The Rockwood Files: A tale of 2 ski lessons

By Gwen Rockwood, syndicated columnist and mama of 3

This is a story about two ski lessons – one that took place nearly 30 years ago and one that happened last week. Here’s what happened.

During the first ski lesson, the one I took as an invincible 15-year-old, I was on a ski trip with my best friend’s family. They’d been taking ski vacations for years. But for me, it was the first time. My friend’s cousin loaned me some old ski clothes – a canary yellow ski bib and coat, which meant I looked a lot like Big Bird hitting the slopes for the first time.

My friend Jennifer, who learned to ski when she was 4 years old, said skiing was fun and easy. Her parents said I should probably spend the first few hours in “ski school” so I could get the hang of it. I figured I’d be swooshing down the slopes with my buddy in no time. But shortly after the instructor helped me strap on those skis, I realized that skiing is not always fun or easy for beginners.

I did eventually get the hang of it, but I was never able to ski the difficult trails my friend loved so much. I stuck to the easiest runs on the mountain.

Fast forward 30 years to last week, when we took our three kids to a ski area about four hours north of where we live. I’d already promised the kids I’d take a ski lesson with them, but I felt increasingly nervous as we rented our equipment. I hadn’t done this in 30 years. And women in their mid-40s aren’t typically as brave as 15-year-olds who think they’re impervious to the effects of gravity. (By the time you become a 40-year-old woman, you’re all too familiar with the ravages of gravity.)

As soon as my boot clicked into the ski bracket, an unsettling certainty came over me all at once. I thought, “Humans truly are the silliest of all God’s creatures. Here I am, strapping unwieldy skis to my feet so I can point myself down an icy mountain, all in the name of having fun. This is the definition of crazy.”

Would a duck go skiing? Would a shark go hang gliding just to see what it felt like to fly? Would a cat go white river rafting? No, they would not. They’d stay where they’re designed to stay with no questions asked. But we humans are different. We say things like “Wonder what would happen if a middle-aged woman attempted to take her second ski lesson after 30 years of no practice?” And then we go do it.

The main difference between my ski lesson in the 1980s and the one last week was the thoughts running through my mind. As a teenager, I assumed skiing would be a grand adventure, and I felt certain I could not only handle it but possibly excel at it. I could practically hear the Olympic anthem playing in my head.

Thirty years later during the second ski lesson, I didn’t hear the Olympic anthem because I was too busy doing an internal chant of “Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.” In my head, I was already making a mental list of friends who might be willing to pick up my kids from school, just in case I broke my legs.

Fortunately, we had a great teacher named Anne, who is such a good skier that she can do it backward while holding the hands of terrified students as they slide down the bunny hill. But even more than that, I was happy that Anne was also a mother because I felt like she understood why it was important that I not break bones or otherwise maim myself during the ski trip. She also understood why my hips popped every time I turn a certain way. Three babies will do that to you.

With Anne’s help, I managed to not only get through the ski lesson but also the rest of the day without breaking anything. In fact, I stayed vertical the entire day – mostly because I was so afraid that if I fell, I wouldn’t be able to get back up without the help of paramedics.

When we finished skiing, the kids asked if I wanted to go snow tubing with them, to which I said an exhausted “No, thank you.” I felt like there was a countdown clock on my good fortune and it was probably best to stop sliding down hills before it ran out. Perhaps I’ll try it again one day – in about 30 years.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.