Flow in the Snow

12:11 Paul Robinson 1 Comments

Back in October, I opened my birthday presents and found a wonderfully unexpected gift - a week long snowboarding camp in the Dolomites, Italy. I’d never been on a winter sports holiday before, but I’d done a taster session at a local indoor slope and really enjoyed it. Marcy saw how much I enjoyed it and decided to treat me to the real thing. I was a total novice and we had to go out and buy a complete set of snowboarding clothes (all the gear no idea!). I really didn’t know what to expect from a week in the mountains.
To be honest, when we arrived I felt quite out of my depth. Everyone in the camp was super cool and I felt like a bit of outcast, aside from being the only non-Italian in the group! It felt a bit like being back at school and in a moment of reflection I looked out at the dramatic mountains that surrounded us, and the obvious dawned on me; “I’m going to have to snowboard down a bloody mountain!”

That familiar old feeling from school, anxiety, came creeping back. Was I going to make a fool of myself?
- - -
We were riding the cable car up Mount Groste and Marcy was busy chatting to the other Italians in our cab but I was too nervous to join in. I looked out of the window but I didn’t see the beautiful blue sky or the majestic mountaintops, only endless crevices that I could fall down. We arrived at the chalet where we’d begin our lessons but my nerves got the better of me and I had to run off to the toilets before we’d even begun!

Soon enough the lesson started. Thankfully, the loud group of fashionable Italians knew what they were doing and disappeared off down the mountain. The other novices and I were left to begin our lesson on a baby piste. We practised the individual movements and got comfortable with the board, before eventually tying the moves together into one fluid movement. For the whole lesson we practiced fastening the snowboard to our feet, sliding down the slope, unclipping and walking back up the piste. It was exhausting.
After the lesson, Marcy and I had lunch in the Chalet. We were accompanied by my new friend Gustavo, the glorious views and some shitty euro-dance music blazing out of the speakers. I do love Italy.

On the second day, we continued to put the moves together and actually did some snowboarding. Not without difficulty however. Aside from the obvious fact that it’s incredibly difficult to stand up on a polished board on a snowy mountain slope, the cold weather was also a challenge. I was suitably dressed in all my new gear, but the bits of my face that were still exposed were freezing. We also spent a lot of the lesson sat on our bums talking through technique. Honestly, my bum cheeks were painfully cold and I had to lean back on my elbows and thrust my hips into the air for a bit of relief. I must have looked like such an idiot! The flipside was that my bum was so numb that it didn’t hurt when I fell on it!

By this time I’d started to relax and began to observe things around me. Back in the chalet, the snowboarders are all baggy and cool, whilst the skiers are all dressed in super tight onsies and mince around on their ski boots like they are high heels. At least I could kid myself I looked good. On the piste, I could identify ice and bad snow. It hadn’t snowed recently and there wasn’t much powder snow. This was exacerbated by the top layer of snow melting in the daylight then freezing during the night, leaving hazardous spots of ice on the snow. Hazardous if you are a complete novice like me.

On the third day we snowboarded down the opposite side of the valley on the Paradalgo facile run. Unfortunately there isn’t a cable car up the mountain, so I had to negotiate the ski lift. We had to shuffle along in a massive queue of people, on the snow, whilst I had my snowboard attached to one foot. That is apparently the proper way to do it. I’d shuffle, then slide and lose my balance before falling into the poor person next to me.  Then we had to snowboard one-footed onto a travellator while the ski lift chair scoops you up. Somehow, I bumbled my way through and made it to the top of the mountain.

The views at the summit were amazing. It was a beautiful moment, to be on top of the mountain surrounded by blue skies and white snow. Incredibly, there were tonnes of school kids up there. Maybe only five or six years old, each child was already confident on their skis and made their way down the slopes in their distinctive orange bibs. I’d lost my nerves and was loving it as I made my way down. I was taking it very carefully and slowly, but I was feeling completely inspired. Then a young child bombed past me practising her 180 spins. I still had a lot to learn.

It took us two hours as a group to descend the mountain. We stayed together, so that the ones at the front never strayed too far from those at the rear. The group had also began to bond by helping each other and laughing together. Once I found my rhythm, I found it easy to focus and I could make my way down the slope, completely in-tune with the surroundings. I’d read the snow, correct my speed and choose my route. I was completely immersed in the moment, experiencing the state of ‘flow’ that Csikszentmihalyi wrote about. I felt amazing, although I should say it was all relative – Compared to the seasoned snowboarders, I was going very slowly, carefully and methodically which was quite unlike their fearless carving of the snow. But the whole world is relative and in that moment, I was completely absorbed by it.

On the following day the instructor let me go out on the piste on my own. It was a bit scary without someone guiding me down the piste and advising me on my technique. I couldn’t quite get into the ‘zone’ like the previous day. I’d put a couple of turns together and then slip. Nevertheless, I was feeling accomplished and decided to record a run on my GoPro. Watching the video in the evening I learned two things; I’m a terrible videographer and captured neither the action nor the scenery. I also learnt that I am the slowest snowboarder in the world. I got bored watching my own video as I trundled down the mountain!
On the final day of snowboarding, I was feeling confident. I was determined to knit my moves together, read the snow and pick up some speed. In fact, I felt more balanced when I was travelling faster. Around 3pm in the afternoon, I made my best run so far. I was cutting through the snow and spraying snow on the turns. I was really enjoying the moment. Near the end of the piste I was building up quite a lot of my speed while I travelled on my toe edge. Ahead I spotted an ice patch. I was having an incredible run (for me) and confidently decided to take on the ice. Big mistake. I lost control of the board, my feet went skyward and my already bruised backside hit the ground. In that moment my vision went white and I thought I was going to shit my pants. Thankfully a moment later the feeling passed and I was left feeling a bit shaken. I picked myself up and finished the run. With hindsight I know I should have stopped, or slowed down, or gone round the ice but my ambition got the better of me! Back at the chalet, I was feeling a bit sick and my wrist had swollen. Marcy and Gustavo took one look at it and recommended that I went to the hospital.

The doctor quickly diagnosed me with a fractured wrist. My first ever broken bone was also the completion of my initiation into the world of snowboarding! I felt completely foolish. Although as I had begun to learn, everything is relative. In the hospital there were people with broken legs and shoulders. I counted myself lucky.
So my first snowboarding trip ended with an overconfident fall and a broken wrist. That was completely inevitable. But I wasn’t downhearted, I’d loved every moment of the trip. Externally, the views were amazing and I’d spent a week communicating in Italian (well, 75% of the time!) Internally, I’d challenged myself and gone from initial nervousness to learning a new skill. I fell countless times and did make a fool of myself, but it didn't matter. I came out the other side with more confidence and a worthwhile experience… and a fancy blue wrist brace. I can’t wait to go snowboarding again in the future.

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1 comment:

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