Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Dear Outdoor Asian Friends & Family,
I don't always go skiing, but when I do:
Expensive AF hot chocolate.
WTF rage quitting.
Friends, be unlike me, and more like the graceful Masahana Kato, who brings us the harrowing life tale of:
Learning to Snowboard at 34
As a budding snowboarder in my mid-30s, I assume that the 12-year-old version of me would be shocked and maybe even impressed by her future self. Growing up, snow sports were elusive, unknowable, unattainable. Sure, there were plenty of times when my family would drive up to the Sierras, San Gabriels, or the San Bernardino mountains to spend a day or a weekend, but we never stepped foot onto a ski resort or participated in much more than casual sledding or misshapen snowman-making in the driveway. It was already a financial feat for us to take trips to the snowy mountains as a lower middle class Chinese family. After all, skiing was for wealthy White people! Tall, strong, attractive people who sped down alpine slopes in expensive gear to enjoy aprés ski mugs of creamy, steaming hot cocoa (without the lactose-intolerant intestinal protests, no doubt) and cold cans of the most American beer, Budweiser. That was a world so far away from the one I grew up in, I never considered even imagining myself into those scenarios.
At school, there were subtle indicators of lifestyle and social class in the form of sports apparel and locale merch—symbols of activities that came with high built-in expenses and were therefore out of reach for my family—like Dodgers jerseys and national parks tees. None were more iconic and as universal than the heather grey Mammoth Mountain hoodie. Oh, the ubiquity of that hoodie! It seemed like every Cool Kid™ in school (K-12th) had one, and wearing it was like a secret handshake for an elite group of wealthy kids whose families had access to ski resorts and snow sports. As silly as it sounds, I came to resent those sweaters because they represented an active “extreme” outdoors lifestyle that I could never attain as a non-athletically inclined Asian kid.
. . .
In 2014, I took a one-day ski trip that my work paid for. Nick, my now-husband, who also worked at the same advertising agency, was an avid skier and signed us up to go. We woke up well before the crack of dawn to hop on a charter bus that was headed up to Bear Mountain Ski Resort. A small group of coworkers, all of whom were White and had experience in skiing and snowboarding, slowly woke up and quickly got into snow-bro shenanigans.
“So stoked to shred the gnar in the pow-pow!”
“Yo, your setup is super steezy and crunchy.”
These were indeed words, but not words that carried clear meanings to me. I had zero clue what they were referring to and nervously laughed along as a group of guys handed me clandestine cans of beers to shotgun at 7AM.
Once on the mountain, I spent a small fortune renting skis, snow clothes, safety gear, and a half-day ski lesson. Not knowing what to expect, I quickly advanced through the lesson (skiing: easy to learn, difficult to master), was dismissed to “hit the slopes” by the instructor, and sidestepped my way up to the ski lift to join the rest of the group. I was feeling confident until the ride up, which was a comically awkward disaster. My incompetence caused a lot of groaning and exclamations of “Jerry!” from the delayed riders behind me. I had no idea how to get onto the lift chair or what to do with my poles and skis once seated. Is there a seat belt? What if I drop something? How do I get off this thing? My imposter syndrome was screaming at me, “You look like a newbie doofus! What were you thinking coming on this trip? You are not an athlete.”
Dear reader, I now profess my greatest weakness: grandiose expectations of the self. Learning new things as an adult is extremely difficult for me because my brain bypasses the logical progression of expecting and allowing myself to do something poorly in the beginning and instead demands immediate mastery from the get-go. What do you get when you combine that mentality, a person who has never been “good” at sports, and the outdoor industry’s lack of gender and racial diversity? One out of place and self-conscious Asian woman.
Though I did feel out of place on the mountain as one of the only people of color, I ended up having a blast skiing down the mountain alongside Nick. I pizza’d and french fry’d my way down a few runs before getting called back onto the bus back to the office. Physically and emotionally exhausted, I drowsily assessed the day’s experience and eventually came to this conclusion: as much fun as I ended up having, snow sports are not for me. Too exclusive, too expensive, too difficult to learn; I will never fit in.
Summer 2020. Eager to find a way to get out of the house safely during the pandemic, Nick proposed that we save up, take advantage of off-season snow gear sales, and invest in an Ikon Pass, which grants you unlimited access to a number of ski resorts across the country. Armed with a better sense of self-judgment and confidence, I agreed. Instead of skiing, I wanted to try snowboarding to see which of the two I liked better. We spent the rest of the summer and fall excitedly prepping for the upcoming snow season. As they say, the stoke was real.
Mammoth Mountain opened at the end of November for a pre-season dry run for all those who were eager to d Trying out my new gear in the sweltering October heat. ust off their skis and snowboards. I booked a 4-hour snowboarding lesson, rented a board, and dove right in. Once I got past my nervous jitters, the lesson sailed by. In between slips and falls on the still-icy hard snowpack, I was able to learn the basics of how to move and navigate by myself. By the end of the four hours, though thoroughly wiped, I was riding (scraping, really) down green and blue runs. A newfound sense of confidence and liberation acted as the wind in my sails. I was changed from that day forward—Masa 2.0 was born and I was determined to dismantle the status quo set by social media, the outdoor industry, and snow-sports culture.
. . .
For my 34th birthday this January, I gifted myself with a snowboard. I’m committed to getting better and enjoying the hell out of this sport, so I go snowboarding as often as I can. I don’t let the Trump flags, the awkward stares, or the microaggressions deter or stop me from thriving. There is enough space on the mountain for all of us. This is for me, this is for you, this is for everyone. We all belong here.
Want to hear something funny? This last trip up, I bought myself the Mammoth hoodie. While it’s no longer a symbol of exclusivity or status, I’m sure my 12-year-old self would get a kick out of it.