I was about 14. Just started my freshman year in high school. I had been skiing a few times, but not many. I would consider myself an absolute novice. Snowplow was still my primary method of stopping. I think the kids call that pizza now. I was definitely not french fries yet, slowly pizza all the way down the bunny hill. This is where you put your skiis into a v shape to slow your descent. It was with this background in experience that I went on a ski trip with my Uncle. He was of course a member of the ski patrol, he helped officiate ski races, and I think he even did some instruction. He was not that much older than me, but it felt like decades at the time.
We had some time before he had to start work, so he took me on a ‘run.’ We went to the top of the mountain, the very top. Now this would normally be ok with me, if I took the snow cat trail down. The long 3 mile stretch that slowly winds down the mountain. However, we went right instead. I was a bit nervous, but hey, I knew there was a moderate course on this side and at worst I could slide on my butt down the steep parts. All was ok, sun was out, birds were chirping, I was upright and sliding gently on some recently acquired light powder. That was until we went directly into the trees.
The initial plunge into darkness was terrifying, but soon I calmed a bit. There was a path here, people had been through this way before. So I was just starting to relax when my Uncle pulled up short and gathered his poles together. The wind licked up off the edge of the cliff he was standing on, a slight drizzle of powder spraying over his facial hair as he lifted down his goggles and fit them on tight. The last thing I remember him saying was, “see you at the bottom.”
With my old hand me down Rossignols dangling over the edge, I winced at the sight of a nearly vertical drop off coupled with the new pinching sensation brought on by my swelling feet. A trickle of sweat ran straight down my back, and that did not come from exertion. I had no where to go but down. So with the small avalanche that I created on my initial descent, I slid down on my side finding every conveniently placed rock, bramble and shorn stick along the way. At one point I spent about an hour sobbing in despair underneath a large boulder outcropping with an angry tree squirrel as my only companion.
I made it down. I eventually got myself together and I slid down in as about as awkward a style as you can imagine. I was worse than Bambi on her first ice experience. I fell thousands of times and at one point literally crawled my way to safety. I lost a glove, and learned what near hypothermia felt like. I eventually made it back, only one run completed for a full day of skiing. I came struggling into the ski lodge, a compete disheveled mess to a sarcastic round of applause by my Uncle and his colleagues toasting my day with their 3rd of 4th draft of Coors – original. Hey they were young and carb count was not a thing yet.
This story comes back to me as I contemplate risk. We all take major risks in life. Some of them are voluntary and some of them are forced. We lose a job or have a health scare for instance. Perhaps we decide to try something new or move to a new place. Meet a new person, strike up a conversation with someone you admire. Risk is part of our daily life and has been since we were toddlers taking our first bold step. When we are faced with risk, my first bowl skiing attempt came with a valuable lesson. If you are going to take a risk, then go all in. Just go for it. Sliding down on your butt in fear the whole way is just agony.
The better approach would have been for me to dive in and do the best I could. Doing what I already knew how to do. Lift my knees, slide my skiis to a stop when needed, plant my poles correctly. I did not need to be blazing fast, but I could have just dove in and did the best I could. Rather, I held back. Frozen, literally, in fear. The only motivation was Alvin the chipmunk screaming at me from my quiet pit of despair. If you are going to take a risk, or a risk has been put upon you, then the only way that you can maximize the benefit of that risk is put your whole soul on the line. Anything else is just wasted effort.