Saturday, February 02, 2013

2/2/13 Squaw 2: Lesson Day

Today's "plan," as it were, was to put all 3 kids in ski school, so that I could take a lesson. My friend I'd planned to ski with had expected to put her 3 kids in ski school too, and probably tackle cliffs and precipices I could only imagine viewing from a helicopter, but I figured we might at least meet up for lunch. So I'd glommed off that idea and reserved ski school for all 3 of my kids, and a lesson for me.

Unfortunately, my friend's plans had a twist when her daughter was seriously injured yesterday, and the whole family packed up and zoomed to a hospital about 2 hours away. Fortunately, the girl's surgery went well today, and she's expected to make a full recovery. The family's trip was cut short, but my plans were cast in stone, so I just went with it.

First, getting everyone to ski school this morning was the usual challenge. Being in the village, we don't have to drive to the ski school, but I do still have to get everyone ready on time, and then get them to carry their gear to the ski school.

They all have their own gear now -- the cost of rentals was enough to push me over the edge to get their own stuff. Katrina is thrilled about her own boots, and is quite adept at latching them herself!

Still, even with a ski-in-ski-out lodging arrangement, there's never any way around trudging heavy ski equipment from place to place. With all three having their own equipment, there is no way I can play valet -- they have to do it themselves. Ironically, Katrina is the most cooperative about this.

With their own gear, I could make some choices -- and actually paid $10 more for a red helmet for Julian over a black one. Why would I do that? Just guess! To spot him easily from a distance, especially since he is so freakin' irresponsible and hard to keep track of! I made up for the extra expense by scoring an $80 helmet for Katrina for $20...there's only so much market for Dora-decorated helmets.

I checked them all into ski school, attempting to give busy instructors input into their levels. I've had so many experiences now with my kids being stuck in a class all day that outside their level, that I'm now turning into one of those parents who appears to be overstating their kids' abilities. This time though, there were so many kids, and the level descriptions were so clear, and Katrina had had such a good day yesterday, that I didn't worry much about misclassification. They assured me that they evaluate all the kids to place them in classes -- but I know better. If there's just one kid at their own level, they'll get put in the nearest group, which is how Katrina got stuck on the magic carpet all day earlier this year. Well, whatever, there were a lot of kids here. So, off you go!

Speaking of misclassification -- what about my lesson? Was I "Intermediate" (blue runs) or "Advanced (blue and black -- Squaw black) ? Noticing the crowd gathering around the "Intermediate" sign, and stereotyping based on the gear they had, I decided to hang around the "Advanced" area. I was immediately intimidated by a cheerful bright young woman who said easily that she did back-country skiing on her own all the time, but figured it was time for a lesson. She was raised in Alaska. Hu-kay.

In the end, four of us, including me and the back-country woman, were evaluated by two instructors, and they split us into two groups, with me and Ms. Alaska together. I always say I'd rather be the worst skiier in a lesson, and indeed I succeeded. I was really intimidated, putting ridiculous unnecessary performance pressure on myself. This is a lesson after all! But she was gracious and it was just us two, so we were in for a good lesson.

And so we had. The instructor deftly handled our differences: she with a lot of experience and no lessons; me with a lot of lessons and not enough experience. We did a lot of exercises and drills, always my favorite, but the instructor also asked if I could handle being "pushed." As always, I said, "Sure!", not knowing exactly what I was signing up for.

In this case, it was attempting icy steep moguls on "Sun Bowl," a black-diamond that's pretty high-up. This was really hard for me, and I had some moments of freak-out and not knowing what to do. My classmate handled it confidently, asking pointed questions about her technique, but it didn't faze her. It totally fazed me. It was hard and I hated not having the control to just whizz down this. The instructor saw how I was struggling, and later apologized that he hadn't anticipated how icy the terrain would be, but I said, "No excuses!" I have to learn this -- I want to, I don't want to be limited by how the conditions happen to be that day. I was thrilled that we did it, and have new determination to conquer moguls -- ice or not.

