Sunday, February 27, 2005

In One Piece 

It's back to work after a week in Canada learning how to ski and sightseeing. We enjoy Canada during any season. It's pretty with the snow and ice, especially in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal where we stayed in the picture postcard village of Saint Sauveur. The surprise this time was Ottawa, where I had never been. A more beautiful town would be hard to find, even in the middle of winter.

I had not been on skis for more than 30 years and the one time I was, I had one lesson at Loveland in Colorado then took a lift to the 10,000-foot level where lack of oxygen gave me a dull, throbbing headache as I labored my way down the mountain and eventually walked back to the lodge. To say I knew nothing about skiing is accurate. I had never planned to ski, but my daughter decided she wanted to learn. She went off for group lessons, and I went to a private instructor.

Because I'm a communications person, I was amused by conflicting instructions I received from two French-speaking instructors. They were teaching the same principles but they approached them differently. One wanted my boots latched snugly. The other wanted my boots loose. One wanted me to hold my hands on my knees. The other wanted me to hold them in the air. I kept thinking that there must be a way to teach skiing that delivers principles in one way to speed the process, but then I thought this would not make sense.

People learn differently. The first instructor was into mechanics. The second was into imagery. Frankly, I learned more from the second instructor but that could be the result of practice. (The second instructor said learning to ski was the result of mileage.) In the end, teaching me to ski was a multimedia experience. It emphasized how we as communicators should never rely on one method to send a message. We might be good at publicity, but that is not enough. We might be good at events, but they are too limited. The ski instructors without realizing it provided a case study for any PR campaign.

As for the skiing itself, my daughter learned more quickly than I. She has no fear, while I watched trees, poles and fences and visualized myself smashing into any number of them. I was comfortable at last on a beginner trail when she decided to show me the trails her instructor had taken her on earlier. I noted with alarm that the beginning of one trail had a single black diamond (high degree of difficulty.) She wasn't bothered by that. After all, she had been on the trail earlier. So, we started down the trail then branched off into another. I saw immediately this one was a double black diamond (Tres difficile, I believe the French signboard read.) I was beginning to sweat. Did she see the sign? "No problem, Daddy. Our instructor took us down this trail too."

So we skied through a narrow file between looming trees and came to a wide slope that dropped STRAIGHT DOWN to the lift. Well, not quite straight down but at least 70 degrees. It looked straight down. This was the double black diamond. My daughter stopped and urged me to look at the view. What view? I could see myself rolling over and over to the bottom and left in a heap where the safety patrol would lift me on a sled. O, there was a magnificent scene of the entire Saint Sauveur valley, but who had time for that? My daughter said blithely that we would snowplow down the slope. She had done that earlier, and all I had to do was to take my time. Yup. Sure. She plunged over the lip and began expert and controlled snowplowing. I shuffled after her and watched myself immediately lurch into a three-quarter turn on the slope. My right leg wasn't cooperating and my left leg was taking the burden on the downhill side. It hurt. We stopped two or three times. I could barely stand sideways on the hill. At last, we made it to the bottom, and my daughter mentioned something about how easy it was. I said I wasn't taking that slope again. The next time we took an intermediate trail. Much more my speed.

So now, I am an old man skier. I take comfort in the fact that many on the slopes looked as old as I. But then, they have been skiing since they were four or five. My first instructor was a women in her 50s or 60s who said in broken English that she liked to go "fast, fast, fast." If I can go "slow, slow, slow" and make it down a hill safely, I'll be happy.

I'm glad you enjoyed Ottawa. It is quite pretty, even in the cold crisp winter air.

You should try visiting in the summer, when the hills are alive ... with greenery, mountain biking, hiking and kayaking.

Colin McKay

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