After my first day on the mountain this season, my husband and I did not speak to each other on the car ride home. Mind you, it is only a three-minute drive from Alpine Meadows to my house; nevertheless, it was a tense three minutes. About two hours earlier, on my first run off Summit, I had popped out of my right ski. I tried in vain for a few minutes to get my boot back into the binding. A snowboarder for the past 10 years, I had finally made the move to the “dark side,” as my snowboarder friends call it, two years earlier, but was still learning the ropes of skiing. This was to be my first full season on skis.

As I struggled with my binding, my husband, Siig, waited impatiently a few feet down the run.

“You have to reset your binding!” he yelled.

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Easy for him to say. He’s been on skis for 40 years. It was as natural as walking for him to have two wooden planks strapped to his feet. I had just figured out how poles work.

“I did!” I yelled back. Well, at least I thought I did. I wasn’t quite sure if by “binding” he meant the metal thing that went behind my boot, or the brakes. After a few more minutes of suffering through my ineptitude, Siig took off his skis and hiked up the hill toward me, smoke practically steaming from his ears. Right before he reached me, a light bulb went off somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, and I somehow realized that the binding needed to be pushed back into place. I kicked my boot back into the ski and looked up triumphantly. “I did it!” I said.

Siig did not share my excitement. Instead, he jumped in his skis, turned around, and skied down the mountain, not to be seen again until we were back at our car. Later, he shared with me that he had run into a friend at Alpine whom he told about our encounter. The friend, Troy, had said: “Teaching your wife to ski? It can’t be done.”

Was Troy right? Is it impossible for one spouse to teach another how to ski, or to do any other sport for that matter? And if so, why?

Love and learning do not always make good bedfellows. I have learned this lesson as a parent. When my son had his first cross-country ski experience in preschool, I tagged along, trying to give him advice as he struggled with the technique.

“Look, Kaiden, just pretend you’re walking, but on skis, and swing your arms,” I told him as I demonstrated the motions.

He would have none of it, and barely looked at me while I talked. Finally, one of the teachers pulled me aside. “Let me try,” she said gently. I agreed, and skied ahead. By the end of the hour, Kaiden had gotten the striding down and was keeping up with the other students, no thanks to me.

We hire teachers for a reason. While some parents may be adept at homeschooling, or husbands at teaching their wives the art of skiing, I think that most parents and spouses do not provide the neutral territory that a teacher affords. When a mother gets frustrated at her kid for not understanding how to multiply 42 by 36, or a husband gets angry with his wife for not being able to discern a binding from a brake, it’s because the “teacher” feels comfortable sharing his or her frustration to a family member. The “student,” meanwhile, often has something to prove, or disprove, like that she’s not a total idiot when it comes to mechanical things. On top of all this, past relationship issues and baggage form the backdrop of any spousal spat. When Siig tries to teach me how to ski and I don’t pick it up right away, he thinks I’m not listening. I think he’s being bossy.

And then there’s the small fact that a teacher is being paid to convey information, to be patient (hopefully) and to help you master arithmetic or carving turns. A spouse, on the other hand, has probably only agreed to teach you how to ski because it sounded like a good idea at the time, and perhaps because you promised to make him his favorite dinner.

Siig and I have not skied together since that day at Alpine, and our relationship is the better for it. We know that together he does not make a good teacher, nor I a good student. I am proud to say that, with enough practice on my own, I can finally ski around the whole mountain. And Siig has learned that the best way to help me improve is to ask one of his ski instructor friends to take me out skiing.

Next on my list of lessons is how to build a fire in our new wood-burning stove. I think I’ll stick to the manual for that one.

~ Comment on this column below.

Author

  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

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