By Kim Nania
I never really thought about how bizarre our sport is until this winter, when I became a ski instructor. We wake up early to stuff ourselves into layers of clothes, to imprison our feet in plastic dungeons of doom (ski boots), and to secure our boots to laminated pieces of wood, in order to soar, fall or struggle down a mountain. Then we go sit on a flying bench to bring us up the mountain in order to do it all over again.
The bizarreness of skiing really smacks you in the face when you teach children how to ski. You immediately see the look of seemingly permanent confusion on their bundled up and squished little faces. “Why am I here?! I’m cold, my feet hurt, and why did my parents leave me here with you? Who are you, anyways?”
Since I teach mostly beginners, most lessons start the same way. I get the kids to follow me in a circle wearing only their right ski, then their left, and then they follow me with both on. I also teach them how to duck walk and side step. As I’m teaching these skills, I find myself looking into a sea of blank, expressionless, and still confused faces.
The next phase of our lesson is to move to the magic carpet, which will bring us to the bunny slope. When we reach the top of the slope I show the students how to stop using the infamous “ski pizza” (formerly known as the snow plow). I try to make it interesting and say, “Who likes pizza?”
Apparently no one, or I have a group of mute children that no one told me about. But one girl is continuously sticking her tongue out and another boy is trying to bite a hole through his gaiter… so all is not lost.
From this point we all push on. We do some exercises going down the slope. I have the kids stomp their uphill ski in between turns, I make them point in the direction of their turns, and repeatedly remind them to look in the direction they are going.
After three or four of these drill runs I find myself going up the magic carpet, staring hopelessly at the bunny slope. I watch grownup people face-plant on a baby roller; I see toddlers on “ski leashes” crying and looking back at their parents.
I wonder, “Why do people do this? Why do I do this?”
It only takes a second before I remind myself of the answer to this question. Once we all get off the magic carpet, I say the game-changing words to my class: “Okay, it’s time for a free run.”
Then they are free. They ski off and I watch the confused, mute, and expressionless children come to life. Their faces light up as they are allowed to feel the thrill of sliding down the mountain on their own. They enjoy the freedom and the undeniable feeling of letting go that comes from each downward sweep of their skis. They love the fun, and that’s the whole point.
Kim Nania is a ski instructor at Okemo.