Yesterday (Saturday), Zach and I packed up our gear and headed off to Wachusett to ski for as much of the day as we could tolerate. We had some plans for the evening, so the latest we could get home was around 5pm, but as we left the house at 9am, I didn’t think that would be a real obstacle.
Zach has been doing a great job skiing. He’s now happily keeping pace with me (in fact he’s frequently out in front), and I’ve gotten very comfortable with my Awesome Yellow Six-Ways-From-Sunday Solomon XScream 195cm skis.
This was planned as a escapism day for me. Last week was super-stressful, so I went to the mountain looking for some outdoor, re-centering, thoughtful time with me and the hill. Zach seems to share a lot of my “skiing is a great time for thinking” approach, so though were on the hill together, we didn’t talk much. He skied in his space, I skied in mine, we both focused on what we were doing and just relaxed into things. It was nice.
From here on out, we get into serious navel gazing. Fair warning.
So, first of all. I have this… issue. I’m ridiculously critical about myself. I have a hard time considering myself capable or good at ‘anything’. If someone calls me a ‘musician’, I get uncomfortable. I’m not a musician, I can just play some stuff that sounds okay. I’m faking it. “You’re a programmer” – well, sort of. I write some stuff, I can code bits, but I’m painfully aware of how much I DON’T know, and just fast talk my way through it. “You juggle really well” – I know some tricks, I know a few things, but I haven’t learned anything new in years, blah blah blah. I have a fear of being overconfidence and being arrogant.
While skiing yesterday, I did my usual observation of myself with a critical eye. I watched my skill, timing, form, and control. I watched myself with my ‘outer eye’ – that self-observation that’s always with me, judging. And 2 hours into being on the slopes, somewhere around the time we were considering stopping for lunch and scheduling a lesson for Zach, I came to this conclusion:
I am a skier.
But, more than that…
I am a damned good skier.
This is not a statement I can make and be totally comfortable with for… well, just about anything. In a world of self-aggrandizing pomposity, where people have a tendency to place themselves out as ‘experts’ and ‘highly skilled’ and all that jazz, without really being honest with themselves, it’s hard for me to state that I am ‘good’ at anything, and feel comfortable with it.
But I can watch myself ski, and I see a skilled dancer. I see someone in control, competent, not taking things for granted, but working hard on every turn, every motion, every shift of weight – self-chastising when I get it wrong, feeling when it’s right, and safely being able to say to myself “Self, you look good. Excellent form.”
But that’s not what I came here to talk about. It wouldn’t be a post to planet-geek without some geekery.
One of the things I’ve always wanted to do while skiing was listen to music. I remember a very funny story, undoubtedly apocryphal, when I was a kid about some guy who wanted to hear classical music while skiing. He hired an entire orchestra to stand by the side of the slope and play as he skied past, but they couldn’t sync up the brass section with the strings…
I grew up skiing on Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. One winter they started offering rentals of portable stereo rigs to skiers. They were essentially full sized automobile cassette decks in a sort of chest pouch with a bunch of batteries and some headphones. I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but a 12 year old isn’t going to get a chance to try this thing out, so I never heard what it was like.
I never got around to taking a Walkman with me on the slopes (I do remember some mountains actually banned them, worried they’d hurt the skier if they fell, or presented a safety risk when a skier couldn’t hear anything). Nowadays, it’s pretty common to see the telltale white cords of ipod headphones on many a snowboarder. It was time for me to try it.
During our lunch break, I went through the music selection on my iPhone and picked out about 30 tracks I’d like to listen to while skiing. They were mostly stuff I knew I liked a lot (Alan Parsons, Blues Brothers, The Cure, Dave Matthews, Dire Straights, etc etc). I queued them up into a playlist, set up my headphones under my shellaclava and hat, and put my iPhone in the inside pocket of my jacket. This turned out to be a fortuitous location for the phone, as it meant I could squeeze the jacket in the right place and adjust the volume up and down, so I could talk to people with a sort of background music going on when necessary. Thus equipped, and with Zach in a ski lesson for an hour and a half, I ventured out.
The result was fairly magical. The weather was perfect, the conditions were excellent, and the music was awesome. The headphones were comfortable and sounded great (I was wondering if the wind / noise would drown out the music, but that didn’t happen at all). Listening to “Sweet Home Chicago” while working on short-turn fall line techniques on a bright, clear, sunny day had me grinning from ear to ear and feeling about as good as you can get while flying down a hill at 25mph in 15 degree weather.
If you’ve never done it before, and you’re an active skier, I highly recommend trying this out. There are some drawbacks to be sure. You cannot hear anything else that goes on around you, including someone next to you in line wondering when you’re going to move up in the singles line (only happened once, really). Although iPod headphones are ‘okay’, they can shift around, and adjusting the position of the headphones underneath 2 layers of hat can be tricky. For the most part though, the headphones stayed put, something I was eternally grateful for.
But oh the joy.
Later, Zach and I got back together and did a couple more runs together. I spent a lot of this time watching him. I realize he’s on the same track I was when I was 11 or 12 (he’s a little ahead of me on the schedule). He’s seeking out the little paths on the sides of the trails, looking for the little whoopsie-jumps that are all over the place (skiers know what I mean by these – when i was a kid, I totally did this). What I also realized was… he needs kids to ski with. I’m boring for him – I’m not digging out the little fun bits, and goofing around, I’m just all zen like in my focus, and he’s already to the skill level where he’s looking for more excitement.
When I was on Hunter, my parents found me a sort of ‘kids group’ program – it was geared for kids 11-13 or so I guess, and was basically one nutty ski instructor and 4-5 crazy kids, and we just went nuts. We’d do a couple dozen runs a day, going hell bent all over the mountain, and it was a blast. I don’t think Wachusett has anything quite as goofy fun, so I’m going to be looking around for other kids groups. Zach has one friend at school who snowboards a lot, I’m going to see if he wants to go skiing with us one day. Zach’s already comfortable going off and taking runs and riding the ski lift on his own – having a friend (or friends) he can ski with I think would make the day a lot more enjoyable for him.
Me? I’m enjoying rediscovering my love for something physical, something I’m good at, and the added joy of sharing it with my son. I do have constant memories of doing this with my parents way back when, and every once in a while I get a little teary thinking of my dad… and remembering him doing these things with me 25 years ago.