Saturday 28 January 2012

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Crystal Mountain - It's My Muscular Calves

Skiing is pretty much a part of life in Kelowna, to the point where if you're the person who doesn't like to spend their days in the freezing cold, dodging trees that at any moment might decide to jump out and take you down, then you're the weird one. It's even a part of our kid's school curriculum, which means that I've spent more than my share of time at the local ski mountains, despite the fact that I started and gave up skiing within a two hour window during grade seven. I've always thought that I might have given up too easily though, so when my daughter's school headed up to Crystal Mountain for their skiing lessons this year, I decided to tag along and see if the 30 year break from skiing had improved my skills.

The day certainly started easily enough, despite my fears that I'd be stuck in the equipment rental hut for a while with all the schools that were on the mountain that day. I was actually shuttled through in record time, even getting some personal attention when I couldn't get the straps on my rental boots closed. Hearing the words "No wonder you can't close them, you have insanely muscular calves!" started my day out on the right foot, although I noticed that when I had trouble zipping up my snow pants nobody pointed out my incredibly muscular gut. Still, even with that oversight, I found the rental process to be fast and efficient, and when you couple it with the lift ticket lady finding me a discount that I would have had no idea I qualified for, I was thrilled with Crystal Mountain before I even set foot on the hill.

Now there may have been some technical mistakes in my plan. For instance, instead of joining in on my daughter's beginners lessons, I brought my son up to the mountain with me, figuring that having a private tutor would be much more beneficial than trying to learn in a group setting. Why I thought that I'd be given more attention from my teenage son, who can't even focus for more than a minute if the topic isn't video games, than a professional instructor is beyond me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I will say this for my son - he talked me out of my original plan of "Let's just take the chairlift to the top of the mountain and you can teach me on the way down". After we got my daughter situated in her lesson, the boy and I headed off up the mighty T-bar to restart my downhill career.

You know what the problem is with ski resorts? They build them on these steep hills. Seriously, how much easier would it be if everything was just a slow, gradual slope down to a flat field filled with pillows? Alas, apparently that's not how ski mountains work, although I was later informed that the run I chose to start with, the "Bunny Blue", was as close as it comes. I still suspect that there may have been a sign mix-up and I was actually on the "Ski School Cliff" run, but whatever the real name was, there was plenty of slope for me.

Now here's where the problem with my plan comes into play. After successfully ascending the T-bar with no issues, then managing to get it shut down by falling flat on my face during the exit process, I stood at the top of my chosen run and awaited instructions from my son. Have I told you about my son's report card? While his grades are all fairly good, almost every comment section includes the phrase "needs to learn to communicate his ideas more clearly". I have a new found appreciation for his teacher's concerns now, as the extent of my ski training was "Go that way".

I'm pretty sure this is Bunny Blue. At least it felt like it.
So I did, and here's where a little television is a bad thing. Have you ever watched the professional ski racers on TV? They look so graceful, and while I never really paid much attention to their technique, the one thing that stayed with me from watching them was that they were always in a tuck position. Figuring that the only difference between them and myself was a few hours of practice, I pointed my skis down the hill, got myself into a low crouch position, and took off down the hill. For about five feet. Then one ski went left, the other one detached itself from my foot and went right, and the rest of me landed hard on the side of the run. Feeling a little discouraged (and a whole lot bruised), I looked up to my son and awaited a critique of my performance, with perhaps a small suggestion as to what I could do better. His helpful advice? "Don't tuck".

Fine. I didn't expect to have a crash-free day on the mountain, and now that I'd gotten it out of the way, I could get on with enjoying the rest of my skiing adventures. After realizing that the hard part of learning to ski isn't the falling - it's the getting back up - I got myself together and aimed down the hill again, this time standing as straight as an arrow. My second attempt lasted almost 30 feet, but while that may sound like an improvement, what it really did was give me more time to gather speed, so that when I went down, it was more spectacular. This time I managed to avoid the hard thud of the main run and landed in the pile of soft powder at the side. I'm not sure if this was better or worse, but judging from my "instructors" laughing, it was funnier.

An hour and a quarter. That's how long it took me to get down from the top of the T-bar to the bottom of the run, and during that time it became obvious that there was another major difference between myself and the professional skiers on TV - they didn't have to deal with my muscular calf problem. No wonder they came flying down the hills at top speed - their skinny little legs were keeping their center of balance exactly where it needed to be. Unfortunately for those with muscular calves like myself, we'll probably never be able to balance ourselves out properly to attain "top skier" status. I blame my many years of soccer stardom for my lack of success as a skier.

As I was standing at the bottom of the hill, pondering my future as a non-skier, I saw my daughter's class come down the mountain. They were zig-zagging back and forth, making turns with ease and even slowing themselves to a stop without having to bail into a nearby snowbank. I watched them glide down to the bottom, and began to wonder if I would have done better if I'd taken some professional lessons. Apparently Crystal Mountain's instructors knew what they were doing, and maybe I too could have been cutting across runs, looking like I was having a great time. When she got to the bottom, I asked my daughter what the instructors had told her to improve her skiing so much.

"Don't tuck", she said.

It's gotta be the calves.