Friday, November 25, 2011

Pushing Fear with Powder

I've lived a lot of my life making decisions about my physical body based on fear.  By nature, I'm a fearful person.   To paint a picture for you, I like to have both feet on the ground while not moving too fast from not very high up.  Do you get the idea of what my "fear factor" is like?

When I was a child and a teenager I hated activities or events with elements of risk.  If I needed to sign a waiver, chances are, I wouldn't be doing it.

I remember being at camp as a young kid spending time at the ropes course and watching all of the fun my cabin-mates were having trying out the Burma Bridge or the zip-line.  No amount of prodding or encouraging ever changed my mind.  Even now, I can feel the tension as the part of me that wanted to participate and experience the thrill battled it out with the part of me in which fear spoke up.  And fear always spoke louder and with more determination.  Fear always won.  And I was sitting on the sidelines watching.

Interestingly, my fear only stopped me from doing things that put my physical body at risk.  Take my flesh and bones out of the equation and I was fine.  I performed in the festival of the small town I grew up in every year from age 5 onward.  Reciting poetry in English and German, playing piano and clarinet and singing was something I signed up to do.  Auditioning for roles in dramas and musicals was something that thrilled me and gave me life.  I even applied for and got a job hosting my own radio show  at the local station when I was 14 years old.  As a teenager I covered civic politics and interviewed provincial politicians in my role as a news reporter for that same station.  It didn't scare me a bit.  Fear didn't even rear its ugly head.

It's not what comes out of my mouth or my brain that makes me quiver.  It's my physical self.   This shell that I exist in.   It just doesn't want to play.


When we first decided to move our family to the west coast Mike had a goal.  Our family was going to be a skiing family.  We were going to make the most of our proximity to amazing ski hills and push powder every weekend.  I smiled and agreed that it was a great idea (in theory).  The ski season still seemed months away.  I had lots of time to work myself into shape to clip on those skies.

We got an early bird family pass for the season up at Grouse Mountain.  Snow up on Grouse came early and heavy last year.  Mike was chomping at the bit to hit the slopes as soon as they opened.  The fear I had about skiing and still lay like a lump in the pit of my stomach but I was determined to push through.

One week before ski season started I broke my elbow.  Skiing didn't even cross my mind as I sat in the emergency room at Burnaby General waiting for my xrays.  But it was on Mike's mind.  "You're going to miss the whole ski season", he said with a look of disappointment on his face.  Only I wasn't disappointed.  I was relieved.  My splinted arm and doctor's orders paved the way for me to avoid facing my fear and pummeling down a mountain.

Though the skies and I didn't become intimately acquainted, I make lots of trips up to Grouse with the Penner ski entourage.  Even with my one immobilized arm, I hauled poles and skies up on the gondola.  I had to.  The girls and Mike  couldn't carry everything themselves and this was my way of supporting them on their adventure.  Once their skies were on and they began making their way down the bunny hill over and over and over again I watched them like I was studying for a final exam.  They picked it up right away, almost effortlessly, it seemed.

 I'd stand at the top watching women my age out on their skies for the first time.  They were the ones I'd fixate on.  Compared to our girls, they looked awkward and stiff.  I could catch the whiff of fear in some of them from meters away.  There were falls and spills and words of frustration and disappointment.  I watched it all.  Other women I watched had been skiing for years.  Probably started when they were kids, I'd reason.  I could never be like them.   It looks too easy.  And so I'd stand and study and decide who to align myself with.

Who to align my fear with.

Wouldn't you know it, the girls fell in love with skiing.  And soon enough it was time to sign up for another season on the slopes.  This year at Mount Seymour.  There is no broken bone this year.  There's been a lot of powder up on the mountain and the ski season will start in mere days.  The girls and Mike can't wait to get up and go out...

.... and so I'll ski.

Did you hear that, fear?

I'll ski.

The tension is there, alright.  The voices that argue and bicker and wage war with each other in the quiet and dark places are working overtime.  I can hear the voice of fear louder and stronger than the others.  He threatens my choice and makes me want to hide.  But  my family wants to ski and this time, I'm not going to be the observer.

I'm taking private lessons.  Alone.  No family by my side watching.  No husband the teacher.   Weekday morning.  No line-ups and busy Saturday on the ski hill.  My need for control breeds my fear and so I'll control the things I can.

It's supposed to be a "La Nina" winter.
Lots of snow on the mountain.
Great conditions for a long season of skiing.
(I don't want to do this).

Fear is holding his ground.  But this time he's not going to win.
(I don't want to do this).

To the slopes.


  1. Waaaahoooo! Karla, I am so thrilled for and proud of you.

    And I understand your apprehension. I have never forgotten the paralytic terror that I felt the day my father drove my brother and I to the ski slopes for the first time when I was 11 yrs old. I honestly thought that I was going to die - or worse! But living in fear is not living at all and so like you I took a chance. At the end of the day my brother and I, still in one piece, returned home with my Dad - alive with a delight that has never left me since.

    You will have a wonderful time at Seymour - tons of billowy, forgiving snow and they have the best instructors in BC.

  2. you go girl! I remember when i took up skiing. 19 years old, fresh from a traumatic relationship break up, i wanted to do something healthy, be outdoors and try to meet some totally different people. So I took to Grouse Mountain, learning on those short skis, mesmerized both by the beauty of the slopes and by the beauty of the city spread below. I persevered, learned to ski, met new people, even went on to rent a cabin at Whistler, driving up Friday nights, and back on Sundays. The best part? Met my husband! So clearly, learning to ski was one of my better life decisions. Go for it Karla, a whole new world awaits!!! xxxxPam

  3. !
    That's all. I was impressed when you even suggested that you were going to try. You had me at "s" for "ski"....