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. Read the rest of this entry »

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