I gulped down panic as I took one look at the steep Snowflex ramp that flows into a kicker inside The Barn at Woodward at Copper.
Granted, the other side of the kicker was a foam pit. I'd been told it's almost more fun to land in the foam than in powder, but I wasn't sure I believed it - yet. By the way, Snowflex is a makeshift snow surface made of synthetic directional material. It's meant for strapping on your skis or board and, well, sending it.
Stepping into the foreign environment that is Woodward at Copper for their One Hit Wonder orientation session, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I'd assured Copper staff that the Woodward at Copper coaches would have a stress case on their hands.
Don't get me wrong.
I love to ski, and have been told I'm pretty darn good at it. I like tearing through mogul fields after my patrol-worthy friends and family, and weaving through tight trees to get a spray of powder a few days after the storm. The marks on my helmet show it.
The thing is, I've been terrified of anything that sends me into the air ever since I snapped my right-knee ACL in 2005 and was down for the count. I was still recovering with a knee brace when I headed off for studies in Sydney, Australia - a real bummer.
So, little did these Woodward coaches know what was going through my mind as I stepped into the awesome arena that is The Barn.
Standing on the spring mat, I eyed the corner where brave souls were bouncing away on trampolines and throwing tricks I might not even execute in my dreams. Behind me, skateboarders took advantage of the park features built into the indoor facility. On the other side of the gym, the hulking Snowflex jump - and it's associated rail park and cliff drop - seemed immense and threatening.
On the other hand, little did I know that pretty soon, I'd be sailing down that Snowflex ramp and launching off that kicker into the foam pit.
The key was progression. It's Woodward at Copper's buzz word.
It's what Woodward at Copper is all about: Start small with basic drills. Learn how to move to flip or backflip, how to fall if you need to bail, how to enter the foam pit and how to jump on the trampoline.
I was among those who sat out some of the spring mat exercises. Coaches Josh and Lauren showed the One Hit Wonder class, a group of first-timers who were in it for an hour and 45 minutes, safe and proper ways to flip, backflip, initiate a misty and more. Nervous and somewhat mentally unprepared (I tried to get "there" beforehand), I wasn't sure about making contact with the mat.
But within a half hour, I was throwing a front flip into the foam pit from the spring mat.
All I could think was, "Maybe there's something to this whole progression thing."
Josh and Lauren kept saying it, but more than just saying it, they showed it.
During that hour and a half, they moved the class through the different equipment, asking us to try various basic exercises on each. For those who were nervous (ehem, me), they showed alternative ways to execute the drills to gain comfort. By the end of the brief trampoline session, we were launching from the trampoline into the foam pit, some of the class members throwing tricks as they sailed, and all of us speaking words of encouragement to each other.
Me - I just practiced falling, because I'm pretty sure that's what I'd do out there in the snow anyway. Lauren assured me that, after some good practice, I'd probably be visualizing myself executing something in the terrain park, but that it would just take time. And what better way to practice than in a foam pit?
With about 45 minutes left in the crash course in terrain park practice, we geared up and moved to the Snowflex area.
Helmets are required, and skiers seem to have a bit more leeway that snowboarders on the Snowflex surface. With more edges to work with, and more positions to put them in (for example, the wedge works just fine on Snowflex), skiers can ride it out with less practice. Snowboarders, on the other hand, are more likely to catch an edge and have to undergo a bit more practice on how to recover from being unbalanced in their ongoing balancing act.
So here I was, after an hour-and-a-half of basic training, riding my skis down the monstrous, but not-so-threatening-anymore ramp and launching off the kicker below.
My reaction to all that: "Weird."
I never would have believed it possible for them to help me overcome my fears, or at least, some of them. But Woodward at Copper director Ben Brown and Copper marketing director Pete Woods were right: Progression helps. And practice only helps more.
Woods assured me that after a few drop-in sessions and a course in taking those skills outside, I'd be throwing a backflip in no time.
Maybe he's right. And maybe I'll have to give it a shot.