Recognizing that I will never mountain bike as well as my family has taught me some lessons about family skiing, as well.
It was July 4th and my dog Jasper and I were alone on a beautiful alpine trail deep in the mountains of western Colorado. Blessedly alone, save for the songs of mountain birds, and percussive rolls of muffled thunder from a cloud-filled sky, I relished the opportunity for unfocused thought, a luxury that seems less achievable during this year of anxiety than ever before.
Jasper and I were alone, because the rest of my family — my husband and two sons — had gone mountain biking. I was torn, wondering if I should go with them, rounding out the family unit on a family holiday, but also knowing that their mountain-biking skills had long ago surpassed mine.
There is something about being the sea anchor in a group that is absolutely, 100%, no fun.
And while I hate to be left out, I also hate to be slow.
I also recognize that for many skiing families, the dynamic can be similar, whether it’s mom, dad or a child who feels they’re holding the family back. And if you’re the one who feels “slow,” this can be a serious impediment to enjoying something that should always be fun.
While I’ve intellectually understood this with skiing, I have to admit that I haven’t always been sympathetic. I’ve been known to wonder why the non-skiing partner doesn’t just suck it up, sign up for lessons, and get on with falling in love with winter.
But looking at the situation through the lens of mountain biking is enlightening.
Mountain biking humbles me. Mountain biking is something with which I’ve never felt extremely comfortable. Give me exposure on snow, and I’ll jump a cornice or glide and hike the most narrow traverse. This is because I have confidence in my skills, which have been built over a lifetime.
But with mountain biking, my first time on a fat-tired bike spooked me. And I’ve never really recovered.
My introduction to mountain biking came on our honeymoon. My husband was the earliest adopter of mountain biking that I know. For me, someone who grew up in a skiing and road-biking family, mountain biking looked fun and seemed a natural fit. There was no reason why I shouldn’t try it and expect to fall in love with it.
But the first trail I rode, in Crested Butte (so many years before the wonderful Evolution Bike Park was in place), was too hard, too technical and I put too much pressure on myself. And I’ve never, to this day, shaken the sense of terror that gripped me when confronting a narrow downhill trail full of tree roots and rocks.
Fast forward to Sedona, Arizona. We are still married, despite the literally rocky start, and we now have two sons, a teen and a tween.
On a cool Arizona afternoon, we went for one more ride, after a long day of exhilarating and confidence-building fun. Despite being tired and trail worn, I was the one who couldn’t let go, urging just a few more miles as the autumn sun mellowed to twilight. My heart full and singing with joy, I rounded an easy corner, caught a stump and broke my ankle.
I’ve never quite shaken this experience.
Make A Declaration
So on this July 4th, with my family choosing mountain biking, I bowed out. And that’s how I found myself in utter solitude, hiking uphill, and thinking about my personal declaration of independence.
It’s also how I found myself empathizing with ski moms and dads, more aware than ever of how they may feel when they are the member of the family with less experience and newer skills, with less comfort and more fear.
With this realization, I’m got some new advice: No matter what you’re doing, make sure it’s something you want to do.
If family skiing is not your thing, find something else that is.
If you want family skiing to be your thing, explain to your family that it may take some time apart, that they need to be patient, and that while you’ll meet them on the chairlift, you won’t always ski the same runs. Let them know that you want their support and that you want to build your skills, but on your own terms.
Declare your independence, and with it, give yourself the gift of freedom.
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