Lessons From Learning to Ski

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As you may have read in my recent Custom Update, I have learned to ski. While I am still a beginner, I feel I am fully able to handle most situations in-bounds (meaning inside a ski resort area). That’s because I spent a substantial amount of time skiing. I mean I really pushed myself to get better. And after 8, almost, full days of skiing, I have come away with some new, and rediscovered, knowledge that I believe can be applied to many parts of life.

Do not let the Details Bog You Down

Let’s face it, the first few hours are awkward. You have long objects attached to stiff boots that don’t allow you to move per usual. Your basic instincts do not help you move, and there is a lot of technique to just moving, let alone gracefully. The little ways you shift your weight, the slight angle of the ski, how you lean, the position of your hands, where you look, so many moving parts and details to keep in mind just to move with control. Starting out, I focused on the details, trying to will my legs, feet, and skis to perform properly, but it often did not work. After several bouts of frustration, and some patient couching, I altered my focus. Instead of focusing on me, I focused on where to go; and my body followed. Refining the details are important, but in the beginning it is more natural to focus on the big picture and focus on the target. The body will adapt and know what to do, you just have to let it happen. Every time something was going wrong, I noticed I was to focused on the details. On the other hand, when I focused ahead, down hill at the whole picture, I skied well.

Expect Another Run, Not Perfection

It is amazing how often frustration comes at the smallest imperfection while we are learning. I often see it in new climbers, as that is what I have most of my experience in, but I cannot believe how frustrated I got learning to ski. I forgot that it is OK to be a beginner. I feel too often we hold ourselves to the expectation that we are supposed to just get something the first time (especially those of us that are ‘outdoorsy’). Worst of all we expect ourselves to be be good at it. That doesn’t happen. When it does, and that is rare, there is a word for it: prodigies. The word brings with it the expectation of master level proficiency and skill without trying. For most of us, there is a learning curve. So I failed often, I fell often, but there was always another run. I had the option to go and learn again, and too often we as beginners forget that. Accepting that failure in the short term is OK. There is another run, another turn, and another chance to improve and get better.

Let Go of Fear

I will be the first to tell you that I was freaking out on a green. I’ll be honest, my body was clenched so tight going down a green traverse that my farts were coming out like bugle calls (Yes, I did just blog about farting. I’m human and I was stressed; sue me). Trumpeters don’t purse their lips that tight when reaching for high notes. I mean was I tense. And all that fear was for nothing, because two runs later I was peeling off that green onto a much steeper blue. Fear only limits us from our potential. Whether that be taking your dream vacation, speaking with the cute girl, or guy, or opening that business you always talk about. Our fears stop us when often we have little to lose in trying and more to lose in not. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes our fear makes sense. For instance, looking at a double black cliff face and your friend saying “That’s a no fall zone.” When you can count on one hand the number of runs you’ve completed in the past four days without falling, that is reasonable fear. But the reality in learning is you are going to fall, whether literally or metaphorically. Falling doesn’t always hurt, sometimes it’s like falling onto a bed of pillows. Sometimes falling hurts like hell, but by god the feeling of bombing a hill is so good that even though a fall at the end can leave a baseball size lump on your hip, the exhilaration is totally worth the pain. So my advice is swallow your fear and bomb the hill more often. you may surprise yourself with what you can really achieve.

Challenges are Exciting

There are probably many reasons why wing-suit base jumpers like to do ‘fly-by’s. Conceptually, I think of it as this: the challenge enhances the excitement gained through the perception of speed. Speed is perceived by the objects that surround us. So buzzing by the side of a cliff face or over the tops of trees allows one to feel the speed more than gliding in the clear open sky. Challenges on their own are stressful, not always in the sense that it is a bad thing, but in the sense that our bodies have a biological response. Adrenaline for instance. Our fight or flight instinct. When someone makes you jump and every nerve in your body pulses at the same time. How does this apply to skiing? The trees. Those tall, girthy, pines that will not bend when you hit them and will eat you if you get caught too close to them. Or aspen groves that are so close you feel as though you are being birthed again and that their claws will reach down and ripe you off your skis. They are terrifying obstacles to a beginner (or at least to me). My friend always wanted the tree and I did not get it. But then I tried it and I understood. The feeling of weaving through those trees successfully and blowing out the other side is a triumphant felling that is hard to deny. The obstacles make skiing even more exciting. If we didn’t have obstacles in life, it would be easy, but groomers are easy and we all know they can get boring. Embrace the trees that enter your path, they may be scary and stressful, but remember that you can also perceive them with excitement.

“If you’re not falling, you’re not trying”

This is a concept I have held onto for a while, but I really like how skiing showed me the broad application of the idea. It just applies to so many things. You have you push yourself to improve. Period. Simple as that. If your not falling off the rock, crashing your skateboard, having to work to create a program, or double ejecting every now and then when you try the back-flip, you are not trying. On that last point, shout out to Chase Krumholz, one of my best friends and the source of the photo at the top. Check out more of his badass photography. Some times you have to fail before you succeed. This is a really hard concept for me to swallow.

Be with Those That Build You

I would not be writing about skiing today if it was not for my friends who taught me, encouraged me, and pushed me to try and try again. I learned from people far better than me and it forced me to get better. I wasn’t the one who ever thought I would go down a blue my first day, but my friends believed I could. And I did, it wasn’t pretty, but I did it (and bombed the last hill with Ski Patrol watching and crashed epicly). I skied with this kind of encouragement everyday and got pushed everyday to get better and better. So now I can ski blues and blacks with confidence, because I had the best people to ski with when I started. Shout out to the Bomb Squad; blow it up!

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Photo by Chase Krumholz
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