This isn’t going to be a feel-good story about overcoming adversity and achieving a life goal. That reality hits me as I lie in the snow at the bottom of the terrain park and assess the damage. My hip hurts. My knuckles are bloody. My shoulder might be dislocated. This is what happens when you attempt a 360 on skis but only make it 200 degrees around. A snowboarder cruises past me while vaping, landing his own 360 while blowing a cloud in my direction. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what my midlife crisis looks like.
You’ve seen the midlife crisis before. It’s that stage when a man, prompted by a vague sense of dissatisfaction, makes some really bad decisions, like running away with the yoga instructor or buying leather pants. I’ve seen some doozies in my day, but the midlife crisis doesn’t have to set fire to the life you’ve built. It can be a beautiful thing—a transformation from one stage of your life to the next, like a second puberty, but with slightly less masturbation. I’m pushing 45 and I’m determined to use my own middle-age ennui as a catalyst for growth. Yeah, I’m older, but I still want to be a better athlete, a better adventurer, maybe even a better husband and parent. And for me, that journey starts with nailing a 360.
Hit a jump, do one full rotation in the air, land it and ski away. Sounds simple, right?
“It’s a breakthrough moment for a skier,” says Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley. “A rite of passage that separates us. You can do a 360 or you can’t. When you break through to doing a 3, you’ve arrived and you’re in a special group for the rest of your life.”
Fuck, I want to be in that special group, so, I’ve turned to Moseley for help in earning this pivotal move. Turns out, he’ really good at teaching the 3. He actually just taught his son to land his first 3. His son is 10.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever taught one to an adult,” he tells me. “I think that’s cool, though. It’s never too late.”
As I pick myself up off the ground from yet another failure, I’m starting to think Moseley is full of shit. Maybe it is too late for me to learn this trick. Thankfully, my shoulder isn’t dislocated, but it hurts like hell. I watch a couple of middle schoolers attempting their own 360s on the edge of the park. They’re no better at it than I am, but when they hit the ground, they bounce back up and giggle. I don’t bounce. I don’t giggle.
At the beginning of the season, Moseley laid out the progression of steps I needed to take to get it done. Throwing a 3 on skis starts with throwing a 3 in tennis shoes. It’s harder than it sounds. Then you move onto throwing a 3 with just your ski boots on. Then you click into your skis and progress through a series of 180s… it’s a relatively safe progression designed to give the skier confidence before moving on to each subsequent step.
The key is to get your weight over your toes, just like you’re doing a box jump. The biggest difference is you have 10 pounds worth of gear on your feet, which makes jumping pretty fucking hard. But I do just fine, session-ing baby jumps and side hits in the park, throwing 180s with aplomb. I send Moseley videos of my progress and he hits me back with nuggets of wisdom, having me drive my elbow through the rotation and launch off of my right foot. Landing a 180 feels good and gives me a certain amount of street cred with the park rats who usually ignore me, but 180 is a long way from 360 degrees and I’m running out of time.
On the surface, the midlife crisis is about getting out of your comfort zone. Been driving a minivan for the last 20 years? Get a Corvette that can’t haul any children. Been married for a few decades? Spark up a relationship with that barista who doesn’t shave her armpits. Before trying to learn the 360, I hadn’t skied outside of my comfort zone in decades. I can ski hard terrain—I love trees and bumps and steeps and have had some incredible ski adventures in my day. I’d say I’m a good skier, but I haven’t gotten better in years. Maybe decades. The last “trick” I learned was a spread eagle. I think I was 13.
Moseley says most skiers hit a certain level and just plateau. “But you should still have that yearning to improve as an adult.”
It’s easy to lose the drive, though. I blame my children. And work. And trash day and insurance premiums and gutter repairs…by the time you hit your 40s, there’s so much going on in your life that getting better at skiing suddenly seems ridiculous. But it’s not ridiculous, not if it makes you happy. You want to change your life, start with the little things. Wake up earlier. Stop eating French fries. Throw yourself around the snow like the ski gods you grew up admiring.
Just be ready for the consequences. I’m in a vicious cycle of attempt, injury, rest, attempt, injury, rest… The tiny muscles around my hips feel like they’re on fire. I can’t sleep on my right side because my shoulder hurts too much. One day, I had to pop off my skis and do yoga at the top of the mountain before I could even do a run. It’s undignified. But I keep at it, throwing myself into the trick with more zest than I’ve pursued anything since I convinced my wife to marry me. I try visualization techniques. I dream about it. I give myself a mantra on the lift up the mountain, repeating “pop and rotate” over and over. I try peer pressure, bringing a friend out to taunt me. Nothing works. I’m stuck at a 180.
The last day of the season for me is a somber affair. It’s cloudy and drizzly. I’m skiing in the Southern Appalachians so the snow is thinning. My shoulder aches, but I give it a go, finding a small jump and hitting one 180 after the other, but eating it hard when I attempt a full 3. I get maybe 220 degrees around but never the full spin. If I had another second in the air, I could make it happen, but the terrain park is closed and this half-ass kicker is the only jump on my small mountain. It becomes obvious that this is going to be a story about failure. About attacking a goal and coming up just a little short. It’s depressing, but Moseley is upbeat.
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“You’re there,” he says, reminding me that it’s OK to let it go for now. “Failing to achieve a goal sucks, but your mind has a way of figuring things out, even when you’re not practicing. The next time you go for it, you will get it.”
Maybe. But maybe the point of an attempt like this isn’t about success. Maybe it’s about the attempt itself. I’m a better skier now than I was at the beginning of the season. I can’t remember the last time I could honestly say that. I skied more this winter than in years past because I had a tangible goal. More importantly, skiing was fun again. It was dangerous, scary, and fun, because I was trying something new and hard. Isn’t that what I wanted from my midlife crisis, anyway? And I’m going to take what I’ve built this season and attack the 3 again next winter. I might be pushing 45, but I’ve learned that I’m not finished yet. There’s still room to grow and improve. I can still get better.
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