Asher on Aspen: Danger Zone

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
A ski instructor and client out for a day on the mountain. Aspen Times file photo

When I was in sixth grade, I went out for the softball team. I had never played softball in my life and it certainly didn’t come easy for me, but I decided to give it a try because all of my closest friends were participating.

My dad played catch with me in the backyard for hours before my first game. I remember feeling weak with anxiety when I showed up to play. I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach and part of me wanted to fake sick just so I could get out of it. What if everyone mocked me because I wasn’t able to hit the ball? What if I was the reason we lost the game?

The coach ordered me to play centerfield during the first inning. I felt relieved that I was sent to an area where some of the least action occurred. Everytime someone walked up to the plate, I prayed the ball would go the other way. My body froze anytime the ball headed towards me and I relied on the other outfielders to cover me. Unavoidably, there was eventually a pop fly that came straight towards me and there was no delegating this catch to anyone else. I froze. I ran closer and tried to remember what my father had told me about getting right under the ball. I was terrified. When the ball finally came close enough, I held my glove out and pleaded that I would catch it. I missed the ball and watched it land only a couple inches from my feet.

Everyone on the team, it seemed, collectively rolled their eyes and let out a big sigh. My best friend ignored me the rest of the game because she was so upset that I didn’t make the catch. I felt humiliated and defeated. After the game, my dad bought me a Gatorade and a package of Skittles. Confused by this, I asked him about the catch, thinking maybe he didn’t see it. Turns out, he did in fact witness my clumsy attempt at catching the ball, and he told me that I just missed it by an inch.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Shannon, everyone has to start somewhere.”

My father is a man of few words, but I will always remember him sharing those with me. He knew better than anyone that I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was a ballet dancer but I was not athletic in any way, whatsoever. I think about those words of advice any time I try something new. I think back to the first time I ever clipped into a pair of skis, the first time I was thrown into a sand volleyball game, the first time my uncle made me ride a surfboard behind a boat, or the first time I was handed a tennis racket and forced to play. All of these things were absolutely terrifying for me when forced to do them for the first time.

A good friend of mine from Iowa recently moved to Aspen with the intention of learning how to ski. We have slowly been chipping away at learning the basic techniques. Despite her immense progress, she has confessed her lack of enthusiasm when it comes to getting out of bed in the morning to go skiing. She’s an eager beginner who desperately wants to learn to love it so that she can adapt to the Aspen way and get the full experience of living here.

Since it’s only her freshman year, I know she will learn to love it with time and practice.

The other day while skiing Snowmass, I felt her resentment towards the sport more than ever before. By accident, we took a lift that led us to an area of the mountain where there were no green runs. We had no option but to ski down an intermediate blue run. I tried to encourage her and be optimistic, but she was crippled with fear. Maneuvering from a snowplow to a parallel turn, she caught some speed, lost her balance and fell backwards. I could see the annoyance and frustration in her eyes as she positioned herself to get back up. She was not enjoying this and that was evidently clear.

When I saw her face after falling, I immediately was taken back to that dreaded softball game where I didn’t catch the ball. I didn’t want to be there—just as I know my friend wanted to be anywhere else but skiing on a mountain at that moment. Everyone can relate to the terrifying feeling of trying something foreign for the first time. You risk making a fool out of yourself. You risk being really, really bad and totally flunking at whatever it is you’re trying. Failing is never easy but it is extremely humbling. It reminds us that we aren’t good at everything and we all have so much to learn.

I distinctly remember how frightened I was when traversing down a mountain with skis strapped to my feet for the first time. I can vividly recall that unwieldy, awkward feeling of trying to slow down and pump the brakes, but also having no control. That moment when you look down the hill and think there’s no way you’re getting down alive. I remember that feeling all too well. But I also recall the “a-ha” moment when skiing finally clicked for me and I realized that it was actually really enjoyable … once I got the hang of it.

No matter how old we are, stepping out of our comfort zones will always feel rewarding at the end of the day. It feels safe and comfortable to stick with our everyday activities. After all, why would we want to provoke ourselves to feel anxious and uncomfortable? Well, the reality is, we grow, and we learn, and our fear of the unknown is removed and replaced with a satisfying feeling of empowerment. So, whatever it is that you’re currently faced with that is totally out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to channel the wise words of my father and remember that we all had to start somewhere.

We were all beginners at one point in time. Keep going.