With regret but familiarity, I skiied the afternoon alone, and figured I'd use this time to try to get to know this huge mountain. I chickened out of one mogul-run after another, finding just one that I thought I could handle, and did. This is something I must master.

Ski school pickup time: 3:15!

I was annoyed to learn that Gabriel and Julian had been in the same class all day -- not again!! They're at very very different levels, how could they be in the same class?? I asked the teacher with obvious consternation, but of course he had the same answer they always do: not enough kids at Gabriel's level to fill out a class of his own. Julian was at the bottom of the class; Gabriel well at the top. There are plenty of kids Gabriel's age who ski better -- indeed, I was stunned at how many kids I saw skiing like experts -- but not in all-day lessons. Another selfish pang of regret about my friend's family having to leave -- her oldest daughter, Gabriel's age, would certainly have skiied at or above his level. In my opinion, they should have split the class, but I'm not the one paying instructors. Fortunately, the boys had both had a good day and didn't push each other off the lift or force instructors to kick Julian out of the class.

I was really tired from my morning challenge, but all 3 kids wanted to ski after ski school, and we had just enough time for one more run. This meant going up the gondola to mid-mountain, where the best and most accessible skiing for us is (that we've found so far, anyway).

From there, we rode up the newly haunted lift -- I'll never like Big Blue Express again after what happened to my friend's daughter there (and yes I know it's not really the lift's fault!), to get to Squaw's half-pipe.

To my amazement, Squaw has dealt with some long flat spots with a vestige from my childhood: a rope tow!

The kids weren't crazy about posing for photos, but I was able to persuade them to wait at the top of the half-pipe so I could position myself for photos of them in the half-pipe.

Which are pretty hard to take, and didn't work well at all. I should have waited at the bottom. All 3 kids clearly had done a lot of this half-pipe and were super-comfortable. What fun!

This was the first I'd skiied with Katrina since her 2 days at ski school. She's still very dependent on wedging ("pizza") to slow down, but I definitely see some increased confidence and ability to handle different terrain. She's faster too.

To my surprise, Gabriel too looks to my amateur eyes like he's picking up some real style, not that you can tell from this photo. Here he's going up the side of a run, following Katrina actually (who got so far ahead so quickly I wasn't able to get my camera in time).

Seeing this other woman in my class this morning, so confident and relaxed, made me wonder what it'd be like to have a ski buddy, or a group of adults I could ski with, even if we were at different levels. I think I'm an odd case that whatever ability I have has been developed entirely from group lessons, skiing alone, or with a kid -- no ambient learning from hanging with peers.

But, as much as I enjoyed my lesson today, and as annoying as it can be to try to keep track of all 3 kids skiing, I think I enjoyed our end-of-day run together the best of the whole day. It's so worth it to see Katrina's joy at showing off, her saying, "Do you see the GRIN on my face, Mommy?" and hugging me later. The boys show their appreciation a little differently, but it's totally there. Skiing is a major hassle, an unprecedented expense, the season is way too short, risky, and fraught with problems and annoyances, but at least for right now, it is such a wonderful thing for me to be learning, and to share with my kids.

And even though this trip was traumatic for my friend's family, one way or another, I will find a way to ski with her -- or at least see her expertise disappearing rapidly into the distance ahead of me!

Tonight I walked around the Village a little, picking up a pizza and more milk. Though there are some really nice interesting restaurants and shops here, I couldn't take my eyes off the stark mountains, and the creek winding its way through an oddly flat spot between the peaks. I had to wonder what this valley looked like before the village and ski resort and roads and people. It's stunningly beautiful, so large, so full of contrasts. As always the soaring mountains never fail to bring my spirit along with them. What is it about this rugged, drastic place that speaks to my heart and soul so clearly? I wish my father were here, he'd know. Even if I can't ski someday, there's a piece of me that just belongs in the Sierras.

Tomorrow, Katrina goes to ski school again, and the boys will show me the places they went to today in their lesson that I didn't know about. (I hear there's some big sporting event tomorrow that should keep the crowds down.) I can't wait!


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