Posted by: thehungryrunner | March 29, 2008

A lesson from skiing: What you’re capable of…when you don’t “know” to have fear

It never fails to amaze me how much I learn about life (and skiing) from our ski outings.  The latest occurred on a recent trip to Lutsen, MN, which we both love to visit as it offers more challenging and diverse terrain than the other Midwestern ski resorts we frequent in winter.  The view of Lake Superior alone is breathtaking, but there’s also a charm to the place, including the very retro-feeling gondolas, that leaves us grinning the whole day.  In fact you can take a look at what I’m talking about through some video clips of this outing at YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_QCFNtgPQk&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbaELQkSItY&feature=related .

Anyway, aside from the cold, which unfortunately tends to be a frequent force to contend with there, it was a glorious trip.  Having also taken a trip to Lutsen one year ago, it was interesting to experience the difference in weather (sun and blue skies vs. fog and rain) and a much better snow season (pretty much all runs open, vs. only a small percentage a year ago).

But it was also gratifying to feel the difference in my skiing.  I’m by no means an expert skier, having only been at this for a few years.  Heck, I’m just happy to no longer call myself a beginner, though I’m anxious to continue making improvements.  One of the changes I’d noticed in myself is a confidence in allowing my body to pick up a certain speed; I sense that I have better control and thus can allow a more “natural” rhythm of turning, rather than constantly putting the skidding brakes on, which was how I’d often approached steeper blues and easier blacks last season.

Even so, I still fight a certain fear (is terror too strong a word?) and trepidation at taking on the blacks.  By now, I allow myself some slack, where if there’s a day in which I just don’t feel I have my full faculties — maybe my hands are struggling with my Reynaud’s disease or I’m just feeling a bit scattered mentally, I don’t push myself too far outside of my comfort zone.  On the other hand, recognizing that progress comes when you push yourself, when possible I do throw myself down steeper runs, which often turn out to be not nearly as scary as I anticipated.  How often have we all experienced that in life!

But perhaps one of the greatest examples of this effect came on this recent Lutsen trip.  We had begun the day on several blue cruisers down Eagle Mountain to warm up our legs, and had now taken the gondola across to tackle our favorite runs on Moose Mountain.  It was fun to see the difference in snow covering versus last year; you pretty much had unlimited options as to where you could take your path.  I also took great pleasure in revisiting runs that were very limited in scope (or at least of rather poor surface condition) last year, due to the abysmal lack of snow.  What a difference a better snow accumulation makes!  Ditto for a clear, sunny day.

After a few such “revisit” runs, we had made our way to a different chairlift — one on which we laughingly remember being the only skiers last year, with a steely, dampening rain came down on our jackets as we rose slowly up the mountainside.  No such problem today, and I was eager to experience the runs that came off of this chairlift without the added element of rain!

We exited the run and I turned left, saying to my husband, “Let’s do this one.”  “This one,” in my mind, was a repeat of blue run we had taken last year.  I was eager to experience it today, under better conditions.  My husband looked at me funny.  “You sure?”  “Oh yes!” I replied.  “Okay?” was his response.  I made my first turn and down we went.

Sure, I had moments in which I thought that this blue seemed awfully steep as compared to what I remember it being last year, but nothing outside of my abilities.  But upon arriving about 3/4 of the way to the bottom, I found myself surprised to be at a familiar spot:  the end of one of the blacks we’d taken last year.  This particular section is quite steep; I’m still working on feeling comfortable going down it.  I had NO idea we were on a run leading to this and couldn’t understand how we even arrived there.  But there we were, taking a black that I hadn’t planned to take just yet.  I took a deep breath, said my small prayer, and turned my way down — actually much easier (“easier” being a relative term here) than I’d expected.

It wasn’t until after we re-mounted the chairlift that my husband pointed out to me what had happened.  Whereas I thought I was taking us down a familiar run — a blue that we had taken last year, in fact I had instead directed us down a black!  It had been closed last year due to the snow conditions, and evidentally I had confused this one with one that comes off of a different chairlift.  That explains why we would have ended up at the steeper black at the end when I wasn’t planning such; it’s because we were on a completely different run/path than I thought we were on.

My point being, until I recognized that final section as part of a black, I had had no fear.  And I’d had no fear because I thought we were going down a blue.  Without anticipating a black, I went into the run more relaxed, and with more confidence, and lo and behold, I skied far better as a result.  What a lesson I took from this!  We chuckled about the mix-up for the rest of the trip, but the greater learning has not been lost on me:  once again, you’re capable of more than you think, and it’s often fear that holds you back from experiencing that very fact! 

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