Saturday, May 18, 2013

Let's go skiing!

Alright, I know ski season is out for this year, but the following post took me a whole two month from the start to a working progress - yes, I do come back to edit my published posts often.  They are never good enough, you see. 
I was born a learner, as if I have not emphasized enough here already.  I mean I can acquire knowledge and skills pretty fast, especially when I have someone to show me how.  Unfortunately, I was born in China 50 years ago, at a time when our parents could hardly satisfy the fast growing physical body of their children with sufficient food, let alone meet the rapid developing innate curiosity of them with special provisional tools!  As a little girl, I had to teach myself how to dance, play Chinese violin (Er Hu 二胡), blow bamboo flute (Di Zi and Xiao), fondle ancient form of piano (Jiao ta qin, 脚踏琴), even sing Beijing opera.  I didn't want "missing out".  As you can imagine, my talent could only take me far enough to become an amateur for just about everything I tried to be.

I have suffered from under-developed syndrome (UDS).  What, you have not heard of UDS before?  I am not surprised because I've just coined it to describe us new Chinese immigrants.  Look around you, whenever you meet Chinese, ask them why they want to come to America?  I bet the answer is all the same: we did not have the opportunity to fully develop ourselves in China.

True, we Chinese come here to fulfill our childhood dreams, to explore, and to get ahead.

Believe or not, we Chinese and Americans even share the same dreams: we are all competitive and happy to get ahead.  But we are told to be modest by our Chinese parents and teachers - we can be bunch of tigers who sleep with an eye open and then eat you alive when your guard is down, ha ha ha -  joke aside, the truth is we grew up being taught that famous singers, movie stars, and athletes were not real people, they were icons who were born this way, which discouraged us to even try to become one of them early on.

Then I got lucky.  I came to the U.S. to make myself a perfect educator.  I have enjoyed having the land of opportunity so far and most importantly, I have learnt a saying "practice makes it perfect", which has shaken my self-image and the figure of my childhood heroes profoundly.  I now believe that I can learn just about anything and everything, even the seemingly impossible ski, without much of talent.  All I need is to keep on practicing.  So, when the first opportunity came along, I jumped into it.

In 2002, I was sent to a Keystone meeting.  Such meetings usually start at 7:30 am, stop at 9:30 am, then resume at 4 pm, and end at 9 pm each day for about a week long - totally are designed for ski lovers - that, my friend, provided me a golden opportunity to learn how to ski.

For about $100, I bought my first and only ski lesson pass on the first day of the meeting.  It went extremely well considering that my legs were still functioning after the lesson, which encouraged me to continue renting the ski boots and skis to get on the slope the next day and the day after.  After a few days of practice on my own, I learned how to turn, stop, and go downhill in a reasonable speed.

I was so excited that I could not wait to report to Fabrice on the phone to make him jealous of me for having fun outside the slave shop in which we were both working.  I totally bragged about my progress to trick him into believing that I had mastered those skills necessary to go ski with him - he'd started his first ski trip on the Alps as a teenager and not been too enthusiastic to take me to ski with him just yet.

And he ignored what I was reporting as he knew better me than himself, "Bend your knee, pressing the front of the boot so that you can put your body weight on the shin.  Face downhill, lean forward, put your skis parallel to each others..."  Fabrice was giving me instructions constantly over a cell phone that dropped signals frequently on the mountain.

I tried to transform his instructions into my actions except the "face downhill" - I rather skid with eyes closed!

He then sensed that I was unable to faithfully follow his instructions delivered in a cell phone.  On the 4th day, he joined me on the ski slope.  He had just stolen me from John at the time thus was quite eager to show me that he was worth of my love.  The price of a last minute plane ticket served the purpose just about right.  

When he found me on a slope where I had my ski lessons struggling with my turns and stops, he laughed his ass off.

"What, you spent all these days "skiing" on a bunny hill?!"  He made fun of me when he was catching his breath.

"Why not?  Look what I can do now?"  I was proudly showing him my beautiful "narrow" stance on the skis, I could feel that my feet in the boots directing where I was going, I could glide in a wedge by tilting my skis, I could easily stop with a wedge, I could even do the zig-zag... while I was showing off my newly acquired techniques, I heard,

"You are not skiing." he commented, "Let's go to the top of the mountain."

