In 7th grade I was told by a fellow camper that I was “decently athletic,” a compliment that I internalized and quickly loved, perhaps because I had always been more academic rather than coordinated. The comment shouldn’t have meant so much, considering we were attending a sleep away camp in which “chilling on the hill” was the most popular sport option. But this comment is more or less accurate. While I’m never the best, the fastest, or the most coordinated, neither am I usually the least athletic.
All this changed when I went skiing for the first time in my adult life, where I was all of the above: the worst, the least coordinated, the most likely to die falling off a mountain. I had gone skiing once before, age nine, with my dad in upstate New York. The baby hill was a little too much for me to handle, and we never returned.
When my friends and I were invited to go to the Pyrenees mountains with a French group, we were thrilled to interact with a group of locals, for whom skiing is perhaps even more natural than drinking wine. I figured I should break out my French-English dictionary and gather up my “decent” athletic abilities, and put them to the test.
First of all, there are no “bunny slopes” in France. There are only Huge, Enormous, Gargantuan Mountains. Following a small but veritable panic attack at the top of the hill, I clumsily latched my skies to my rental boots, and braced for death.
I fell several times within the first few minutes, which—I was told—was totally fine! I then crashed into my French friend, who had taken to guiding me down the mountain, whispering encouraging comments so that I would not fling myself off the side of the trail. Still fine! TOTALLY FINE, he repeated through gritted teeth.
I eventually became so flustered and scared for my personal safety (a particularly rough fall had me fearing for my life) that I removed my shoes and trudged down the mountain in shame. I just needed to make it to the bottom of the mountain—whether I tumbled, rolled, or free fell—in order to take the ski lift back to where we started, where I could then flee and never return.
I made it to the bottom, holding my skis and my shame in hand, but was forced to reattach my skis to my boots in order to take the lift back up. I even smiled. IT WAS OVER—or so I thought.
Once the lift deposited us near the top of the mountain, I stood up, and found myself gliding away at a rapid speed. I tried sticking my poles in the snow, but this somehow only propelled me forward (I really shouldn’t have opted out of physics class).
As I gained momentum, I started to scream and veered off track, careening into a barrier that separated the skiing trails. My mother had begged me to “not die,” before my trip, and as I flailed over the barrier and started to tumble, I thought I had failed her. Luckily, the barrier simply collapsed on top of me, stopping my descent.
The man running the ski lift saw my demise—along with an audience of 10 shocked French people who I was inches from rolling into—and stopped the entire operation. He trudged over to me, un-swaddled me from the barrier, and barked, “ça va?” without waiting to hear the answer. He was more concerned with undoing all of the damage I had just wreaked, and rightly so—I had just destroyed a trail barrier with my decidedly not athletic body.
The jury was out: although I might have represented moderate athleticism at a Jewish summer camp, in the real world, I was simply uncoordinated. I think I’ll leave the skiing to the French people, and I’ll just participate at the wine and cheese parties.