*Editor’s note to my runner and swimmer friends: The editor is so sorry. She is aware that she’s boring the bejesus out of you by yammering on and on about ski-patrol training in every post. She hopes you’ve at least enjoyed and been able to connect to the “girl has goal, girl chases goal, girl suffers setback, girl ultimately triumphs” plot line. Stay tuned for a running post on Wednesday.*
Guess what, guess what, guess what?
I got to run sleds! And I did good! And it was soooo much fun!
That’s how I’ve been starting most of my conversations since Saturday, the first day I got to work with toboggans during ski-patrol ski and toboggan (S&T) training at Whitetail. Now that my little outburst of excitement is out of the way, here’s how the day went down:
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, in stark contrast to the foggy darkness of Thursday night. The S&T instructors gathered us on top of the mountain at 9 a.m., then split us into a few smaller groups. As I stood waiting with my crew, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d just been picked for a team in middle-school gym class, and couldn’t help wondering if I’d been picked first or last.
The instructor leading our group didn’t bury the lede, and greeted us simply by saying: “This is the sled group.” After a long season of getting hauled around in sleds after an ACL tear derailed my training last year, and after a long few weeks working on exorcising my ski demons before actually getting to pull a sled myself this season, it was all I could do to avoid letting out a little yelp of excitement. We headed to Whitetail’s expert terrain, split up into even smaller groups, and got started.
The instructors I’ve been working with have emphasized for weeks that if I worked out the aforementioned skiing demons (sitting back in my skis, not finishing my turns on one side, etc., etc.) before I got into the handles of a toboggan, life would be much easier once I did. They were so totally right. My first try with an unloaded sled felt really natural, not at all like the Herculean feat of strength and grace I’d been imagining it would be.
The other student in my group and I each took half a run with the sleds unloaded (with no one sitting in them), and then another run with them loaded (with each other sitting in them). That’s when the fun really started. Pulling a loaded sled is more exhilarating and empowering than I can possibly explain. It’s hard not to feel a surge of confidence when you realize you’re smoothly guiding a heavy, unwieldy object down a steeply pitched slope. It’s kind of like a roller-coaster ride you can steer and control.
In short, I felt like I totally nailed my first few runs, and that feeling was backed up by my instructor’s feedback. But perhaps more important was the fact that I totally wiped out on another run. The snow was getting slushy and heavy toward the end of the morning, and we were working on a new skill, transitioning from inside the handles to outside of them, which we’ll need to do when we learn how to pull a sled through the moguls. I was still getting the feeling of how much pressure to apply when engaging the chain—literally a chain on the bottom of the sled that acts as a brake—and fell when I misjudged it.
This was my greatest fear coming into the training—that I would wipe out, that I’d let go of the sled, that the sled would crush me and eject my patient, that I would be responsible for mass chaos and trauma on the mountain. What actually happened: I held onto the sled, engaged the chain, apologized profusely to my fellow student (who was a really good sport about it), and realized that my worst training fear had just happened. With that behind me, I felt like I could actually relax a little, and the second half of that run was maybe my best of the day. I’m not planning to fall in the handles again anytime soon, but I was grateful for the reminder that failure usually isn’t fatal, and is often the starting point for getting better.