Completely ignored my fears, he went ahead to get us two lift tickets.  The whole time sitting beside Fabrice on a ski lift chair, I cursed to make sure that that man knew with whom he was dealing.  "I am afraid of heights and I cannot get up there!"  I screamed.  "Close your eyes, then."  He answered and then put down the metal bar in front of me to fool me into having some kind of protection.  In fact, I even need extra oxygen than many normal people to feel alive because I was anemic as a child and have grown to be extremely sensitive to high altitude where oxygen is scarce as an adult .  "I feel dizzy.  I have a severe motion sickness, you know?!"  He did not show me any sympathy at all at that time, maybe because he had never met anyone with this condition so severely - he then learned the lesson two years following our first ski trip in Hawaii watching me dying on the deck of our whale watching/snorkel ship later in 2004 during our honeymoon.

His confidence and easiness of sitting on the chair did calm me down a bit.  Seeing me quiet down, he started to go over the techniques to prepare me properly so that I could get off the lift.  I listened to him very carefully like a nervous school girl.  At the end of our ride, I did exactly as I was told: pointed the front end of the skis to the sky, let the snow/icy ground to touch the back end of the skis, which naturally put me standing straight on the skis.  A victory!  I was proud.

"Now follow me."  As soon as he got our boots tightened, he commanded, before I could properly respond, he skied down, way down.

If you skied once or twice in your life, you know that everyone is usually trying his/her best to get out of other skiers' way, particularly at the end of a lift.  I, like many beginners on their first try, could not abide by this common law.  I was busy to keep my balance in the mean time and to call the man, expecting him to walk back up to me.

What I did not know was that the area at very the top of the mountain is usually shared by skiers of all levels, thus, it is not too steep.  Fabrice failed to explain this simple fact to me, which resulted in his standing at the bottom of the slope, turning into a popsicle!  Had suspected my intention of staying at the top of the mountain for the rest of my life, he started to dance on his skis (yes, one can do that!) to seduce me to move on.  I watched him dance and felt tons of skiers flying by me, one after another, for a long while... Eventually, I had gathered all my courage, positioned my skis to form a upside down V, and skied straight down toward Fabrice.

As soon as I reached his location, he skied away from me.  What the hell, I was going to take a break!  "Stop, I could not move my legs!"  I yelled to the back of the man, but he was gone.  He could not hear me anymore.  Boy, this teacher of mine was pushy.  When I caught him again, he said seriously, "You have to move fast here.  It's too cold and you could catch cold."

Too cold, I was sweating, but why his lips were turning grey and body was shivering?!

What I did not know at that time also was that a green trail from the top of a mountain is usually the longest run because it surrounds those steeper and shorter blue and black runs.  "If we keep on stopping, we would need a whole day to finish a run!"  He said and asked me to ski on the long, narrow, and curvy tracks behind him.  What he did not know was that I needed a lot of energy to balance myself on those slippery skis and had no confidence nor ability to follow his marks precisely.  Plus, it was the first time in real life that I had someone "belonging to me" who could ski so effortlessly.  I was charmed by his elegant ski posture.  I was lost in awe watching his "performance" ahead...

... "So, move!"  He would command annoyingly.  But when he was not looking, I would just skip the curves to avoid being left too far behind, and try to ignore his urges on bending my knees, FACING DOWN HILL - I constantly leaned backward, as directed by my instincts.  When he told me to make turns with the leading ski tip pointing downhill, I would point it to the side to turn my body with my butt... Eventually though, he understood to give the old dog more time to learn new skills, so he went ahead to ski away from me at those divergent runs and then met me at the next convergent points to show me few more tricks.  Often he would find me on the same spot of the slope at this next run.  Whenever he skied close to me, he would slow down to demonstrate how to easily zig zag to get downhill.  This technique could change a steep run into a green slope.  He would also show me how to shift body weight from the center to one leg so that the other leg could move the ski close and parallel to the weight bearing one.  Finally, he tirelessly emphasized not to face sideways, even though when I was skiing in a zig zag pattern.  "Look downhill and face the bottom of the slope." he says this each and every time I am starting my runs!

