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Skiing

We had our first family ski day of the season yesterday.

In December, we bought mid-week season's passes for a local-ish ski resort at a reduced price from full season's pass rate.

The resort is Bromont, about an hour and fifteen minutes from the city. Mid-week passes give us access from Monday night thru Thursday night and the hill is open from morning till 10pm. Our plan is to ski one day a week, morning to late afternoon or lunchtime through evening. Night skiing here we come.

Returning to what has become our winter habit, we will once again be skiing through the season. And I couldn't be happier.

When we moved to Montreal we lost easy access to the outdoors. We moved here for very clear reasons, for everything the city could offer our family at this stage of life - homeschool community and resources, socially engaged and culturally relevant church, post-secondary and other education opportunities. But we left the beautiful Gaspe Peninsula to do so.

It's been months since our family has spent a day together in the outdoors, and a ski resort isn't exactly the nature-focused outdoors experience we are accustomed to.

Since coming home from our thru-hike (if you're new here, in 2014 my family hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, hiking was our life for nearly six months), we've gone hiking all together three times and the kids and Damien went hiking once without me. That's four family hikes in fifteen months.

When we came home from hiking the Appalachian Trail, some of us, ok Brienne and I, weren't sure if we'd ever want to hike again. Both of us are prone to hyperbole so that was an exaggeration of our hiking fatigue, but not by much.

These days, as adventure ideas get bantered around the dinner table Brienne remains uncertain, interested in travel and not wanting to be left out but not eager to sign up for privations of any kind, especially as related to personal presentation and hygiene.

I understand. I'm ok with certain physical privations; sleeping in tents, having one change of clothes, pooping in the woods, these things don't bother me. However, I shudder at the idea of intellectual and creative privations and quite frankly I'm not up for the challenge of pushing myself physically and mentally the way I did while hiking the trail.

Maybe someday when Damien and I figure out how to resolve some of our fundamental differences in how we engage with nature (he seeks challenge, I seek beauty), when I feel secure and confident in who I am, and when I have re-trained my cognitive patterns to respond in healthy ways when beset by challenge I will be ready for another long distance hike, but not yet, not now. (It's not on the radar but it's always in the back of our collective conscious.)

The intensity of our thru-hike, the fall-out after that, a season of physical rest, and moving to the city closed the door, for the time being, on one day a week. Something that was a bedrock of our family life for nine years. The end of an era.

This isn't to say we won't hike or backpack together again as a family but with three teenagers who have diverging interests our years of rallying the troops together around a common interest, recreation or hobby are coming to a close.

But skiing continues to stick because skiing is fun. And I cherish that.

I cherish this thing we do together, in an age when together interests are hard to cultivate. (This is one reason I've become a fan of video console gaming. No, not for myself, I still have no interest, but the other four love it. As they rally around their common quests and campaigns I see the value in supporting that connection. Plus, it gives me time for my evening hobbies and interests.)

The kids probably think I'm an overly sentimental mom (I am) when I exclaim, while waiting in the chair lift line, "isn't this so great to be together out here?"

They might roll their eyes, they're usually wearing goggles so I can't tell, but I'm still happy to be standing in line with them.

They have no idea how fleeting these years are and I do.

I did something last week for the first time. I skinned up the ski hill and skied down, all by myself.

It doesn't sound like much, but I'll explain why for me it was significant.

Two winters ago, was my first season on telemark equipment. I didn't learn to telemark though, not even close. I mostly cross country skied in the fields and woods around our chalet.

Remember that little cabin? Good memories.

Last year was our first winter in this home (this is our last). Living at the ski hill we decided to take full advantage of the opportunity and buy a family seasons ski pass. Our goal was to practice skiing as much as we could in the groomed terrain and then apply that skill to the backcountry. Backcountry skiing is a very rewarding activity (we prefer it to ski hills) but it's physically challenging and it's hard to learn the basic skills while dodging trees.

Two years ago I started with skis that worked well for backcountry rolling terrain. They were usable for downhill but more difficult to maneuver. Last March, we took advantage of an end of season sale and switched me to a more downhill friendly ski. These babies.

Months of practicing last winter, a few telemark lessons, and then an upgrade in my equipment (first the skis and then full-length skins in December) has yielded a marked improvement in my technique. And as my technique (in other words, my ability to get down the hill without "falling down the hill") has improved so has my confidence in my abilities.

Before this week I had never gone up and skied down a mountain alone.

Maybe it's the extrovert in me. I like doing physical activity with other people. Maybe it's the fact that I broke my leg alpine skiing as a child on a run I felt scared to ski, while my family had all skied ahead of me.

