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It’s a weird time of year here in Alaska. While autumn might be a time of perfect cute boot weather and golden leaves where you are, we have that for approximately five minutes sometime in September, followed pretty immediately by it being too cold to do any fun nice weather things paired with ugly, barren, no-snow landscapes and creeping darkness.
In short, it’s not great. I know people who spend the rest of the year in Alaska but live in Hawaii just for October through November so they can skip the gross and come back when there’s snow and fun.
This year we got some fantastic early season snow up high in our nearby mountain pass, Hatcher Pass. That meant cross country skiing started early this year. And while the pretty part of winter isn’t anywhere near my house, a 30 minute drive gets me to a winter wonderland where we can play and find our good mood again.
Now, I’ll remind you that I’m on record as saying I will never, ever ski. I’ve said that on national TV. Remind me to never make sweeping statements of absolutes that I might regret later. Because of course, I not only have tried skiing now, but I actually like skiing. If you’re from a beach in California like I am, it might be brand new information to you that there is more than just the one type of skiing in the world. There’s downhill. There’s cross country. There are even sub categories of all of these.
And, naturally, they all come with various different types of equipment and things you’re magically supposed to know. Like, for example, you’re supposed to put wax on cross country skis. But not just any kind of wax or even the same kind of wax every day for every activity — no no. That would be far too simple. Instead they vary by temperature and sub sport and exactly how serious you’re trying to be about all of this. And you’re supposed to just somehow know this and totally not use the wrong kind of wax on your skis. But I digress.
The most important thing about these various skiing things for me is that I am rather bad at all of them. That means that as my kids learn to do it, so do I. We all get to make terrible, embarrassing mistakes at the same time. I can encourage them, but I have no actual advice because I’m just as bad off as they are.
Even after multiple seasons of skiing, I still feel like it’s a completely new thing for us. Last year you might remember I said I was going to make an effort to spend more time on my cross country skis — and I did. I got pretty comfortable with them so long as wherever I’m going is relatively flat. But of course, most places are not relatively flat. And most people don’t like only skiing on flat — they want to enjoy hills. I, on the other hand, do not want to enjoy hills because I am very bad at stopping. It also frustrates me greatly that I can’t just be good at something already. Why does it have to be so hard?
And then there’s my son Huck. Huck is 9, and a lot like me in that he wants to feel like an expert, and hates being in situations where he feels behind or like he isn’t measuring up to his own expectations of himself. Unlike me he has a lot of natural ability in the sports department, so things feel like they should be easy, because things often are easy.
But that’s not how all of life works. Some things take practice and skill. You don’t just walk up to skis and naturally know how to use them. You have to gain technique. I’d say it’s because he is 9 that he has little patience for gaining technique. But it’s probably because he’s human and my son. We like to do things fast and right now in this house.
As we headed out this week to do the kids’ first ski sessions of the year, I reminded them that the spot with snow right now is also the most challenging course because it requires so much uphill right away — about a mile. I also reminded them that skiing was something new last year, and it might take a few tries to get it down. And, finally, I told them how often I fall while skiing — I mean really bite the dust in an epic and embarrassing way — and told them that if that happens to them, it’s OK. But they have to keep going.
But of course that is not at all what Huck wanted to do. Huck wanted to be good at cross country skiing up a one mile hill immediately, thanks. He wanted to remember everything from last March as soon as he started. And he did not want to keep falling.
There were a few moments where he was face-down in the snow, just laying there with the ears of his moose hat flopped on the ground like a sad and dead stuffed animal. But we rallied, and he got up the hill, got down the hill and, later, reported having a good time.
So obviously we went back again the next day. Practice makes perfect, right? But this time even while his technique was noticeably better, his attitude was noticeably worse. Why couldn’t he just be good at it already? We got up the hill very, very, very slowly, skied around a little and went back down. He sat propped against the gate, moose hat flopping dejectedly.
And still, in the car we agreed that things had gone a lot better and that it was worth trying new things to be able to get a little bit every time.
So, I asked Huck and Dave, who is 12 and also worked at skiing this weekend, though he had an easier time of it, for their advice on trying new things. How do you make yourself stick with it even when you don’t want to? Even when it’s hard?
Motivate yourself. Do whatever you have to do to convince yourself that doing it is worth it. Huck and Dave both suggested candy is an excellent motivation. And of course they’re not wrong, but as adults we know that there are other types of motivation in the world, like bragging rights, or knowing that we conquered a fear, or feeling good, or the simple pleasure of setting a goal and crushing it. Or candy. Candy is good too.
You can see photos from our ski days, including a kid in a floppy moose hat, on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. And share your own outdoor time, too, by tagging #Humansoutside365.
I can’t wait to see you out there.