Learning Curve: The Road Less Traveled.

Wizard's Gulch

Full disclosure: I have been skiing for a long, long time. Well, I’m 28 and I’ve been skiing since I was 3. Okay, here comes the disclosure part. I’m still not that good at it. I mean, I suppose “good” is all relative, but I can’t ski the way a lot of my friends do, flying between moguls or dropping cliffs with seemingly small effort.

I grew up skiing the East Coast, exclusively, where groomers rule and rules abound. My parents also happen to be strictly on-pisters. Last year, I skied New Zealand, which is what I like to call a lawless land.

Deterrents. Cardrona.
Deterrents. Cardrona.

While it may not truly be “lawless,” New Zealanders are definitely a lot more blasé about what actually constitute boundaries and who may ski within (or outside of) them. Essentially, they stick some avalanche warning signs into the snow and let everyone ride willy-nilly about the joint. It’s an at-your-own-risk sort of thing.

At first, that intimidated me. After a while, I loved it. Shiz, I had insurance on my rental equipment: Rocks and tussocks? Yes, please. Well, when powder was an option, that was always nicer, but the point is, it became more of a challenge to stay on the marked trails (where they were marked) than to venture into the unknown.

Speaking of powder, almost all of the “trails” I skied in Kiwi land were ungroomed. This was also a challenge at first, because, let’s be honest, if you’re used to skiing corduroy, skiing anything that requires an actual jump or a swivel is exhausting. And sometimes, it feels impossible. But you pick it up.

Since I’ve been living working at Sunday River, I have been trying to elevate my skiing. Skiing nearly every day definitely helps, but I’d say that this month’s bounteous snow has pushed me even farther from my comfort zone—and so has continuing to ski with people who are better than I am.

I don’t know if I read it somewhere or heard it in a movie or something, but I recently learned that the best way to improve your skiing is by skiing with someone who is 40 percent better than you. Forty percent is enough to push you, but not enough to discourage you. I don’t know how the F you quantify (let alone percentage-ize) someone’s skiing superiority, but I do know that lately, I’ve been skiing a helluva lotta of natural terrain, including glades. They didn’t have proper glades at any of the ski fields I visited in NZ (no trees, period), so that is definitely progress. It takes me like an hour to get through them, and I usually emerge with a dewy glow (I like to think), but get through them I do.

No trees, no signs, no worries. Treble Cone.
No trees, no signs, no worries. Treble Cone.

I got a little bit overzealous on my last run the other day (as I’m wont to do) and plunged into a stash that was slightly less navigable than I’d anticipated. And then I did accidentally end up at the edge of a crevasse that I hadn’t even known existed. A friend later said that I’d had “Blind Ambition.” Ha. So true. But yeah, that day was stellar. It began with an adventure, after all. And by the end of it, I felt marginally more competent.

So the plan, I think, is to just keep doing it. Just push it, send it, drop it, and with any luck, eventually, kill it. Make it look easy. And make it into one of those slippery Happy Place videos that we make each week…

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