I don't know why exactly but I felt a first a wee bit nervous skinning up alone for the first time. The nerves subsided as I climbed higher and higher and my confidence grew. I felt so physically strong. I felt clear headed listening to the wind and the sound of my breathing as I huffed up the mountain.

That first ski down alone was glorious. The snow was perfect and it was like floating down, with minimal effort. After all the sore muscles of last winter, pushing myself physically beyond what I normally do, after the embarrassment I felt as the "beginner telemark skier" on our small community hill, this pure joy at skiing was both completely foreign and wholly welcome.

Halfway down an eagle flew over head and that was just the icing on the cake.

As I told Damien when I tromped in the door, smiling and warm in spite of the cold, it was "skiing without the angst". Skiing without the physical pain of learning a new skill and without the worry of anyone watching. It was freedom. On skis.

The next day the conditions had worsened. The snow was crusty and wind whipped. But my confidence stayed with me because the experience I had the day before. I knew I could do it.

So what if the conditions weren't perfect? The sun was shining and I felt strong and capable. It was a good feeling.

Last winter I was writing a series called the Adventure of Learning. I was writing it as a learner, as a student myself studying both French and telemark skiing, and a bunch other things. (My French studies are on hold this season because of the intensity of our hike preparations).

I never did conclude that series. The final post was going to answer the question "what they learn when you study?" They meaning our kids.

It's important for our kids to see us learning. For them to see us apply ourselves to study and to struggle through it.

I'll take it a step further and say, I think it's more important for them to see us applying ourselves to study and discipline, than it is for us to make them study and be disciplined.

I'm not saying we don't encourage our children to study and be disciplined but you can't "make" someone learn. You can inspire, teach, create the right conditions to encourage learning, but you can't "make" it happen.

That concluding post, which I hope to eventually publish, talks about what my study and skill practice looked like last winter and what I felt my kids were learning through my learning. It was hard work. It felt vulnerable. It took courage.

That's what I want to teach my children about learning. That it's sometimes a struggle.

And then I want to teach them this also.

That when you push through the barrier, when your muscle memory takes you down the hill instead of sheer will, when your fingers remember the right keys, when the concept mentally "clicks" and all of a sudden "you get" long division or solving for x, when you've practiced "proving" enough words that you finally read them, whole, it is so worth it.

By that point though I don't have to teach them, because they know.

Learning is its own reward.

That's what our kids learn when we study. That's what they learn when they study.

Prizes, bribes, and even grades are not the reward for learning.

There is a place for grades, don't get all panicky on me. Grades are necessary in certain situations to assess knowledge. I want to know the professionals I trust have passed their exams to become doctors and car mechanics. But grades have taken on something completely different in a conveyer belt education system. They have become the reward. The knowledge, the skill, the thing being learned no longer matters, only making the grade matters.

Radical notion: an exam should be welcomed as a means to test knowledge, to test oneself, to assess your level of understanding of the material. The grade is not the reward, knowing what the test assessed is.

Celebrate the victories in your learning environment. But don't bribe your kids to learn, or study because knowing the skill, having the knowledge, owning the strength and confidence that comes with that - skiing down the mountain on your own - is the reward. And if you shortcut that reward with false prizes you take away the joy of the real reward - which is learning itself.

For us winter is all about snow.

When you live in Canada you either move to the coastal regions where the climate is more mild (there's a good reason why so many Canadians love the west coast), you stay put and complain like heck (oh my goodness do Canadians ever like to kvetch about the cold), or you bloom where you're planted (so to speak, as nothing blooms in winter).

We are members of the third grouping. I grew up on the Canadian prairie at the same latitude of Moscow, Russia. I now live in a more mountainous, treed and southern (barely) latitude and I consider that an improvement. Yes, it's cold but not as cold as Alberta. There are mountains (nothing like the rockies though) and best of all there's snow. Because frankly winter is not worth living without snow.

Tomorrow is the official first day of winter and Solstice. But we have been enjoying and living winter ever since the snow fell. Last week we started skiing.

We got an e-mail this week from friends in Maine, where apparently there isn't much snow. "We need to come north. There's no snow here. Want to go on a backcountry ski trip together next week?"

We aren't able to pull off a backcountry ski trip a few days after Christmas but we can host a ski vacation right from our home. One day at the ski hill where we live. A day in the backcountry. Snowshoeing and sledding right from our door. Bring it on.

Our intention ever since we moved into this home was to share it. And now we will. We're thrilled.

Ski where you're planted.

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