By Jennifer Gottesfeld, 17, Beverly Hills HS
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Jennifer posed with her remarkably patient boyfriend (and snowboarding teacher) Sean during their trip to Big Bear.
Photo by Sharon Gottesfeld (Jenn's mom).

Until December I had encountered snow just twice in my life, when I was 6 and when I was 10. And I hated it. It was freezing cold, and being a Los Angeles girl, freezing cold is anything below 75 degrees. But during this past winter I figured that it was time to face the cold in a more mature manner. After all I was 16. So for the week of New Year’s I went to Big Bear with a bunch of friends, determined to learn how to snowboard.

When we got there it took two hours to get lift tickets, snowboards, boots, the whole ordeal. Sean, Kathryn and Alberto, the three people I went with, had already been snowboarding for three years and they were eager to hit the slopes. My mom said that before I could do anything I needed to take a class.

Before I continue, taking a class is cheap—$25 for a two-hour group lesson—and it’s worth it. Not to scare anyone out of learning to snowboard, but I saw at least four ambulances a day rushing people who had been skiing or snowboarding to the emergency room.

By the time we were through getting all of the equipment it was 3 p.m. Tension was building inside me and I thought I was going to be sick. I am usually not a scared person, but for some reason I had dozens of butterflies invading my stomach.

My lesson was scheduled for 4:15 p.m., but by 3:45 the sun was already setting, and even with five layers of shirts, four layers of pants, three layers of socks, a pair of warm gloves, insulated goggles, and a wool beanie, I was freezing cold. I watched my friends go down "Miracle Mile"—one of the runs at Snow Summit in Big Bear—and I thought to myself, "not in a million years will I ever be able to do that."

Is this for me?

I have never really been an athletic person, never participated in sports during high school, never really enjoyed doing sports. To think that I would actually be able to conquer snowboarding when I can’t even run a mile in under 12 minutes was crazy.

I couldn’t go through with the lesson that day because I was so nervous that I talked myself into feeling sick and I was freezing. My mom wasn’t going to push me into anything I didn’t want to do, so she and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon sipping hot cocoa in the lounge. When my friends came to meet us in the lounge they wanted to find out why I didn’t go to my lesson.

"I don’t know, I think I should wait until tomorrow before taking a lesson," I said. I was too embarrassed to tell them how nervous I was, so I told them that I didn’t feel that great and it was getting dark. They were disappointed, but understood. They refused to let my mom and I wait for them until their lift tickets expired at 6 p.m., so they called it quits and we drove back to our hotel room.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to get a full day on the slopes. My class was scheduled to start at 10:45 a.m. I was terrified.

I am pretty sure I was the worst student in the class. I made the biggest fool out of myself. First, it took me 20 minutes just to figure out how to get up on the snowboard. Every time I tried, my legs would end up going in opposite directions and I would be in full splits; it was extremely painful. By the time I figured out how to stand up for a couple seconds with the snowboard strapped on my feet, the rest of the class was already learning how to maneuver and move with the snowboard on their feet.

After an hour it was time to mount the lift. I fell 20 times before making it there. I stood on the red line that said "wait here" and looked back to make sure I would be able to sit down on the lift. It came and swept me away. I was sitting next to a boy who was about my age. He looked terrified, too.

"What’s your name?" I asked him, trying to forget that when I got off the lift I would have to make it all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. (Note: The bottom of the mountain is a quarter of a mile baby slope that takes most people less than a minute to get from top to bottom, but it was a mountain to me.)

"Jeremy," he said with a nervous smile.

"I’m Jenn." I said and smiled back. "Ever done this before?"

"No," he said chuckling, "I have a feeling I never will again."

"Well, thank God I’m not the only one," I said to him. By the time our short conversation was over it was time to dismount. I prayed I would not fall off the lift and break my neck. I tried to remember what the instructors had told me: "Turn your body so that you are parallel to the slope when getting off the lift chair. Put your free foot on the board and try to balance yourself and glide down to where the little fern tree is, sit there and wait for the rest of the class."

Falling hurts

You get on, you get off—Jennifer got used to the chairlift, despite her fears.
Photo by Sean Beale-Rosano, 17, Loyola HS.

I got off the lift and for two beautiful seconds I was flying with my snowboard and the wind flowing over my beanie. Crash! I fell face first into the snow, inevitably, but luckily right where I was supposed to wait for the rest of the class.

When everyone got to the meeting spot, we strapped both our feet into our snowboards. If I couldn’t stand with one foot free, how on earth was I going to balance with no feet free? But somehow I managed to keep my balance and I stood without falling.

