A Pilates Instructor and a Pair of Skis

After a 25-year break from skiing, I decided to pull the old boots out of the attic and give it a try again last weekend. Driving up to the mountain, I recalled scenes of learning to ski with both nostalgia and a bit of fear. I was a self-taught skier, never having taken a formal lesson. I learned as a kid by falling (a lot), getting back up and falling again. Eventually I learned how to hazardously careen down the beginner’s “bunny hill” before making my way to the dreaded chairlift, which would carry me up the larger hills. After a lot of sore muscles, chapped lips and soaked clothing, I finally got to the point where I was making it down the hill (on my skis), as well as exiting the chairlift without the attendant having to stop everything as I attempted to drag my twisted body out of the way of those behind me, who so effortlessly and gracefully skied off their chairs.

Worried that I would be starting back at the beginning of that learning curve, I signed up for a lesson last weekend with a very capable and patient instructor. I told him that while I had skied in the past it had been a while, and I wanted to unlearn the bad habits I knew I had formed from not having taken formal lessons. I wanted to make sure I fell as little as possible this time around, as my 53-year-old self doesn’t like hitting the ground quite as much as my 17-year-old self did.

After renting the equipment and buying my lesson and lift, we were off. Nervous as hell, I was already sweating — and I didn’t even have my boots hooked into the bindings yet. My instructor, Chris, was very thorough in his explanations and step by step, we went through the process of what to expect and how to stand in the boots. We finally stepped into the bindings and started to move on the snow, up and down a tiny little slope. I wobbled but stayed up, which was a huge feat and relief. The lesson progressed to going up the “magic carpet” — a conveyer belt that carries skiers to the top of the small bunny hill —  and then making wide sweeps down and across the slope. I struggled with this part until Chris finally called out, “Use your inner and outer thighs!”

I slid to a stop. A light bulb went off: I can use my Pilates training to ski! I looked down the hill and took a moment to reset as I said to myself, “Engage your core, find your center of gravity. Plant your damn feet and ski with your muscles rather than trying to move your weight around. Look up and center your head.” And down the hill I went, so very free and relaxed, taking turns effortlessly, feeling the bumps rather than bracing for them and even swerving to avoid an out-of-control newbie.

The lesson was over, and Chris said goodbye as I headed to the dreaded chairlift. I got on with no trouble but as I made my trip up the hill, my heart was pounding. I began to sweat again, all the while telling myself, “You can do this. Use your core. Engage the glutes and inner thighs. Don’t look down for goodness’ sake!” It was time to get off the lift — I stood up and skied off with no problem! I took two trips down the hill feeling very relaxed. (I thought I’d do one more, but knowing from experience that “one more time” is always the mistaken run, I walked away knowing I’d come back very soon.)

Driving home from the mountain, I realized my clothing was dry, I didn’t fall once, and I felt stronger now than I did as a kid. My muscles weren’t throbbing and my ankles weren’t aching. Even after almost two decades of teaching, the power of Pilates never stops amazing me. This is pretty cool stuff. I may not be an expert skier, but I do know the anatomy and mechanics of movement.

If you are looking to improve your balance, strength and center of gravity, whether for skiing, another sport or just overall wellbeing, I’d be happy to help. You can reach me at c.fuentespilates@gmail.com or (908) 399-9385.