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Since I was a ten year old watching the 2006 winter Olympics, I’ve wanted to be a snowboarder. At the risk of sounding old, that means I’ve dreamt of learning a sport for 12 years and never had the guts to do it. Year after year I’d consider trying, only to be too frightened to follow through. I went a handful of times as a young teen, only to become discouraged and quit. Last winter I told myself I’d learn again, then never went a single day.
This year, I’d had enough. My friends and I planned a trip to Colorado in the spring, and I knew how disappointed I’d be missing out on gorgeous mountain views because I was too afraid to ever just “put myself out there.”
Since that decision, I have not regretted a single second of the effort I’ve dedicated to learning this season. Snowboarding combines nature, the thrill of an adventure, challenge, and being surrounded by a community of people devoted to the same task. It feels like another extension of the outdoor community.
That being said, it has been a difficult road…and I’m still at the beginning. It’s challenging as a young adult on the bunny hill, struggling to stand on solid ground as little kids speed past doing tricks in their high-end gear. I felt intimidated and gawky, and I began to question whether it was worth the hassle. I regretted not being younger, or learning sooner, or ya know…being perfect. Not to mention, I kept silently remembering there’s always the safe, boring option to quit and go home. But after several days out there, I learned that if you stick with it, you’ll also begin to feel accomplished, driven, and ecstatic that you finally had the courage to begin.
Truthfully, I felt inspired to write a bit about my experience, because it is isolating learning as an adult. At this stage, it feels as if most people have either already become great at a winter sport, or decided they never want to learn. Despite being an athlete and lover of the outdoors my entire life, no other activity has placed me so in touch with my own innate fear. Because of that, there are several things I’ve learned in the past month which I wish I’d known going in.
Primarily, I’ve learned that fear can be strong, intense, and at times, paralyzing. However more important than that, I’ve learned that the fear can be overcome. It is not permanent, it can be conquered, and if you have an adventurous soul, you will learn to pick yourself up time and again, excited to start again.
The first time I tried going down a hill without understanding the basics of snowboarding, it was as if every rational part of my brain shut off. Intense terror sped through my nervous system and made it impossible to think clearly. As I flew down the hill, gaining speed, I gave in entirely to my body’s anxiety. Rather than think clearly about literally ANY of the tips I’d been taught, all I could think about was the possibility that I might accidentally injure myself.
And it didn’t stop after one trip down the hill, or two, or twenty. The nerves lasted, the falls lasted, and the minor injuries lasted. It felt like a cruel joke that the more I feared going down the hill, the more I fell, and the more I fell, the more I feared going down the hill. (We’re not talking black diamonds here, we’re talking little baby hills your pet fish could probably make it down safely). My third occasion snowboarding, I tried a hill too big for me, and had a ski instructor actually approach me with a discount for lessons! Talk about being bad. (Shout-out to my boyfriend for watching this all occur and not making fun of me afterwards).
What I learned after all these experiences is that the fear was the worst during my first moments, and frustration is an obstacle you can overcome. At least half the battle is mental. After hours of trying, I began to wonder why I hadn’t won a gold medal yet or why I still couldn’t make it down the hill without adding to my collection of bruises. I’ve never experienced exasperation feel as tangible as in the moments when I felt the hard work would never pay off.
Yet, once I’d fallen on my butt and been sore for a couple days, or embarrassed myself numerous times, the negative energy began to subside. Practice didn’t kill me or severely injure me, and after a while I stopped caring about being a beginner. Workers at the park, my boyfriend, and other snowboarders passing by would assure me, “Hey, we all started somewhere.” I started to feel proud about the effort I was putting in. It’s not important to be good right away, it’s just important to start.
After all, the longer I spent out there, the more I eventually learned. The more I stood up at the end of a bad fall or arduous trip down the bunny hill, the more I realized the fear subsided. The anxiety came with the unknown, so as I gained more and more experience with the unknown, the experience became less threatening, and less of a task.
So, alright. I can’t lie. I’m still a horrible snowboarder. I still feel slight jolts of fear at the thought of speeding down an icy hill. However, I’ve learned to own my fear, and my progress. I’ve learned to own my ugly, sometimes slow trips down the hill, and my bruised knees. With this acceptance, I’ve made room to own my excitement about the sport and own my passion, too.
It wasn’t until the last three runs of the most recent time I went snowboarding that I finally began to feel this reward. On my last hill of the day, I couldn’t wait to get on the chairlift. Late afternoon sun was shining behind a blanket of trees, and I was the last person riding the chairlift before it closed for grooming. I reached the top of the easy hill (and fell getting off, because hey, we can’t have it all), strapped myself in, and rode down, carving successfully.
As I felt myself pick up speed, I didn’t shy away from the challenge. I didn’t feel fear, only exhilaration. If you have the courage to pick yourself up over and over and over again, I promise the adventure will be worth it. In the wise words of Carrie Fisher, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
I started skiing at 21, so I understand your struggle of starting as an adult. You just have to trust that with practice you will continue to get better. Have you considered trying to ski as well?