The steam rolled upward, swirling around itself, dancing and dodging snowflakes in its ballet. It’s long elegant ball made it past the roof a few stories away before the last dredges and wisps made their goodbyes into the hazy mist of the winter sky. Their final bows welcomed the newer steam swirls to twirl their ways up toward the mountain. Just below the opera of steam, the water bubbled happily, whirling in circles around itself as well, creating a dip right in the middle of the small hot tub. An adoring fan of the steam’s winter masquerade, the water’s choppy movements echoed the more elegant ones of the steam; like a child dancing along to the show. Giddy with warmth in the middle of the blustery snow, the water splashed toward my face, and evaporated against my chest as I leaned back against the icy wall and sighed, a smile drifting lightly on top my face. I could feel the water soothing the testy skin just above the newly forming bruise on my abdomen. Bless the water for making it easier to laugh.
Just earlier, maybe a few hours at this point, I had found myself a mess of body parts halfway down the slope of my favorite ski resort. The board strapped to my feet had betrayed my interests as I tried to do as experts do and sway my weight forward to carve a long sharp arch into the pillow-y snow of the mountain side. I, however, am no expert, and my ambition had gotten in the way of my skill. Leaning just a tad too far, my body slammed hard against the unforgiving powder twice; once against my hips, and a second time against my chest. I sat there for a second, the light wind around me picking up enough to steal my recently escaped breath entirely from sight.
On the mountain in my pile of body parts, I had let out a long sigh with what little breath seemed to still have stored itself in my body. Regardless of any philosophical logic I could have currently added to the situation, a fall was a fall; it hurt and it was disappointing. I kicked myself for a second, while there on the ground, before trying to figure out where my body pieces should naturally go. That was my third fall of the day, and I had only been out for an hour or so. Up till then, I tried to keep count of my mistakes, but right then, as I turned my body to look back down the mountain and prepared to stand again, I felt how heavy that number three sat on my heart.
I love snowboarding. I am not good at it really, but its something that makes me immensely happy to think about off the hill. Yet, on the hill, I am a bundle of nerves, obsessing over a number. How many times is it now? How many times is it now? Do I count the fall where the skier cut me off? Do I count the fall where I couldn’t seem to stand back up? There’s so many rules in my sport, too many rules for something entirely about letting go and letting the snow take you. Am I really enjoying myself if the only thing I can think is “don’t fall?”
I took a class once on behavior reinforcement; the entire concept was that punishment is not as productive as reinforcement. Focusing on what someone shouldn’t do wont help change a behavior quite as much as focusing on what they should do. Yet, here I was kicking myself for falling instead of praising myself for making it this far. A bruise can be a lesson just as much as anything else, but to hate the bruise for existing denies the fact you had to work to get it in the first place.
In the hot tub, the newly forming bruise on my abdomen echoes the same sentiments I felt on the mountain there. I had fallen many times in my long pursuit of snowboarding knowledge, but falls like that one, where all your limbs had failed to do the job of catching you, those always felt as painful as the first. It is hard to pick yourself up after a fall like that, to want to reorient yourself on the board, left foot forward, right foot back, and throw yourself back down the mountain. You only hope that next time your arms will catch yourself before your bladder does. But that’s the sport, every sport; its a test of will and patience, a test of personal strength to accept the fact that you will fall again, and you will fall hard, and you wont know when it is going to happen. I decided there in the steam to enjoy the bruises, proof of a long day filled with hard work.
The next day, I found myself careening down the mountain again; same slope, same run. I wanted to do as experts did, and I saw in my mind’s eye where I had found myself a pile of body parts the day before. I wiped the image away, focusing instead on the one run I had done where I got it right. it is just a shift of weight, from heels to toe. The wind whipped around me as I picked up speed, and slowly, I shifted toward my toes. My body made that elegant arch across the slope-side, carving a soft curve into the snow-bed. Another shift and I was curving the other way, away from the trees and back towards the left. And I made it down the hill, with only what should be in my mind.
My friend met me at the bottom. Having skied down before me, she had a chance to turn and watch. “That was pretty impressive,” she said to me as we got onto the lift, and I had to agree, though for a completely different reason. I had forgotten my fall number for the day.