I’m not sure that my last post really got my point across. Basically I just ranted about being busy, and how that is…something.
What I was trying to discuss was the fact that Type A’s like me, with our busy lives, are what makes the world go ’round. Why? Because we DO stuff. We get shit done, we make things happen. The world can only support so many slackers before they’re voted off the island, or at least I hope they are. I go to so many meetings, take on so many projects, and pick up so much slack that sometimes I wonder what the rest of the world does with all its spare time. I’m guessing that the world watches TV, goes to movies, obsesses over celebrities, gets its hair did, goes shopping for clothes, goes to clubs and bars, and generally just fills time with a variety of meaningless activities for the benefit of the individual person and no one else.
Well, today, I’d had enough already of this month’s lineup of meetings and tasks and world-changing endeavors. Today, it was sunny and I didn’t have any looming deadlines and I went skiing instead.
Yesterday Geardog and I, along with some friends, looped the Middle Fork trail, me on my fat bike, Geardog on his paws. The trail was mostly rideable, which is really pretty rare given the exposure that route has to foot and ski traffic, and wind. Oh, and overflow, which is something non-Alaskans might not know much about. Overflow is the huge fields of ice that develop when slow-to-freeze creeks leak their contents over snow, forming a bit of ice, which just builds and builds until it’s the phenomenon we call overflow.
We hate it, by the way. It usually means, at best, walking bikes, and at worst, getting feet really wet because sometimes overflow isn’t totally frozen. All and all, thumbs down to overflow.
There was only a little bit yesterday, though. 99% of the trail was rideable for a good rider. The track to Williwaw Lakes even looked tempting, but we hadn’t time for that. Maybe in a few weeks, if we get a crust season…
Anyway, my point is that Middle Fork is about 9 miles around. Given that it starts with a big climb, it takes about 2.5 hours by fat bike at dog speed, and 9 miles is a good run at dog-bike speed, so Geardog was worn out and I felt good about leaving him crashed out on my king size memory foam human bed to enjoy an afternoon of skiing. I always feel the need to justify my ski and climbing days in this manner, because they are not good dog activities so Geardog can’t come, but I don’t want anyone to worry about him, ergo the backstory about what I did to prepare him for an afternoon on his own. Feel better? Good. (And yeah, I was just talking to myself, there.)
Last Sunday after teaching ski lessons, I took a two hour clinic along with the entire ski instructing staff. We do this every week. This week we went out with senior instructors to work on our own skiing. Wait, time out, let me explain a little bit about ski instructing. Many beginner ski instructors are not certified ski instructors. If they are, they are probably Level One certified. Level One is not too hard to attain; it’s mostly about teaching techniques and a few skiing tasks oriented towards being able to demonstrate beginner-level ski drills. I’m not sure, but I think it’s mostly about demonstrating you’re not a moronic drunkard pothead who can’t even hold a part-time job, not even for a free ski pass. You’d be surprised how hard this is for quite a few able-bodied, young, healthy people, you know? I don’t envy my ski school managers their jobs, that’s for certain.
Level Two is more arduous; it’s more about the instructor being a good skier and being able to demonstrate top-level skiing as well as teaching it. Level 3, forget about it, that is some serious dedication. It probably takes 5 years minimum from the beginning of one’s ski instructing career, assuming they are already a good skier, to the attainment of Level 3 ski instructor certification, and that’s with 50+ days on snow WITH INSTRUCTION every year. It’s a big deal, folks.
So I’ve got some work to do.
I’m a good skier but I’m mostly self-taught, not entirely, but mostly. This is usually a recipe for disaster, but I’m also really good at taking instruction and miming technique, and I’m a good athlete in general, so I’m not too much of a mess. I’m actually to the layperson quite the talented skier. But I have a few ingrained habits that are going to be a project to break, and it was even a project to identify them, if you dig that.
Something’s been wrong with my right foot. I thought it was my boot so I worked on my boot for a while, tormenting my ski shop with endless requests for tweaking. My boot did feel better after some said tweaking, but the bothersome “something wrong” was still there and was manifesting in me having to crank my boot down so hard I was in horrible pain most of the time. Finally I asked one of the senior instructors whether there was something wrong with my technique on my right foot. I’m kind of proud that he, even after watching me ski for the hour previous, said, “I don’t know, but I’ll make sure to watch.” The problem was so subtle he had to really look for it, but he saw it. “You’re slow on that right foot,” he declared after scrutinizing ten turns. “Your left turn is beautiful and round, but you stay on that right foot so long you’re starting to turn right with it, then you have to horse your turn around so you cut it off. Every time.” He drew the shape in the snow, making an appalling case for revising my ski technique. “So you’re pressuring that right boot through the midline and turning halfway down your ski instead of turning with the entire ski and controlling your turn radius.” Could that by why my boot was bothering me so much? “Yes,” he said, “You’re pushing on it all wrong.” Well, at least it was a carrot, maybe the answer to my problem. Maybe my ski boot didn’t always have to hurt.
