12January 2019

Trying something new? Remember this.

My Christmas gift to Jeff a few years back was a banjo.

He loves bluegrass music, and had been saying for a while that he would really love the chance to finally learn to play a musical instrument.

I believed his enthusiasm, but I spent many months testing his resolve.

I grew up playing an instrument, you see. I started piano lessons at the age of six, kept at it till university, and I still play today.

I should say I still practice today. Because that’s a good deal of what playing an instrument is. It’s practice. Slow, repetitive, hard-to-listen-to but totally invaluable practice.

So when after all my speeches about how this would be a “long road” and he should prepare to be “really bad at this for the foreseeable future”, he was still thumbs up, I got him his banjo.


But years before that happened, this did:

I didn’t start skiing until I was 25 (you can check out how that all started here – in a word: atypical).

After getting introduced to heli-skiing, I made a home for myself in Golden, got a pass at Kicking Horse, some hand-me-down gear, and was ready to become a skier.

I figured Jeff could teach me to ski, and a couple seasons would go by, and that would be that. I’d be golden (pun, no regrets).

And I did get lots of help from him, but I also got some speeches whenever I got frustrated with the pace of my progress.

I was told that this is a “long road” I’m on, and I can’t expect to be as good as people who’ve been skiing all their lives in just a couple of years.

Patience, grasshopper.

And of course, he was right.

And so was I, when the banjo came along. There was definitely some satisfaction in reviving the same speech, but with reverse delivery.

So from season to season, I see small improvements in my technique and balance and judgment, but 10 years in, I’m still basically an intermediate skier.

Jeff smooths out his forward and reverse rolls, and practices patterns until his brain hurts, but he’s still a beginner player.

And you know that thing where you think you know something, because of course, it’s obvious, but when someone reminds you of it, you realize you don’t really operate like you believe it?

That’s what we were both doing.

We both needed to hear that same speech. We each felt so in possession of that knowledge, from our own circle of expertise, yet when it came time to be the beginner, the same impatience made us forget.

I think it’s easy to forget how much time it takes to get good. At anything.

snowboarder catching air off a lip with grab

In our current culture, that can be hard to hear.

There’s so many weekend workshops, and online courses, and masterclasses, that seem to promise

  • Complete
  • These
  • Bullet
  • Points
  • And
  • You’ll
  • Be an
  • Expert in no time!

And I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with those learning opportunities. I LOVE online courses.

It’s just about seeing them for what they are.

Seeing through the hyperbole that’s meant to tickle your ambitions enough to take over your common sense.

It’s a refreshing relief to remember: starting to learn something new is wonderful. But it’s the start of a marathon, if you’re up for it.

When we try something new, we experience this rush of learning, going from zero to way above zero. Then there’s the inevitable, frustrating plateau: the moment you realize that your trajectory of learning has just begun.

And that just makes sense.

Because when you look around at all the other things you’ve been working at for most of your life, could you ever substitute all that wisdom and encapsulate it in a weekend course?


My guess is no way.

There’s no shortcut to wisdom.

There’s no vending machine that will make you an expert.

If you’re starting something new this year, good for you! I hope you like it enough to stay with it – to feel the eventual satisfaction of the very un-glamorous long road.

And whatever you’re still working on, I hope you still feel inspired to stay the path. The world needs more people that have the patience to develop real expertise – to be mentors for those of us who are coming behind, and to be there to remind us that learning is a lifetime kind of job.


After over 50 years in the backcountry, here’s some things Rudi’s learned about being smart and staying safe.



Do you get it?

The Yodel is our exclusive content e-mag. More Cowbell. Sign up right here.