January 13, 2008


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."


Sarah Sometimes said...

too funny! I GUFFAWED out loud when I got to that last line, just sitting her all alone in front of my computer....

Sarah Sometimes said...

here, that is....

liz said...

Me too!

Actually, he may be able to vote in the primary as he'll probably be 18 at the time of the next general and that is the requirement for voter eligibility in most states.

Ain't it lovely what you can learn while smilingsmilingsmiling?

And I'm so impressed with you teaching him how to teach while he teaches you how to snowboard. That is just so cool.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I took a ski lesson with the same setup: new, young, male instructor. The age difference wasn't quite as great, but that just made it all the harder for him to understand those core issues of fear and confidence.

After a short initial period of baby steps, he suggested we head up to a new-for-me and more challenging blue. As we got off the lift, I realized with dismay that the run was straight down, with a wall of the lodge seemingly right at the bottom. All I could do was laugh quietly and neurotically: I was frozen in place. Instructor was flummoxed, and didn't know what to do. "This is nothing," he said, "you can do this!"

Finally, I pushed off. I froze again, but this time bent over, unfortunately in a racer's crouch, and shot straight down the mountain, utterly out of control. I heard him whoop in triumph behind me and try to catch up, even as I calculated approach of the end of my life. When I got near that wall, I finally unfroze and managed to just wipe out spectacularly in time to stop. As I lay there taking stock of previously moving parts, he shushed up with a flourish and yelled "That was AWESOME! Do that AGAIN!" He was utterly gobsmacked when I staggered up on rubbery legs, shouldered my skis, handed him a tip, and said, "I'm done."

Yankee, Transferred said...

Great story. I totally love teenagers.

kathy a. said...

that is a wonderful story.

Dr. Shellie said...

I know how it is... I am very much both teacher and student right now, too! It's not a bad state to be in, to be able to share what you know and at the same time keep learning more.