Avalanche Week: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Skiing at Forty Years of Age

As I’m packing my gear and getting ready to spend eight days skiing in the Alps, I want to reflect on the series of events that took me, born and raised at sea level, to get on the slopes and enjoy this great outdoor activity with my family.

“Come on, go faster! You need speed to carve your turns properly!”
That’s what a 60 something years old ski teacher yelled at me at some point during avalanche week.

I call “Avalanche Week” the time that went from my timid snowplow in the children’s snowpark to my glorious descent from the black slope that winds down to Vierschach, Pustertal, Italy. To be honest, they were actually two weeks, but that’s not relevant.

In 2019, in 12 days, at the age of 39 and a half, I went from zero to hero on a sports activity that, unless you learn as a kid, is considered really hard to pick up later on.

I’m an average overweight dude, 6ft tall, a little less fit than I should be, and I had no prior experience on those two narrow strips of semi-rigid material worn underfoot to glide over snow.

This is how I prepared, executed, and iterated on getting it done.

Part 1: Preparation

I knew I would spend 12 days on the alpine slopes with my wife and her family. They are all experienced skiers, and I didn’t want to spend my days on my own, crafting snowmen, freezing my toes, and hating every minute of it.

I wanted to spend quality time with my family, enjoying the fantastic landscape, the cold air in the face, the camaraderie around the lifts, and most importantly, the eggnog shot at the end of every slope.

We went skiing on Christmas week, and in September, I had already bought my ski boots. That’s commitment!

I didn’t like the idea of wearing rental ski boots because they are disgusting, uncomfortable, ugly, and overall gross!

Skiing is a demanding sport, very unforgiving to the tender feet of a tech worker who sits at his desk wearing slippers or just socks all day. For this reason, not only had I bought my boots three months earlier, but I had my insoles thermoformed around my feet to have a perfect wearing of those two pieces of modern plastic torture placed at the end of my lower limbs.

As a final step for my preparation, I booked 5 days of group ski class and 5 days of private one-on-one private lessons. It wasn’t cheap, but it was the game-changer. Learning a complex activity quickly requires a coach; there are no hacks around it.

Part 2: Execution

On day one, I suited up and joined the beginners’ class at the children’s snowpark.

We did some warm-up exercises, we were told the basics of balancing the body weight, edging the skis on the snow, and we took off for the first ski-lift and snowplow. It was damn hard.

My feet were sore. And frozen. And I was damn scared. So I pushed harder, and I was snowplowing properly on day three. Then, on day four, I was parallel skiing and attempting my first turns.

On day five, I was pretty ok. But I was in constant agony. My feet were sore. The pain was unbearable, so I went to the ski shop and asked for help. And they helped.

Part 3: Iteration

They looked at my boots and started fixing them. First, they adapted the boots to my feet with a masterful usage of a heat gun and wood forms, allowing for more space for my toes. It took a few rounds of back and forth, but my boots were comfortable yet very tight in the end.

I also iterated on my garments. On day one, I wore a full-body thermal suit, a sweater, ski pants, ski jacket, a helmet, gloves, and a mask. It was way too much, and I had already dropped the sweater on day three. I also added a 10l backpack to the gear to bring water and chocolate with me on the slopes.

I also went back to the rental and changed my skis. I went from beginner to pro, allowing me for more controlled carvs.

I dropped the group classes on day six and started with private lessons. Fun fact: the teacher was the same who taught my wife and her brothers 30 something years before. It was an actually sweet get-together when they met again. 🙂

For five days, I went up and down the red slopes with my teacher, and I refined all the basics until he claimed I was ready for the black slope on the very last day.

Was I scared at that point? Hell yeah! I was afraid every minute of Avalanche Week! But I never let fear have the best of me.

I went on the black slope, followed every instruction it was yelled at me, and I made it.

The point of Avalanche Week was not about not being scared; it was about learning how to ski despite being scared. And on that, I totally succeeded.

Next week I’ll be on the slopes again, and I’ll be scared for sure. And I’ll push through.

Wish me luck! I’ll have a wonderful time, I’m sure! Eggnog, here I come!

Published by Luca Sartoni

I lead three teams of engineers across four continents at Automattic. I love hiking, photography, and 3D printers.

One thought on “Avalanche Week: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Skiing at Forty Years of Age

  1. Pro tip — if you want comfortable boots, switch to snowboarding 😉

    jkjk

    Very fun and identifiable post. Have fun next week. Sounds so amazing. I will be living vicariously…..

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