouds continued to part, and clarity ensued. I didn't master the sport in one morning, but something clicked in my brain, reducing the huge, mountain of an endeavor into a series of small, discernible tasks. We tackled each one with the same zenful approach, placing it in a context that I could envision. Getting off the chair lift? When you sit up, pretend you are sitting up out of a chair. The phone rang, and you're just going to stand up and go answer it. Piece of cake. Telling the board what to do? Move the board with your feet. Keep your arms relaxed and calm. If you use your arms to try to direct the board [rather than your feet], it gets confused. Brilliant!

By lunch, I was thoroughly enjoying myself on the slopes, with only minimal terror creeping in when colonies of five year-olds buzzed by in group lessons. Be aware of them, but don't look directly at them. Turns out, the yogic concept of "drishti" applies even here. If you gaze at something, your energy moves in that direction. Gaze at the unwieldy skier in your path, and it's lights out; keep your head up and focus your intention on your destination, and you'll arrive there, easily. By the afternoon, I was luxuriating on the chair lift, thoroughly enamored by my surroundings. I even grabbed my iPod for the ride up the mountain, which happened to be playing a new album by the artist Bon Iver, a play on the French words "bon hiver," meaning "good winter." Turns out, the album was written and recorded during a solitary winter spent in a Wisconsin cabin following break ups with both the artist's former band and girlfriend, creating an artful example of how even the most painful experiences can be productive and, ultimately, beautiful.

As I looked up at the big, blue sky, my legs dangling below with snowboard happily attached, breathing in the crisp, triumphant Vermont air, I thought to myself, 'A good winter. Why, yes, that's exactly what it is.'

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