The incredible ludicrous fear of being a natural skier

Young FritzWhen I was a little boy I enjoyed nothing more than skiing with my friends and cousins all day long. We imagined to be a “gang” of “ crazy ski daredevils” and tested ourselves by going off-piste and jumping from boulders, banks or anything with elevation that had masses of fresh powder snow below which made the naturally following crash-landing still a sheer delight. We would terrorize the skiing pistes by using less advanced skiers as living race-track-sticks (never touching anyone) and tried to find out on who of us would be the most reckless, fearless and fastest rider on the steepest of slopes. No, we weren’t the exceptional talents who would train all-day long for a  once-in-a-million chance of glory in becoming a part of the “A-level” Austria Ski Team (although my brother did make it to “B”-levels)  – our motto was more to explore our hometown resort of Obertauern and see if the latest snowstorm had created some artificial ravines to shred down on. And our style was rather wild then technically sound or stylish. In short: it was everything that a beautiful childhood in the mountains should be!

When I gotten a bit older, my dad also drove me to participate in ski races on the weekends where I had to go head-to-head with those overambitious youngsters, fully clad in the latest skiing gear, top-of-the notch ski-equipment and already full-trained bodies at young ages. I think I might have looked a bit pitiful in my fluffy one-piece ski overall (hey, anyone remember those?) and in my rather “fashionable” Atomic “Avantgarde” skis – but most of the time I did not care!

As my qualifying runs where nowhere near the groomed A-talents, I usually had to start at the very end of the participant’s field – and the race track by then would rather resemble a collection of potholes and sharp-banked curves which made going down there a real challenge. I nonetheless always gave it all, enjoying it tremendously and almost every time made it down the hill– with then being finally 5 seconds behind the leader ;)

One thing though bothered me a lot: my brother, with very brotherly “love” ;) , would mock my skiing skills at all times (“You guys look like little kids, with you bottoms all the way to the ground and no technique – you are embarrassing!”). This was really hard for me to hear at that time because I wanted to be so much like him: the cool, trained skiing dude, racing with the talents at the elite ski boarding school in Schladming; that next generation of skiers that would bring glory to the Austrians mainting the reputation of being the best skiers in the world and him getting all kinds of gear, skis and clothing for free (I actually always gotten his “older” skis which by then just became state of the art – the guys at Schladming were getting the stuff way ahead before the mass market even saw any of it!)

By the late Eighties then snowboarding became the big hype and I was jumping right on that bandwagon: I thought being a cool snowboarder, and doing fantastic tricks like the legendary Terry Kidwell, would finally also make me “cool” in that way that I just had completely failed becoming when I was on skis. It was indeed glorious times and we build halfpipes, our own “air circus” where we would build a big ramp, screw together an outdoor sound system (with truly massive speakers) and held the first “air contests” right next to a skiing hut, with a frenetic audience applauding. My trick repertoire was quite limited – but my extreme-height “rocket air”s were magnificent – and the crash-landings (do the delight of the crowd down there) even more…

But that was about it with skiing, that part of my life seemed to be completely gone and vanished. Only once, for a school ski offsite, the headmaster refused that I should participate with my snowboard and I was faced with the choice “So it’s either Skis – or you don’t come along” (back in those days snowboarding was still being seeing as “reckless”). So in a state of panic I rushed my old skis out, gotten some rental boots and after 4 years of not skiing tried to practice with a few runs…. which turned into a complete disaster: all of a sudden was totally overwhelmed with those “two planks” below me, I crashed, could not turn – and I was absolutely terrified that one of the local skiing instructors, or even worse one the locals, would see me in my miserable state and returned home as quick as possible. The next day in school I was so devastated when I told my class teacher that I could not come along. He probably felt such much pity for me that he somehow made it possible that I could then participate with my snowboard. But I vowed to never touch skis again as it was “old fashioned” anyways and that I would never need it again in my life – a very bitter parting when I think of it today…

Fast forward 25 years later  to today, still being a snowboarder only, but now married and my daughter was coming into that age where she possibly would try skiing. This then was solidified in a vacation in Obertauern when she pointed at the people going down the hills: “Dad, I wants that too!”. My wife, herself being a passionate skier, had tried to convince me for years before (as also had now one of my best friends, who “abandoned” me from the snowboarding ranks) that skiing today with Carving-skis is absolute awesome, but I still had doubts…

Deep down I still had this absolute fear that I would make a complete idiot out of myself, stepping into the bindings and then ungraciously tumbling down the mountain like a rotten old sack of potatoes. But it even bothered me more that my little one would start to ski and I probably just would hop around her like a recess moneky with my snowboard around her, not being able to share that same moment/thing with her and not being able to teach her as well.

So on that faithful day last year in March I just went up to the ski shop, with my dad, wife and daughter and we all gotten skis to rent. I must have been bitching and moaning a bit afterwards because I could still remember my wife rolling her eyes, but there was simply no escape now: out of the hotel, over to the ski piste, ski’s shouldered as I had done so many times when I was a young boy. Put the skis down, take the poles, lift your boots, smack of the extra snow off the boots, into the bindings, left, right, click, click….exhale!

And then…

  •  Go forward, first swing to the right…uahh….a bit awkward
  •  Next swing to the left…awkward, but better
  •  Next 6 swings…. hey, I STILL KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!
  •  Next 20 swings….well, how can I describe this feeling…?
    Think of the sea, crystal clear water, you are snorkel-diving in a depth of about 10 meters and the air in your lungs is getting thin; you go up, faster and faster, almost chocking and finally break through the waves – and that a biiiiiiiiig first inhale of fresh air which then follows, filling your lungs and body with life and joy…

Exactly like this is how it then felt to me: like I had forgotten how to breathe, had forgotten one of the most essential things in life and finally could “breathe” again – like skiing is the most natural thing for me that I should have done every day in my life, racing down the slopes and looking damn f***ing good at it too!!

Tears of joy were streaming down my face and a deep and heavy sorrow seemed to be lifted off my soul in that moment: that I, who loved skiing so much when I was young, would be still sucking at it – whereas the truth is that on even the first day not many on the piste could match my level of skill and would turn heads with open mouths…and that after 25 years of not touching skis!!

And for you, dear reader, who has made it this far, close your eyes, take a big breath and think for a moment what you had loved most to do when you were a kid….

Are you still doing it…? Or what excuse is holding you back now? And for anything else that you dearly have loved to do: might it be a sport, hobby, a spleen or what job you were working in before which filled you with absolute delight – why are YOU then cutting the off the spiritual “air” from your soul and let her not “breathe” what she wants to do most…?

Because do not forget: It’s never too late to start breathing again… :)

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