My goggles were so fogged I could faintly see other people around me or formations on the ground. The wind was strong and blowing me off my tracks while snow pellets were striking the exposed skin on my face. I could not stand up long enough to advance forward without sinking a foot down, and several muscles in my 5’2” frame I didn’t previously know existed, were fatigued from getting up after countless falls.
But I’m a martyr, y de esa manera seguí todo el dia. This is the memory I carry of my first experience snowboarding.
It was not good.
As I awoke the second day, I felt defeated and fearful of the idea that the challenging conditions on the first day, were setting me back from a personal goal I had carried for years — to learn a snow sport. I acknowledged the intention I set years back had manifested in front of me, even if it came with the uneasiness of rolling solo. So I gathered myself, and headed toward the mountain.
At the rental counter I looked at the skiers near me and felt envy. It seemed they had it easier because they are not constrained to one board. I will admit that part of my hang-up with skiing was that I perceived it as less of a “cool” sport. But considering I wasn’t yet fully invested in snowboarding, and given my less than joyful first day experience, I put my judgments aside and booked a ski lesson in the spirit of honoring my curiosity.
My boyfriend at the time was part of the weekend ski-patrol team, which meant I was on my own during these two days and only planned to see him for lunch. The night before we had driven up to Lake Tahoe from Sacramento. I was excited but the weather conditions were putting a damper on our moods. His response to the news alerts to stay off the roads because a record-breaking snow storm was hitting the Sierra Nevada region was, “don’t believe the hype!”
I kept hearing this in my head as we drove that night through a storm and fog so thick we couldn’t see more than 30 feet ahead of us. To our disappointment, the window defroster was also faulty and we were forced to drive with the window open. To make matters more interesting we hadn’t engaged the four-wheel drive and were sliding all over the road, but it was unsafe to stop due to the poor visibility and the risk of getting rear ended and pushed off a cliff. No big deal (Insert winky emoji here).
“Was this ‘hype’ or poor planning?”, I wondered as I sat calmly in the passenger seat. In true Catholic guilt form, I of course, thought of my mother who would probably be furiously asking, “¿Pero porque se fueron en esas condiciones?”, should anything really tragic happen to us.
I still vividly remember the stressed out look on his face while he was driving, and me not being able to contain my nervous laughter as much as I wanted to. Hilarity is usually the coping response my body resorts to in times of stress. I found comfort in texting my sister humorous goodbye love notes to keep my mind off the reality of the situation, and to avoid going into complete panic mode.
But on that second day, from the minute I stepped on the mountain I felt the slopes welcome me with open arms. Lake Tahoe sat gleaming before me with its glass-like surface, and dazzling backdrops. The sun’s rays provided both warmth and exposed the vivid blue sky for miles. The mountain had also been groomed allowing me to stand without sinking immediately. Within the first hour of the lesson I had learned to make turns while gliding down the mountain (that’s code for I was feeling like a rockstar newbie), and had a basic understanding of the power, but most important SALVATION, of my ski edges. At that moment, everything that had led me to that point over the weekend had been worth it. The feeling was pure ecstasy.
From that day forward, skiing became my gateway drug to recreation in the outdoors. Being on the mountain felt blissful. I had grown up in a beach town and the beauty of snow covered wilderness for miles was something I had never really bonded with. On rare occasions it would snow in the local mountains and my dad would come home to ask “¿Quieren ir a la nieve?” This meant he was prepared to drive us in his truck, 45 minutes up to the local mountains to play in a thin layer of snow. Those experiences were valuable in their own right, but for the first time that weekend, I had just experienced this mystical thing I knew only from the cover of magazines: POWDER.
I continued going often for several seasons. It was an experience where the physical learning led me to a place of spiritual and personal growth as well. Oftentimes the wind or snow falling from the sky would turn up in a matter of minutes. The mountain would clear of people, and the fear, or miedo, of being alone on top of a mountain, in the cold, with only the sound of the wind hissing through the trees would paralyze me. Again, I would hear my mothers voice in my head, “¡Graciela! ¿Porqué tienes que hacer esas cosas?” In other words, she wondered why I insisted on putting myself, in what she considered, dangerous situations.
After sitting on the snow for a few minutes, I would assure myself I could get down the mountain safely without injury or getting lost. It was during those moments I most intimately connected with the mountain. I was left with no choice but to trust the space I was in as well as my own abilities. Most importantly, I learned to restrain my fear to a place I could use it only to keep me humble, but not to prevent me from growing. Adios Miedo. I no longer feared solitude in the wilderness for I realized I too was born wild. The snow under my feet was the same water I was made from, the sky above me was the same one that had shielded me as a child, and the advantage to playing in the mountains over my backyard, was the mountain had no boundaries. This was the beginning of my journey to becoming a steward of the outdoors.
Graciela Cabello is the National Director of Latino Outdoors. When she’s not dreaming of powder days, she’s enjoying numerous other outdoor spaces and activities that skiing opened the doors to.