Riding the chairlift sitting next to a brother and sister from Georgia, I was thinking, “How lucky am I, right now?” Today was my last day working as a ski instructor for the ski season at nearby Winter Park Ski Resort. Though I’ve taught nordic skiing before, my experience was pretty limited at a small operation in Lake Tahoe. When I signed on to become a Ski Instructor teaching children ages 3- 14 for the winter, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. Today, I felt like I had one of the best jobs in the world, having a great time skiing with kids on a beautiful day in the Rocky Mountains.
During my life, I’ve had a lot of jobs that felt like drudgery, that I dreaded going to each day. I’ve had jobs that payed the bills, and I put in my eight hours, and was glad to go home at the end of the day. I’ve had jobs that I was ambivalent about, that weren’t horrible, but I wasn’t excited about either. But on a couple of rare occasions, I’ve had jobs that I had moments of thinking, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!” It’s probably no coincidence that these jobs involved working outside somewhere in the mountains.
Almost twenty years ago, I was walking a trail in the Giant Forest, one of the premiere sequoia groves in Sequoia National Park. As a brand new Park Ranger for the National Park Service, I had never been paid to walk trails in primeval forests and talk with visitors. It was a crystal clear day with bright blue skies, and I was marveling over the grandeur of these two to three thousand year old trees that dwarfed me. I stopped to talk to visitors, showing them the small egg-shaped sequoia cones, and the tiny seeds that resembled oat flakes these mammoth trees grew from. The continued on, and I was left with the silence of the trees, the wind and my thoughts. I wasn’t paid a lot, I believe it was a GS-4 salary of perhaps $10.00/hour or so. But at that moment, I felt like one of the richest people in the world, to get paid to walk trails in one the nation’s most beautiful national parks.
This past winter has left me with a similar feeling. There are few sports that have brought me as much joy and happiness as skiing. Something about being outside, mountains peaks surrounding me, snow bedecking the trees, and then the feeling of gliding down a mountain exhilarates me. But to share that passion, and even begin to help others to enjoy the fun and exhilaration of the sport makes it even better. Getting paid to do so, along with receiving a free ski pass is just the icing on the cake. My one thought of remorse as I drove home, today, feeling a bit sad that my season had come to an end, was “Why didn’t I pursue this ski instructing sooner in my life?”
Teaching children is an exercise in being present in the moment — they are carefree, with little to worry about tomorrow. It’s okay to stop in the middle of a trail and have a snowball fight. Falling down usually is followed by laughter, and figuring out a way to get back up. My experience this winter doing something I love, showing others how to love it too has indeed been priceless.