Ski Slopes and Learning Curves

I have just come back from skiing. It was my second ever time, the first sorry episode being three years ago. Don’t get me wrong – I had a fabulous time with lovely people on that first occasion. It’s just that the skiing bit wasn’t fabulous. The rest of it was almost but not quite like the Wham video to Last Christmas. Except that it wasn’t Christmas and we were all in our 40s. I remember being just about capable of snow-ploughing down a gradient so slight that a marble wouldn’t roll down it, only to look forlornly at 9 month old babies parallel skiing past me, grinning smugly.

Anyway. This time was different; I still had a great time, with more lovely people, but this time the actual skiing part was part of the fabulousness. Everyone had told me that it was just like riding a bike (I assume they meant that they both hurt when you fall off) and that I would remember how to do it from three years ago. The flaw in this cunning plan was that I couldn’t do it three years ago, so what exactly would I remember?

They were right, however. By the end of the first morning I was back to where I had been after a week last time – and by the end of the day I had actually stopped falling over. I actually remember vividly the Eureka! moment; when the tilt of the ankle, the standing and squatting bits, the weight balance and numerous other things just seemed to happen without thinking. This led me to ponder later that night over a large G&T what was happening; that my muscles were remembering all by themselves, that I wasn’t having to hold all of these seemingly impossible tricks in my pre-frontal cortex (which takes a huge amount of effort and energy) and that instead they were transferring to my basal ganglia, the centre for unconscious competence – a part of the brain, not a Government Quango. Amazing what gin does.

Ski instructors know this, of course. They make you learn a new skill just before you have mastered the last one – and by the time you have almost mastered that one, the first one is there. Firmly in basal ganglia.

There is a lesson here somewhere (At last – Ed). We can sometimes hold ourselves back from learning something because we are not quite ready. Argue for our limitations and sure enough, they are ours. By pushing ourselves just that little bit more, stretching ourselves so we are almost, but not quite out of our comfort zone and breaking seemingly impossible tasks into small chunks, it is amazing what we can master. The gin helped too, to be honest. But by the end of the week, I was confidently trundling, competently if inelegantly, down 5k green and blue slopes, cursing a wasted 50 years of non-skiing activities.