Learning to be Canadians in Slovakia

“How can you see anything?” Joani shouted with an incredulous look.

“Shouldn’t you turn off the headlight?” Olivia asked since she has recently started to read the California’s motor vehicle handbook to prepare to get her driver’s license.

“Be quiet! Let me concentrate,” I replied nervously as I clutched tightly to the steering wheel and stared intensely out of the car front shield window at the white blur.

Right after we crossed from Poland to Slovakia, we came upon a snow storm.
Right after we crossed from Poland to Slovakia, we came upon a snow storm.

“This is so exciting,” Nathan yelled out. “We are in the middle of a snow storm!”

The black asphalt road we were on had disappeared into the white powder snow. All that was left were evergreens on both sides and occasional hint of tire tracks from vehicles that were before us. Earlier, we left Poland on our borrowed station wagon and crossed into the High Tatra mountain range of Slovakia. We only realized that we had crossed into a new country when the look of the road sign changed because Poland and Slovakia are both part of the European Union. However, as soon as we crossed, it began to rain then sleet and as the car climbed higher and higher into the Tetra Mountain, the sleet turned into a snow storm. We were in the middle of a white out!

“Be careful, don’t use the brake,” Nathan warned me as I turned right onto a narrow steep downhill path towards our destination.

The roads began to turn white in the snow storm driving up the Tatra Mountain in Slovakia.
The roads began to turn white in the snow storm driving up the Tatra Mountain in Slovakia.

By the time we reached the AirBnB we had booked, there were 10 centimeters of fresh snow on the ground. It took a while in the storm to find the right apartment building and to get all our backpacks inside. But amazingly, soon after we arrived, the storm abated and the late afternoon sun peaked out under the clouds.

Fresh fell snow covered everywhere, including the flowers.
Fresh fell snow covered everywhere, including the flowers.
Fresh fell snow covered everywhere, including the flowers.
Fresh fell snow covered everywhere, including the flowers.
We had fun snow fighting and playing with the igloo and snow man next to the apartment where we stayed.
We had fun snow fighting and playing with the igloo and snow man next to the apartment where we stayed.

As if it was a human instinct, without any hint, we each grabbed a handful of fresh powder snow and began to throw it at each other. With so much new snow all around us, it was effortless to make snow balls so we had plenty of ammunition to keep the battle going for a long time. When we got tired, we took photos against the beautiful snowy sunset. They were picture perfect!

“It’s so beautiful,” Joani said happily. “I just love snow.”

“My first impression there was pretty good,” Olivia recalled. “It was all snow and on the yard there was an igloo and a snowman. We had a snow ball fight and rolled around. It was perfect winter wonderland.”

We instinctively began to make snowballs and throw them at each other.
We instinctively began to make snowballs and throw them at each other.

The snow fight got us all excited about the next few days. After their first taste of skiing in Poland, all three children looked forward to skiing again in Slovakia. I was excited as well as the ski resort here has more than 16 km of ski slopes while the one we went in Poland was only 2 km. Unfortunately, Nathan caught a fever and so only Olivia, Joani, and I went.

Going up in the gondola to the intermediate slope, Olivia and Joani were panicking about whether they can ski down alive.
Going up in the gondola to the intermediate slope, Olivia and Joani were panicking about whether they can ski down alive.

“Olivia, I am scared,” Joani whimpered as she saw the steep slope below her as we went up the gondola to the top of the intermediate slope. “Remember, this is only my second time skiing.”

“We are going to die, Joani!” Olivia lamented as she grabbed my arm tightly and as her heartbeat beat quicker and quicker. “There is no way we can go down these slopes.”

We enjoyed the view of the mountain peaks from the top of the intermediate slope.
We enjoyed the view of the mountain peaks from the top of the intermediate slope.

Meanwhile, I was busily taking photos after photos of the beautiful snowy sceneries below and above me. My favorite part of skiing is not the thrill of flying down the hill but the beautiful panorama on top of the ski slopes. Admittedly, I dragged the girls to the intermediate slope more out of my desire for the panoramic view than for their own benefit.

“Oh, look at the mountain peaks on top of the advance slope. I have to go there before the clouds cover it,” I told Olivia and Joani.

Olivia and Joani also enjoyed the view of the sea of clouds from the top of the intermediate slope.
Olivia and Joani also enjoyed the view of the sea of clouds from the top of the intermediate slope.
Olivia, Joani, and I enjoyed the view of the sea of clouds from the top of the intermediate slope.
Olivia, Joani, and I enjoyed the view of the sea of clouds from the top of the intermediate slope.

After posing “bravely” for several breathtaking, perfect above-the-cloud photos at the top of the slope, Olivia and Joani began their dreaded and scary journey down the intermediate slope.

“Remember what I taught you, make quick and frequent turns to slow down,” I instructed them. “I will stay back and watch you in case you run into trouble.”

“It’s so steep I can’t even see the slope!” Joani yelled back at me.

“The sound of skis scraping on the powder snow behind us was terrifying,” Olivia recalled. “I had to stop and wait for other skiers to go down before I dare to continue. And I was shaking and breathing really hard.””I had to concentrate so hard that I was sweating,” Joani recalled as well.

Olivia and Joani fell down more from fear and a way to stop then from the lack of skill.
Olivia and Joani fell down more from fear and a way to stop then from the lack of skill.
Olivia went down the intermediate slope.
Olivia went down the intermediate slope.

