From an Instructor: Lions and Tigers and Bears....

  "Skiing is very dangerous"

It's what she had told her boyfriend before their trip, it's what she told everyone at the hotel and it was the first thing she told me.  She was terrified by thought of skiing and even with the encouragement of the group she was traveling with, she still wouldn't venture far outside of her hotel area the first few days.  She hadn't seen snow before this trip, and I had seen people who shared her fear; it was a different environment and perhaps she had heard scary stories.

Fear in skiing is common and exists for as many different reasons as there are skiers.  And every single fear is valid.  Not always realistic, perhaps, but real enough for the individual to be respected.  Sometimes it is a direct fear stemming from an experience, others are harder to pinpoint.  She didn't specify her fear the morning she finally decided she'd give it a try, and I simply supported her courage in coming out at all.

The group she was traveling with were all different levels of skiers; all fun loving and boisterous.  She didn't want them to see her first attempt, so we decided we'd spend the morning on the basics with just the two of us, and re-evaluate the next steps with the rest of the group during lunch.

She learned quickly, and I was impressed with how well her success in other sports was translating into skiing.  She smiled and had fun, but she let me know throughout the morning that she was really, really scared.  I've seen many students in similar situations, and I usually listen to their fears as they work through them at their own pace.  She was unable to communicate her big, specific fear, but she had many of the "smaller" fears many newer skiers share. 

So we worked together that morning in the relative safety of the beginner area and chairlift at her hotel and talked about mountain life (mine), beach life (hers) and pretty much whatever else came up along the way.  She was skiing confidently by the time we met her friends for lunch, and they were very, very eager to "take her up top" so she could ski on the best snow with the best view.  That's when she began to lock up, though, and she shook her head "no".  Skiing was very dangerous.

But after lunch with lots of reassurance from her friends and instructor and more than one glass of wine, she agreed that she would venture beyond the hotel area and take the two lifts to the top to try the beginner runs.  We were a very international group that afternoon, with a lot of different languages.  Stories were shared on the lifts through the afternoon, and since we all shared at least one language in common most of the stories were understood and enjoyed by the group as a whole.  Most of the stories.

A lot of the conversation revolved around the mountain environment:  Record snowfalls that trapped people in luxury hotels.  Powder days that required a snorkel or risk suffocation.  The true prices paid at some hotel spas.  Lots of scary stuff.  I was starting to see why she had been so scared!

It was a day that marketing would drool over if they weren't already out enjoying it themselves.  Cliché bluebird skies, a "just right" temperature, and lots of new snow on runs groomed throughout the day. 

The resort was well known for it's grooming, which means that large machinery driven by trained men and women would iron out the wrinkles of natural snow to make every skier feel like a hero. 

All afternoon someone in the group would point out where they had seen the "snowcats" grooming earlier, and I mentioned more than once that I could hear the ‘cats on a run nearby.  We all thought that we were helping to reassure our terrified skier by letting her know that she was going to get to ski on really forgiving snow on easy runs, and we spent the afternoon chasing the grooming machines like seagulls after a trash barge.

And all afternoon, her skiing deteriorated and her unnamed fear grew.  She was growing more petrified with each run.  I tried to distract her with the pretty view, the promise of a great après ski party, chatter about what celebrities had been spotted--but she was just too scared to talk about almost anything.

The chairlift we were riding late in the afternoon stopped for a period of time (something that occurs regularly, especially when it's busy, usually to help someone on or off the lift), and the conversation among the four of us on the chair turned to wildlife.  Our resort was located on National Forest Service land and identifying animal tracks was a neat part of our job.  For a short time it was even given a name, "ski-cology" (ouch, I know), and training sessions were held for us on the subject. 

We looked at the fox tracks below and someone pointed out a porcupine in a tree.   I thought I was pretty funny when someone asked if I saw many elk skiing.  I replied that they prefer to snowboard.  He asked again, immune to my humor, if I had seen many elk while I was skiing.  Anyway, I looked over at my terrified student who was positively white. 

She said, "You see.  This is what I mean.  Skiing is very, very dangerous."

I thought she was afraid because the chairlift was still not moving, but she let me know that wasn't the problem.  It was the animals.  Because we were in "wild land" there were all of these animals all over that could attack us, and that was her biggest fear.  I was surprised; this was one I hadn't heard before.

The funny thing about common names for items is how rarely they are defined for the uninitiated.  If one of us had thought to explain to her from the beginning that the "snowcats" that we were chasing (and that were chasing us) was slang for the machines named after the Caterpillar Tractor brand and not wild, dangerous animals, she might have avoided a lot of strife. 

She was relieved to learn the truth about snowcats, but was confused.  Why on earth would skiers call a machine something so scary and fierce (images of mountain lions, tigers and bears lurking in the trees)?  And she was right, it is a strange name.  But now it is a much less scary creature to one skier.

Operations Shots