Never Stop Being a Beginner

I’ve been snowboarding for 22 years. Scratch that. I’ve been a snowboarder for 22 years. It wasn’t just a twice a month recreational activity for me.

I’ve won a boarder-cross event and qualified for regionals (where I lost). I opened up a trail called OZ in the Chugach Myn range in Alaska – a trail only accessible by helicopter. To make it sound even more impressive, this trail was a 3200 foot vertical drop in elevation at about 80 feet wide located in a massive couloir. Warren Miller used this exact run as the opening ride in one of his annual movies. It was extreme to say the least.

I’ve also had amazing days snowboarding 60 degree pitches – pitches so steep the snow barely sticks to the side of the mountain. My guide and only one other guy he knew had attempted this run. So, of course I had to try it. It was so steep I couldn’t see the other side of the hill. I loved every minute of it until I went over a 30 foot cliff and started tomahawking! More recently I’ve been focusing on a ton of back country split boarding. I love accessing terrain that very few people can get to.

I’m not telling you all of this just to tell you how great of a snowboarder I am. I’m pretty good. That’s just a fact. Snowboarding is an adrenaline rush, a test of my physical fitness, and something I was pretty great at. It also meant that I was starting to lose that fire in my belly for snowboarding. It just wasn’t as exciting anymore now that I was at the top of my game. 

Which meant it was time to become a beginner again, to learn a new craft, and to test myself physically and mentally. Last year, I decided to become a skier.

As with everything I set my mind to, I was committed and dove in head first. I went out and bought a full AT (alpine touring ) set up – atomic backend 95, dyanfit rotation bindings, and Scarpa Maestrale boots. I was ready to go! AT is designed to skin up the mountain and then transition into downhill mode fast. And boy does it perform!

Then it snowed. I mean, we had one of the biggest and baddest snowfalls in recent Vermont history. I took my first run on my new skis – skinning up Mt. Mansfield in almost a foot of powder. The skinning was great. I’d done that part many times before when split boarding, but this AT set up was light and fast. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the mountain and I realized I had to come down. My first run was about to be on a black diamond trail in a foot of powder. Baptism by fire, baby!

I wish I could tell you that I glided down that mountain like I was born with skis on my feet. The reality is… I fell. More than once. I felt completely out of control on my way down that mountain. It was such a humbling experience to be a beginner again and starting right back at square one.

Naturally, I did that trail twice. It went a bit better the second time. It was then my mission to get out and ski as much as possible in any condition. I needed the practice. I took a lesson from my fitness coach who is a baller instructor and skier. He gave me tips on what to work on and I attacked the mountain, doing drill after drill. Practice and repetition makes progress.

I switched to skiing for a couple of reasons:

    1. I wanted a new experience and challenge (a great reason to be a newbie at anything!).
    1. I love the back country and the speed and ease of skinning in with skis versus a snowboard is so much easier.
  1. I knew my kids were going to start skiing this year and I’d be on a lot of easy trails with them so it was a great opportunity to learn alongside them and share that experience of learning together (but just like in leadership, I wanted to stay just a couple of steps ahead of them to lead effectively, hence some extra lessons for me).

It’s extremely frustrating when you are really good at one thing and then go back to ground zero. It forces you to put your ego aside and just suck it up, even if that means falling off the lift. But on the other side of this frustration is a little thrill. Learning anything new, particularly a new sport, is a whole new experience. The skis are different, and you feel the snow in a new way. You gain a new perspective as both a rider and skier. It’s also a test of your emotional fitness. It would have been so easy for me to switch back to snowboarding after that first time down the mountain. I tried it. That was good enough, right? Nope. Not good enough for me. I wanted to test my resolve and commitment. And I’m so glad I did! 

Now, my kids are addicted to skiing. We ski 3-4 times a week. One of the coolest moments I’ve had so far as a father has been skiing with Sienna and Asher – full on skiing! And my two-year-old? My little gypsy soul, Maddie? A couple days ago she skied for two hours! I am so proud of my kids for getting out there and trying new things. I’ve even more grateful that I was able to experience the feeling of being a beginner right there alongside them.

If success at anything in life was easy, we would all be successful and coasting through life and it would be pretty boring. I had forgotten what it was like to learn to snowboard so choosing the struggle of learning how to ski in itself was a success. Success without struggle is failure. Be a beginner again. Go find your struggle. You will be glad you did.


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