I learned to ski when I was 31. I had met a girl who was cooler than I thought I might ever date, and she explained that if I wanted to keep hanging out with her, I needed to learn.

We hit the local slopes. Her family was deep in the outdoor industry. They were Independent sales reps, and I was outfitted in clothing samples of the industry's greatest brands, few of which I had ever heard of ( due to my earlier scouting experiences ). We skipped the bunny hill. She said we were in Michigan, and "it's all bunny hills around here", so let's just take the chairlift up. With that, I was confident that I was in good hands.

079sidecountry_thumbnail.jpgI managed to dismount the chairlift quite well, and with just a few scotches, I was at the edge of the first ski run of my life. She swooshed around the back of me, but as I waited for some instruction, I noticed I was now sliding forward without any scootching. I reached the point of no return quite quickly, (as first-timers with no stopping skills whatsoever are prone to do) and picked up speed quickly, tracking directly down the fall line, arms straight out to my sides. The sound of the wind rushing around my head got me thinking about what would happen to my body if I crashed at what seemed like maximum velocity. I was stiff as a board all over, every muscle wound to it's tightest. The hill flattened, I slowed down, and a slight uphill field at the end brought me to a full stop. I was jubilant. She was right, skiing is invigorating. She caught up with me a few seconds later, laughing and out of breath, with the news that all men love to hear: I had not done it right.

That first season ended with a hard front face plant on an icy Michigan hill, cushioned only by the ski pole I had tangled in the arm in front of me. In about 48 hrs my right forearm was black and blue and yellow and purple, and had swollen large enough that my sleeves were feeling restrictive. My fingers became numb. With no medical insurance, my veterinarian sister ruled out a break when she took a picture of my forearm with an x-ray machine that was set for a medium-sized cat.

My second season was equally short and painful. It ended while keeping my eyes focused on the front of my skis while trying to make sense of a series of wide turns. My weight got behind me and did a baseball-style slide into a piece of snowmaking equipment. It was two weeks before I could simply hobble about. It took a full year for that experience to fade enough that I might try skiing one more time, and I secretly told myself that if I couldn't get over the hump this year, I was done with skiing forever.

Throughout the following years, skiing handed me many humbling experiences. I have embarrassed myself at the chairlift, been swallowed whole by a treewell, and often had to yield to more competent 7-year-olds passing me on narrow, rocky chutes. Somehow, with slow improvement each season, I managed to work my way through the blues and blacks, until finally I was able to to go anywhere my new girlfriend, (now my wife) was able to go. I still marvel at how effortlessly she conquers the deepest icy moguls or the steepest tree-studded field, and while I will never ski as well or as beautifully as she does, I can now answer that question that inevitably comes up among outdoor-types, "Do you ski?" without any qualifiers or disclaimers: "Yes, I ski."

One day, while sharing a beer after a great day, I realized that I now understood why people ski. I was both tired and invigorated, I was goofing off, playing all day, but still felt accomplished. Skiing itself feels both solitary and communal. Best of all, for someone like me, who learned to ski as an adult, every single day out feels like the kind of great adventure that I thought I lost once I turned 12. When I am at the top of a mountain and I push the tips of my skis off the edge of a steep cliff and carefully peer over the edge, it still makes me pause--am I sure I want to do this? I go anyway.

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