“You’re going to have to work on it,” he told me later, in the locker room. “How many turns have you made like that? Probably millions. How many will you have to make to fix it….?” The question hung in the air. Not millions, I hoped.
So, today, I set out to fix it. The sunshine hits the mountain almost top to bottom now, and the groomers are prime, so on went the headphones, Tenacious D thundering away in my ears, and off I went to rebuild my house, so to speak.
I started with the bottoms of both my feet. Were they flat on the soles of the boots, at all times? Were they relaxed yet influencing the boot purposefully? Was there any subtle tension? I held that in my mind and moved up into my lower leg. Was my shin contacting the front of the boot throughout every turn? I was pretty sure it was…was my inside half strong, leading through the turn? Yes…so where was the issue? I paused, feeling the pain build up in my boots. I had to pull over a few times and let it pass. The problem was there…or at least, it started there. I unbuckled my boots and felt the pain ebb. Pain isn’t good. No one should be in pain doing fun stuff. If I had to unbuckle the boots to feel better, unbuckled they would stay, no matter how weird it felt.
I skied unbuckled a few runs. Were my feet relaxed? They were. Were my shins on the boot? Hmmm. I’d noticed on Sunday that when I felt uncomfortable with my speed, I’d tend to pull my weight back a little bit in an attempt to keep control. I wasn’t riding the back seat, but I was extending up rather than forward, probably in an unconscious attempt to get some distance between my precious skull and the onrushing ice in front of me. Was I doing that now? I ran through the rote style notes in my head as I made a few turns. There – there. My right shin was NOT in the front of my boot at the apex of my left turn, not the way it should be. There was no way I’d be fast enough to get my weight forward AND turn the skis at the same time; no wonder I was slow getting off that foot. And as I felt that, I felt that my foot wasn’t flat in my boot either, it was tense, drawn up a little, compensating for the lack of drive resulting from pulling my shin off the front of my boot. I pushed my shin down and flattened my foot, bobbling as I corrected my form. That was the problem the senior instructor had pointed out. It was so basic – like it always is. Any athlete of merit can overcome a style flaw to a certain degree. Strength and balance can do wonders to keep one keepin’ on. But after that point, after that certain degree, the athlete would suffer, and I was at that point. I was going to have to tear down my form and rebuild it, as awkward and uncontrollable as it felt.
At least I’d identified my crux. I spent the rest of the day lapping the upper glacier bowl in the sunshine, feeling for that flat foot and pressured shin, and trying to get quicker off that right foot. It felt indescribably strange, and it would have been easy to give up and re-adopt my old habits for the sake of ego. I didn’t, though, I just kept working at it, and that’s when things got magical. After a few dozen laps I started forgetting that I was dying to tighten up my boot. I won’t lie, I regressed a few times rather than take the brunt of a crash as my corrected form engaged my ski edges in new and unfamiliar ways, but again and again I went back to the basics and rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt, constructing a new, correct turn from the ashes of the old one that had seen me through so many decades. A few more laps after that and I started to feel like I was a good skier again. The last five were primo, my form tightened up and the new turn feeling more familiar, turns coming fast and quick and on-demand, no longer a crutch with which to check my speed. When I saw the senior instructors out on lessons, watching me flash by, I felt proud, that they’d notice the changes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s more work to do, but I made some inroads today, no doubt about it.
As the wind picked up in the upper bowl and the dancing of the surface snow made vertigo threaten, I moved down the mountain for a last couple of laps on the lower race trail, where there was still untouched corduroy to be found deep in the shadows where most sun-starved skiers were loathe to look. Never any good at deciding what run was the last run, I let my legs decide, and when they guided me past the lower quad and down the bunny hill to the crew room where I store my skis, I called it a day.
I arrived home unabashedly wiped out, having really skied for the first time in forever, skied with a purpose, with a focus, and with a goal. Yes, skiing is usually my gateway to bliss; nothing will get a smile on my face faster than powder singing above my knees. I think I ski for those fleeting moments where everything in the world is stripped away but the joy of that very moment, of sliding on and through and around snow, when nothing can go wrong and the snow is hitting me in the face because there’s just so much of it and even if I fall I know it won’t hurt so nothing really matters, there’s no way to fail. You know, the days when skier after skier tumbles out onto the flats after every run, covered in powder, giggling and whooping because it’s just so purely fun we simply can’t help it. I ski for those times, but I also ski because I love the feeling of getting it right, of tuning up my body and mind so that they work in harmony, of applying direction to my recreation and coming out the other side a more accomplished person, who can have even more fun in the future because of the fun she had working on herself today.
And that’s my kind of busy, folks.