Tahoe is buried in fresh snow, the earth encased in a pristine shell that dissolves beneath feet and fingertips. Perfect conditions to learn how to snowboard. So I did.

People who meet me and hear that I’m a trekking guide in Nepal often conjure an image of me as a mountain girl–at home in the snow, in sports, in wilderness…but that often isn’t how I feel. As a guide, I’m able to support people in part because I can relate to feeling entirely out of your element, doing something physically demanding in an alien environment.

Growing up in Florida, I never learned to ski or snowboard, never played sports, never slept in the woods. I certainly never saw the earth crusted in frozen fairy-tale splendor. Today, I still hold a childlike fascination with snow. It’s foreign and novel and magical.

Suited up in other people’s clothes and gear this weekend, I was feeling childlike in other ways. Ungainly and awkward. Shuffling towards the lift line with a large board strapped to one foot was enough to make me instantly repent thinking that I’m coordinated enough to learn to play in the snow at age 38. I was about to make a colossal mistake and go tumbling headfirst down the mountain. Believe me, I’ve made serious errors about my physical abilities before.

As a child, I was the kid always picked last for teams–never very athletic. I’ve taken leaps of faith, only to fall in. I’ve broken my finger catching a ball. Twice. I played on the jungle gym and ended up with 30+ stitches in my forehead. I was the little girl in the ballet recital given an acting part because I danced so badly. Really.

A little older, I was more concerned with fashion than with fitness, with shopping malls than with trees. My dad had taken me hiking through Florida’s palmetto underbrush when I was young, but that was the extent of my wilderness experience. It wasn’t until well after graduate school that I learned how much I loved being outdoors. Then it took me another decade to feel familiar in wind and rain, mud and desert, mountain and valley. Well worth it. The wild earth, in its many forms, always makes me happy in my soul.

I stepped on the snowboard and flowed gently back and forth like a falling leaf. I swung around toe side and zig-zagged down some more. I curved into sharp S’s and began gaining speed, dropping down harder runs. So much fun, and such ease!

At a distance I’m sure I still looked awkward and ungainly. Let’s face it: it was Day 1 on the snowboard. Just getting off the lift left me flat on the ground more than once. But I hopped up and strapped in and glided on down. Inside, I no longer felt so graceless–like I’ve felt most my life when trying something new and sporty. For years I’ve stepped into uncomfortable activities and situations, felt clumsy and foolish and out of place. I’ve persevered simply because I liked being outside, but I always envied people who seemed so at home in vast nature. That’s how I wanted to be.

The fresh powder helped (except when it hindered), and I spent hours nonstop on the slopes, getting better with every run, fearlessly playing and plying my way down a black diamond for the last run of the day. What a day! Laughing while buried in the snow. Intensely focused traversing through the trees. Sailing over smooth expanses of hill. Giddy from snow and sun (and maybe the butterscotch schnapps). I was ebullient, elated, and pleasantly exhausted. I suppose if you keep acting like the person you want to be, eventually you become her.