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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Skiing as a Metaphor for Singing

Many of you know that I love skiing, though I can’t do as much of it as I'd like while living in Alabama. My dear husband and I get on the slopes once a year, sometimes twice if we’re lucky. I suppose the infrequency of indulging in my hobby makes it not only wildly joyful, but also quite profound in many ways. I found myself drawing parallels between skiing and singing—and indeed, living—while on the slopes of Colorado this holiday season. Some of them might seem silly or just obvious, but here’s hoping that some of them might resonate with you.

Warming up makes all the difference. I know, duh. Who skis (or sings) without warming up? But to be fair, there weren’t many people who used the elliptical or bike before hitting the slopes. Doing so made all the difference for us, and the one time we spent two hours driving to the next high-elevation resort (and skipping the warm-up because we were impatient) was far less enjoyable. We also got tired a lot faster. Imagine going into choir or your lesson without warming up. (I know, it’s shocking to even consider!) Here’s a worst-case scenario: you risk injury. At the very least, you’re not going to have as much fun...and isn’t that why you got into skiing/singing in the first place?

Starting easy is wise. I’m a solid intermediate skier and Joe is most comfortable on blues, too. But we started each day on an easy beginner run to test the snow conditions, get our legs under us, and continue the aforementioned warm-up. Why not do the same with your repertoire?

Ending with the hardest thing isn’t necessarily the way to go, either. As we got tired—we skied for 5-6 hours each day—we dialed down the difficulty. We decided that discretion was the better part of valor. We wanted to ski the next day, and wanted to remember our last run of each day as an enjoyable experience. We really didn’t want to be one of those poor saps moaning on the emergency sleds as they were dragged behind ski patrol. Consider working on your tough coloratura piece when you’re warm but not starting to wind down or get fatigued.

Conditions change. So must you. To be fair, the snow was pretty darned close to perfect much of the time. But there were icy patches here and there, and on our fourth day of skiing, it snowed all day. The visibility wasn’t great—in fact, sometimes you could barely see what you were skiing on—but the powder was delicious. Sometimes the stuff you can’t see coming is reason for concern, and sometimes it’s just darned fabulous when you stumble upon it. Just be prepared and deal with it when it comes.

Great equipment helps. I have older skis, and the technology has vastly improved since I bought them. My skis are heavier, skinnier, and longer than the new, sexy ones. By the end of the third day, I was just worn out from moving those outdated things around the slopes at 11,000 feet. What was worse was that I was starting to doubt my abilities. My sweet hubby suggested getting them tuned, and when we found out that renting would cost the same, he encouraged me to rent some new gear. What a difference! Thanks to decent equipment, I was a different skier. Oh, the joy! The comfort! Now, it’s true we can’t upgrade our larynxes or our inherent talent. But we can develop our musicianship and aural skills, improve our physical health so our bodies respond the way we want, and use our practice time to stretch our capabilities. I’m 20 lbs. lighter than I was the last time I skied, and it made a huge difference in how my knees felt and in my overall endurance. It takes work, but doing the work allows us to actually enjoy the gifts we do have.

Have a plan. We consulted the trail map before we got on the lift, and we knew which lifts accessed the trails we wanted. If you get onto a lift without knowing that it only services expert trails, if you’re not an expert you could get yourself into big trouble. Know what you want, what you need to accomplish, and prepare for it. Going into the practice room just thinking you’ll plow through probably won’t get you very far. While it’s also true that if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans, not setting your compass before embarking on accomplishing your life goals probably won’t get you where you want to go, either.

Rest when you need. We each had three protein bars and a Camelback for hydration. We stopped to eat and drink regularly, rather than going until we collapsed. Doing that would have meant a higher likelihood of hurting ourselves, and we weren’t willing to do that. Judgment is impaired when you’re hungry, thirsty, or tired. We headed those things off at the pass, and were glad we did.

Remember that elevation can mess with you. The base of our second mountain was at 10,600 feet, and the summit was close to 12,000 feet. We live close to sea level. While hydration was key to managing this, it was easy to forget that oxygen deprivation affects both your mind and your muscular response. Easy, that is, until I just started falling for no apparent reason, or when my brain told my legs to move and they responded about three seconds later (that’s too late, BTW). I have a few lovely bruises that are still healing to remind me of my humanity.

Everyone can get better. I’ll never be an expert skier, and I’ll never enjoy moguls. My knees just don’t appreciate bumps, and I prefer wide, steep cruisers. But there were a few times I got onto a run that presented a few challenges I didn’t expect, and I was a better skier at the end of the week because I worked my technique through those challenges. Speaking of which…

When you get into a rough patch, slow down and work the problem. There were a few times I got onto a run that seemed beyond my capabilities, and I’ll confess my heart raced and I cussed a bit. When that happens, swallow your fear and work your technique. Sometimes you have to ski a bit uphill to slow down before turning your skis back into the fray. Sometimes you have to ski in between the bumps. Sometimes praying for salvation doesn’t hurt.

Most of us are somewhere in the middle. There were a few people that I worshipped from above as they negotiated a terrifying trail I’d never dare to attempt. There were many beginners who probably belonged on an easier hill. But instead of comparing myself to them, I skied MY best, and had a much better time when I did my own thing without worrying who was doing what.

Know what you’re willing to risk. We were on one lift ride with a college kid who had an app that measured his speed: his goal was to break 70 mph. He told us with a laugh that he’d had a few concussions, but he wasn’t going to slow down. He also confessed that once he hit 70, he’d probably aim for 80 mph. Part of me envied him: wow, he was fearless. Oh, to be young again! But most of me decided that it wasn’t worth risking life, limb, and my brain.

Ski clean. Pot is legal in Colorado, and I smelled my share of it on the lift. There were folks who bragged that they drank a beer or two because they ski better when they’re “relaxed.” That’s just flat-out stupid. Skiing and boarding involve speed and reflexes, and there are people of all abilities around you that won’t know if you’re stoned or not. Plus, all that stuff hits you harder at elevation. If you want to party, fine: do it in your hotel room, but don’t endanger other people. The same goes on stage. Want to get fired or never re-hired? Go to rehearsal drunk or baked.

Sometimes you can help others, and sometimes it’s best to keep moving. There were a few times someone had a yard sale right in front of me, and I was able to stop and ski a pole down to him and see if he was okay. There were other times when stopping would have meant endangering myself or someone behind me, so I swung wide and kept going. Just like life. ‘Nuff said.

You may have company, but it’s your path to ski. You can ride the lift with someone you love, or with a total stranger: it can be great either way. You can ski with best buds, and be near them the whole way down, hooting and hollering at each other as you enjoy the ride. Sometimes you lose track of them on the hill as you each navigate your bumps, and you see each other at the bottom to recount your triumphs and humiliations. But your run is yours, and in the end, it’s between you and the mountain.

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