It took Olivia and Joani more than an hour to go down intermediate slopes. Many time they just stood there for many minutes looking down at the abyss daring each other to go down first. Other times, they purposely fell down onto the snow to stop from going too fast or simply to take a break from the constant stress.”Dad, you didn’t even fall once! You looked good, you looked pro. We are going to call you ‘Superman’ from now on,” Olivia joked. “You can do everything and you wear the same clothes everyday!”

Jonathan the "superman" with his cape flapping in the winds, went up, up, away!
Jonathan the “superman” with his cape flapping in the winds, went up, up, away!

Wanting to see the view on top of the advance slope, I convinced Olivia and Joani to go down the intermediate slope again by themselves while I took the highest chairlift up to the advance slope for the view. At the top, the view was definitely worth the ticket price. However, looking down, I felt my legs were shaking. I felt I was looking down a straight cliff of white snow. There was a large area of “free riding” mountain slope where there are no trees and no fences. I decided to use the free riding area to make very, very long zigzags but even that was so fast that I panicked and couldn’t slow down and was going off the side of the mountain. I tried to go uphill to slow down but one ski continued down while the other ski went up such that I ended up in a painful leg split position. Eventually, I made it down and waited for Olivia and Joani.

I went up to the top of the advanced slope by myself for the view.
I went up to the top of the advanced slope by myself for the view.

It was eye opening for me to ski down the advance slope because finally I knew how Olivia and Joani felt when they skied down the intermediate slope. For me to ski the advance slope is equivalent of for them to ski down the intermediate slope. It was terrifying. I didn’t feel I was in control and I felt as if I would fly off the mountain any moment.

Come down the advanced slope, I almost went off the side of the mountain.
Come down the advanced slope, I almost went off the side of the mountain.

I remembered the first time my mom brought me skiing was when I was eleven. I went out of control and almost hit a tree before falling into a ditch. My mom only skied that one time in her life because she was afraid of the speed. Olivia and Joani were actually doing very well compared to when I first started skiing.

“Hi dad! Guess what happened?” Olivia and Joani asked with an excited tone when they came back to find me after I finished the advanced slope.”We went all the way down to the very beginning, past the intermediate to the beginner slope,” Olivia continued. “We fell a lot less. Occasionally, I felt like, ‘Oooh that was good and cool.’ It was so much fun. I felt like I was playing Wii all day!”

Olivia and Joani waited for me to come down from the advanced slope.
Olivia and Joani waited for me to come down from the advanced slope.

“My favorite part was going from Intermediate to Beginner. I felt like a pro at the beginner slope. I was like, ‘I can do anything!’,” Joani added. “It was so relaxing. I want to do it again!”

“After the first intermediate slope, I wasn’t sure if I would ever go skiing by myself in Canada. But after doing the intermediate to beginner slope this time, I think I would proactively go skiing,” Olivia said with a smile. “I have a really good impression of skiing now.”

Olivia had fun going through the race flags in the Audi Zone.
Olivia had fun going through the race flags in the Audi Zone.

“High five!” I congratulated Olivia and Joani at the end of the day. “You did it! Andrej would be so proud of you to see how much you have improved.”

“I thought there was no way we can ski six to eight hours in a day. But we got better each time. And we kept upgrading our skills as we went to harder and harder slopes,” Olivia shared her secret for skiing so long this time.
We celebrated with joy and relief after a day of skiing!
We celebrated with joy and relief after a day of skiing!

“It was nice that you were encouraging and nice and you said you enjoyed skiing with us. You never said anything bad. That was very wise. You did really well sticking with us, making sure we were okay. Once when I asked you how do I look when I am skiing? Do I look slow or fast?” Olivia shared happily. “And you just said, ‘You look cool’. That was nice. I liked that. That made it much more fun.”

I was surprised at the feedback from Olivia. I didn’t realize how much difference a little encouragement can make. It can make the difference between a miserable day of ‘never going to ski again’ and a memorable day of ‘I look forward to skiing again’.
Besides downhill skiing, Olivia, Joani, and I learned cross-country skiing together. It was fun to watch Olivia and Joani struggled to walk V-shape up the hills and screaming all the way straight down the hills because we couldn’t stop or turn in cross-country skiing. I liked cross-country skiing so much that on the third day when Nathan felt better, I took him to  ski cross-country as well. We even skied across a large frozen lake.
Joani and Olivia went with me to ski cross-country for the first time ever.
Joani and Olivia went with me to ski cross-country for the first time ever.
Nathan and I went cross-country skiing across a large frozen lake!
Nathan and I went cross-country skiing across a large frozen lake!

“After skiing these three days, I felt as if I have been exposed to Canadian culture,” Olivia said excitedly.

After this one year trip, Olivia would go to University of British Colombia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada for college. There, the ski slope is only less than 30 minutes away. I was glad that my encouragement to her while she was learning skiing has motivated her to take advantage of the skiing opportunities in Canada, instead of her missing out the joy of the snowy views on top of the ski slopes. What an exotic place for Olivia to begin learning to be a Canadian in the High Tatra Mountains of Slovakia!
The ski lifts were really fancy and new, even has heated seats.
The ski lifts were really fancy and new, even has heated seats.

2 thoughts on “Learning to be Canadians in Slovakia”

  1. As a Canadian living in California, I am glad to learn your adventure. I used to live in Vancouver for four years. Yes, UBC is a great university with North Vancouver ski resorts nearby. At night we can see cluster of lights like diamonds up north – for those ski resorts.

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