Five Minute Intervals of Courage

Me at Copper Mountain 3/17/12

With names like Kaboom and Revenge in the expert trail terrain, it’s not difficult to imagine why normal people stick to the intermediate trails like Windsong and Rhapsody.

‘Would you like to ski the top of the mountain?’ my friend’s husband asked. We were riding up on a lift together. He’s a well-seasoned skier.

“Mmmmm,” I hesitated. ” I don’t know. Looks steep.”

“It’s not that bad.” He replied.

I know him well enough to examine this statement carefully. He, like me, watched the Mount Everest show on Discovery. He, unlike me, would actually attempt to climb Everest. This distinction is everything I need to know about statements like ‘It’s not that bad.”

Being so high up on the lift, I saw the double black diamond trails. I watched a speck of a skier navigate the sheer drop of the mountain as if he were tracing beautiful vine paths. I turned to check out the rest of the trail below. It looked doable except for that formidable first wall of white.

‘Just take it slow.’ This not only made sense it seemed 100% possible to accomplish. After all I’ve been skiing for a while, and while I’m not an expert, and I’m still working on my form, I have been down single black diamonds before(though not my favorite). Why not see what a double is like?


For five minutes, I sang out Yes. By the time we got to the top, a place where I could still choose to go down an intermediate trail or traverse the rim of the mountain to reach the last 2-person lift that would take us to the tip pity top- I shook my head no.

“I can’t do it. I’m losing my courage.”

“No problem. We can meet up at the bottom.” T said. He was encouraging and kind.

I stood staring at the map. Do it and Don’t do it tugged their war in my head. The blue sky and intense Colorado sun were energizing me. The wind whipped the tip of my nose as I tried to readjust my gator.

I looked back at the map and then back over my shoulder at this mysterious part of the mountain- a place where you can walk to an edge and see the other side. It was still early in the day and I felt the pull of challenge and a promise of a reward. My ratio of fear to interest was equal.

I had another five minute interval of courage.

“Okay. I changed my mind. Let’s hurry up before I change it again.”

We traversed areas roped off at ledges and jumped on the lift. I only noticed a handful of people. It was so quiet and beautiful. At the top of the lift, we had to take off our skis and walk another 5-10 minutes. This is what crazy expert people do, and I am only one of these things.
At 12, 313 feet, I was panting. I could really feel the altitude. The base of the mountain is a little over 9,000 feet.

And this is where I paused for the first picture.

That was my first reward: Mother Nature saying, check out these guns. The moment was deserving of the word, awesome.
Every second I looked over the ledge though, another minute of courage drained from my sun-kissed face. T offered pitch perfect encouragement and had saint-status patience. He had moved a few feet down the mountain. His black and white coat framed the sky. I saw nothing below where he stood. Just the sense of space, a drop off.

I felt like a cat who stands at a door threshold and backs up with hind legs when it discovers the weather is not to their liking.

Nope definitely cannot do this.

“I can’t.” I croaked to T.

He encouraged, he cajoled. I waved him on to stop waiting. I knew I was holding him back. I was clearly having some decision making issues. Scared or stupid, I couldn’t tell which one I was being. And not necessarily certain if it was exclusive to one definition.

I popped my skis off. Two older gentlemen walked up.

“I’ve lost my courage” I said to them both. “I’m turning back.”

“You don’t need courage” one said, “You just need to turn.”

“One turn at a time. Little U shapes. Gravity will pull you forward but tip your skis back up toward the mountain.”

“You can do it.”

“But I feel like I just fell out of the turnip truck.”

He laughed. “We all fall out of the turnip truck.”

And I thought, right. No one is born knowing how to ski double black diamonds. You learn it. You do it. You try. Essentially baby steps.
I was renewed. I clicked my skis back on and slid into the first position where I had seen T at the ledge. The older gent saw me pause again.

“Do you see a path you can take?”

“Mmhm.” I said.

I thought: I can do this and cut into the first mogul and moved toward my second.

This is the part where you might think I’m getting ready to do my victory lap on the page.
But this is the part in the story where the back of my ski felt like it had an uh-oh.

I wiped out.

I started sliding down the mountain. Not just sliding, but I somersaulted like a sneaker in a washing machine. Skis popped off one at a time, I couldn’t tell you when because I was too busy thinking: Shitshitshitshitshitshit. Stop body stop!

