Skiing and Cerebral Palsy: A Transition

Fear has probably been the best word used to describe my life on the slopes. Starting with the fear of heights, making the ride on the chairlift challenging. The fear of crashing, made it difficult to fully commit to skiing more challenging terrain. Then, I have cerebral palsy, making skiing even more of a challenge. But, with all of these anxieties causing factors, I still love to ski. The improvement skiing adds to my cerebral palsy functioning can’t be denied. Along with the positive impact being on the slopes has on my mental health. Taking on the fears I experience has felt like a worthy task. Last season, during my first consistent year of skiing since my youth, all the time was spent on the easy slopes. Riding the chairlift, I had become most familiar with riding through the years. It took me all winter to reach a level of comfort with Daisy. Going up to the resort and spending a couple hours on that easiest of chairs. The pattern was followed again and again, for about ten weeks in a row. There were a couple falls here and there during my winter year. Taking my biggest tumble late in the season, from skiing too fast. The success this ski season was moving through it without experiencing any debilitating fear. I proved to myself that I could go up and ski independently. Starting the healing process from the negative memories developed on the ski bus of my youth.  

Last season left me wondering if there would be more fear for me to conquer. I had taken large steps from the days of riding the ski bus, as a kid. When I felt abandoned by the peers’ I was hoping to ski with during the weekends. My hope was to make friends and have fun in a shared interest. The experience ended with panicking on chairlifts and crashing on runs I should have never been attempting. Those weekends brought about heartaches and tears, that have been hard to overcome. Skiing on my own last season went such a long way in healing those old wounds. When the chairlift would stop last season and I could feel the panic creep in, I would focus on the music playing in my ear. I would focus on taking some deep breath to calm my emotions. While, enjoying the view of watching people skiing under the chair. Most of them just learning how to navigate their way down the slope. Before long, the chair would start moving again, carrying me up higher on the mountain slope. Each time there was a stoppage of the chair, which might have taken me straight to the lodge after disembarking, in previous years. Leaving me too frightened to try again. Throughout last year, I wouldn’t let myself run away, like I had as a child. If the chair stopped on my ride up, I told myself to go ride it again, right away. The practice helped me ease the anxiety of riding the Daisy chairlift. Allowing me to gain the trust that I would be okay. The result has been, becoming almost completely comfortable on the Daisy chair. Allowing me to load with others and chat with whomever I might be riding with, without anxiety. But, that emotion didn’t travel to other chairlifts. 

The fear felt like it started over with a bigger chairlift. The Brooks lift at Stevens seems like the next lift to ride in a skiing progressions. Ski runs accessed from the Brooks lift feel like the most delicate of intermediate terrain. There are many different avenues to ski from the chairlift. Most all start gently and end gently, with challenging spots in the middle. But, going up on the lift alone, was out of the question. Skiing early in this season had me feeling like I could take on the more complicated terrain. However, my fear remained too stifling to venture over toward the Brooks chairlift, alone. When I was presented with the opportunity to ski with someone. We began getting into the habit of going over to ski off the intermediate chair. I was still riding up Brooks experiencing anxiety. But, there wasn’t enough fear to keep me from getting on the chair time and again, as long as someone was there. The challenge was improving my skill level as a skier. The more we went over to the Brooks chair, the less challenging skiing the Daisy chairlift was becoming. I was beginning to understand that progressing my ability to ski was going to require loading the Brooks chair by myself. If the goal could be achieved, I could continue growing my skill level by practicing on my solo ski trips. My challenge would be the persistence of my fear. 

I was hoping the same plan working with riding the Daisy chair, would work in regards to riding the Brooks chair. I had been on the Daisy chairlift multiple times with someone I trusted. Those rides up on the chairlift allowed for me to build trust. It also created positive thoughts on the chairlift, giving me confidence and comfort. When it came time to ride the Daisy chair alone, I was still fearful, but the fear was able to be overcome. When it came to the Brooks chairlift this season. I had again spent time riding up Brooks and skiing down with someone trusted. The trips of skiing the more challenging lift was allowing me to become more comfortable. I was starting to get confident with my ability to ski the runs without challenge to the degree of fear. So, when I was going up to ski on my own, I was hoping for the courage to ski over, and load the Brooks chair. However, the feeling of adventure to move over toward that intermediate chair wasn’t arriving. I recall going up to ski on my own and starting with the Daisy chair. As I rode up the lift, I would peer over to the Brooks chair. Hoping to be struck with the courage to ski over in that direction. But, each time I looked over toward the chair, fear would rush through my body, and I would spend my morning skiing Daisy. I wondered if it would ever have the chance of happening.

