Things I hope my son and nephew learned on the snow this year.

DSCN5878The season was a good one for us; and hopefully not over yet. Cai did his first multi day backcountry trip and made the move to telemark equipment. Trevor successfully took up snowboarding. Along the way we had backcountry days and used the snowcat at Loveland to explore less traveled but still managed areas. There is though much more to skiing than riding on snow and the lessons it can teach a young person are huge.

DSCN5691Falling: When you fall, do you blame it on the snow? Do you complain about people or do you stand back up and resolve to learn and do better next time? There is something about the exhilaration of traveling downhill fast that encourages these two young men to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and take off again. What happens when you do complain? Do you get better if you blame your fall on other people? If I work on one thing in my life that will reap the biggest rewards it is probably this simple  idea.

DSCN5855Looking at where you want to go: Watching their intent gazes as they looked at where they wanted to go when faced with difficult terrain was amazing. There was no peering at their feet. They did not stare wistfully behind them thinking about what had got them to this place. They looked at their destination and just gave it a go. And when the going was tough they were way more focused on where they wanted to end up. Rather than analyzing the ground between them and their goal they focused on the end point and let what their bodies already know do its thing. How often can I say that about my life?

DSCN5842Fear: Anxiety was ok on the lift and tolerable at the top of a run. However, as soon as the run started it was left behind. That is to say fear is not a bad thing per se; it can though be crippling if you let it rule your actions. Fear helps you make good choices but once a decision has been made it will just get in the way. Besides, the most fun is had when you are pushing the boundaries of your fear. It is also generally where you learn the most because it inspires reflection.

IMGP2964Choosing to see what is good:  One of our themes of the year was, “regardless of the weather, if you decide the skiing is going to be good, it will be. If you decide it is not it probably will not be.” Watching these guys out in some pretty nasty conditions with big smiles on their faces was huge. I really hope they take this paraphrasing of Henry Ford into the rest of their lives. Happiness is often a choice.

DSCN5926 - Version 2Simplicity: I used to be a ski instructor so I am capable of breaking down movement to the minutiae. This is great if you want to shave seconds off your time. It was not our focus. Skiing like life can be interpreted as being simple or complex it comes down to the way you look at it. Our goal was to slide down ever more fun terrain with the biggest smiles on our faces. Every now and then we would throw in a drill or game that naturally high lighted good technique. Occasionally, I asked questions that might do the same.

DSCN5903The rewards of work: The smile being the most important part of their day they learned to work hard at it. Perhaps this was leaving fear at the top of the lift on a particularly steep run. Or, pushing through to take one more run when they were tired. As long as the result was going to be a big smile it was worth doing and boy were some of the results worthwhile.

IMG_0259Freedom: Cai said it best when I was checking in with him .

Dad: “So yesterday was a huge day and I just want to make sure I was not pushing you too hard – was it worth it?”

Cai: “Yesterday was hard dad but it was so worth it. There were times when I felt that there were no presidents or queens… I felt that no one was the boss of me!”

A rather choked dad: “Wow, did you feel that on the groomers?”

Cai: “No. I only feel it when we get away from people and we are stood at the top of a big clean field of snow, we float down it and then we look back at our tracks and they are the only ones there”

When my 8 year old can articulate that sense of ultimate freedom that I feel, then I know I am doing good. It is a feeling to aim for and replicate as often as possible.

DSCN5949Leaving fresh tracks: Looking behind and seeing your tracks in the snow is one of those great feelings, the thing is a high percentage of skiers know this and want those feelings. In resort you have to hustle, or go farther than anyone else. In the backcountry you have to put in some miles.  Ultimately, you have to be ahead of the crowd which means knowing what you want and knowing how to get it while others are spinning their wheels. You learn this either through experience or surrounding yourself with people who have learned through experience.

IMG_0162Beauty and views: There is something about standing on top of a white ridge that reaches out for miles, while other ridges criss cross like onion skins into the distance. The monochrome of snow and rock is an amazing foreground to the backdrop of azure skies and a bright yellow sun. Throw in the wing beat of a large raptor or the scurrying of critters in the frost laced pines then… breathe. The scent of mountain air brings the feelings that air freshener companies try to convey in their advertising. It is the smell of being home. Of belonging. I know that I belong in the mountains. It always surprise me though that when I work with kids who have never set foot outside of their city that after a while of fighting it and dealing with the fear of being in big open spaces for the first time they just get it. They know it is right. Cultivating that sense of belonging is a useful tool as it applies not only to place it also is an important concept with regards to community. When you know what belonging feels like it is much easier to recognize and nurture it elsewhere.

