"Learning" to snowboard in Finland
I have always hated skiing. I have always hated snowboarding. Before my snowboarding lesson in Kuusamo at Ruka Ski Resort (in January 2016), I had been skiing once in my lifetime when I was 14. It was on a tiny slope with fake snow, no ski lift. I went down the slope once, falling on purpose so that I could just scoot down the remainder of the way on my butt. Then I went and drank hot chocolate while my friends walked up and skied down, walked up, skied down. I have never touched a snowboard. Winter activities to me should revolve around Santa and making snow angels, looking at reindeer and wearing horribly itchy Christmas sweaters. So, while visiting my friend in Kuusamo, I decided to sign up for a snowboarding lesson. In -30 degree weather. Without any skiing/snowboarding gear or winter jacket to my name. And with a personality that makes me become very spastic when I’m agitated.
My snowboarding instructor was a man with a radiant smile from Ukraine, and one of those people that loves to spend 10 hours a day on the slopes. Yes, one of THOSE people. Those people are not my people. His name was Aleksandr and he promised me “most fun you can have”. He also promised me that Ukraine and Russia are “great friends” and “no worries”, so I should’ve known from the beginning that his promises for the day were going to be empty. I signed up for an hour lesson, which already seemed like 30 minutes far too long as I was writing my name down. My lesson began with him teaching me how to stand on the board and how to move the board around. I had one foot strapped in and one out, stomping around in circles. Snow was blowing up every time I put my foot down and I giggled every time it happened. I was happy. An hour was going to be nothing. Then we decided to move up to the big girl area - I had to stand on the electric magic carpet and ride down the slope myself, practicing my "edging"! (Even though I had no idea what edging was!) Aleksandr held my hands the entire time and I made it down multiple times without falling. I was happy. There were 2-foot tall children around me laughing. They were also happy.
Then, something clicked in this man’s mind and he decided that since I was capable of going down the slope for 2 year olds, breaking bones in his hands, I should get on the ski lift and go down a slope. Clearly the next step in my learning. So, we head towards the ski lift. I’m plodding along, not understanding yet how to walk properly with a foot in a snowboard, and trying to figure out how one gets on a ski lift because it looked like to me that they move at fairly high speeds. We move through the gate, sneaking in together as one person since I’m in no way going to purchase a ski pass, and I start gaining my confidence. We slide up to get ready to sit on the lift, it slides up underneath us, and next thing I know I am sitting down. I have survived the ski lift embarkment; all is well. And then I realize how quickly we are going up and I look down. All is not well. I consider not getting off at the top and just riding back down. Is that allowed? If not, will a snowmobile come pick me up? How the HELL am I supposed to get back down this? How cold will it be if I freak out and accidentally pee in my pants? Will my pee warm me up? Why don't I have a proper jacket? Or gloves?! How do people live in this weather? WHY do people live in this weather? I forgot to tell my family I was coming here! Will they even be able to identify me if I fall off the ski lift and freeze to death?!
We start approaching the top of the slopes, otherwise known to us Santa-loving civilians as a mountain, and Aleksandr prepares me for departure. I have my left foot strapped on to the board, my right foot dangling, and he tells me that all I have to do is put my left foot down and start sliding forward out of the way - I even have my right foot to help me push off if I’m not going fast enough! Okay Aleksandr, sounds easy enough. The ski lift starts getting closer and closer, I hear him give the cue, I face plant. Full on, face in the snow. I can’t get up because I have no earthly idea how to stand up when you have a massive board strapped to you. The people on the lift behind me obviously weren’t expecting me to go to the top of the slope, not even knowing how to get off. They didn’t move their skis in time. Thankfully Jonan at the rental shop made me purchase a helmet. I am no longer happy. I have decided that no matter what Aleksandr says, I am taking the board off and stomping my way down the mountain.
