The local ski slopes are dominated by teenagers. I'd say I'm roughly thirty years older than the average snowboarder. That's not even an exaggeration.
My snowboard instructor is a young man who reminds me of my own Shaggy Hair Boy. Last week, when he was assigned to me, he walked over shyly, snowboard under his arm.
I spoke up quickly. "I boarded for one season two years ago, but last year, I got injured on the first day of the season. I'm terrified of getting off the chairlift." I felt it only fair to warn him.
Freckles moved across his face as he looked at me. Something in his eyes made me think he didn't have much experience teaching. And he had just realized he'd been assigned a difficult student.
"Don't worry," I told him. "I took a run with my son this morning. So I've already been on the chairlift once."
He looked relieved. He seemed a bit nervous about teaching — this is his first season as an instructor, he told me on the chairlift — so I gave him tips. "See, learning at my age is hard because I'm old enough to be afraid. I know what it feels like to break a bone or stretch a ligament. I know what to do; I just have to get over the fear. So mostly, you just have to keep saying encouraging things to give me confidence. And pushing me to go faster."
He nodded. "I can do that."
He gave me careful instructions for getting off the chairlift, but then when the time came, I didn't push off fast enough. I knocked into him, and we both fell down. We had to roll quickly to get out the way of the two skiers who came right after us. As we untangled our snowboards at the bottom of the snowy ramp, he seemed horrified that he had fallen. I think he was worried that he'd hurt his credibility as an instructor.
"No, it's okay," I assured him. "Neither one of us is injured, so it counts as a win."
We took three runs that day (the lessons are an hour and a half long), and he did fine as an instructor, giving me compliments every time I stopped, just as I had told him to. He seemed puzzled by the number of teenagers who kept yelling my name from the chairlift — or waving to me as they went by. "It seems like everyone here knows you," he said.
This week, he greeted me with a pleased smile when I showed up for the ten o'clock lesson. "The conditions aren't great," he said. "I was afraid you wouldn't come." The weather has been unseasonably warm, and only seven trails were open.
The snow was soft in some spots and icy in other, but still, it felt good to be moving across the slopes, carving back and forth in the sunshine. On the chairlift, it was warm enough to take off goggles and talk. Young Snowboard Instructor told me about the lessons he'd taught that weekend, and I said encouraging things about his teaching. Then I talked to him about snowboarding, and he said encouraging things about how I was doing. We looked down at the people boarding below us and analyzed their snowboarding techniques.
Then Young Snowboard Instructor waved his arm at the trickling creek, the big patches of mud and grass that lay beyond the area of the snow-making machines. "It's ridiculous how warm it is," he said. "Someday you won't even be able to snowboard here at all, thanks to global warming." The next thing you know, we were talking about politics.
"There are so many Democratic candidates right now that it's confusing," he said.
"Who do you want to vote for?" I asked.
"I can't vote in this election," he said. "I'm only seventeen."