Lessons from Above

Who would have thought that wiping out in full view of the chairlift could be so... empowering?
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Who would have thought that wiping out in full view of the chairlift could be so... empowering?

“You suck!” shouts someone from above. It started as hot embarrassment, my cheeks burning with concern that the bro yelling from the chairlift might actually be yelling at me. He almost certainly is, at least some of the time. It’s taken many years, but I’m finally okay with it. At times, I even find it encouraging, “Shit-ya’ing,” as I get buried. We’ve all been there, watched from above, feeling the beady, judging eyes willing us to bite the dust. More recently, I know better than to overthink what the dirtbag riding the lift above me thinks of my skiing. Usually, at least.

lessons from above illostration

Yew!

When I was a kid, it was the thought that people were watching me that made me tear up in frustration as I struggled to maneuver the plastic prisons my mom smashed onto my feet. How is it even possible to consider judgement at the age of 6? Pretty easily when your hair is covering your eyes, your goggles are lopsided, and there is snot spilling out everywhere. I’m fairly certain the chairlift riders were feeling badly for the child on the bunny slope with the gaper gap (or as we called them back East, a Joey gap).

Five years later, thanks to one amazing ski coach and my first pair of shaped skis, I was ripping angled turns under the chair, very much on purpose. As skiers would float by above, I’d feel them watching. This made me slightly embarrassed, yet also slightly stoked. It definitely made me want to ski better.

That confidence would build and build, until my head got so big that it created a little bit too much forward momentum and I found myself tomahawking down the bump run under the Superquad at Sugarloaf, Maine. Then it was back to red-faced embarrassment. My helmet stuffed with snow, my hair spilling out knotted and stringy—my yard sale painfully obvious to everyone for the rest of the day.

This went on for years, hecklers building me up just to break me down. I’ve grown to have a very love-hate relationship with the runs directly under the chairlift. Searching for a confidence boost, I’d seek them out, ski them my hardest, and catch a glimpse at the passersby above.

Now sharing the tramline at Jackson Hole with the likes of Lynsey Dyer, Jimmy Chin, and Hadley Hammer, I wouldn’t say I get the attention I once did at my little East Coast hill. Instead it’s mostly aggressive heckles from groups of dirtbag bros, a hoot from an amazed tourist, or a total screech out of a worried mother. (Not mine, thankfully.)

Or this.

“YOU SKI LIKE A GIRL.”

Yes, thank you. I am a girl.

“SEND IT! YOU WON’T!”

You’re right. Someone once yelled that at me, and you know what? I did it. I now know that the landing is flat and the runout is a total shitstorm. I’ll tell you what, you go first, I’ll be right behind you.

“ARE YOU OKAY?”

Damn. I crossed my tips, high-sided, and now I’m sliding uncontrollably down Alta 1. Yes, I’m fine. My ego is bruised, just when I was starting to believe I might actually have skills.

You’ve read it before in these pages, but skiing teaches people a lot about themselves. The heckler, too, teaches you a lot about yourself. Thanks to you, chairlift heckler, I’ve found a new appreciation for being singled out, shoved into the spotlight, brought attention to. You’ve made me a better skier. You’ve built up my confidence and taught me to move along when things don’t go exactly to plan.

I think I’ll even return the favor. So next time you hear someone yelling from the chairlift, it will probably be me.

Monica Purington traded in her native slopes of Maine in exchange for Jackson Hole, moving to the Tetons in 2011. In addition to SKI, she's a contributor to Teton Gravity Research and Adventure Journal.

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