Opinion

In order to conquer the mountain, sometimes you have to take a step back

Every fiber in my body was shaking. I wanted to give it a try, but everything in me was telling me “no, not yet.” I took a deep breath to try and steady myself, but as I exhaled the cold afternoon air hung around my head like little negative thought bubbles — “You’re going to break your leg.” “You’re going to run into someone and hurt them.” “You can’t do this.”

I had never given skiing any thought. Why would I? I lived in the middle of the Midwest. A place where you were lucky if you found a good sledding hill. But here I was, at the top of Iowa’s few cascading hills, attempting to ski for the first time.

I had been anxious to go as soon as my boyfriend had suggested it, but as the reality set in I wasn’t so sure anymore. Trying something new can be scary. As a kid I was always hesitant to try something new. The negative “what ifs” always outweighed the possibility of a grand adventure.

But I wasn’t a kid anymore and an adventure was on my resolution for the new year. And so, there I was on top of Sundown Mountain, attempting to suppress a panic attack. We had made it around two bends in the beginners hill before I had thrown myself to the ground in an effort to avoid a fence, or a tree or a child. I can’t remember at this point, but my life and the lives of those around me felt in peril so I opted for the fetal position instead of mayhem.

Eventually I had heaved myself back up and locked one boot back into the ski. Getting the other foot secured was proving to be a challenge. My shaking didn’t help the situation.

I was at a loss in that moment. I wanted to impress my boyfriend with how calm, cool and naturally athletic I am, but you can’t hide your true self careening down a mountain. Or stuck at the top of one. I was ready to tell him I was quitting when a mom and her toddler went skiing past us. The mom was a few paces in front of the child, coaxing him down.

“You’ve got this,” she told the tot who was reaching out for her. “I’m not going to baby you, you can do it.”

And sure enough, this tiny little human shifted its weight and zipped this way and that out of sight and down the mountain.

“If this toddler can do it, you can too,” I told myself.

I took a deep breath. This time the negative thought bubbles evaporated as I exhaled and I slammed my foot into the ski, locking my boot into place. I took another deep breath, nodded to my boyfriend and plunged my poles into the crunchy snow.

My skis began to glide down the shimmering snowclad hill, I felt a touch of wind on my cheek and that was it, I laid myself down into the snow, again.

“Nope, I’m not doing this,” I said as I reached back and unlatched my boots from the skis.

I gathered up my skis and poles and walked back up the mountain, toward the safety of the lodge.

Change doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time, a few tears and a little prodding. For the next hour, I went back to the bunny hill. I practiced stopping without crossing my skis and shifting my weight from one foot to another. Once the skiers taking private lessons left, I navigated myself over to the cones and practiced weaving in and out of them. I did this over and over and over again.

Finally, I made my way back to the beginner hill with my boyfriend. Instead of looking at the mountain as a whole, we focused on going from curve to curve, checkpoint to checkpoint. Before I knew it, I could see the ski lift at the bottom. I had made it. I let go of all of my fear and hesitations and allowed myself to enjoy the last 100 yards and then it hit me. Or rather she hit me.

One moment, I was watching my boyfriend bob and weave in front of me, the next I could see the sky above. A snowboarder hit me, literally taking me out at the knees. I was fine, and so was she. My pole, on the other hand, was not. If you’ve ever seen a cartoon where a character runs into a pole and it contours to their outline — that’s what my ski pole looked like.

I went back to the lodge, exchanged poles and hit the slopes again. I wasn’t about to let that stop me, I had only just begun. And that’s the thing with fear. You may not be able to tackle it right away. It can be debilitating. But whatever you’re trying to accomplish, if you can break it down, make it manageable, you can conquer a mountain.