What Skiing Taught Me About Travel

I was a few months shy of 21 the first time I donned a pair of skis, and I think I fell down about five times before I even made it to the lift. I was in the German Alps, near the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, host to the 1936 Winter Olympics. Jeff had come to visit me in Germany over his winter break, and we’d decided that a ski trip was just the thing to do.

The Alps are not for weenies. On the edge of the slopes were signs warning about steep drops but there were no barriers to keep you from actually going over the edge. I should have signed up for a class, but the classes were all taught in German and the oldest person in the class was maybe 3.5. As I watched tiny tot after tiny tot come whizzing down the mountain, stopping with a snow flinging turn, I figured that skiing couldn’t be that hard. That was before Jeff struggled to explain to me the exact method for skiing, before I slid down almost the entire mountain on my butt, before I spent the night in the hot tub trying to soothe my aching muscles. By then I was convinced that those kids I had seen flying around on skis must have been born with a special gene that made skiing as easy for them as falling down was for me.

By the third and final day of our trip, I could make it down a hill without falling, but it wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t fast. We then didn’t go skiing again for five years, until a spring wedding took us to Denver in time for the last ski weekend of the season. This time I took a class, and I began to understand why people might consider skiing fun.

But then, we got caught up in writing guidebooks and finishing PhDs and traveling around the world, and it wasn’t until this past weekend, that we were able to go skiing again, my third time. I had received assurances that skiing was like riding a bike, and it would all come back to me easily. I’d say that’s a partially true statement. I didn’t feel like I did the first time I clicked my boots into my skis—I certainly didn’t flail around as much—but I still wasn’t entirely comfortable.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a worrier with an overactive imagination, so every time I got going at a decent pace, all I could imagine was what it would be like to wipe out at that speed. And so, I made lots and lots of turns. I gave my glutes a workout through overuse of the snowplow. Essentially, any time I got up to speed, I made myself slow down. By the end of the first day, my knees were killing me. On the second day, they began to bug me as soon as we started down the first slope. I mentioned this to those we were skiing with and no one could quite figure out why. I played around. I experimented. And then I realized what the problem was. I was going too slow. Essentially I was taking every turn without much in the way of momentum, meaning my knees were having to do all the work of turning my skis. What I had to do was let go.

It wasn’t easy. I hesitated a few times. I pulled up on the steeper parts. But eventually, I let go. I trusted in my ability. I knew that I knew how to ski, that I knew how to turn, that I knew how to slow down, that I knew how to stop, and so I let myself go. My knees quit hurting. Skiing became much more fun and much less work. I tried bigger hills, tougher slopes. I fell a few times, but I popped right back up each time. I didn’t throw caution to the wind so much, as I trusted in my knowledge, skills, and abilities and then went for it.

As I see it, this is exactly the same thing you have to do with travel. Whether it’s deciding to take a major trip, opting to travel without a detailed itinerary, or choosing to travel to a challenging destination or simply somewhere outside your comfort zone, eventually you simply have to let go. You have to trust in your knowledge, your instincts, your experience, and whatever planning you have done, and then you simply have to make the leap. And that’s when the adventure begins.

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