Sunday, January 29, 2017

Date night on skis

One of the things that drew me to my husband was his incessant need to be active.  Cold days to me mean warm beverages, cozy couches, books, and occasional seasonal depression.  To my husband they mean skis and wintery hikes.  When I learned to cross-country ski, my winters were transformed.  Suddenly I was outside in the fresh air, with crisp snow and blue skies and more endorphins than normal.  After 20 km on skis, I would go home, take a hot shower and brew up a big pot of tea and sip on it all evening.  The next day I'd feel a delightful ache that meant I'd exerted myself.

Once I got to know my husband more, I was no longer interested in impressing him and was more successful in avoiding the cold and exertion of cross-country skiing.  Last winter I avoided it entirely due to being pregnant.  And though my laziness compels me to want to snuggle up indoors, my memory chides me that time outside is always more soothing to my soul.

My husband is quite persuasive in how he encourages me to get outside: gifts.  Rollerblades, a mountain bike, cross-country ski shoes, and--this year--downhill ski boots.  After I opened the boots at Christmas, we went together to buy me a helmet and then he came home from work one day with the actual skis.  I was cornered.  I couldn't not try downhill skiing after we'd made such a financial investment.

Yet I was nervous.  At the age of 15, I skied like a banshee.  Swallowing my fear, I'd bolted down black diamond slopes, yielding to the inevitable falls, and getting back up to try ski jumps.  That was when I was 15.  Now I've got a baby to take care of.  Yet, she doesn't live at my breast anymore.  She's 9 months old and spends more time awake then asleep.  In addition to breast milk, she steals our food, be it chili, curry, or banana.  She soils fewer nappies and is content to play for long bouts of time with her moose or a container full of plastic clothing pegs.  Perhaps she's even more keen to play with all things not toys: wires, pebbles, mountain bikes, skis.  Still, the only person I'd ever left her with was my husband.


So despite her growing independence, I was nervous for my in-laws to come to our flat to watch her while we skied for an hour.  Baby girl complied by falling asleep an hour-and-a-half before Grandma and Grandpa came, guaranteeing a well-rested and happy baby.  I hand-expressed some milk and left it in a cup in the fridge.  And off we went.

I was nervous--did I mention that yet?  I'd spent the afternoon ironing nappies and watching ski tutorials on my phone.  In the car I panicked about the ski lifts.  Discard any images of ski lifts where you're seated comfortably on a bench.  The ski lifts I most often see here have a dangling pole with a disc to wedge between your legs or a dangling pole with an anchor-shaped bit on the end, each side of the "anchor" curving around a different skier.

Despite my fear, I somehow gripped onto the lift (disc-style) without falling.  My shoulders and upper arms tensed as I gripped the pole the entire journey up the slope.  I didn't feel secure enough to even take a sideways glance at the five-year-olds gently weaving behind a ski instructor like little goslings.  The top of the slope was almost flat, and I looked at my husband, as if waiting for some instruction.  All I got was a look of reassurance before I jerkingly zig-zagged down the hill, breaking up the monotony of my lines with tumbles once my speed had gotten too great or to prevent crashing into a big or little skier.

On the way up the hill again, my brain was crowded with the tips for skiing I'd had pressed into my mind that day due to the wonders of youtube tutorials.  At the top I asked my husband, "how can I turn?  I do it so jerkily."  He responded just as all the tutorials had said: just transfer the weight from one leg to another, keeping the weight on the outside leg.  I banished all other thoughts and began to chant, sometimes aloud, "weight on the left, weight on the right."  And it was better.

Each of my seven runs that night improved.  I fell slightly less often and controlled myself a bit more.  After the 7th run and perhaps the fifth inquiry of whether his parents had texted us, I encouraged my husband that I should quit while I was ahead and we went home with me feeling refreshed by the crisp night air and the feeling that I'd actually improved in something in one short hour.

We've since skied three more times; the second time was with a family from church.  The couple patiently coached me on slowing down and stopping.  After my first run on the intermediate hill (in -12 degree C weather), I'd wanted to quit.  Falling on my already bruised hips was not pleasant.  But their patient smiles urged me on, and I managed to ski for about an hour, after which I was actually able to have the presence of mind on the slope to take in the sight of surrounding hills glazed with snow.

This week, the nervousness was gone.  There was no knot in my stomach as the hour of skiing drew near.  I didn't fear being shamed by the expert five-year-old curving with such grace and control.  I gave more thought to making sure that I could prep Baby Girl to be in as good of a mood as possible for my in-laws.  Out at the slope,  I rode the "anchor"-style lift with my arm around my husband, and my shoulders didn't ache afterwards because I didn't grasp the pole in a death-grip.

I still feel like I'm wearing a space suit while walking in my boots across the gravel in the parking lot, and I get cold (which means I take even greater pleasure in my cup of mulled wine after skiing), but each time I feel the satisfaction of lungs cleansed with cold night air and having made a bit more progress. I don't expect a special Valentine's dinner come February 14th, but I wouldn't mind another date night on skis.

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