(In a retrospect, I now cannot understand why I needed any of those breaks in the middle of a green run.)

After few green runs, Fabrice optimistically took me to blue slopes.  "You can ski anywhere since you can make turns and stops now."  Seeing me still in doubt, he insisted, "You have to have some speed to turn.  Green slopes do not help you with that."  He was trying to get me out of my comfort zone.  

Having witnessed how natural and easy that he conquered those scary snow bumps, I became a bit confident myself.  So, I sucked it up.

Guess what happened next?

I completely lost control.  The blue trails were much narrower than those green ones and the skis just took my body straight down.  "Control your speed, slow down, make a turn, turn, turn now.  No no no, don't go toward the tree, not the tree..."  Fabrice was shouting beside and then behind me, bang!!!  I fell right onto a tree.  

It did not take long for me to remove my skis.  Down I walked in my boots!  

Then I spent the rest of my first blue run watching Fabrice who disappeared into and then reappeared out of woods.  He loves to get in between trees himself, but tells others not to do the same, what kind of example that he gives to his students!  

With the help of my personal coach and continued practice, my ski skill has improved over the years, but not at the same level as his though - we late starters can never catch up with those early ones, but as my skill improves, he now at least is willing to take me with him everywhere on high mountains.  We now often take lifts together up to the top and ski a few easy runs together at beginning of each day and then we move on to our separate lives - he challenges himself with black diamond and bumpy slopes whereas I enjoy myself on blue/red even green zones.  We meet at our common zones for lunch and at the end of the day.  It is in this manner that he and I have explored the following ski resorts so far:

Whistler (Fabrice went by himself because my visa to Canada did not arrive on time!)
Taos (Fabrice went alone)
Silverton (Fabrice went alone)
Davos (Fabrice went alone)
Santa Fe (I went alone)
... (I know that I have left out of a few hard-to-access but great resorts in both Utah and CO - couldn't remember their names.)

Here is how I skied in March 2005 (I now ski way faster and more elegant than then.  But I have nothing to show you here because my movie maker now gets his hands full with his new students.  Our 6 year old Zhuzhu and 4 year old Niuniu are catching up their Mommy in a light speed!  Since you have read this far, you are rewarded for your patience with a family ski video that I took in the end of this post).

But I must admit that it has become unaffordable for our expanding family of 4 to ski everywhere in the world now.  So, we are practically Colorado residents.  We have been to Denver airport so often that the kids truly believe that Santa lives in Colorado instead of the North Pole!

This is a long introduction to tell you stories of our trip to CO in the week of Zhuzhu's Spring Break.  We stayed in a "historical" town Carbondale, skied on the Snowmass in the day, and soaked ourselves in the Glenwood hot springs in the night.  The trip was sensational and the scenery of the alpine mountains was breathtaking (okay, it is not the Alps, but still!), which reminded me some of those sweet moments that Fabrice and I shared years ago*.  We had so much fun together as a family.  I am afraid now that this first official spring break has raised the bar for their future ones!  Zhuzhu has already become a skillful skier.  She ditched her little brother in the last 2 days to follow her amateur mommy everywhere in high mountains.  Niuniu is still at his weaning days with the daddy, although I must say that the boy learns so fast that I can see that his day of surpassing his sister is now countable with fingers.  Look what he can do already now!
* Fabrice and I both skied in Snowmass mountain in 2004 at our annual conference.  That was a highly productive meeting both professionally and personally.  We both received some prestigious awards in our fields and few job interview invitations.  We both also took home an Alpine ski racing trophies.  Ironically, he and I both won the third place.  How did I pull that off, you say?  If I tell you, you must die.  Nay, the truth is that there were exactly a total of 3 women participated in the "intermediate woman skiers" race.  But hey a trophy is a trophy!  In this male-dominated scientific community, Fabrice competed with a bunch of young Europeans and he mistakenly identified himself as "advanced skier" thus...the well-deserved third place!!!

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