Are you a skier?

01:19, Mar 06 2014

The Montana dispatch:

One of the most common questions I get as a waitress on this ranch is ''are you a skier?''

My answer, as I clear their bread plates and steak knives, is generally: ''I'm trying.''

I'm not a natural at anything that requires coordination and speed or even balance.

But the great thing about getting a few decades under your belt, is that you realise you have a choice in life: stay in your room and do nothing, ever, that requires effort and/or public humiliation.

Or just accept that every new sport is going to take a certain amount of energy out of your day until it becomes, if not totally natural, then at least something that you will become less and less likely to kill yourself doing.


I think about how I was born horse crazy.

And how, when I was four, my father put me on a paint pony and I was so ecstatic a photo was taken of me, laughing, hair going everywhere, eyes shining, and about 30 seconds later I was in the dirt, but this didn't dampen my horse-craziness.

And how 20 years later I was in nice, controlled lope towards the start of the ladies' gallop at the Glenorchy Races when my horse spooked and just like that I was once again on the ground.

And then painfully arising as a voice over the loudspeaker encouraged 2000 people to cheer me on as I hustled to catch, and then get back on my horse so they could get on with the race (a race that ended, not with the filmic, slow-motion triumph and fist pump of the underdog one would hope for, but with me being slapped with a ''reckless riding'' complaint after I wove all over track for three exhilarating minutes.

Though for this complaint, I am still perversely proud).

Mountain biking - which I craved right from the first cliff veering - has had similar (and literal) ups, downs and that left me breathless, gasping like a fish, looking up at the sky, and wondering how I could be so rotten at something I loved?

And then there was that nightmare last year (it was actually the stuff of a real nightmare) after being cleared to take a master class with the Royal New Zealand Ballet - on Wellington's St James Theatre stage, mind you, which is open to the public - ahead of their opening night performance of Giselle.

Naturally, the company's publicist assumed I had a classical ballet background if I was asking to do a story on taking part in the class.

This assumption bubble burst on the elevator ride down to the stage about three minutes before I was set to join them - probably one of the most terrifying moments of journalism yet (I will never forget the horror in the publicist's eyes: '''re not classically trained?'' No. No I was not. ) And then, adding to my ineptitude, half the instructions were in French.

I'm pretty sure the entire company thought I had been hired as comic relief on opening night.

But you know what? Despite the publicist whispering to me in the wings of the stage that it would be fine, perfectly fine (ie. preferable) if I just did a few minutes of warm-ups with them before a tasteful exit, I did the whole 35-minute shebang.

Because really, after a certain point, when all dignity is gone, and there is no hope in hell of keeping up with people with these impossible bodies who have been trained to defy limits of human bendiness and leg lifting since they were toddlers, you just have to think ''when am I ever going to be able to fling myself around a stage with the Royal New Zealand Ballet again?''

I imagine the publicist would interrupt here to answer this question with a resounding ''uh, never.''

If this wasn't enough of a reminder, every day when I change in front of a mirror I catch a glimpse of the small white line down my back, just below my shoulder blade, from crashing into rocks after less than six seconds on a surf board in Portugal four months ago.

It hurt. And there were a lot of gorgeous, naturally-athletic Moondoggie-types  watching from the beach, wincing, I'm sure, as I went down and came up sputtering.

So really, did I ever expect skiing to be any different?

I didn't, and it hasn't. But like I tell my tables - often people who are also here in Montana  from Atlanta or New York City to do things out of their comfort zone -  I'm trying.

And the trying is a beautiful part of my day right now; a part that I am starting to crave when I wake up and see the sun coming through the snow-laden pines outside my bedroom window.

I am loving the smell of coffee as I get dressed and layer up.

Then the feel of clicking into skis and heading up and up, and finding a steady rhythm as I head away from the cabins and the sounds of cars on the highway.

I will listen to music as I keep going up, because it hurts, and sometimes you just need something roaring in your eardrums to keep you travelling despite the burn in your legs and arms.

When I do take out my earphones, it is the one part of my world right now where there is a complete absence of noise.

There is no heater turning on; no shower erupting or hairdryer coming to life.

There is no one who needs me to grind pepper on their beetroot salad, or bring them another glass of pinot.

I don't have to recite a dessert menu or describe the taste of different cuts of meat.

It is just the sound of my breath and my skis as they glide along, sometimes on ice, sometimes through powder.

And like being on a out-of-control horse or a mountain bike; on a surf board, slowly getting upright, before going down; or on a stage, arms raised, alongside 30 magnificent bodies, I feel that I am, in those moments, tending to a part of myself that I think is a little bit extraordinary.

Because I do think it is a little bit extraordinary that this part of me observes all of these different body parts of mine hitting the dirt and the water and the snow and yet chooses to filter through, not the humiliation of failing to show the world how badass I am, but nostalgia for those moments of flying through the air that I felt so totally alive in.

And, yes, perhaps that extraordinary part of me that I am choosing to nurture could also be called obliviousness.

Hey. Who cares. I like where it has led me.

So all this to say, no. I am not a skier. Or a rider, climber, surfer, biker or dancer for that matter. 

Though I sure do like trying.


The Southland Times