I was breaking a sweat despite the negative temperatures. My stomach was swirling in my mouth like butterflies. Legs weak and shaky, I fought my way to stand. I clipped on my helmet, pulled my goggles over my eyes and peered over the edge, heart beating uncontrollably. A steep mountain slope covered in snow lay in front of me as seasoned snowboarders and skiers darted below, squealing in joy. I turned my snowboard sideways, leaned forward, and hoped for the best. What else could I have done, considering that a few hours earlier was the first time that I had ever seen snow? It was something out of a fairytale, snowboarders walking down the street, sun shining, snow-capped Rockies standing tall in the background and wooden cabins puffed thick white smoke out of their chimneys. Fast forward a few hours and I was high above that town in a place called Lake Louise near Banff, Canada watching skilled snowboarders and skiers chisel lines on the blank canvas below. I was mesmerized by the crunch of snow below their feet. My snowboard was awkwardly stuck under the foot pole beneath the ski lift, my bum and calves aggressively aching from falling over—and over and over again—on my short two-hour lesson before. I was trying to keep it all together by casually chatting to everyone on my lift to take attention off my trembling hands and a thumping pulse I felt in my temple. It was time to dismount. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” I screamed as I slid off of the packed lift before falling face first into the snow knocking two fellow snowboarders down in the process and sliding into the crowded area on my hands and knees much to everybody’s amusement. “Great,” I grumbled. I stood up and marveled at the village and its afternoon shadows. Laughter and chatter surrounded me as I continued to soak in the landscape. I had never seen a view so exhilarating in all my life...well, until I stared down the slope that marked my only path back to safety. Sure, my Cape Town roots hadn’t exactly been a breeding ground for snow sports, but all the years I’d spent on surfboards must translate somehow. The thought of a good carve and that welcome buzz of adrenaline helped me muster my strength fall after fall. By the third day on the slopes, my frustration was at an all-time high. Black and blue, even the simple task of exiting our car became daunting. My competitive nature was at odds with the learning curve and I wasn’t exactly ecstatic that I kept holding up my group every time we got on the mountains. “But today will be different,” I told myself, “today will be different.” And it was. On the third run of the third day something clicked. My confidence was back in full and I began cruising down the hill. The romantic mountain culture, the wind against my face, and the joy in my chest rushed over me like a South African wave. My fears and anxieties of snowboarding only shadows, swept off like those on the village below.
If you’re reading this and contemplating a snowy trip somewhere, do it! From the slopes to wine around the fireplace, snowsport culture and the personalities it fosters are simply amazing. I still find myself craving the snow. If you’ve never tried skiing or snowboarding, keep your expectations in check and remember to laugh as you learn. Go with friends at a similar experience level so you can all celebrate your progress and encourage one another along the way. You might not be launching off jumps, but you’ll be sending the slopes in no time. Most importantly, never forget the goal is to have fun!