That Time A Mountain Taught Me Humility

Here I am, standing atop a hill just below the summit of Mt. Crested Butte that might as well be a sheer cliff, willing myself to quiet the expletives and worries surfacing at the forefront of my consciousness. My legs still feel like jell-o despite my warm-up run, and I wish I could say my confidence had as strong a structure as a gelatinous substance. As I peer down the questionable slope at my companions gracefully whizzing through snow and ice on their own skis and snowboards, I propel myself, feet first, in their wake, praying that a) my body will magically pull through and muster all its strength and intuition to get me down to the base of the mountain, b) no one will notice my (blatantly obvious) struggle, and c) I survive.

As if I wasn't already aware of how out-of-practice I am on the slopes (it's been almost 3 years since I set boot in skis for one day in the Swiss alps, and even then, it'd been seven years since my last mountain rendezvous), there the mountain was, jeering at me as if I were the sacrificial lamb for the winter 2015-2016 season, and even worse, with ice to slip me up! I regretted looking down upon my fellow co-intern from the Paradise Lift just yesterday as he struggled down Paradise Bowl: presumably the first blue he’d skied this season, and maybe ever. I’d proudly thought, Ha, I have blues down! Now I was in his place, perhaps not pizza-ing down the icy slopes of upper Mt. Crested Butte, but still hurdling down the tsunami-sized waves of fear and self-doubt with an increasing velocity, just as I was doing on the icy mountain.

So...how did I get myself into this situation? A smart skier would have checked the terrain maps and seen that the entirety of the open trails on the Silver Queen were black diamonds. I’d even excitedly posted an Instagram on behalf of the ASC about the opening of the lift and several trails that side of the mountain, for goodness sake. Alas, I hadn’t bothered to peruse the trail map, assuming the only trails suitable for winter sports would be the blues. As the lift carried me to rising heights above the small mountain town that’s become home, I was keenly aware of the increasing slope. It was when I dismounted the Silver Queen Lift and noticed the trail signs – shimmering with black diamonds – that I knew I was in for quite the treat. Why the heck did I come up here with these guys? Maybe I need to reconsider my choice of friends…these dudes are going to get me killed! I should have known these guys were serious skiers if they can do blacks without a warm-up on an easy green! *%$&!!!! I’m screwed!

I won’t say I’m a great skier. Whenever someone here asks me if I’m a big skier, I downplay my skills and honestly tell them I’m getting my ski legs back. On the slopes I am certainly aware of my lack of technical skill, and have to remind myself regularly to cultivate self-confidence; therein lies the key to improving (I experienced the mental effects on performance as a diver, so I’ve learned my lesson).

Even though my current ski level is average at best, I have an intuitive sense for skiing, even if I feel – and undoubtedly look – awkward from time to time, especially face planted in the hills of Paradise Bowl. Plus I’m fairly certain I was a pretty good skier as a teenager. So let’s blame it on my rusty ski legs (which, yes, are extremely sore). And perhaps the confidence I have been able to muster comes from the remembered ease of skiing down the slopes of Santa Fe and Villars. My remembered self could manage almost any terrain except moguls, which makes sense, since I’m the speed demon and would much rather go straight down a run than have to turn on my heels each second to avoid a nasty bump. It could also be because 99 times out of 100 I could be seen, ski-less on a mogul run, my pride buried deep in the snow with my skis. Regardless, moguls are the enemy.

As soon as I reached the base, in the snowy wake of my ski buddies, I sighed two breaths of relief: one for making it down the mountain alive (without falling!!!), the second for my friends’ decision to take the Red Lady Lift to easier slopes. I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, and hoped someone would suggest we make our way to Paradise Bowl (after blacks, a nice blue would be nothing).

To my chagrin, the guy I’d come with from church wanted to go into the trees. That’s when everything and everyone but me went downhill.

Let me tell you: if there’s one way to embarrass yourself in front of three guys you just met (who are evidently very skilled winter sportsmen, what with their flips and spins and whatever you skiing and snowboarding people call them), just fall on your face three times in the middle of the trees. And struggle with getting your skis back on. Works every time. It was all good fun until I realized the guy who was sticking back with me and witnessing all my blunders is going to be at the Young Adults gathering tonight. Crap. I am officially the most uncool 23-year-old ski bum. And I got to prove it on my first mountain outing with my new church friends as they sped through the “green” level trees and black diamond ice.

Well, here’s to hoping they leave the judging to God.

Thankfully, I had to leave to meet the new intern at home and show him around town. Enter: Leigh’s escape from extended potential embarrassment. The pride and confidence I’d had after my warm-up run buried deep in the powder where I’d fallen in the trees, I left the mountain severely humbled. Sometimes it takes a mountain to put your pride into perspective.

If anything, I now know I can survive a black diamond trail, even if I look incredibly awkward and unskilled as I slide haphazardly across icy patches. I have a lot to learn to be able to keep up with these CB ski bums. Since the only way to learn is by doing, it looks like I’ll be needing to push myself out of my comfort zone to develop those technical skills. As my father just texted me: “Take your time before getting too advanced. But what the heck you only live once go for it Leigh.” Unfortunately that means I will continue to be the most awkward skier on the mountain for a good while. Thank goodness I’ve got another four months to catch up with the true winter sportspeople: and the good news is it’s only the twelfth day of the season. Perhaps when all’s said and done, I’ll be able to pass as a ski bum, pride intact with my skis.