Of course, he has other plans. At this point, I am so frozen that I can’t feel my feet or my hands and my eyelashes are clumping together. I can’t speak properly, so our communication is even more difficult than when we first met. He asks me which slope I want to go down and of course I tell him the easiest one and I will be walking down it, thank you very much. No Kriiisteen, this is not allowed. I tell him how cold I am and that I can’t feel anything and so he makes a deal with me. He will try to warm up my toes and fingers if I will go down this one slope. Okay, deal Aleksandr. I am halfway happy. He fixes my face mask so that it’s covering my mouth again, he warms up my ears, tucking my hair around them; he makes me put my hands in fists and spin them in rapid circles. We start going down the slope with my board perpendicular to how you usually make a run down. He’s standing in front of me, guiding me down, and we are just working on this elusive edging. Every time he tells me to lean back further in my heels, I go forward on my toes. He keeps telling me to sit lower in my knees and not to hunch over in my back. All I want to do is hunch over and be as close to the ground as possible. Can’t I just snowboard in a squatting position?? We start getting faster and faster, in this awkward snowboarding position with him holding my little fisted hands, and then I start going to the side of the slope instead of down. I have no clue what to do and how to remedy the problem, so I decide to take care of it the only way I know how, I will fall down. I purposely fall and I take Aleksandr with me. Aleksandr is not pleased with me, especially when I tell him I did it on purpose. I plead again to let me just walk down the slope, he refuses. He repeats to me every 3 minutes “don’t be nervous” and “no worries”. Later on he started saying his slogans with “princess” tacked on the end, since he kept having to pick me up, rub my hands, and tuck in my hair from all the falling.
By the time we get down this mountain, an hour later, I have fallen at least 10 times, mostly on purpose, some by accident, and have taken him down with me almost all of those times. I now can’t feel my legs and it hurts to blink my eyes. I can’t even form sentences because I am colder than turkey dust and have decided if I hear Aleksandr tell me not to worry one more time I might just stomp away for good. He is being the most doting snowboard instructor a beginner could ever ask for, even through my adult temper-tantrum. As I’m lying at the bottom of the slope, defeated and exhausted, I hear him detaching my shoes from the board (no feeling involved at this point) and telling me that he will allow me to walk to the resting lodge. There is a fire, there is hot chocolate, there is pure happiness inside of this little lodge. There are also many people that passed me on the slope telling me that they were glad I made it. Me too friends, me too. I am blissfully happy and proud of myself for making it down the entire slope without walking. I could congratulate myself with a cold beer.
Nope. Of course, this was not in the plan. Turns out, to get back to the village, we had to take another lift and go down another slope. Nope, no snowmobiles were around to drive me. Nope, I couldn’t just ride the ski lift back down. Nope, I wasn’t allowed to walk.
There is clearly no way around this, so off we go, with me giving myself words of encouragement every step. It’s already dark at this point, since there are about 3 hours of daylight right now in northern Finland. I don’t even know how cold it is, but I am shivering and have sworn off snow for the remaining years of my life. (Ironically though, that didn't work out because I moved to Finland 6 months later). This time, Aleksandr has me sit on the right and him on the left that way when we get to the top and have to get off he can hold me and guide me to a safe exit. He informs me that I must do this well because all his friends have been laughing at us all day and they will be at the top. Okay Aleksandr, I can do this for you.
Nope. You would think I could get one thing right during my snowboarding day, but I can’t. We get off the lift and I fall down into a squatting position. Everything is happening so fast and I am trying my hardest not to fall completely over in front of everyone. We exit the ski lift with him holding my waist, leaned over, as I squat, looking like I am prepping for Bakasana. This is not a graceful way to make an entrance, nor is it the way to get inducted into the snowboarding club.
The second slope goes much better. It was still horrible and I almost knocked over an unsuspecting couple, but I only purposely fell down twice and I didn’t take Aleksandr down with me at all. I didn’t even get invited to the after-skiing pub club and I won’t ever be invited back for another lesson, but I did (somehow) make a new Facebook friend from Ukraine.