After a quick breakfast, it’s up the series of lifts to TK, where Ingrid says something that scares the living crap out of me. “Unbuckle your boots,” she commands us. “Both of them. Power straps, too.” I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that skiing with your boots unbuckled is one of the best ways to improve your balance, proprioception and fine motor skills, but I know how many times I’ve actually done it. Zero. Face plants and tweaked knees are easy enough for me to come by with my boots cranked down until my toes lose feeling. Why on earth would I want to double my odds? But this week is about pushing my limits and, in the grand scheme of things, unbuckling my boots is hardly kamikaze. We’re on a relatively gentle groomed slope and the sun is shining; our biggest hazards here are the young American club racers whizzing by us in their Spandex speed suits. They come to La Parva to train for two weeks every summer. As I watch them mach by, I’m sure they’ve skied with their boots unbuckled a lot, and it shows. But I’ve been skiing twice as long as some of these kids have been alive, so if they can do it, I can do it.
Ingrid sends us off, one by one, to make big turns down the groomed slope. “Feel the skis dive into the fall line and then trust that they’ll carve back up the hill,” she tells us. Have patience; they’ll come around. That’s what they’re built for. They do, and they are. The first two turns feel extremely awkward, but by the third and fourth, I’ve found my center and can stand there as the skis carve up the hill. By the fifth, sixth and seventh turns, I’m actually sort of comfortable being uncomfortable. That didn’t take long. We take two or three runs with our boots unbuckled, and Ingrid evaluates each of us. “Deb, your right-footed turn looks really good,” she tells me. “But your left-footed turn is…” That just means you can drive into the front of your boots even more, she tells me. And so on the next few runs, that’s what I concentrate on, and everything feels better than it did yesterday. We buckle up again and head back into the ungroomed snow under the TK. Pushing my shins even harder into the front of my boots and driving my hands forward into my power position makes this weeks-old, chunky snow ski more like corn. The skis slice right through it. But something still feels slightly off. I focus intensely on every turn, my brain in overdrive analyzing each bump and slip under my skis. My eyes scan the snow a couple feet in front of my ski tips for rocks or signs of changing snow. I can’t put my finger on what is making me feel so tense.
On the next run, I decide to stand back and watch the other women. Am I the only one who’s so apprehensive? Ingrid drops first and, sure enough, she looks as relaxed as if she were strolling down the sidewalk. Young Lila follows Ingrid, and although her turns aren’t as consistent from one side to the other, she too, looks completely relaxed.
I’m like an eager, brown-nosing student grasping desperately for her instructor’s approval. I want Ingrid to notice how hard I’m working to do exactly what she tells me. Whenever I watch Ingrid turn, it looks so effortless and relaxed. Lila, who’s the most eager of the bunch, will zip off right after Ingrid, equally carefree.