I went to an extraordinary public middle school in Brooklyn. In addition to incredible academics, it was a sort of magnet school that catered to poor, working class and lower-middle class students of color. Throughout our tenure at the Philippa Duke Schuyler Middle were presented with an array of opportunities for extra-curricular learning. There were heavily subsidized trips to Europe, long-weekend camping trips to the Adirondacks in late spring, math-club competitions, and ski weekends Upstate New York. Even though these experiences were substantially discounted for those of us without the means to partake in mind, most of the activities still presented a financial hardship for my family. That is, except for the camping trip.
My mother and stepfather saved up over months for the eighty dollars it cost to allow me to get on a charter bus filled with anxious urban nerds, with an old-school style rectangular sleeping bag, sneakers and cotton socks, a wool beanie (that I managed not to lose the entire trip!), too many Scott O’Dell novels and snacks for the five-hour or so bus ride north, a backpack, and other items I would need to stay warm and dry during our sojourn in the mountains.
We slept in lean-tos with big blue tarps that kept the bitterly cold spring winds from inside. We huddled together to stay warm, and laughed when the boys next to us screamed when they thought there was a family of bears outside their lean-to. We watched as our teachers made 80 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for hungry pre-teens. We hiked. We told ghost stories around the fire. We took lukewarm showers in the cold building that was what seemed like a very long walk from our campground and we held our pee overnight because walking that far to the bathroom in the middle of a pitch-black night with black bears wandering around was too much for our little Brooklyn imaginations. But we fell in love with that trip. How our clothes smelled mildewy, fresh, and like woodsmoke. We saw so many stars at night. And it was cool how you could be freezing cold, still enjoy yourself, and want more.
I fell in love with mountains that April. I wanted to always be in, on, near mountains. I wanted to hike. I wanted to be in a situation where I could really be afraid of bears. I wanted to be outside ALL THE TIME.
Fast forward 33 years. A little grayer on top, taller, heavier, and wiser. And a lot colder.
Mirna Valerio finds out what it's like to learn how to ski as an adult on her Coalition Snow Rebel All Mountain skis. Image courtesy of Mirna Valerio.
Jen Gurecki and Lexi Gritelfeld, of Coalition Snow, and I are on a call, while I am driving through the Green Mountains in Vermont during a rainstorm. Would I be open to skiing on some Coalition skis?
“You know I’m not really a skier, right?” I asked, thinking that maybe that had confused me with the other black skier? –Wait...
We went back and forth on how a new skier like me could show people that yes, they could learn something new as an adult, that yes, being on a mountain in deep snow in the winter can be fun and liberating. That it could change your perspective on doing very scary things. That it could feed your need to move fast on a snowy mountain. That it could fill your heart.
I was all in.
A week after a deep freeze prevented me from my first downhill ski lesson in about 11 years, I drove up to Bolton Mountain Resort, nervous about finding the right place to meet my ski instructor, Guy. (Spoiler alert–I went to the wrong place, where a woman clad in all the latest ski gear told me to “just take this lift up there, and backcountry over to this other run where you can then ski down to the main lodge–OR you can just drive up a mile and it’s on your right!”) I drove.
I arrived late. I was nervous and already frustrated. It was cold and my fingers were frozen--so were my ski boots. I couldn’t get them on. I mean, I had actually practiced putting them on and taking them off. I had gotten fitted by the guy here in Vermont. You know, THE GUY (who you can maybe get an appointment with, if you text, don't call, and do the secret knock--okay most of that isn't true but some of it is…) I hadn’t learned the old trick of turning your heat up high in the car, and putting hand warmers inside the boots so they would be warm and pliable, then in a swift four step process, removing said boots from car, slipping out of your shoes into the boots without stepping or falling into the muddy slush in the parking lot, buckling all the straps without stopping the blood flow to your toes, and throwing your unwieldy skis over your shoulder. IYKYK.
Clumsy newby? We don't think so. After just a few lessons at Bolton Valley, Mirna Valerio starts to feel the power of being on snow. Images courtesy of Mirna Valerio.
My skis were gorgeous. Heavy, sturdy, and slick with almost razor-sharp edges–each surface displaying beautiful artistic renderings of the outdoors by the talented Lauren Bello Okerman. Even though I was a clumsy newbie who had gone to the wrong lodge, and had had trouble getting her skis on, I felt something. There was something powerful going on here, but I couldn’t quite verbalize it yet.
I hoisted my skis on my shoulder, like I had observed everyone else doing, and made my way up the hill, to where my instructor, who happened to be named GUY (not THE SKI BOOT FITTER GUY FROM ABOVE), was waiting for me. All smiles and all New Jersey jokes. My frustration at being late, cold, and numb-footed quickly dissipated. I was ready for a new adventure.