One of the great satisfactions about learning a new skill is progressing…moving towards the goal, feeling the power of achievement, the elimination of an interim obstacle.

I had that a few days ago in a black diamond mogul field at the top of Mount Tremblant Ski Resort, which is 135 kilometers (84 miles) northwest of Montreal, Canada.

To begin with, I can’t ski moguls. Too hard to think fast, turn my skis in time, lean downhill, not fall backward, overcome my fears. Growing up in Miami Beach, Florida did not prepare me for snow skiing. Unlike my kids who were skiing at the small mountain five minutes from our house and getting lessons from their school every winter Friday since third grade.

But at 24, I made it to a Vermont mountain for my first attempts to ski snow. Followed by a few times every few years to master—no, barely pass over—the downhill runs. I have broken a foot following a champion ski lady I was dating. I have tested my first ski boots by taking a one-foot jump that had me in the hospital with a twisted ankle three days before a long-awaited family trip to Sun Valley, Idaho (not much skiing that year).

Now I can get by on the green-circle (easy) and blue-square (medium) marked trails. However haltingly. It’s those black-diamond (hard) paths that are the real challenge. They are steeper and faster and often have moguls. So I avoid them most of the time in the interest of not getting hurt. Obvious. Logical. Right?

Viewing mogul trail from top of Mont Tremblant—3/18/10

Viewing mogul trail from top of Mont Tremblant—3/18/10

What’s a mogul? It’s a bump of snow formed when skiers push the snow into mounds or piles as they execute short-radius turns. Once formed, a naturally occurring mogul tends to grow as skiers follow similar paths around it, further deepening the surrounding grooves known as troughs. Picture whole fields of them, like giant mousetraps, waiting to catch you, pull you into them, and break your legs, skis and spirit. Terrifying.

I have had lessons from professional instructors teaching me the theory of how to maneuver through the mogul fields. All sounds good. But I can’t do it. Can’t lean the right way, keep my weight balanced, turn the skis, climb the sides of the mounds to slow me down, not fall into the troughs that are way too narrow for my skis to cross. It’s just not possible for me to keep my chest aimed straight downhill and both shoulders in a perpendicular line to my direction of travel. So I fall…and fall…and fall. And promise that I will practice another year.

However I only skied with my grand kids and my brother’s kids twice each of the last two years…plus one snowstorm striving to keep up with a friend who loves powder and has been freestyle skiing since he was five. Not much practice that way.

And it’s scary to do something that is going to knock you on your butt and remind you what so many contemporaries have told you for 25 years with disdain or know-it-all authority: “You are too old to learn how to do moguls.” “Your bones are too brittle.” “You should stick to just nice curvy-carving like I do on almost-level green trails.”

That is why the other day was so strange and unexpected. Our second day here, tired from being out of ski shape in spite of all the cardio from tennis and squash. Different muscles—those thighs, those quads that I had no time to work on the last few weeks. I was collapsing from exhaustion after one day. A zombie in bed watching TV through barely-seeing eyes. Almost too tired to eat. Finally knocked out for nine hours of rehabilitating sleep and ready to tackle the blue slopes after mostly greens the day before. But feeling the aches of legs worked way, way too hard.

And then a chance comment on the ski lift from a young turk who was describing a double black he’d just been on with moguls three feet high. It made me lust for the accomplishment of knowing the grace and confidence of that movement through the “hills.” It’s so beautiful to watch expert skiers traverse mogul fields so perfectly. So effortlessly. So freely. So artistically. I WANT TO DO THAT TOO.

So I asked him about the field below us, if it was as gentle the whole way down as it looked at that moment to my right. It was, he promised. So I headed right over there with my son, who has little trouble on the blacks.

There was a moment looking over the edge of the hill that I thought how random life is. A chance encounter on a lift chair, and I was inspired to take a chance that could maim me for life. Surely this was a mistake. Even a broken bone or sprained ankle would halt my racket-sports life, which I love. What the hell was I doing here???

But I was committed. The one ace in my hand was that this is spring skiing in 50 degrees. The snow is mushy and slushy, like mashed potatoes or liquid mud. Hard on your body, because it slows you down every turn. But a huge advantage when daring to face your fears in a mogul field created to test your mettle—the slush would slow me down.

I took a deep, chilly breath and headed off to the side. You don’t have to go straight down, you know. You can traverse the trail side-to-side. The trick is to not get stuck in the troughs, go downhill backwards or lose your balance when one ski is a foot or two higher than the other.

Somehow that day, for the first time in my life…I was able to do it…at all. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. Maybe watching the Olympics helped. Or that my son had just told me about his success the run before. Or that I knew it was now or never, and I couldn’t accept the idea of “never.” So I forced myself to keep at it, however slowly it took to get down. I never even imagined taking my skis off and walking. I was determined to work through the pain of potential failure, the foot pain in my boots, and the muscle pain in my legs. I had to make it, especially with my son far down the hill waiting patiently for me to catch up.

I was fantastically motivated and unbelievably inspired. And I made it. Somehow. It was a fabulous breakthrough. I was skiing moguls. I felt like a Mughal prince, the head of an empire. My domain.

I guessed that it had something to do with a technique I somehow finally figured out how to do of pushing my knee forward in the boot. Or maybe I was becoming too senile or Alzheimered to notice the danger I was facing, so I relaxed. Or maybe I was in better shape due to all the tennis I have been playing. Or maybe it was just like learning to ride a bike…with practice you finally “get it.” And I had gotten it.

elated with my achievement—3/18/10

elated with my achievement—3/18/10

I could sort of see where to ski. I was able to turn my leg and the skis. I was comfortable with one leg much higher than the other. I was able to keep my balance when I crossed a mound. It was great.

The next day, after a blue warm up trail, we only did the blacks. Steep runs at the top of the mountain. Full of bumps. But I had the confidence. I had the skills. And I was exhilarated with my new-found ability. I still can’t believe it.

There was some pain and discomfort. But I just ignored it. That’s what the pros do for the Olympics. Super-star women skiers like Lindsey Vonn who won a gold medal in spite of her injuries. I hoped I hadn’t broken anything during some of my falls on the first day in Canada.

I was in the zone. I did it. I can do the moguls now. I can traverse that bumpy terrain. Slower than many. But I am proud. I love doing it. And I still can’t believe it…