31 Jan Learning to learn and aprês-beer
Have you ever learned to snowboard?
Have you ever learned to snowboard at 32 years old, when you’re of questionable fitness levels and coming down after several mentally trying weeks of your life?
I took my first snowboarding lesson in July in Tamworth, UK. Y’know, the famed mountains of the Midlands. (That’s a jokey-joke, you non-UK-people.) We have fab friends Lauren and Paul who gifted me a lesson as a birthday present when, after a week of uninspired skiing in 2018, I said I’d like to try snowboarding.
Tamworth has an indoor slope, the teachers were great, and after the class I had a pretty good grip on how to not fall down. Obviously I’m a prodigy.
The mountain in Bansko — it’s name is Todorka, which just sounds funny — is a real mountain, with real snow, and real people to avoid, and real ice to hit, and it has taught me a lot. These are not earth-shattering lessons, but for some reason I needed a mountain to kick my ass to remind me.
Mainly because learning something from the ground-up hasn’t been a part of my life recently. Sure, I’ve had to get used to things, or adapt my skills, or rely on Google Maps, but I’ve not had to start from ground-zero and build brand-new synapses and make my body and mind do things it’s never done before and frankly seem very dangerous.
(By the way, did you know that to turn a snowboard you have to lean DOWN the mountain? You have to point what is a glorified, wide ski down the mountain, pick up speed, and shove your down-hill shoulder further forward, which means you will most definitely run into a small child, hit an iceberg, tumble uncontrollably, swear loudly and in several languages, cause many large explosions, and die.)
Honestly, learning to trust myself and the board and the snow was mentally exhausting. I eventually realized that this was not a set-it-and-forget-it thing to learn. There’s no figurative or literal coasting once I learned the basics; every turn demands my full attention. Any less and I will fall. Every time.
But along with the spills and bruises, Todorka has handed me some big wins.
Like how to focus on making turns.
And how to do two turns in a row. Toes to heels. Heels to toes. Gliding. Stopping. Cursing at errant skiers.
How to keep my balance by moving forward, just like on a bike.
And that even if I mastered something today, I have to re-learn it tomorrow.
And then I learned that when I start falling down again, it means I’m pushing myself and that I am learning – each fall teaching me what not to do next time – and that means something. Even if my tailbone pays the price..
But on the last day, everything clicked.
Because on the last day, I took my sweet time. I finally (finally!!) realized I can’t make myself learn faster. I have to put in the time and practice basic moves so that my foundation is sound. I don’t get to skip forward and be immediately good at this; there’s no fake-it-til-you-make-it in snowboarding, and I am not a snowboarding prodigy.
I made myself slow down and stay in control, think through every turn. I talked my brain out of panic mode, I rested when my calves cramped. I told myself to get-up-right-stinking-now after I inevitably did fall (on my tuchus, thanks for asking). I reset my stance, I bent my knees, stood up a little straighter, leaned into the board.
I linked turns like a freakin all-star.
I got down the whole ski road — 7km, no wipeouts! — and looked like a real gosh-darned snowboarder, cool-kid stance and all! It was really a great final run of the trip.
Britton and I met up at our favourite (er, only) on-piste pub, and got to exchange our days’ successes over couple bottles of Bulgaria’s finest beers. (If there’s something widely acknowledged about sports, it’s that even crappy beer tastes amazing after a day of maximum effort.)
We’ll be back at it in Finland in April, so I’m eager to see what skills I retain, and what I get to re-learn.