Life Lesson From Downhill Skiing

Life Lesson From Downhill Skiing

This article is courtesy of Bound Athletic Director in Residence Aaron Stecker

Our family recently had the opportunity to take a family vacation together.  We had an amazing time doing something we have all grown to love…downhill skiing.  Steamboat in Colorado had been our go to ski resort out west over the years, but we decided to try out something different and my wife came across Powder Mountain resort in Eden, UT, northeast of Salt Lake City.  Although the locals begged us not to tell anyone about this hidden gem, I would highly recommend Powder Mountain to anyone looking for an authentic skiing experience. I could write an entire segment on how amazing this place is, but that will have to be another day.

Reflecting on our family vacation, we were blessed that we were able to create this opportunity as all of our children are now adults.  We understand that 9 days of travel and skiing together likely is not going to happen very many more times.  This caused me to pause and reflect on some of the lessons I hope our family, and specifically our children, may have picked up as they have learned the beauty, exhilaration, and peace that downhill skiing in the Rocky Mountains can provide.  Here are some reflections or lessons learned that came to mind…

Lesson 1:  If it really matters, find a way!  We love to drive to our family destinations. The journey is part of the experience for us and we usually can afford the extra time that driving requires. However, weather played a major role during our two day trek out to Utah.  Iowa received 12”-18” of snow the week before we were to depart.  In fact, we set out on a Saturday morning and ventured west under winter storm warnings and blizzard conditions.  Being completely honest, we really should not have been out traveling.  However, our lift tickets were for Monday through Wednesday and if we were going to get to Utah, we HAD to leave. Our two vehicles were well equipped with new snow tires and AWD/4WD so we set out. We made it our mission to ‘keep moving forward’ no matter how slow the travel had to be. Our two days of travel included some hard core winter driving, but we arrived safely in Eden, UT on Sunday evening in time for the Monday morning 9:00 am lifts!

It isn’t always easy and your journey may involve some risk to manage, but…if it really matters, you can find a way! You can make the preparations, take your time, keep moving forward and make it happen!

Lesson 2:  Carving your own path is ALWAYS the most satisfying!  Powder Mountain provided some different challenges for our family as skiers. The resort is appropriately named as there are as many ungroomed runs as groomed AND the mountain had received nearly 70” of snow in the previous week. Skiing conditions were much more challenging than we had experienced in our previous trips to Steamboat. What we learned along the way, once we had our powder skis underneath us, was that getting out of the comfort of the grooved and groomed path and into the discomfort of some untracked powder created our most memorable runs. At the end of each day I always make it a habit to ask everyone about their favorite run of the day. Almost without exception, my kids always spoke about a powder run, off the beaten track and amongst the widespread treelines of the mountain. 

Carving your own path will be always uncomfortable and it will be the most rewarding journey in the end! 

Lesson 3:  When doing hard stuff…gear matters!  Our third day of skiing welcomed more harsh winter weather…a winter storm warning for the area with an anticipated 12”-18” of new snow on the mountain! More powder…but with the powder came low visibility, stronger winds (especially at the top of the mountain), and heavy snow all day long. Over the years, we have accumulated the right kind of gear to make our ski days comfortable…warm and moisture wicking base layers, waterproof and windproof outer layers, high end wool ski socks (the most important gear), googles, etc. With the right gear, the elements didn’t matter.  We were warm, comfortable and able to ski in any conditions the mountain threw at us that day. The only limitations we experienced were based on our skill sets, not the gear.

When we are taking on hard stuff, make sure you collect the right ‘gear’. Make sure you have the resources you need to set yourself up for success.  This might include technology, books and informational websites and any research you can do to understand the task at hand. The most important ‘gear’ you can obtain is other people who have been down similar paths before. Their advice can help you be successful on your new and exciting adventure. 

Lesson 4:  Play the long game…balance the greens with the blues and black diamonds!  I have learned the value of not over doing it on day one of our skiing adventures, especially as I have (cough-cough) gotten older. Our plans were to ski for three days and I have learned that if I am going to have any energy or strength in my legs underneath me on day three, I cannot ski hard all day long on days one and two. I have to alternate between the slower paced, easier green runs and the more technically challenging, faster paced blues and blacks. If I don’t, I am worn out by lunchtime and I cannot get out of bed on day three.  

