After watching Katie take a headfirst tumble down the maybe 3% grade for the umpteenth time in just five minutes, I was getting a little worried abut her resiliency. She had taken some really hard falls, and after each one just gotten back up and started poling with the same urgency as before. She looked up at me with her glasses smushed into her face, hands covered in snow and skis going every which way. I asked her if she was okay. She totally ignored my question and responded, “But did you see how fast I was going?!”
Kelsey had only skied a couple times before hitting the snow with me on Sunday. Trying my best to get her excited about skiing and keep her in the sport I asked her what her favorite part of skiing was. After a little thought, she simply said, “I like to eat the snow.” And she did. After every fall (of which there were many), she took an extra second to take a little pink mitten full of snow and eat it.
When I first introduced myself to the large group of five to six year olds (collectively the “Arctic Foxes”) I asked the kids to go to the untouched snow about 100 meters away and write their names using their skis. Before leaving, Isaac looked up at me and told me “He was the fastest one there.” Inclined to believe him, I watched as the mass waddled up the hill. Instead of leading the charge, Isaac was pretty near the caboose. When I caught back up with them after retrieving some balls for a later game, he was all smiles, working hard to put an “I” in the snow.
After some games and races, the group decided to go up the nearest hill and work on going down it. The loop was about a kilometer total. After 25 minutes of attempting to reach the half way point, one kid was starting to fall significantly behind the rest. I asked her if she wanted a boost, and she immediately stuck both of her arms straight out. As soon as we started moving she let out a shrill giggle and screamed, “I’m FLYING!”
Going down the hill might have been the biggest challenge for the Arctic Foxes. Snow plowing was a foreign concept, and the tendency was to bend at the waist and just shoot the skis straight down the hill. This led to a lot of falls, none particularly graceful or pleasant looking. Perhaps the most epic fall came from a boy who lost his ski, and boot, when he hit the snow. After one second of confusion, he simply started marching back up the hill to retrieve his ski and boot, one ski and one wool green sock covered foot at a time.
If you haven’t gathered by now, I spent my Sunday helping out at the Birkie Tour. The morning started off with a 23 Kilometer loop in which I skied back and forth chatting with people about skiing, life, and the best way to lose 25 pounds. After a quick pause for lunch (during which time my skis unfortunately and unceremoniously went missing), I headed out for a 2 hour stint with the Nordic Kids. I was assigned to work with the Arctic Foxes, and I think it was the highlight of my week.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in results, technique, and your own head. It’s incredibly easy to lose perspective. Falling seems like failure, and getting a boost seems like cheating. If I told someone the reason I liked skiing was because I liked eating the snow, I think I’d get an awkward smile as the person tries to decide if I’m being serious.
Falling, however, is not failure. It simply means you’ve rocketed past your personal safety zone. But at least you have figured out where your zone starts. Getting a boost isn’t cheating (unless it’s doping, then it’s cheating). It just means you’ve recognized you can’t do it all by yourself. Eating snow isn’t a bad reason to love skiing. It just means your honest. Finally, thinking you are the fastest isn’t necessarily cocky. Half way to actually being the fastest is truly and deeply believing that you are (or someday can be).
This isn’t one of those “I went to teach the kids something, and instead they taught me something” college admission essays. I understood the thinking behind the kids’ words, and in fact already knew the lessons behind each. I had simply forgotten. In my rush to become a professional skier, I got all wrapped up in an adult frame of mind. 22 isn’t too old to rekindle my inner kid. The five year old in a tutu, high pony, and fish scales is making a comeback.