I must have looked cartoonish. My heavy ski boots plunked into the mountain and gave my ragdoll body some gravity, like a magnet keeping me on the mountain. I was thrown forwards, to the side, spun upside down, and for a few seconds I was lateral to the mountain in some weird David Lee Roth split. I erupted into laughter and puh- and uh and erred my way down. I managed to straighten myself out and untangled a pole from between my crossed ankles. I went even faster.

I had become a human luge.

I laughed harder and harder and kept thinking to myself: As long as you’re laughing you won’t break anything. The sound of speed crackled under my jacket. I went down 200-300 feet. It took about 10-15 seconds, I guess. It was blur. I landed at the merciful plateau before the next much less steep dive down.

“Well, that’s one way to get down the mountain!” I yelled laughing to the graceful gent who effortlessly weaved around moguls and picked up my skis and poles littered on the mountain.

“You almost had it. You always have to go toward the future.” He said as he leaned forward on his ski showing me the balance I didn’t manage to keep.

“Don’t lean into the past too much. “ He said shifting his weight all the way back. “You’ll lose your balance.”

Wise words.

“Don’t give up.”

“I won’t. Thank you.”

He handed me my skis and I met up with T who by chance had looked up the mountain and saw me start my descent. We had the most brilliant ski down the rest of the trail. And he bought me a beer at lunch. The hardest part was behind me. While I didn’t actually ski down the face of the double black section, I certainly experienced it. If I practiced a little more on some single black diamonds, I could do it again. I could get better.
Sometimes you just have to get a feel for something.

As my brother John texted: No guts, No glory.

…Next week: Part 2: What mom said and how I relate this incident to writing.

12 comments on “Five Minute Intervals of Courage

  1. Carol says:

    So brave! Very inspiring, Jannett. Thank you.

  2. Denise says:

    “It’s not that bad.” I have skied with this man for several years now and have come to understand “It’s not that bad.” really means it could be really very, very bad or it could be fine but it is hard to tell the difference until you are at the point of no return. The best part about spending time with a person who has no fear is that you will try things you otherwise would have never considered possible and this can be a gift. Sometimes you learn that you are much more capable than you gave yourself credit for and sometime you learn the hard way what ‘expert’ really means. I am so glad you bought a helmet! Nice piece -Jannett I enjoyed reading about your adventure with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

    • Jannett Matusiak says:

      Thanks Denise! You know exactly what I am talking about! At the bottom of my spill, I had a hard time clipping my skis back on as my boots kept sinking in about 5 inches and I’d lost my balance a couple of times. As you can imagine at altitude and after my harrowing spin down the mountain I was exhausted. T was 30 feet away and could sense my frustration and exhaustion trying to get my skis back on, at that moment he said, “Look at the view.” And I did taking in the most awesome scenery forgetting my struggle for a second. My immediate thought was, your husband is going to be such a great birth coach for you!!! :-)

  3. Tom L says:

    I’m glad for you not giving up, you can look back and say, “I tried…fell got up and kept going”, then to say “What if I had only tried because you walked away” and never known the success you felt at the bottom, I had times like that skiing this year. Looking back at that mountain, and think “look at these guns” and smile even if even if you never go back that way again.

    • Jannett Matusiak says:

      Thanks for the support Tom! It’s true. Better to have tried than to be stuck with a “what if” tape loop in my mind and very very satisfying to walk away with a smile…and a story!

  4. Denise says:

    I love it! Not only that you did it, but that you tumbled, fell, sprawled, etc. Like Julie Andrews said, “Success is falling down 19 times and getting up 20.” You fell. You got up. You conquered fear. Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing it. Love the pics too. :-)

  5. I adore the image of the sneaker in the washing machine. I’ve been there. So glad you’re okay!

  6. Sarah says:

    “You don’t need courage” one said, “You just need to turn.” Love it!!! So glad you conquered your fears. You would have missed an amazing view if you hadn’t tried.

    Can’t wait for next week’s piece about your mother’s reaction. : )

  7. Anne says:

    I love this story. I want to go on a date with your new “don’t lean into the past” friend. beautiful …..I could taste the fall too. snow in ears, up nose and all!

  8. Adam Matusiak says:

    Thanks for taking me down the mountain with you Jannett! Nicely done just like I was there, except for the falling down the mountain part :-) Seriously, though I’m glad you attempted it. Most people are tree huggers and never venture beyond their comfort zone. I think one of your best posts so far. “We all fall out of the turnip truck.” – priceless.

  9. Laura Miner says:

    I’m crying! Actually crying! That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Only you could make tumbling down a mountain that meaningful.

  10. Jannett Matusiak says:

    Aww, thank you so much Laura. I’m so happy it moved you so!

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