07 Apr Doing scary things. A skiing story.
Picture this. You’ve recently learned how to ski and have about one season’s worth of slope experience. You are enjoying your newfound skills and tackling some enjoyable blue (easy) slopes, maybe try a few red (medium-hard) just to amp up the challenge. You fall a couple of times, smile, get up and continue. So far so good, you are having fun, improving and learning.
Somehow in the fun of it all you get carried away and end up at the top of a black diamond piste (very challenging), you missed the signs saying “Warning! Expert only!” and now have no way of going back to the lifts or the blue/red areas. The only way to rejoin the “easy” areas is either to take off your ski’s and hike about 1 km up the slope, from which you came or to go down the black diamond somehow. Hiking would be exhausting and take way too long, so you decided to go down the slope.
The moment of truth.
You take a look down the piste. It looks almost like a free fall down, you can barely see the end of it in the distance as thick clouds hover over the landing area. To top it all off, the piste is a lot narrower than what you are used to, making it much harder to make turns. For a second you consider the situation you find yourself in and panic starts to set in. You start sweating, your stomach is in a nervous ball, your legs lose strength as fear rushes through your whole body. The slope seems almost to increase in steepness as this happens. The height is staggering as you judge you have an almost 1 km altitude difference between the top and bottom of the piste. Wind blows across your face, bringing with it snowflakes that are so hard and fast they feel like they sting your face. You can see exposed ice on the track, as other skiers have shaved the snow away trying to keep their skis attached to the slope.
You seriously start considering that hike back up, instead of going down this free fall. Your knees give away and you fall down under the pressure of the impossible task ahead. While kneeling there on the top of the slope you look to your skis for a moment and feel the pressure wave off for a second. The old saying “Don’t look down” pops in the mind.
Feel the fear…
Despite the fear your mind is set. You are going down that slope one way or another, even if you have to drag your ass down, roll or slide. Whatever it takes to just get down to the bottom. So you straighten the skis and go down the first 5 meters of the slope. Legs shaking, you are barely up on your feet. The edge of the ski is clinging to the steep mountain side and if the angle changes even a little bit you will start sliding. There is no turning back now.
Second turn, you picked up more speed than anticipated and barely stopped at the edge of the narrow piste. You look down the massive chasm again and fear rushes back in. This causes a loss in balance as you fall down. It’s barely been 10 meters off the top and you already fell. You slide down, clinging to your skis and poles, hoping not to lose any of them, because that would make an already difficult endeavor even harder. While sliding you manage to sink the edge of the ski in the slope, but it doesn’t hold because there is an ice patch. Sliding another 5 m the edge finally catches and you can get up and regain composure.
A simple idea.
You think for a second. “Ok, looking down the slope causes fear and fear takes me off balance. Then I fall. So I should just focus on what is directly ahead”. Focusing directly in front of the skis you make a third turn, then a fourth and fifth one. Pause. You look down, get scared and fall again. Sliding down the steep ice even faster than before you barely manage to stop. Covered in ice and snow you get up again and remember the lesson from before “Don’t look down, just ski”.
Sixth, seventh, eighth… you are half way down. Confidence is regained and the fear subsides almost entirely. Keep focusing on what is directly ahead and do that over and over again. At some point it even starts becoming fun again. After a few more, slides and near misses you rinse and repeat the technique and before you realize it you are at the bottom of the slope.
You pause and look up at what you just conquered. It defies belief… that thing is almost vertical, massive and incredibly treacherous. You are exalted, laughing in disbelief. Yet, somehow, you made it. Conquering the fear was one of the hardest things, but it was worth it. None of the blue or red slopes could have taught you, what your first black diamond did.
Actual picture of me doing a similar thing. Obviously, it’s based on a true story 😉
The moral of the story?
- Pay attention so you don’t end up in a difficult situation.
- Some things look massive, ambitious, impossible to do. Break them down in small and simple steps and tackle those. One by one, left foot, right foot, you realize that you have done more than you ever thought possible.
- Keep the ambitious goal in mind, but don’t try to conquer it at once. Focus on what is directly ahead and steer the effort in the direction of the massive goal.
- It’s not about being fearless, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway.