Instantaneous Feedback

There’s nothing like finding yourself face down in the snow, one of your skis five feet behind you, to make you think that, maybe, you made a mistake. That something might have gone wrong.

There’s nothing like getting back up and skiing the rest of the way down the hill without further incident–barring being a little colder due to the melting snow that found its way into your clothing–to convince you that falling isn’t the end of the world.

Yesterday I went skiing for the first time in about 15 years, maybe more. I was still in primary school when I last went skiing, and now I’m teaching school. In other words, it’s been a very long time since I have been on skis. And let’s be clear about this: I was not a good skier back then. The last run I did as a kid ended up with me riding down to the lodge on a snowmobile. So it’s not like I was just picking it all back up again; more like learning it for the first time.

Which is why I signed up for a day-long adult “first time skier” lesson. Great idea. We began the day sliding along the snow on one ski, pushing ourselves along with our other foot to get the feel for gliding. We ended the day doing a couple of green runs.

It is possible to make huge strides in a small amount of time given the proper motivation and some good instruction and timely feedback. When you are doing something like skiing, you learn really quickly what works. You make your wedge bigger, you slow down. You turn perpendicular to the slope, you stop. You point your skis parallel down the hill, you go fast. Your body gives you excellent feedback about how you’re doing.

In our lesson, we learned four big things–I’m calling them the beginning skier “standards”:
1-the wedge stop
2-the wedge turn
3-how to get onto a chairlift
4-how to get off of a chairlift
Note: for obvious reasons, you have to learn those last two things at the same time, but the first one is much easier to master than the second.

Once I had the basics down I got fairly comfortable. I could stay in control on “The Big Easy” run we were practicing on. Even when we went down the first green run I felt pretty safe and secure–though staying out of the way of skiers who knew what they were doing was challenging.

But the real lesson I learned was that it’s okay to fall down. This was the lesson I went into the class really wanting to learn. I know it sounds kind of silly to say that I wanted to fall down yesterday, but it’s true. I wasn’t ever trying to fall, I didn’t set out to purposely fall down when I did my epic face-plant. (I wish I had video of that–it must have been beautiful). By no stretch of the imagination was my fall intentional. I was going faster than I wanted to, I overcorrected, my tips crossed and next thing I knew I was face down on the slope. It was one of the best parts of the day. It was the lesson that over-cautious, scardey-cat me needed to learn.

I knew that going in. I was aware that the best thing that could happen to me was to fall down–hard–and to get back up again and keep going.

Of course I spent all day trying to go slow and maintain control and therefore avoid falling down. Because, well, who in their right mind wants to spend all day falling down? I had fallen down a few times before this, but little falls, nothing major. This was the Big One.

But you know what? It didn’t hurt, and other than being cold I was totally fine. My instructor brought me my ski and made sure I was okay, then complimented me on how far I’d gone before falling down. I clicked back in and off I went to finish the run. So much better than my last skiing experience, half a lifetime earlier.

When you take risks and you do something new, you fall down sometimes. You fail. But that’s how you learn–by making mistakes and then trying again, fixing things, making new mistakes–better mistakes. And then fixing them.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

-Samuel Beckett

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