A couple weeks ago, I had two days in a row to ski. It was going to be a Tuesday morning and the possibility of the following day, a Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday morning, I would be skiing with someone, meaning we would ski the challenging terrain off the Daisy chair. Skiing on that Tuesday morning was one of the best days I have ever skied. The snow couldn’t have been better and the weather comfortable. We came off the mountain and I was feeling confident in the possibility of challenging myself to ski again, the following afternoon. In thinking about my rides on the Brooks chair. A couple things stood out, making the rides feel more comfortable. Along with sitting next to someone trusted on the chair, the amount of snow on the ground caused a feeling of not being too high off the ground. The other major factor from the day was surviving a stoppage of the chair. When a chairlift stops on the way up the mountain, my anxiety hits most. If I can sit with relative comfort during a stoppage, with someone on the chair beside myself. It makes me feel more comfortable with the idea of remaining calm on the chair, alone. These two aspects, along with my strong skill level of skiing on that day, left me itching for another challenge. 

Following such an exciting Tuesday morning on the slopes. I couldn’t fight the desire to head up solo, on Wednesday afternoon. Hoping to finally find the courage to take on the intermediate chair myself. When arriving at the resort on Wednesday afternoon, my courage felt good. After going through my routine around the lodge before hitting the slopes. Which, includes using the restroom, buckling my boots, checking my phone, and situating music into my ears. It was time to buckle into my skis and truly measure my strength. I stood, buckled into my skis, and looked around the mountain. One way would lead me to the Daisy chair, but the other would lead me to Brooks. Going in the direction of Brooks, takes me down a hill, without the chance of getting back up to Daisy, without taking off my skis and hiking. So, once I start down the small slope, there really was no turning back. My last thought was an understanding that if I chose the Daisy chair, fear would most likely keep me from moving over to the more challenging terrain. I had to make the choice of skiing down the small slope, taking on the fear, and loading the Brooks chairlift. Which, turned out to be the decision I made on that afternoon. I could feel the anxiety when I started down the slope towards the chair. As I moved around the corner and saw the path onto the Brooks chair, I told myself this could be done. After sitting down on the chair and feeling it take off. The all familiar panic came to my emotions. Feeling like I immediately wanted off the chairlift. But, I took some deep breaths and became calm enough to breath in the ride. I disembarked safely, skied down a run without incident, and loaded the feared chair, again. 

Following my second ride up the Brooks chair, fear took over. I unloaded the chair without the ability to convince myself for another intermediate run. The decision took me across the mountain to the Daisy chair. When I arrived, comfort came over my emotions. I shuffled myself through the ropes leading to the loading area of Daisy. The sun was peaking onto the snow from above thin cloud cover. The snow drifting aimlessly in the soft wind. The moment was ideal, riding up the easiest of chairs. I looked over toward the Brooks chairlift, where I had just overcome a pretty huge fear. Tears began building up in my eyes. Giving me the strongest feeling of accomplishment I have felt in years. Having gained the ability to control my emotion of fear, enough. On that day, fear wasn’t given the power to completely control my day on the slopes. My afternoon was finished with a handful of runs on the Daisy chair. Reflecting on the achievement that had brought me to tears. The same view of looking from Daisy over to Brooks, that had kept me from going over to the chair on my own, was the same picture bringing overwhelming emotion, just a week later. Even though the two rides up Brooks brought about fear that had me ski back to safety. Taking on the challenge opened the door for improving my skiing skill. 

Getting through fearful situations has been a process. There have been many things causing anxiety in my life and for years they were allowed to stifle. The thing I have learned from allowing the fear to run my world has been, it doesn’t really lead anywhere. The fear takes over to the point of turning me into a hermit. Literally, unable at times in my life, to leave the house. With anxiety having enough power to keep me home, instead of being around other people, or doing things that make me happy. I have realized, my fear needs to be pushed. The challenging of those anxious emotions has become the way in which to trigger may happiness. My challenge has been trying to understand the ideal time to push against a fear. After finding, pushing too quickly can end up debilitating my ability to push at all, and the fear wins. It has become a balancing act that I have decided to take more seriously. The fear of the chairlift has been pretty substantial, with the height, getting on and off, and the fear of getting down the mountain slope. The fear pushed me away from skiing for years. Only going once or twice, and never without someone trusted. But, that all changed a year ago, and it has changed my outlook. Providing confidence not present before, as well as playing a role in the healing process of negative habits. Now, I have pushed further in my journey of skiing alone, then I ever thought could happen. There has been a plan developed to take on previously debilitating fears. My hope will always be to continue the healing. 

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