In general, it isn’t a whole lot different in life. I get it and we all know it…there are times in life you just have to sprint, put your head down and grind out the 12-14 hour days to get the job done. However, these fast-paced black diamonds of our life have to be balanced out with the winding and meandering greens so that we do not burn out or neglect our family and friends. If we don’t do this, we cannot and will not be effective on ‘day three’ and it will be nearly impossible to enjoy!

Lesson 5:  Find your edges…it actually gives you more control! I will never claim to be advanced. I would describe myself as a high blue, low black level skier. I will let the much younger or the much more experienced skiers take on the vertical chutes and tree-lined terrain! I like my clavicles, radii, ulnas, tibias, fibulas and ACL’s just as they are thank you very much…INTACT! That said, I have learned that there is a difference between skiing ‘harder’ versus skiing ‘softer’. When I am skiing ‘softer’ - my skis stay flat and float and get sloppy and my weight shifts all over the place leading to no reliable center of gravity. When I am skiing ‘harder’, I get to my edges. This leads to more control of my skis and gets my center of gravity where it needs to be and I actually have more control of my skiing. In fact, the only time I fell on this last trip was when I was skiing soft on a green run, my skis got sloppy and the fronts of my skis crossed. The next thing I knew I was looking straight up at the blue sky! On the harder runs, I am forced to focus on what I am doing, concentrating on shifting my center of gravity and getting on my edges to control my skis.  I might make a mistake and get out of whack, but if I am on my edges I can recover quickly, allowing me to keep moving forward! 

The same is true for my normal day-to-day life. If I approach a day ‘soft’ with no clear agenda or goals for the day, I am sloppy and all over the place and I accomplish very little.  When I get into a day with a solid ‘to-do’ list or a clear vision of 2 or 3 things I need to get done today, I am on my edges and getting things done! 

Lesson 6:  Don’t get stuck skiing laps without taking time to enjoy the view!  When I would go off and ski with the kids, there were times we would get focused on just getting up the mountain and down the runs as fast as possible…skiing laps to get as much skiing as possible in the limited time we had. This made some sense as we do not get out west to ski very often. We wanted to get the most out of it we could. At the same time, when you get focused on skiing laps, you can often forget to take time and enjoy the amazing view that mountain skiing provides. I always made sure to stop, pick my head up and take in the view. 

We can get into these same ruts in our daily lives. We can keep our head down, focused on the task at hand and forget to take in the view…forget to enjoy the journey. There were so many events that I managed over the years as an AD in which I remember every aspect of all of the logistics I managed on a very busy night.  However, ask me about my favorite moment of the game or what I thought of a special play that might have occurred…sadly I would have very little to add to the conversation or likely would not recall the special play you are asking about. I could get so focused on managing that I forgot to enjoy the event I was working so hard to create and enjoy the efforts of the coaches and athletes I was working so hard for.  Don’t get stuck ‘skiing laps’ - do the work you need to do, do it well, AND take time to enjoy the view!

Lesson 7:  It’s just more fun with family and friends!  The most important and most amazing part of our trip was time spent together with my family. As I mentioned before, I am not sure how many more times we will get to do this kind of a vacation with all of us together for 9 days. My wife and I really tried to soak this up and enjoy every moment. We even enjoyed the scary moments during the ground blizzard in eastern Nebraska when it seemed we were driving by faith because we could not see the road! We intentionally made sure that everything we did along the journey included all of us together as much as possible.  It just made it more fun and more memorable.

The point is this…moments are meant to be experienced and shared with others. It can be easy to work our way into an operational mode of just doing things on your own.  Let’s be honest, there are times when it is just easier and more efficient to do things by ourselves and get the job done right, exactly the way we want it done.  I get it and find myself in that space way too often! But…the events I remember the most and the challenges that mean the most to me now are the ones that involved family and friends. They are the ones that included the people I care about, love dearly, and wish nothing but happiness for. When I included others, it always meant more and was more memorable…always! It is just more fun with family and friends!