(Lessons from) Skiing in Poland

I have jumped from skies before. I have dived into deep waters of the sea before. I have also climbed buildings before. But each one of these adventures pales in comparison to the best experience Europe has ever gifted me — Skiing.

Zakopane is a small town tucked on the southern border of Poland. For most of the year, this town is mostly unheard of, enjoying its own peace. In winter however, it lifts the cloak of isolation to people who are looking for some adventure in snow. Zakopane has a number of ski and snowboarding sites, that are flocked by tourists all over from Europe looking for the thrill, but without bleeding money through their nose for it (as in Western Europe). When we went there right at the start of the season, we were greeted by an enthralling sight I hadn’t witnessed earlier — a carpet of white covering the entire town with just the green pine trees popping out to add a variety in hue. The pathways were filled with snow seeping into your shoes and the houses were adorned with roofs of white, transforming the most banal of scenes into a picturesque frame.

We headed to the ski place, rented out the skis, shoes, sticks and clothes and headed out for what we felt would be an easy-to-learn sport. The ski shoes reminded me of my inline skates that I had given up years earlier. I did not realize then that this was not the only thing common between the two! As we fit the skis to our boots and started taking baby steps into the snow, the mild slope slowly started drifting the skis, with my legs making random movements, and just when I thought I would fall before even starting, I dug the sticks firmly into the snow and balanced myself. But the lesson was learnt — This wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.

I climbed up the slope, took a deep breath and started the downward descent after observing some people there and reminiscing whatever moves I could recollect from the Winter Sports I used to watch as a kid. Hardly ten seconds later, I was blazing downhill, unable to control my speed and rammed into a fellow skier. First of many falls to come that day! And there I learnt my life lesson — You have to always be in control. But how do you control something you don’t even know? How do you master uncertain environments?

I soon came to realize how. After the first two (moderately severe) falls, I got a bit scared. I grew afraid of the falls and began to doubt if I would actually be learning anything. As I climbed the slope, I was half-tempted to not go down on the slope for the fear of failure. But then I mustered up some courage and went. This time slower than ever, trying to put my skis in the brake posture every moment. I resisted the fall for as long as I could until it repeated the previous pattern again. But I was content with my improvement, for now I had really imbibed the lesson I had read so many times — You have to be willing to fall.

After this epiphany, I almost broke my elbow, got a severe fall but still was fine since I was learning slowly and steadily; the way I had learnt skating after falling so many times; the way people should learn dating. ;) Things became smoother after that on the second day. I started to learn to turn, to brake and stop when I wanted to. Checkpoint one accomplished! Falling seemed to be a distinct possibility now. But then, I wanted more!

You have to continuously challenge yourself. Which is what I did as I shunned my comfort zone of the Beginner slope and moved on to the Intermediate one. And I rammed into the fence the first time I did it. The haunts of the falls were back, but it didn’t matter because I was willing to fail for difficult goals. I set one difficult goal after another, and set on to accomplish them. Some I did, most I didn’t. But I had gotten what I wanted — the art of failing, the thrill of learning, the joy of mastering — all in that mantle of skiing.

Underdog stories fascinate me: SRK, Ganguly, Nadal and many more. But I had always been a spectator in those. I had always wanted to live through an underdog story, feel it, and narrate it. And I had finally gotten mine, from the excruciating falls to the liberating skids, from the fear of failure to the confidence of victory, from the puny pawn to the ambitious king.

As we drank our livers out that night to celebrate this experience, disregarding the pain in my limbs, one thought kept echoing in my mind — There can be no victory without sacrifice. After all,

“Why do we fall, Bruce?”

“So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”