Unschooling on the Slopes

By Mark Galbraith

(Submitted to Skiboards.com)

I've never skied. In fact, I've never had the desire. I grew up in
Southern California and never really got to know snow, or what a fun
combination snow and gravity can be. Furthermore, money has always
been tight - I thought the stereotypical Southern California skier
runs off in his BMW to his Mammoth condo - and I always thought I
couldn't afford the equipment, the lift tickets, not to mention the
condo or the BMW! Besides, learning to ski seemed hard- not something
where one can have fun the first weekend.
In the last couple of years I begin to think about alternatives. Maybe
I could learn to snowboard? I grew up skateboarding back in the 60's
when clay wheels caused broken arms and intense focus. If I could do
that, surely I could learn to snowboard, right? Still, everyone told
me that most of the first day on a snowboard was spent face first in
the snow, so I procrastinated.

This last winter several things happened: Our friend told us about all
the fun they have skiing in the mountains above their house, how cheap
it can be, and how much easier the new parabolic 'shape' skis are. My
daughter caught ski fever from talking to her friends. It sounded like
just another form of unschooling. Also, I ran into an article on
Skiboards, new short skis that are not only great fun but easy to learn.
That's the right combination for me! I looked up the things on several
sites on the Web and started getting excited.

My daughter and I arranged for a long weekend, I called and found a pair
of the skiboards to rent, we borrowed some pants and stuff, and off we
went. My wife made us both promise that we would take ski lessons so we
wouldn't do anything stupid like meet our death skiing out of control
into a tree while playing football.

We met our friends and went up to Sierra Summit. Once we were dressed
and strapped into our skis our friends took off up the mountain with
their skis and boards and my daughter and I went to the bunny hill. We
had two hours to kill before ski school so we just went up and down the
bunny hill, trying this, trying that, talking about what worked, watching
others and trying what they did, falling down, getting up, trying again -
basically playing. By the time ski school started, we looked at each other,
shrugged, and got on the main lift. We had taught ourselves to ski, and
didn't want to sit through the basics again. We didn't need ski school -
we had unschooled ourselves!

The rest of our two days on the slopes we continued our self-education
process, trying one thing and another, talking about it on the lift back
up, and trying again. We were both awed by the beauty of new snow in the
forest. We watched our friend's five year-old on his tiny skis on
intermediate slopes with his snowboarding big brothers, never losing his
smile, a little boy carving his way down the mountain. Slowly, we got
better - we were able to take runs a little faster, try harder runs,
gracefully carving instead of shuddering our way down just barely in
control. And we stopped falling (well, pretty much.)

Skiboards allowed me to learn fast and fall less. And that's the secret
to having fun, right? This is an intense be-here-now experience that you
can learn to do in a day. They let me learn to turn fast, control my
slide, and carve slopes that I would never have been able to try in the
first weekend on skis or a board. Am I an expert? Hell no. But I can handle
blue runs, and I expect that a few more days of skiboarding will let me
take on black runs, all while having fun and being safe. (The Salomons
seemed too narrow, I will be trying fatter skiboards this next winter.)

The weekend was one of the best examples of home schooling I've experienced:
A combination of challenge, desire to learn, experts to watch and learn from,
time to experiment, a supportive environment, and best of all, FUN! At 46 and
nine, we unschooled ourselves into skiers. Next winter you will find us in
the snow, wearing big grins while experiencing the reality of Newtonian
physics!