Why did I come?
I can feel dread in my belly. It's sitting there like a lead weight. My mind is no help – it's coming up with scenarios in which we have to abandon our plan to ski – dangerous icy conditions, too much wind…
We make the turn off the highway toward the mountain. There is absolutely no snow to be seen. My hope soars! Maybe we won’t be skiing after all.
As we climb, dehydrated snowbanks begin to appear and once in the parking lot which is melted down to gravel, we can see there's still lots of snow on the trails. I see a friend who skied that morning – she said the snow was crispy, not great, and she hoped the sun didn’t melt it too quickly. My apprehension makes itself at home.
I love Skate Skiing! Really!
Based on the above, you might not believe it but I love skate skiing – I love how it has me out in nature, and it’s an amazing work out. My mind, however, seems to forget this when I’ve not been out for a while and it focuses on everything that can go wrong – how my lack of fitness is going to hold up the rest of my party, how I will fall and break something, how much I hate pain and being cold.
I manage to push through the negative brain chatter and get geared up and we head out.
Find your feet
The first few strides on skate skis are always a little experimental – you have to get a feel for the condition of the snow, how much give it has, how much ice there is. You have to find your center of gravity and get the feel of how far to shift your weight from side to side. As expected, I slip and skid, a lot. My apprehension is encouraged by this and runs faster circles around me.
We ski away from the lodge and down an incline to a fork in the trail. The snow is not bad, crystallized like soft brown sugar on a solid base.
Habits of My Mind!
As we pause to adjust pole straps and tighten boots, another friend skies up. A fit friend. A lean athletic friend. My comparison mind jumps to full attention. “Hi” I say, “Fantastic day, isn’t it?” “Let’s go on the trail she doesn’t go down” I whisper to my ski buddy. I don’t want my fit friend to see how often I have to stop and catch my breath or have her judge my poor technique as I duck-walk up hills.
Balance. Push. Glide.
We ski on. I start to relax into the strides and glides, each one a little longer, a little less abrupt. We come to our first up-slope, and I soar to the top, confidence starting to burble up in me.
Skiing is a mountain sport so there are many ups and downs (the downs are equally challenging on skate skis) and as expected we come to another up - a long gentle hill. I hit it with as much momentum as my fear allows which carries me up the slope a tiny distance.
Now I have to work. I glide out and upward, once, twice, three times. Then my left ski sticks. It stutters as I try and push past it, so I shift my weight back to the right and slide a short stroke. Back onto my left ski, but this time I shift my weight backward just enough to push me out on the ski. My toes curl to hang on, I can feel the arch of my left foot respond and then my balance starts to shift too far back. I let go and (thankfully) my balance returns. The ski travels smoothly out and up. I shift right and execute another beautiful glide.
The next few strides are balanced, effective and in control, moving me up the hill. I glance up – still halfway to go. My buddy is already at the top. My skis stutter and grab again. I feel my balance falter. I am out of sync in an instant!
This is my day – one slope and one stroke at a time. When I’m totally present my technique (and results) are great. When my attention wanders, my skiing suffers. I keep bringing my attention back: balance, push, glide. Balance push, glide.
After a while I get tired. I’m clumsy and uncoordinated. No matter how focused I am my performance doesn’t improve. But if I stop, relax, and catch my breath (especially when I do it without judgement) when I take off again, I ski better.
I notice something. My anxiety is gone. There’s just the experience of balance, push, glide. In this rhythm, I notice the blue of the sky, and the way the snow crystals glisten in the sun. I see and smile at two little girls who are giggling and blocking the trail as they playfully ski ahead of their party. I get short of breath. I have to stop (more often than my buddy). But now I’m doing it in the midst of joy. I can see joy. I’m choosing it.
Mindfulness improved my ski technique. And it created space for something other than the habitual dread and comparison mind that often shows up. Being present made room for joy and made space for me to create solutions. I enjoyed myself and I problem solved when things weren’t going well.
Habitually Choosing Joy
We went skiing again a few weeks later. As we packed the car, I felt apprehension begin to rise. This time I choose anticipation, replacing thoughts of doom and dread with ones I choose – I pictured myself gliding and smiling. I choose joy.