SOMEWHERE MOUNTAINOUS AND SNOWY — I have always prayed for a mate who can ski.
I grew up skiing. My first foray with sticks on snow was when I was 2, maybe 3 years old. I was a ski instructor for a while after college, and I lived in a ski town out west for four blissful years.
I love skiing. I think it is the greatest sport ever.
So, my friends ask, "What if the guy doesn't know how to ski?"
"Oh God," I respond.
"You'll just teach him," they say.
"Oh God," I respond.
If there is one thing that's a sure recipe for relationship disaster, it's teaching your loved one to ski. I cringe at the memory of hearing couples fighting, from my vantage point on the chairlift, in the middle of the mountain, one berating the other for taking them someplace too steep or too narrow. A friend told me about the time his wife threatened to take off her skis because she so feared skiing down a slope he'd chosen. And a girlfriend who skied off into the trees to hide from her ski date because his skills were so poor on a big-powder day. (Yes, that was a little mean. We've all told her so.)
The horror stories are the reason why, on a recent ski trip to Vermont, friends and I collectively balked when one of our group announced his intention to teach his girlfriend to snowboard. But Caleb Burkle, the friend in question, seemed unfazed.
"I've taught a lot of people and she's fairly athletic," Caleb said of his girlfriend Nissa Kauppila, when I asked if he worried about teaching her. And how'd she do? "Very well," he said, "one of my best protégés so far."
Maybe it was his experience as a competitive snowboarder who lived for several years in Lake Tahoe, and his attendant on-snow expertise, that made the proverbial ride so smooth for them. Nissa was happy and tired by the end of her first lesson, but ready for a second go as soon as possible. Or maybe it was because we were away for a fun weekend and the sole focus wasn't on her.
It's not always so smooth.
When my friend Eeva Moore took up skiing, she immediately opted for a lesson with a professional, citing the "surfing debacle." That was four years ago when her husband, Chris Moore, a California native and lifelong skier/surfer, took her to Costa Rica and tried to teach her to surf. Paddling out on her long board, she was knocked over, banged up by the board, couldn't breathe and, well, she's never surfed again.
"It's very difficult for a couple to give the other instruction," she said. "It creates a weird dynamic where you're not equal."
Thanks to professional instruction – no making-the-same-mistake-twice scenario for them — Eeva now loves the sport, too, is happy to venture to the family ski cabin and do her thing — meeting for lunch and skiing with her husband and in-laws, one at a time.
"I've discovered I don't like skiing with them all at once," she said. "I don't like being stared at. Now Chris gets that. If he's faster, he looks down the slope." These days, she'll also practice a route several times before inviting Chris to join her on it.
Some of my earliest ski partners were David and Suzy Epstein, friends of my parents' who learned to ski as adults. Suzy, younger than David by 11 years and formerly a competitive ice skater, had the edge and became the stronger skier. But her prowess was never a problem. (David: "She's always been a better skier. I've accepted that.") From the beginning, they took separate lessons and continue to do so. When they ski together, the atmosphere is light, fun and accepting.
"The key is attitude," David said. "There's always an undercurrent of competitiveness and (you have to) smother it."
Suzy is careful to encourage her husband rather than telling him things: "If there's one thing a day to help, I'll say it but I don't harp on it."
For the daring lover determined to teach his or her significant other to ski, Caleb has a couple of other suggestions: Choose a day with good conditions — soft snow and sunshine are ideal. Maybe take the previous day or the morning for yourself and ski hard before slowing things down for the beginner. And have a talk about the process first. Remind your partner/student that your help is not criticism — there is a difference.
As a learner, Eeva admitted that she could lighten up a bit; she reminds herself that it's irrational to feel inferior about a sport that's new to her but old hat to her husband. And he has learned to be more of a companion and less of a teacher. He'll give Eeva tips if she wants them, but is happy to remain mum, too.
"If she gets tense, I leave," Chris said. "I show up when I'm wanted and I leave when I'm not."
So, maybe, after all, there is a way to teach the one you love, what you love, without losing your love.
I still think I'll take a pass.
***PHOTO - Kajsa Krieger / Special to the Herald News - Herald News reporter Danielle Shapiro skiing the backcountry of Jackson Hole, Wyo., on a run called the Bear Claw. She writes about the ups and downs of love on the ski slope.