Today will be the fifth official day that I'll be out on skis. Somehow, the cold weather has stayed and the snow has, therefore, remained on the ground. After my first experience Saturday, I've been out on skis three more times, with poles, and will be out again today.
It's been absolutely amazing. Sunday and Monday were just home workouts, but Tuesday saw me back on the snow. It was a mild day Tuesday much more so than Saturday, and I thoroughly enjoyed the change in temperature. It wasn't the most pretty performance on my behalf. Other skiers had been out before us and had left small man made tracks, but the snow was soft and my skis kept flopping all over the place. It's a wonder I managed to keep moving forward. I fell probably about a half dozen times that day; maybe more. However, it helped because it made me less afraid of falling. If I could fall that many times and get back up and keep going, then there wasn't anything to be afraid of. We did a 4 kilometre circuit and I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't incredibly sore the next day.
Wednesday was a much shorter trip out as we were under time constraints. It was much crisper, but I was again pleasantly surprised that, once moving I stayed warm. Tracks had been made and I stayed in them for the most part. It was so amazing to be just floating along. My coach had been great and taken me out all week. He has had to ski with one pole only, especially the first day, since he's used one hand on my elbow or a thumb hooked under the waist of my coat to keep me from taking off into the forest. Wednesday there was less of that because the tracks made it possible for me to get a sense of direction. Despite it being a short outing, I think it was productive. It gave me more time to get a feel for the glide of skiing and how to maintain my balance. There was definitely less falling. I counted twice. The down hills, even though small, were freaking me out and the first hill we slid down I panicked which instantly meant I shifted my centre of gravity back and fell over. I made a real conscious effort to try to keep myself upright when we were out Thursday.
Thursday was another chilly day. The sky was even trying to give us more snow as we glided along. We did the 4 kilometre circuit again and took advantage of a bigger hill to practice going up and how to control your descent. There are a lot of little skills that I have seen just in the past three days building on each other. It's really exciting. For example, doing a 180 degree turn when you're blind and your feet are over a metre long is really tricky. Plus, you have poles in your hands which make you feel like you have four feet instead of two. This skill was alluding me. I kept crossing my skis, stabbing my skis with my poles, not turning the entire 180 degrees. But then, we added in another element-doing a 180 degrees while standing on an incline. I thought flat ground was tricky. Not only were my feet metres long, but I had gravity to contend with. I managed it though, with a lot of help from my coach. (We'll call him Coach T). However, when it came to doing a 180 turn on a flat surface again, it seemed like a piece of cake and I managed it fairly gracefully.
There have been so many things that I've been learning. We practiced going up a hill all three days we were out, but used different techniques in order to show me that there are various options. Yesterday we focused on really using the poles to help propel you up the hill. It was another case of figuring out how to coordinate arms and legs while fighting gravity when wearing equipment meant to make you slide. It felt very awkward and there was much thrashing, but for a few blissful stabs of my poles yesterday, my body finally did what Coach T and my brain was telling it to do. Coach T said to really jam the pole into the ground and use it kind of like a lever to heave yourself up. That's not exactly it, but the point is to make the pole bend; or so I'm told. Of course I didn't see the pole bend, no skier would have since the poles are being planted posterior to the athlete in order to give them more leverage, but Coach T said my poles bent. I certainly felt the difference. There was still much more flailing than pole bending, but the point is that it happened and I know what it feels like. Now, I just have to teach my body to do that all of the time; you use way less energy that way.
We also did a technique dubbed "double poling" on all three days. It's a technique a lot of the world class athletes are using. The first day it didn't go so well since I'd double pole myself into the tree line instead of holding a straight line of travel. The second day it went better, but I still fell doing it. Yesterday, I did the most and didn't fall once. The tracks kept me straight and I could concentrate on the motion of throwing my arms in front of me, jabbing the ground and hurling myself past my arms rather than being concerned as to what direction I was or wasn't going. It's definitely something I'll have to work on in regards to fitness and strength, but I got in a few good ones where I really got going. It was interesting for me to switch from the double poling back to "diagonal striding" (AKA regular skiing) and realise just how fast I had actually been going. The difference in speed really surprised me because I didn't feel like I was going very much faster than when using the regular technique. I think I even managed to get in the little hop at the right time during some of it.
I am by no means ready to race at world class levels, but i feel like I've made progress. I don't scream as much and I only fell on one hill yesterday as opposed to sitting down on all of them. I am so grateful to Coach T for his help and his time he's been dedicating to my cause. I'm grateful to his wife for being understanding and letting me borrow her waxless skis and poles. Even Coach T's daughter has donated to my cause. I was given the wrong boots at the ski swap and she's allowing me to borrow her boots for training before the camp as well as during the camp and my race. I've always believed that athletes are only as good as their support systems and if I can be half as good as my support system, I'll be happy. I couldn't do this without the support of my family and even complete strangers, and people I'm just getting to know. It's just the little things that make the difference: like my husband throwing a sandwich together for me as I rush about putting my gear on; my Mom driving me to various ski shops so I can try things on and price check; or Coach T picking me up for practices. It really makes you realise that there is definitely still good in this world.