Journeys No. 12: Breckenridge, Colorado

There is so much to learn while traveling—new skills included.

School’s in Session 

The first time I rode a chairlift with one foot strapped into a snowboard and attempted to dismount, I ate it. The lift ground to a stop so I could crawl away—mortifying. That was a decade ago. Older and wiser, I took another stab at it a few days ago. On my new first attempt, I instinctively squatted down and tried to grab the rail like I was riding a wave backside on my surfboard. Iffy, but not a total disaster. On the next I stayed upright, my instructor holding the back of my jacket like I was a kid on roller skates. The third time I nailed it, standing and skating down the gentle mound until I slid to a stop grinning, like I’d just done a super impressive trick. Impressive, not so much. But I had earned a high five. 

My Breckenridge Ski & Snowboard School guide, Greg Lock, seemed determined to do two things during our two days together on the Colorado mountain coated with 40 magical inches of just-fallen powder. One, he wanted to teach me to snowboard. Two, he wanted me to love it. See, 10 years ago my friend Alexis and I had embarked on a short “learn to snowboard” session with an Oakley-sponsored pro at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah that amounted to us falling down—like, wind knocked out of us falls—every 10 seconds as the pro laughed. That early experience clearly hadn’t motivated any follow-up, but still, Greg succeeded on both counts. 

He took me straight to El Dorado, a beginner practice area where I got the hang of toe side and heel side, practiced a falling leaf exercise, and started linking C turns into S’s. I had blue skies above me, and the plushest white padding below, thanks to the generous snowstorm. My quads began burning quickly, then the tingly sensations moved to my outer calves and ankles. My heart raced, at some 10,000 feet. Still, I wanted to run up the slow-moving “magic carpet” after each descent, my eagerness to try it again and get it right fueled by the exciting sensation of my body learning new, fun movements. I was hyped to graduate to green slopes, even more stoked when I snaked my way down without falling on day two. My love of learning not only the history or culture of a place, but a native sport or practice, was affirmed in Breckenridge (where I highly recommend the new boutique hotel Gravity Haus, with its inviting hot tubs, après scene and warming cocktails named for Dumb & Dumber).

Greg pointed out to me the rarity of this, and I was amazed to realize the truth in it. When was the last time you learned a new skill as an adult? And I don’t mean taking a boxing class once, or painting a piece of pottery on vacation. I mean immersing yourself in a practice or craft. Honing a new ability. Many adults don’t have or take opportunities to tackle something foreign or different, like snowboarding. There are many factors: It might not occur to us, maybe we don’t have time, or we’re afraid of failure. As children, new things were thrown at us daily—we didn’t hesitate to learn how to ride a bike, kick a ball, or read. Practice led to improvement. But aging can damper that enthusiasm; so often it’s easier to stick to what we already know. 

In thinking about this, however, I’ve realized some of the very best—and most exciting—parts of my life and travels are when I dive headfirst into learning something new, from a true expert. Expert being the operative word. It’s occasionally part of my job, but I don’t chase these opportunities because they further my career. (I’ve always been envious of actors who get the most amazing training in order to master a skill for a role, like Natalie Portman did for Black Swan.) I embrace these moments because I love becoming a more dynamic person. I feel stimulated when broadening my horizons.

Admittedly, I didn’t have this attitude in my twenties. It wasn’t until I entered a new decade, 30, that I decided the time was finally right to take the drum lessons I’d secretly wanted since I was a teen jamming to Foo Fighters on my steering wheel. My nerves were so major at first that my instructor sweetly offered a beer to take the edge off. But throwing myself into a nightly practice, banging out bottled-up emotions, and adding Led Zeppelin songs to my repertoire built my self-confidence and enhanced my self-worth tremendously. When I began spending time in Indonesia and Australia, surfing became my next obsession—and courage booster. The journey to become a surfer has involved a Moroccan surf camp and coaching from Portugal to Punta Mita. I first caught the bug after catching my first wave all by myself and feeling ecstasy wash over me. I felt a bit of that same euphoria in Breckenridge on day two of my lessons. Since strapping on a harness and scaling a giant ceiba tree at Kasiiya Papagayo in Costa Rica last summer, I’ve been learning to rock climb, thanks to my Spiderman–like boyfriend Keith, who offers the ideal blend of encouragement and instruction. 

It’s true once you feel a bit of competence or a “win” with a new pursuit you’re hooked. (On that note, we’re heading to Mammoth Mountain in a couple weeks to build on my newfound snowboarding skills!) Next, I’m going to Oahu for intensive training in the ancient art of hula, something I’m beyond excited about as a former ballet dancer.  

I’m sharing this in hopes of inspiring internal conversation. What have you wished to try but were too scared to go after? A young woman once told me that she wanted to practice yoga, but worried she’d be bad at it. For me, leaving town is the perfect way to get out of my element and into a new one. It introduces me to masters from whom I can learn, and opens the door to things I might not feel comfortable to experiment with at home. In so many ways, travel is an antidote to fear. More and more, immersive, fascinating experiences around the world are giving us opportunities to delve into pasta making or even boat building. So ask yourself, what will you endeavor to learn next? 

—Kathryn Romeyn

Further reading: 

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