As a Florida native I grew up water skiing, wakeboarding and surfing. I never took lessons, perhaps with the exception of a friend or family member shouting backseat-driver directives at me from the stern of the boat. I wasn’t a pro by any means, but learning water sports just came naturally. Snow sports, on the other hand, proved to be my nemesis. My first experience mountainside happened when I was a freshman in college. Back then I was fearless, and I must have had some modicum of beginner’s luck because for the first half-day on the slopes I never fell once, and I seemed to have picked it up as easily as water skiing. I still can’t explain those magical four hours, but on my next attempts that afternoon my inexperience was manifest as I tumbled down the mountain time and again. Flash forward nearly a decade and a snowstorm that shut down Atlanta had my roommate convincing me this was the perfect opportunity to give the sport another shot. Again, I failed miserably. My childish fearlessness was no longer there to push me to my limits and I was completely ill-equipped in terms of apparel, so within an hour I parked my wet and cold behind at the lodge bar while my roommate expertly swished and swooshed down the black slopes. I vowed to give up on any hopes of ever being a snow bunny.
Rufio had different plans, as he loved skiing and wanted to share the experience with me. I was still hesitant, so as a compromise we decided we would both spend our time in Chile learning to snowboard together, with real lessons from a professional. As soon as we arrived at Hotel Posada Farellones, we purchased a package that included a two hour instruction, rentals and lift ticket. We were certain we would be “shreddin’ the gnar”, as they say, by day’s end. Oh, how wrong we were!
The day was off to a rough start when we thought we had an hour to sign up, collect our gear and get comfortable before our lesson. In fact, we only had 10 minutes and the rental shop was swarming with locals desperately trying to get in one more day on the slopes before the season ended. The place was a complete madhouse and we had to navigate the entire process relying entirely on my broken Spanish. We madly dashed into our group lesson nearly 10 minutes late, fumbling to assemble our gear while the instructor pushed forward with the basics. Once we settled in, things started to go more smoothly as we learned how to control the board on the base and the back edge. Then we moved from the practice slope to the beginner’s slope, and the degree of control we thought we had quickly spiraled away.
We spent the majority of the lesson doing our best impression of Randy from “A Christmas Story”, writhing around in the snow trying to “helicopter” the board into the appropriate position to stand back up, only to go a few more meters before inevitably falling again. I fell behind the group pace as I needed one extra run to master the back edge while they moved forward with the front edge, and the instructor never came back to help me with that skill. Rufio managed both, but couldn’t master the transition from back to front.
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When the painful 2-hour lesson finally ended, we took a much needed respite in the lodge cafeteria to refuel and regroup. We held a mini pep rally for ourselves:
“I mean, I’m really comfortable on the back edge now, I can make the whole run without falling…I’ll just try the front next time around, I know I’ll get it!”
“I’ve got both the edges and the base, I know I can make that transition. I’ve got this!”
We regained our energy and our dignity and marched back out on the snow with our heads held high. We were going to dominate this mountain!
Then the lift debacle happened, and everything went downhill (pun intended) from there. See, the lift that we had access to with our package utilized a T-bar rather than the classic chairlift, which are known to be less than ideal for boarders. While the other class members practiced using the lift on their own, the instructor rode with me every time, so I never really got a feel for handling it. I tried, and failed, at least half a dozen times to use the lift. When I couldn’t bear the embarrassment any longer, I opted to ascend the slope by walking as far as I could before I collapsed from exhaustion.
Over the next hour the process would go something like this: Rufio would grab a T-lift to the beginner’s exit and I would trudge almost as far up on foot. I would sit in the snow regaining my breath while he boarded-fell-boarded-fell his way to me. Then he would catch his breath and we would pick up together for the rest of the way. He would try to make the front-to-back transition, and I would just slowly meander down the slope in one direction on the back edge. Admittedly, we looked ridiculous. You can’t technically call whatever it was we were doing “snowboarding”. When every muscle fiber in our bodies burned and our frustration reached a zenith, we took a beer break.
There wasn’t a pep rally this time around. Our conversation consisted of some combination of “…everything hurts”, “…I’m so exhausted”, “…this is really frustrating”, “…we should have hired a private instructor”, “…we should have had a full day of instruction”. Tired and defeated, we finished our beer, tucked our (throbbing) tails and returned our equipment. Our dreams of X Games fame would have to be put on hold.
So why exactly was this epic failure a birthday gift? Because every once in a while we need a good kick to our egos to keep us grounded. Rufio and I are admittedly just slightly egotistical and perhaps borderline narcissistic (ok not clinically, but we have pretty big heads). Usually this just comes across as confidence, but if we don’t keep it in check it can become toxic. It’s not often that something comes along that we can’t master, but when it does it really affects us.
Not learning to snowboard in one day might seem insignificant, but it was a little lesson in how to cope with failure. As I enter this new era, I will face new challenges in my career and in life, and I can’t expect to overcome every one easily. In those times when I feel defeated, I’ll think back on a day when the bright sun glistened down on a snow-capped Andean peak and all the beautiful Chilean people showed off their athletic prowess, while I just writhed around in the snow like poor Randy.
But then I’ll remember to brush off the pain and frustration and try again. Before we left the lodge that day, we sent an email to a group of friends to start planning a ski weekend in the Appalachians or Rockies this winter. We’re going to hire a private guide for a full day, and we are going to learn to snowboard, come hell or high snowfall. It won’t be easy, and I’m sure frustrations will abound, but we are determined to keep trying until we get it.
Failure, even if it’s just at snowboarding, can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes you need a swift kick in the butt, or face plant in the snow, not only to remind you that you’re not infallible, but to also challenge your resolve.
Do you think small failures can be beneficial? Leave a comment below!