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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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Facing your fears – and learning how to ski

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Masada Siegel, left, with her sister Audrey and a member of the Vail welcoming committee.

A young girl in jeans and a ski jacket stood on top of a mountain, staring at the ledges and wondering exactly how she was going to get to the bottom.

She had no idea how to ski and attempted to go straight down the mountain, imitating the skiers she had seen on television. It was not as easy as it looked. She fell and didn’t know how to get up. Anxiety rose as she stared at a ski that had come off and was sliding down the hill.

Alone, she struggled to stand as the wind whistled, blowing through her hair, and the snow fell harder. The shadows of the trees were getting longer and darker. Her friends had disappeared down the slippery slopes.

Unsure of how to get to safety, she took off one ski and trudged down the mountain, picking up the second ski as the sun was setting. She was terrified and promised herself she would never ever do this again, that is, if she ever found her way to safety.

Audrey frowned at me while sitting in our parents’ living room. Even as a grown woman, her miserable experience was fresh in her mind. She was not convinced skiing would be fun, even though I had arranged an all-day lesson with a professional instructor.

Rabbi Mark Bisman of the Har Zion Congregation in Scottsdale, Ariz., explained the importance of facing your fears. “Life is a challenge and it can be hard. So it’s important to not let fear overwhelm you in any situation.”

He explained that the “rabbinic tradition is to not let the past determine the future. God wants people to grow. It is the whole theme of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You let the past die and you create a new opportunity. You are not only the sum total of your past experiences.”

Rabbi Bisman smiled and continued, “It’s important to make sure no past experience becomes a cul de sac that you are stuck in and can’t leave.”

He then quoted Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: “All the world is a narrow bridge, but you should not be afraid.”

I don’t think that when Rabbi Nachman wrote his now famous words, he was thinking about skiing, but if there is any place that seems to have physical narrow bridges, it just might be the ski slopes.

We arrived at the mountain in Vail, Colo., and everyone was dressed in brand-new stylish ski garb, from our helmets to our ski boots. We were ready to meet our instructor for the day, Lonny Bredeson.

He is tall and suntanned, and wore Vail’s blue ski instructor’s uniform. We hopped on the gondola up the mountain to the bunny slope, where he started showing Audrey the basics, from how to get into her skis to making sure her helmet was on correctly.

Judaism stresses the importance of learning in every aspect. Maimonides explained the advancement of learning is the highest commandment.

Rabbi Bisman said, “When you learn you grow and get past trauma, and you learn about yourself and your environment.”

As they started the lesson, I skied off the bunny slope onto the more difficult runs. Vail is a stunningly beautiful ski resort filled with endless runs for all types of skiers. It has more than 5,000 acres available for skiing.

We were staying at Vail Cascade Resort (VCR) and Spa. It has both hotel rooms and condominiums, and is cozy while being casual and elegant.

 The resort is located on the mountain and has its own ski lift, as well as the 78,000-square-foot Aria Spa and Club, which provides everything from prep classes for skiing to pampering massages for individuals or couples.

After a few runs on my own, I skied over to the bunny slope to check on Audrey. She was learning to side-step up the mountain. She was focused, working hard and, most importantly, smiling.

All of her hard work made me hungry, and I skied over to the “10,” a fine-dining option in the middle of the mountain. I giggled, trudging with my ski boots through the elegant restaurant to a table with a fabulous window view of the snow-covered peaks in the distance.

My salad with grilled salmon was tasty and healthy, so to make up for it, I also indulged in french fries with truffle oil. I figured dessert was a must since I was conquering mountains, so the honey gelato was the perfect sendoff back onto the sun-drenched slopes.

I stopped over to check on Audrey. I found her grinning, as she was on the “magic carpet,” a moving walkway that allows new skiers to get to smaller hills before they are ready to tackle the chairlift.

Many adults are not brave enough to try to conquer their fears and attempt to learn a new sport. I was proud of my big sister for her bravery. It was a change of pace. I always follow in her footsteps, and now she was sliding down in mine. (I’ve always loved skiing.)

Audrey told me, “It’s not often as an adult you have the opportunity to learn a new skill, especially one like skiing, which so many people learn as children.”

It’s important to take a risk sometimes, whether it’s an emotional one or physical one.

Rabbi Bisman explained, “It is necessary to take new risks, unless you want your life to grow stale. Learning comes from taking risks. If you can’t ask a question, you can’t learn. The bashful student can’t learn.”

I skied back to Audrey and found her following Lonny, skiing down the bunny slope. She had an intense but happy look on her face.

Audrey explained, “I had to erase the negative memories from the trauma I experienced at 13, which happened because I didn’t take a lesson. The first question Lonny asked me was, had I ever skied? He explained it was a common task for him to undo the negative experiences of a bad skiing situation.”

The lesson was a success. By the end of the week, Audrey was a certified ski bunny, easily cruising down the “green” runs.

We celebrated her accomplishments with a delicious dinner at Atwater, the restaurant at the VCR. Audrey grinned, “There is something so fun about learning how to do something you don’t know how to do and being able to accomplish your goals,” she said.

I grinned back. “So, can I start planning our next ski trip?”

Audrey replied, “Of course. I don’t want all this hard work to go unnoticed. She winked at me. “Next time, ‘black diamonds’ (difficult ski trails), right?”

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