DSCN5915People and natural selection: The idea of community is an important one. As skiers these boys are part of a large tribe, some of who they will want to hang out with some who they will not. Some who will help elevate them on their journey of development, some who will drag them down. Some who will give them an opportunity to learn and shine, some who will bring out the worst in them. As we have already said there are benefits to being ahead of the curve, there are also benefits to being part of a big group and at other times a member of a much smaller one. And sometimes it is good to just be alone. This season they felt most of these things. Days when the resort was full and the grooming was beautiful but we had to jockey for our niche in time and space. Traveling on the cat with a small excited group who felt like an elite cadre congratulating each other on their choice to be there. Watching groups of young jibbers being supportive (or not) and thinking about how it might be to hang out with them. Cai traveling with two friends on a four day odyssey through the backcountry where the work to reach the next yurt was often hard and supporting each other was important. Choosing the people you spend time with is important, equally significant are the moments spent with yourself . There were the times when they stood alone, looked around, soaked in the atmosphere and took it all in. I wish them many more of these last occasions because this is where the sense of an experience is made.

DSCN6068A final thought: As John Dewey posited you do not necessarily learn by having an experience, neither do you necassarily learn by thinking. We all know plenty people who fall into both camps and are left spinning their wheels without seeming to move forward. True learning occurs when you think (reflect) on an experience. I wrote this for Trevor in the hope that he ponders about how when he is on his board he usually displays his best possible self. What does that look like in other areas of your life Trev? And Cai? Well I am an Amish(ish) tyrant and he does not get to use a computer for a long time yet, so it will be a number of years before he reads these words and see these images. Poor deprived Waldorf kid – you will see him counting in this little unrelated video. Technology and Schools

 

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Thoughts inspired by a hut trip: 10 ideas to steer us in the right direction

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Let me start by saying I have a tendancy to be a martyr and this selfish post is a series of thoughts that I need to remind myself of regularly. 

Last week I went on a hut trip, something I love and used to do fairly often, yet I easily find excuses not to now that I am a husband and father. Do you know what I am talking about all you parents out there? Well Kimberly helped me overcome all those fanciful obstacles I erect in my mind and made me go. Thanks Kim! So here is what I was reminded while nestled in a cabin in the mountains.

Firstly, what is a hut trip? Well most places you find mountains, snow and affluence you will come across purpose built cabins that serve as shelters for those so inclined to tour between on skis, foot or bike. In my part of the world, there is a host of them inspired by the exploits of the infamous 10th Mountain Division. Following the Second World War a number of those soldiers who returned from impactful active service in Italy set about amongst other things developing the ski industry in the US. Naturally, they were drawn back to the mountains surrounding their training base of Camp Hale near Vail. Now these gentlemen approached peace in the same way they did war; with liberal amounts of energy and determination along with a sprinkling of fun, cameraderie and an appreciation of a natural world that soothes the pains of hard work and trauma. One result is a chain of well appointed cabins, all placed in incredible situations; most are eyrie like with views to die for. They are simple and yet extremely elegant with everything you need to live comfortably and nothing extraneous. These places are magical because by removing the superfluous they are a reminder of what is actually important in life. As an indicator of how passionately we feel about that last statement, Kimberly and I were married at one.

What was I reminded about?

Good views are gained when you are on top. The best are the result of hard work:

The approach to the Jackal rises straight out of Camp Hale, in the winter there is little trace of the camp that once housed 15,000 men, a host of mules and the various vehicles required to service mountain soldiers both in summer and winter. The only tell tale sign is a large artifically flat valley floor that inspires sightings of imaginary ghosts and their hustle and bustle as you ski over it. After this flat you climb and climb (from 9,000 to 11,600 ft in about five miles). When you finally bust out of the trees there is the most gorgeous shelter, the quintessential log cabin whose windows oversee peaks throughout the Holy Cross Wilderness and the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges.


When we know what we are doing life falls easily into place:

Hut life is simple. You need to cut and stack wood to keep the cabin warm and collect snow to melt for water. You get up with the sun to capture the amazing light and make breakfast. You go out to ski. You come back to make dinner and spin stories with the other people sharing the space. You take more pictures making  the most of the evening light. You sit around the fire enjoying the company. Basically, it is blissful.


People who share our values amd work hard to make them happen are the most fun to be around:

Effort seems to be a filter when it comes to convivial company. I am yet to find someone that I have nothing in common with and whose company I did not enjoy in a remote setting such as this. I attribute this to the fact that you have to work to reach a place like this, it is a real decision. I believe being pleasant is also a choice. 


Removing the extraneous “stuff” lightens the load and makes us happy:

I hate carrying an unecessarily heavy pack and while I am prepared to invest in a few luxuries; wine and decent food seems to be worthwhile, the more I consider each item I bring, the lighter my load, the happier I am. The same is true of hut life. Ridding myself of the “stuff” from urban and work life, the lighter my load, the happier I am.


Leaving tracks regardless of whether we ski or snowboard is always fun. They are just more meaningful when they have to be earned:

Are you noticing a pattern here? When I have to climb for my turns they are more exciting, maybe its the exertion, maybe it is the variety in the snowpack that keeps me on my toes. This is the same reason why I prefer telemark over other forms of riding – it is so much more complex and takes much longer to master. When I look behind me and see an aesthetic representation of my journey I feel warm inside.


