"Don't look down. Look up and enjoy the view," Seth Hardy said - not just once but all day long. The ski instructor and former junior Olympian was working hard in an effort to get his student off the baby slopes and onto Rocky Mountain trails ten thousand feet in the sky.
Seth worked with me for two days this February at the Red River Ski Area near Taos, New Mexico and his wise words were easier for me to hear than to heed. Avoiding looking down at the slippery slope below my skis seemed too scary.
I am a fun-lover but not a thrill-seeker. The big question is why I ski at all. I like being outdoors and am especially fond of snowy terrain. And it is so frustrating that the best ski country views are inaccessible to all but those skilled enough to ski from the top.
But with the unique features at Red River at his disposal, Seth was about to change the way I ski. Encouraging me to kick habits developed over 10 years of bunny hill confinement, he got me not only to look up but also to get up; as in before too long we were on the platinum lift riding to the Red River's uppermost slopes where, unbelievably, even skiers like me can ski easy green trails all the way down.
After a stunning 20-minute ascent, I slid off the gondola without mishap. That was confidence-building. Then I sailed upright by the Ski Tip chalet restaurant, through the scent of hamburgers grilling, (which was a different sort of challenge) and started down some gentle slopes and along scenic overlooks with the expansive views I'd long wanted to see.
The Moonstar Mining Camp consists of scattered buildings and artifacts that suggest there's something else interesting to be found just around the corner. One trail features hidden forest animals that encourage skiers to take their time and explore.
On Fridays, this idea of leisurely appreciating the alpine environment is taken to the next level as a U.S. Forest Service ranger leads an eco-tour of the mountain which is federal land. The guide adapts the route so that it is appropriate for the skiing level of visitors.
Ninety percent of those who come here a don't own their equipment and ski only occasionally, Kelly told me one morning over coffee at the crowded Shotgun Willie's Café on Red River's main road, just outside the entrance of the resort.
"They use their time on the mountain to be with friends and family," she explained. "All the pictures on Instagram and Facebook are from Grandma and Grandpa taking pictures of the kids."
In fact, there were two sections that sapped my courage and bless his heart, Seth let me hang on to him until the terrain leveled off. But for my first time on the green trail, I did well enough to imagine doing it again.
That night, I celebrated my small victory at The Lift House, an après-ski restaurant at the base of the resort's steepest slope, a black diamond called The Face.
It was Saturday and as darkness fell, the weekly Torchlight Parade began. Staff at the family-owned resort including Seth on occasion, gather at the crest and armed with red torches, begin a slow and measured descent to the bottom while a crowd cheers. Elena Garcia, her brothers Frank and Richard and their children were there, visiting from Albuquerque and watching appreciatively. "It's a prize little town," she said as fireworks capped the parade.
Like the Garcias, I watched it all in awe and with satisfaction that I had made my own tiny push against the limit imposed by my fears.
I went to the top and I lived to write about and when I do it again, I will remember Seth's instructions to "Look up, enjoy the view," because on this mountain on this day, a bunny-hill, baby-skier learned to do just that.