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As I rode up the conveyer belt in the protected “Sun Valley Kids” zone on Dollar Mountain, I watched a kindergarten-age girl zip down the adjacent bunny slope, her father close behind. I knew nothing about proper ski form, but she seemed to have it down pat. Both dad and daughter were grinning at the end of their run, and here I was, a 30-something adult, in the fenced-off area for children who weren’t yet skilled enough to get on a chairlift.

Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley.
Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley. Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism.

Of course, you can’t look at it that way, and comparing yourself to others is the first mistake. You’re going to fall. You’re going to get frustrated when you realize you can’t control your movements as well as you thought you could, and you’re going to look ridiculous fumbling around in your rented gear. But stop yourself right there. You wanted to learn how to do this, right? You thought it would be fun. Just because all of your friends have been doing it since they were kids doesn’t mean you can’t try, and maybe you’ll fall in love with it too. That was my internal dialogue, anyway.

I signed up for a lesson with the Sun Valley SnowSports School, and in addition to our extremely patient instructor, it was great to get encouragement from the other adults in the group. I honestly can’t remember the last time I tried a new sport, and while it wasn’t easy, it was both humbling and rewarding. We clicked in to our skis and went over the basics — use the opposite leg to turn, and turn to stop. That seemed easy enough, so I made my way up the sticky carpet on the hill and went first.

And of course, I fell flat on my behind just three seconds after pushing off. I laughed, because really, what else can you do? You figure out how to get up and you try again.

skier on the ground
Falling is pretty much inevitable.

Our trio graduated to the conveyer belt, and then to the chairlift, and though I fell every single time I got on the main bunny slope, at no point did I feel like I was holding our group back. I was concerned about running into other inexperienced skiers (namely young children), but the hill was pretty wide open, so that was one less thing to worry about as I clumsily navigated my way down. And then, after about five runs (and just as many falls), something clicked. Turns were making sense, and I finally felt like I was in charge when it came to slowing down and stopping.

And with that control came the freedom to relax — and truly enjoy myself. I’m sure I looked like a total kook, but I was having fun and I finished up the day with a huge smile on my face.

I ended up taking a private lesson on day two, which allowed me to go at my own pace — and get the reps I needed to keep building my confidence. I only fell once, and being able to see and feel the progress I had made in less than 24 hours was even more exciting. Not only was I having fun, but I felt ready to tackle this on my own next time — and possibly even ski with some friends. After taking one particularly fast turn I felt like I was flying, and suddenly it hit me; skiing offers a rush you just can’t get from most other sports, so if you’re hooked, why wouldn’t you want to throw your money at passes, equipment, and trips? It’s thrilling, challenging and something you can do in some pretty epic locations.

Sign. Me. Up.

Once you get the hang of it, the fun begins.

Now, I realize this could have gone in a completely different direction, like the time I tried mountain biking. I was also with a group of beginners, but I felt rushed and I wasn’t able to get comfortable with the mechanics of the bike. I gave up after fifteen minutes, and I’ll admit it: I was nearly in tears. Learning new sports as an adult is hard, and no one really talks about it. We’re so accustomed to knowing the answers and being self-sufficient, and when we’re put in a position where we have to ask for help, it seems to take us right back to toddlerhood. My failure on the mountain bike had very little to do with my athleticism and everything to do with my head space, so keep that in mind when you’re trying something new. Attitude and mindset is everything. You can’t expect to be zipping down black diamonds after just a few hours of skiing, and there is a balance between fun and failure. Learn to embrace it, and know that if you’re you’re smiling, improving and itching for more — you’re most definitely on the right track.

I can’t remember the last time I dedicated this much time to trying a new sport, but I can assure you it was well worth it. I’ll be back — and maybe next time I’ll make it to Bald Mountain here in Sun Valley.

Elisabeth Brentano is a blogger/photographer based in California, but her wanderlust takes her all over the world to capture nature and travel content. After working in a Los Angeles newsroom for nearly a decade, she traded her high heels in for hiking boots and has been living on the road since 2016.

Feature image credited to Elisabeth Brentano.

Published on February 15, 2018