I grew up skiing but always wanted to learn to snowboard. It seemed so peaceful — just one piece of equipment allowing snowboarders to just float down the mountain, quietly carving their own moving meditation.
On the other hand, my stress at the possibility of snapping my knees in two and looking like an idiot made skiing almost unbearable for me. Even after I got pretty good, I still approached it with the fear of an overactive, adolescent brain. That and ski boots are f-ing uncomfortable.
After staying away from snow sports for almost 20 years, I took my cancer survivorship, complete with possibly brittle bones, and learned how to snowboard exactly two years ago. Living in Chicago makes such a hobby sporadic, but by the time I had five solid days on a board under my belt, I had exactly one afternoon where the snow and the trails were just the right combination for my skills, and for at least three turns, I discovered the enigmatic moving meditation. Completely hooked, I started the 2017 season and day 6 with a giddy excitement that lasted exactly one and a half runs, when I shattered my left wrist in seven places.
Coming out of surgery on December 8, 2016, my entire arm swollen and incredibly painful to move, my surgeon advised me to quit snowboarding. Chemo had weakened my bones, and wrist injuries are excessively common in snowboarding in “normal” people. I looked at him and asked when I could get back to the mountains. He rolled his eyes and asked me to at least give up the season. I ordered wrist braces and checked history for Mountain Collective spots that always have good snow in April, giving my bones eight weeks to heal and my soft tissue sixteen weeks to get back on track.
This past weekend, Michael and I went to Banff, Canada, and spent the weekend with a good friend at Sunshine Mountain. The first morning, Michael tugged my mittens over my wrist braces, kissed me on the forehead, and sent me off to snowboarding school. Where I found John, the snowboarding shaman.
I told him my story (cancer, broken wrist, fear of being snapped in half, wanting to harness the moving meditation) while we rode up the lift.
“Oh, that’s perfect,” he responded.
I raised my eyebrows.
“Because it’s where you are!”
We spent some time at the top of the lift practicing skating and sliding, so, I later discovered, he could figure out how good my balance is. He also shared that it’s safer to break a fall by punching the mountain than by slapping it. “Our bodies are meant to fall when we’re walking or running, but not faster than that. Punching the mountain brings your shoulder into the fall and protects your wrists.” Then we strapped in and started down a very friendly, very wide, green.
I bent my legs and kept my core tight and my back straight, doing everything I know I was supposed to do. My board chattered away underneath me, volubly complaining about the lack of ease in my turns. Half-way down, John stopped.
“Are you breathing?”
“I haven’t passed out, so I’m assuming yes.”
“You meditate and do yoga, right?”
“Have you tried matching your breath to your movements?”
“Try this: breath in as you’re going into the turn and out as you’re coming out.”
And then he demonstrated. He picked himself up, raising his hands, as he entered his turn, and dropped down, lowering his hands, on his way out. I hopped into position and followed him loop for loop.
My board stopped chattering. My turns smoothed out, my pace slowed and sped with the breath coming into and out of my body. Three minutes, or three hours, later, we pulled up in front of the lift. He turned to me with a huge grin on his face and both hands up for high fives.
“Now you’re a snowboarder. What do you want to do for the next two and a half hours?”
And like everything I’ve discovered in the last few years, I found that with just my breath, my brain turns off and my body calms down. It took breaking my wrist, but worth it.