What I Need to Know, I Learned from a Chairlift

Over a decade ago, when I was thirtsomethingmumble years old, I decided that I would take up snowboarding. I’m a bit impulsive like that. Living in Toronto, the opportunities were slim. Not a lot of mountains in the city. Not a lot of mountains in the ‘burbs. Landscape, generally quite flat. But that didn’t stop me. I’m a bit stubborn like that.

I signed on for lessons at the highest point in town; Centennial Park. Picturesque ‘alpine skiing hill’ boasting a dizzying elevation of 125′ and a T-Bar. (When you’re just learning, 125′ is dizzying.)

Looking back, I realize I learned much more than just how to snowboard.

There Will be Risk

Any new adventure involves risk. Snowboarding is no exception. I’m not referring to the ‘broken arms & legs’ risk but, rather, the risk to the ego. Small children pointed and laughed (yes, the ones in my lesson) and elderly, accomplished skiers shook their heads with pity as I fumbled and fell – again and again (and again). At 6’1″, falling is a long way down.

Opening yourself up to learning requires courage. It requires the humour to laugh along with your critics. If you allow the fear of looking a fool overwhelm your desire to succeed, then you’re done before you’ve started.

Mind over Mountain

I had my first lesson on February 23 on that little pile of snow-covered rubble. In March, I graduated to a bigger hill (towering at 245′) with an actual chairlift. The challenge of the lift is getting into position for it to scoop you up, sitting in terror as it carries you to the top, knowing that you must soon launch yourself off of it at exactly the right moment. When you’re new at this game, this requires the most intense concentration and physical dexterity (the latter of which I had little considering that standing on my board was an Herculean effort). Every single time I got off of the lift, I crashed. Spectacularly. My mindset was locked; “Every time I get off the lift, I will crash”. So, I changed my mindset. I saw myself NOT crashing. I relaxed. I breathed. Pretty soon, I wasn’t crashing. Granted, I was still brilliantly inelegant – but upright.

Dealing with challenges, and surmounting them, has much to do with how we think about them. If we buy into negative outcomes and assume the worst, then we often ‘get what we wish for’. By visualizing success, it is possible to convince ourselves that we will attain it. And then, we attain it.

Friends where you Least Expect

April 3. Just shy of five weeks since my first lesson. Spring had sprung. A beautiful, sunny day. I was in pristine British Columbia at the base of Panorama, waiting in line to be scooped up by a chairlift that will take me 4000′ up an actual Mountain.

In this moment, getting off of the chairlift is the least of my concerns.

Toward the end of the day, bruised and exhausted, I looked behind me to see two Red Cross/Rescue riders quite deliberately following me down the run. I was certain that they were annoyed with me, the novice, keeping them from clearing the mountain. But I was wrong. They stayed with me; encouraging, non-judgmental, comforting. Each time I fell, they waited and urged me onwards (downwards, actually).

It’s critical to accept that, at the end of the day, you are the only person who is going to get you down that hill. No one else can ride your board for you. Don’t assume that someone who has more experience, is more accomplished, or is a ‘bigger fish’ is going to judge or criticize you. Accept that they were, once, exactly where you are now – just starting. Look to them for guidance and support; never be afraid to ask for help. Even Lance Armstrong once had training wheels.

Can’t? Nah.

Today? Double Diamonds are this girl’s best friend. I ride them, edge-to-edge, nose straight down, ‘must go faster’. It took a lot of time, effort, courage, and mindfulness but I won freedom, strength, and joy. Because I’m stubborn like that.

What are your challenges? How did you rise above them?

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