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Why Would I Learn to Snowboard?

Ski and Snow
by Josh Heller Mar 25, 2013

At the hotel two guys showed up with snowboarding gear. They wanted us to try it on. I tried taking pictures of myself wearing snowboard boots. I jumped around like I was walking on the moon. I’d never gone snowboarding before, and I thought I looked novel. I’m an unathletic Jew from LA — why would I ever go to the snow?

When I walked back to my room, a woman in designer aprés ski gear looked at me and the snowboard and said:

    “So I guess you’re not skiing Deer Valley.”

What a strange insult. It illustrates the strange world of snow activities. These are not demographics that I’m typically familiar with. It’s the wealthiest people in the world wearing $125 scarves, eating gourmet meals, and sipping expensive wines. I guess I was also wearing an expensive scarf and eating luxuriously, but I borrowed the scarf and someone else paid for the trip.

The uberwealthy demo is counter-balanced by a mountain resort’s “ski bum” community. The people who work seasonal jobs at resorts to make a little money and ski and snowboard for free. While I appreciate their free spirit, their brand of hippiedom isn’t for me — they’ve got the jam bands, smoke weed, and say “chill,” but without the communitarianism or rejection of capitalism.

* * *
On my first day in the snow, I took a group lesson. The instructor made us slide down a small hill with only one foot in the snowboard. I got it at first, then I kept falling. I didn’t really understand the instructor’s instructions. He used mountain jargon like “goofy-footed” and “heel-side” and “edge.” Someone speaking a different language.

I later realized I was having trouble learning to snowboard as both a regular-footer and a goofy-footer. The type of footing I’d use was in question, because my lefts and rights have always been in question. I write with my left hand but I eat with my right. I think this factor has helped to keep me out of athletics.

Sometimes I’m being antagonistic, but most of the time I’m confused. Essentially I have trouble following the rules, so it’s just easier to make my own. As everything I’ve ever done is based on figuring it out for myself.

“Do you have dyslexia?”

I fell down the mountain and crashed into an icy bank. Screwing up my shoulder, breaking my glasses, throwing the helmet off my head. I was dazed and having a flashback from a dream where I felt like something was left uncompleted. It felt like I’d lost something, like Sonic the Hedgehog losing his gold rings — they popped out of me and I had nothing. And I walked away confused. I looked at my phone to determine whether or not I’d had a concussion.

I left the mountain to watch a reggae band that had an actual Jamaican guy. In the bathroom, people were preparing for the reggae concert with a joint. In my own haze, I had a paranoid freak-out that the Utah State Troopers standing outside the bathroom would think I was the weed-smoking culprit and send me to hard time in Mormon jail.

* * *
The next day I returned to the slopes for a different lesson. Instead of starting off by showing us what to do, they walked us to the middle of the slope and asked us to ski down. I fell several times before getting to the bottom of the hill. I took off my bindings and was ready to give up.

Then Eric came over, playing the role of “thoughtful head counselor” in an ’80s summer camp movie, and told me he wanted to help.

    “Just give me half a run and if you hate it you can quit.”

On the slope, the first thing he did was adjust my boots. They were not nearly tight enough, which is what made me keep falling. He said that was the equivalent of driving with a loose steering wheel. You have no control unless you’re connected to the object.

As I slid down the mountain I continued to fall. And he’d ride with me holding my jacket and helping me maneuver around “heel-side” and “toe-side.”

And eventually I got the hang of it! I mean, I was able to be on the snowboard without flailing out of control and crashing into another ice bank. This mountain was steeper than yesterday’s resort and a bad fall would be more devastating.

Eric watched me and then asked if he could ask a personal question:

    1. “Do you have dyslexia?

“Ah, no but I struggle with left and right.”

“Maybe you have something similar like dysgraphia or aphasia or, you know, I can’t remember the name but there’s something similar where you see something and think a different word altogether? Apples, and you think oranges.”

“Yes! Wow that is totally my issue. I call that ‘thinking in jokes.’ I never know the right word, so I’ll refer to its synonym or I’ll think of a joke answer before I come up with the actual answer.”

Later, a fellow traveler asked, well, does your ski instructor really have the credibility to diagnose mental illnesses?

But now I was less frustrated. I actually started to enjoy what we were doing, because of his direct attention to me. I didn’t have to wait and wonder what the hippie guy was showing to the six members of the class. Teaching goofy-footed and regular-footed. With his one-on-one class, which he valued at $400, he identified me as a rare breed of rider called “Mongo-footed.”

Eric had been a history teacher who also taught English in Japan. He helped me by catering to me like I was a student with special needs. He is at this resort because he can’t find a job as a teacher. Schools had hired him for year-long contracts, but nothing stuck.

    1. “But I’m not going to talk shit about unions.”

“Yeah but Teacher’s Unions do suck, because they are more focused on collective bargaining than children.”

“Yeah, I mean I’m a libertarian capitalist. And we don’t want the government in our schools the way that we don’t want the government in our healthcare.”

“I’m a socialist with anarchist family values, and I think that we’re in this whole mess because of neoliberal capitalism…but I guess we can both agree that we need new solutions to old problems.”

A conversation like this might get heated elsewhere, but we were here in the snow. And I needed his help, and he was expertly providing it. Through focused one-on-one attention, Eric had shown me how to control my snowboard. By the end of the lesson, I could slide down the mountain horizontally without fearing another crash. I feel confident that I could try snowboarding again. That’s something I couldn’t have done all by myself. [Josh’s visit was sponsored by Wyndham Vacation Rentals.]

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