Riding in Steamboat

I learned to ski when I was 6, just outside of Minneapolis at a place called Afton Alps.

The mountain was so big and the runs were so long, and when I finally stopped falling, I had a pretty good time.

Had I known this story would generate so much laughter in a dormitory lounge during my freshman year of college, I might not have told it. But afterwards, a couple of friends, feeling generous and a tad bit sorry for me, offered to take me to Colorado for spring break.

Finally, after 12 years of believing man-made snow and groomed trails were the best the country had to offer, I saw the Rocky Mountains.

I came back to Colorado every year after that, skiing at Keystone, Breckenridge and Vail, vowing that after graduation I would move out West to enjoy the mountains year-round.

In April, I came to Steamboat. When I signed up for my season pass in the fall, I couldn't wait for the chance to ski a couple times a week and really get good. On my first day up, about 7 inches of powder greeted me at the top of Rudi's Run.

I pushed off and fell about three feet down the run -- and about three feet after that, and about three feet after that. I decided pretty quickly that I hated powder. My aversion quickly changed into a longing for it, however, as over the next two months I continued to improve, moving from blue runs to black runs to the occasional black run with bumps.

A couple weeks ago, however, I came to a crossroads in my life -- stick with skis or pick up a snowboard. I loved skiing, but I longed to ride.

My friend Christine would start runs with me, but would inevitably disappear into the trees on her board.

When she came back out, her smile spoke volumes. She encouraged me to try, saying she'd picked it up quickly and I would, too. Impatience was the only thing standing in my way. I wasn't sure if I could handle the learning process, and I didn't know if I wanted to.

Then I had one of those days. I woke up, looked around and realized it would be foolish of me not to take advantage of the place I lived and challenge myself for the first time in years. So I enrolled in a locals' snowboarding clinic, determined to learn to ride. Repeated falls were met with slow improvement and occasional, envious glances over at skiers carving down to Gondola Square with ease.

I grew frustrated. Going into the clinic, I expected to eat snow but I thought I would eventually learn. With one day left in my weeklong class, I wasn't so sure anymore.

Suddenly, everything clicked. Thank goodness because it was the last day of the clinic. Somewhere over on Rainbow, I got heel side. I got toe side. I figured out how to switch from one to the other.

I still fell -- a lot -- but the pain in my knees and left thigh didn't seem as sharp as I carved my way down the mountain, wearing the same smile Christine wore every time she emerged from the barren aspens.

Setting a goal and accomplishing it never grows old even as a person grows older.

And now I have a new story to tell. When I was 24, I learned to ride at a resort called Steamboat with real mountains and runs that stretched beyond human eyesight. And even though I haven't stopped falling, I'm having a pretty good time and laughing at myself.

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