Spending time learning how to navigate accurately is time well spent:

Navigation is the act of matching a plan with reality and making adjustments as necessary. To “stay found” we need to know where we are, where we are going and what we are likely to meet along the way. While it is more engaging to walk where there is no map, we have to be ready to deal with the consequences. Most of the time using a map is far more efficient and means we can travel more safely and with confidence even in a place we have never visited before. Being open to changing our route as whim and the experience suggests provides more fun potential. Good navigation steers a good life.


Safety skills are worth acquiring:

Safety is a simple formula; managing risks is about recognizing the consequence and liklihood of any action. When travelling in avalanche terrain, knowing what the snow pack consists of will give us a pretty good understanding of the consequence. We manage the liklihood by choosing the pitch we are going to ride. 38° is the angle of repose of snow, so skiing a slope of 38° means there is a high liklihood of a slide if there is something to slide and a weak layer that can fail. The thing is we have to balance the risk of loss with the risk of gain. When safe, skiing a 38° slope puts the biggest smile on my face.


Helping others makes us feel good. Allowing others to help us is a gift:

The time spent doing chores from which everyone benefits makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. When I can be there for someone else I feel proud. How good is that? When I allow someone else to do the same for me then I am providing an opportunity for them to feel proud.


Nature truly is snake oil:

Being in wilderness is the one thing that can be gauranteed to lift my spirits and put me back in touch with myself. St Augustine said it best “solvitur ambulando” – “it is solved by walking” and this is a phrase that resonates with me. When I walk / ski surrounded by trees, birds and mountains the recovery seems to be that much more complete.


Good company, good views, good simple food and sweat; the residue of a good day out, really is what life is all about.

Well that is my belief anyway. Time in huts always brings it back to basics, remove computers, phones and tv and replace with conversation and a guitar, yet maintain the warmth of your home while swopping out the vista and it quickly becomes evident what we most enjoy. The family vacation by the beach, the shared Sunday meal, catching the sunrise on an early commute, the evening run through the park. These are the moments that lift us, bringing more of them into our daily life lifts our potential for happiness. What a warm fuzzy thought.

Where do you find your inspiration? 


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Life & Learning to Ski

I think Cai is lucky, he has one on one ski lessons with an experienced outdoors person and children’s ski instructor – his dad.

More to the point his progression has been wonderful. First of all we spent a little time with him between my legs, feeling the way they went from side to side, experiencing his edges biting the snow and constantly being reminded of the mantra, “across the hill s-l-o-w, down the hill FAST>>>!” 

Next step was the hula-hoop, Cai inside it with me behind. This gave us a little distance, I helped him learn about rotational turns and his speed was checked. When comfortable with that we moved onto the magic wand, a 3 1/2 foot piece of dowel wrapped in duck tape to create 2 opposing cones and then covered in hockey tape to give it grip. This is a great tool as it is multi purpose, sometimes we ski side by side and I am able to accelerate him round the turns so he feels the forces of carving. It is also also a great safety rail when the chairs are lacking them and a lurk for him to pole on the flats. Along with this are the myriad of games we can play.

Armed with the wand we are able to drop into half pipes and he knows what it feels like to jump – he loves flying. Last year he hit a period when he was a little reticent, so we spent some time on magic carpet, to begin with he wanted the wand, however, after a while I was able to engage him in chase play. By being a crocodile I was able to come up on his outside shoulder and he instinctively turned away from me. By going from side to side we forced his turns and after a while of this he asked to go back on the “flying chairs”. On the way down he stated we were going into the terrain park, I reminded him that I was not willing to use the pole on the big jumps and he told me that was ok. It required commitment to gain the park as they had done a nice job of fencing and berming it off; he skied right in, turned and contoured the hill for a while while looking at the jumps, he then just turned down hill and “pointed them”. I watched him hit the first jump and pump his legs clearing some great air before he landed it and disappeared from sight. I had to skate frantically, wondering what Kimberly was going to say if he got hurt. By the time he hit the second jump his speed was outrageous and there was some hesitation, this time the landing was not so elegant. I came in below worried as only a parent can be to see a smiling face, “its ok dad, I don’t need the rescue rangers”.

That afternoon he overturned and started skiing backwards, he looked at me for a minute to see if I was going to give him the ok before deciding he did not care what I thought because he was enjoying it. He proceeded to do lovely turns all the way into the lift line.

So why is this so great? Well normally we teach a snow plough early in the progression. The call of “pizza, pizza, french fries” is a familiar one to any skiing parent. I struggle with this because we are teaching that control has to be forced. Rather than harnessing natural power, we demonstrate fighting it and all of this has to be unlearned later. If instead we choose our environment wisely, and learn patterns and laws of nature playfully we come away both far wiser and far happier. If having gained suitable understanding we intentionally surrender ourselves to these laws that is when we have optimal experiences.

How much of what you are doing at the moment feels like fighting? Is there a way to feel like you are going with the flow?

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