Open Your heart with Winter Fitness describes the spiritual, physical and psychological benefits of learning a snow sport as an adult. The second part of the book features a detailed sport fitness plan.
Buy your copy!
Introduction: Turning Points
We teach best what we need to learn
Once upon a time, I was the quintessential city woman. Having essentially grown up on the subways in the heart and soul of New York City, I knew the score about all things urban. After all; I am a native New Yorker. At age 18, I joined a fitness center as an excuse to avoid the ever-present drug scene that prevailed on college campuses in the 1970s. By age 19, I became a fitness instructor. Eventually, I began to live for my workouts. I ran my first marathon at age thirty, and continued to train at marathon intensity year round. I continued to train at this intensity, even though I was teaching one to three aerobic classes daily, and spending at least two hours a day in the weight room. Running was my only outdoor activity. I loved it in the spring, summer and fall, but hated it in the winter. In fact, I despised the winter season. Like clockwork, each year when the clocks were turned back, my mood would darken. I believe that this condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Although I loved the New York City nightlife, my winter sadness caused me to hibernate during the colder days. Perhaps this was why it took me till age 34 to meet my soul mate. One night, we walked along a moonlit beach on Block Island. In the distance, a band was playing Let me Call You Sweetheart. I told him that I wanted to be on beaches with him when we were old. He asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes.
Although Mark and I had, and continue to have a good deal in common, there was one major difference: Mark loved to ski. One of the many points of contention in his first marriage was his ex wife’s refusal to ski as well as her desire to live in a perpetually warmer climate. I began to see the beaches fading out of my fantasy future.
Before long, Mark asked me to join him on a ski trip. My first thoughts were, “Are you out of your mind?” Since I believed that New York City was already in the Arctic Zone, I could not understand why anyone in his or her right mind would want to go to Vermont in the middle of the winter. I had nightmares of being eternally frozen, never to return to the comfort of the weight room and elliptical machine. Nonetheless, Mark was a “keeper,” so I agreed to ski by my man.
On the bus ride to Killington Vermont, I tried to hypnotize myself with affirmations.
I am strong
I am invincible
I am a fitness instructor
I am a marathon runner…
I am scared out of my wits! However, I showed up on the slopes the next morning in my form-fitting ski outfit, feeling a bit full of myself since I looked better than some of the 20-somethings in the ski class. My pride would be short lived. How should I describe this unfortunate incident? Did you see the film, Bridget Jones, the Age of Reason? Do you remember the ski resort scene? Compared to me, Bridget was Picabo Street. Despite my extreme strength, flexibility and aerobic endurance, I could not stay up on my skis for more than one minute. A group of handsome ski instructors were lined up across the mountain, looking like a bunch of Chippendales. I somehow managed to fall face down across their skis, as if I was offering myself as a sacrifice to the Gods. For my next trick, I skied into another ski class, and knocked them all down. I was having a really hard time winning friends and influencing people. Every time I tried to get up, BOOM, down went the Baby Boomer. It would be 12 years till I agreed to be coerced into giving it a second try.
By then, we were living in Boston. I had started teaching classes in Pilates and Stability Ball. I no longer ran marathons, and was not spending even half as much time in the weight room as I did in my younger days. It was New Year’s Day. Mark’s children were visiting from Florida, and we were going to Vermont. Since I did not want to be left in the room with noting to do, I agreed to accompany them to Mount Snow. Somehow, I got talked into taking a lesson. That day, the temperature was 15 degrees below zero.
Although I still looked good for my age, I was uncomfortably aware that at 45, I was considerably older than anyone else in the class. I told the instructor about my past failure at the sport, as well as my concern that I was just too darn old for this stuff. He asked me what I did for a living. I described the stability ball classes that I taught. “That sounds terrifying!” he said. I laughed so hard that I began to glide. Of course, gliding is what it’s all about.
It was frightening at first. But then, I began to allow the mountain to be my dancing partner as it led me down the hill. Song’s like Sinatra’s Nice and Easy Does It played through my mind, providing me with a rhythm and an affirmation. I was oh so, free, yet surprisingly in control.
Soon, it was time for Lisa’s first lift ride. Despite the fact that I had not fallen once throughout the lesson, I was still feeling apprehensive. My lift mate didn’t help much. She was saying her Hail Mary’s. Deciding that I could use all of the help I could get, I joined her.
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary moves my skis…
When we got off the lift, our ski instructor looked as if he was about to have a heart attack. Apparently, we had criss crossed our skis with each other, and had somehow managed to ski off the exit ramp without falling.
How was it that this older woman, who was infinitely less fit than her younger self had managed to do better at the sport on the second time around? The answer is simple. The newer modalities I added to my teaching repertoire incorporated some of the most important elements of ski fitness: Balance, coordination, agility, postural alignment and proprioception. My former fitness methods involved predictable exercises. However, absolutely nothing that happens on a ski slope is predictable. For that matter, nothing in life is predictable. When you train on a stability ball or any other balance device, you need to react to the ball’s movements with spontaneity and agility. This sort of balance and proprioception has a direct carry over to slopes. Ski instructors call this concept “Teaching for transfer.” Little did I know that this sense of spontaneity would carry over into my life.
The people we love the most are often the ones that inspire us to develop new hobbies. Dawna Markova, author of I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, asks us to consider this question:
"What do you truly love? To explore this question, it's helpful to go back to the seeds of your loving and ahead of the fruit you'd like to bear in the world. Who taught you to see beauty in the world? Who believed in you no matter what? Who was a great soul for you, an inspiring companion, who passed on to you a wonder and love of some aspect of being alive?"
Without a doubt, Mark was the person I truly loved. To this day, I am forever grateful to him for inspiring me to become involved in this beautiful sport.
Epilogue: Five years after that day at Mount Snow, Mark and I packed our van with our Greyhound, two cats and a variety of balance we sport training toys. We moved to Summit County Colorado, where we opened up Mountain Sport Pilates and Fitness.
When we first moved to Colorado, I came home to a place I'd never been before. Having spent most of my life in the black and white urban metropolises of New York and Boston, this Technicolor mountain community provided me with things that were once conspicuous by their absence in my life. These days, as I awaken each morning and go to my window, I wonder what the mountains will wear today. You see, they like to change their colors with their mood. Sometimes they dress in purple. At times they dress in green. As autumn approaches, the aspens turn golden, reflecting the bright Colorado sun. They embellish the mountain like ornaments on a Christmas tree, reminding the locals that winter, their favorite season, is on its way. Then, surprise, Santa comes early, and we get a September sprinkling of snow. The town reverberates with joy and anticipation.
As night falls, the colors of daylight blend slowly with the darker colors of the night. I am living in a watercolor painting. But this painting is my reality. This is Summit County; where we embrace the challenges along with the beauty that each of our seasons graciously offer us. "When you feel down, look up." We say this to people when we notice that they seem sad.
During the winter, Mark teaches at the Breckenridge Ski Resort and I work part time as a skier surveyor for Copper Mountain. One day, I walked into the cafeteria, and saw a beautiful, fit, 40 something woman sitting by herself. As I approached, I noticed that she was in tears. Apparently, even though she was in incredible shape, this skiing thing just did not agree with her. Yet like a woman who is helplessly in love with a reluctant suitor, something was drawing her to the sport. She wanted longed for the thrill and excitement of alpine skiing, but was afraid that it was unattainable.
I did not take many surveys that day. Instead, I sat down and told her my story, and advised her on what she can do to tweak her fitness routine in order to make it more ski-specific. To protect her privacy, I will call her Charlotte. For Charlotte, and anyone who believes that age is just a number, this book is for you!