I fell every 10 seconds and even beginners in the class laughed at how terribly I was doing. I felt hopeless. At the end of the two-hour class I had finally made it down the bottom of the mountain, though I went down most of the way on my butt.

My knees were in so much pain by the time lunch came around I could barely make my way to the lounge to meet my friends, and when I got there my butt hurt so much that I couldn’t sit down. You either fall on your butt or on your knees. Neither is good, but I’d rather fall on my butt. At least there’s padding there.

After lunch, Sean, my boyfriend, made me get back on the bunny slope lift so he could help me one-on-one. We got to the top of the bunny slope—the easiest one —at around 2:30 p.m. I strapped my feet into my board hoping I would magically transform into an incredible snowboarder.

I stood, went about three feet and fell. Sean helped me back onto my feet, held my hands (he is an amazing snowboarder) and guided me a little farther down. After 10 feet he let go of my hands, and I was back on my butt again.

"I’m done! I quit! I hate this!" I screamed loudly enough for everyone on the slope to hear. The frustration reduced me to tears. Sean assured me that I would get better and that snowboarding took practice and patience. But I hate waiting. So I got up, determined to conquer the damn sport, and I went about 20 feet before I fell this time. Finally some progress! By the time we got to the end of the bunny slope a little more than an hour had passed. I met my mom at 4 p.m. at the lounge, and complained about how terribly I was doing.

The next morning I could barely move. I felt as though every muscle in my body had been beaten black and blue.

My snowboarding angel to the rescue

We got to the slopes around noon. Sean took me to the bunny slope again. He reinforced everything I needed to remember: knees bent, keep your heels down and your toes up in the air so you don’t hit any bumps. I only fell twice that morning, I couldn’t believe it; I guess I turned into a magnificent snowboarder (well, not quite).

"So, are you ready to try Summit Run?" Sean asked. I hesitated. Summit Run is the easiest run after the bunny slope; it is designed for beginners, but it’s about a mile long. Was I ready?

"You only fell twice on the bunny slope. You made it down in less than 10 minutes. I think you can do it," he said. I figured I’d give it a try.

Even more terrifying than going down Summit Run for the first time, was the lift going up to the top of the mountain. I didn’t think it would ever end. It must have lasted seven minutes compared to the bunny slope lift, which is about 40 seconds. I wondered: "If it took almost 10 minutes to get up the mountain (now this is a real mountain), how long would it take for me to get down?"

It took me about an hour to get down Summit Run, but being that it took me an hour to get down the bunny slope the day before, I was pretty proud of myself. I went back up and did Summit Run again, and this time it took me only 45 minutes, and I fell only 10 or 15 times. Instead of being relieved to leave the mountain, I was sad. I wanted to snowboard more.

The next day we got there at eight in the morning. We were driving back to Los Angeles that afternoon and I wanted to snowboard as much as possible before we left. I went down Summit Run once, but by then it was boring. The next easiest run after Summit Run is Miracle Mile, so I decided to take my chances.

Sean and I snowboarded down it together in about half an hour. It felt so great, knowing that two days before I could barely stand and now I felt as though I had almost total control of myself and the board strapped to my feet. So I decided to go up and do it again, this time even faster. Sean asked if I wanted to do the black diamond on Miracle Mile.

Here’s how the system works: The bunny slopes are yellow; they are the easiest. Then there’s green, which is what Summit Run is. Next is blue, that’s Miracle Mile, and after blue there’s single black diamonds and double black diamonds, which are the hardest and steepest. The other guy with us, Alberto, was a great snowboarder too, and he had never done a black diamond. How would I, who had only been snowboarding for three days, survive a black diamond?

"OK!" I yelled, "let’s do it." Five minutes after dismounting the lift I stood at the edge, looking at the steepness of the hill I was about to go down. I took a deep breath, knowing that what I was doing was probably insane. I turned my board, raised my heels and began to descend the mountain, wondering where in my journey down the black diamond I would crash and burn. Next thing I knew I was at the bottom of the mountain. It took me 10 minutes to get all the way down, and I hadn’t fallen once. I went down a black diamond and I didn’t fall once!

I couldn’t believe that just 48 hours before I hated snowboarding and was ready to give up. I have become obsessed. Now, every day I nag my mom to take me back to the mountain so I can snowboard again. I finally found a sport that I love, and that loves me, too. It is one of the greatest things I have ever done. Though difficult at first, it was worth all the bruises and sores in the end.