You don’t have to think at 100mph. When the proverbial pedal is on the floor instinct is your greatest resource, contemplation and reflection are the enemies. In the past three years I have lived in four different houses, lost my best friend, married the love of my life, taught at three different schools, finished graduate school, and tried to ski as much as possible in-between. There have been moments of pause but the average pace has been in the red zone, 100mph.
The night before I should have known something was awry. We rushed home to Portland so my wife could visit her family before they went their separate ways. Being left to my own devices I went through the routine. Go to the gym, clean the kitchen, head to the office for a few hours, meet up with friends from out of town. Move, go, achieve, don’t think just get it done. Long nights are few and far between these days so it wasn’t unusual to head home after only a few beers at the local watering hole. Walking into the apartment my skis and gear were neatly organized in the corner ready to be driven across state lines and hauled up Mt. Washington.
Before going to bed I did a quick check of MWAC and NOAA to see how things have been shaping up on the rock pile. It didn’t look good. If skiing a luge over exposure in 100mph winds is your thing then this weekend was game on for you. For me though I backed off… slowly, reluctantly, released pressure on the throttle. But what if I miscalculated? Does this mean I am loosing my edge? Why didn’t I just suck it up? Everyone knows skiing in crappy conditions builds skill, enhances street cred and puts tokens in the powder karma bucket. Instead here I am sharpening crampons while binge watching Scandal?? Organizing breakfast playlists, sleeping in until 9a.m. and actually updating the blog?? I feel like Ricky Bobby in is first post race interview….what do I do with my hands?
Rationally I understand that there are far greater problems than my need to fulfill alpine desires. However, emotionally the cognitive sirens were sounding, warning of imminent danger. What happens when you slow down? Do you sink? Do you get left behind? Does you’re perceived value decrease? Then the light goes on. This is my personal disaster factor. This is what gets me into trouble.
Bruce Tremper has been at the forefront of a risk management paradigm shift in backcountry skiing. Part of the new approach involves regularly assessing cognitive variables (e.g., disaster factors) with equal diligence as outward environmental factors (e.g., the snowpack). Despite having completed a master’s thesis investigating human factors involved in backcountry skiing accidents, I still frequently indulge my default settings and reject opportunities for introspection. Outward analysis is easy; it is linear and readily reduced to component parts (at least we think it is). Inward analysis is confusing, vulnerable, nonlinear and composed of overlapping systems, desires and goals. Easy answers don’t surface during reflection, just more questions.
Yet, whether or not obvious conclusions are found is somewhat irrelevant to the general goal of increasing margins of safety. Incorporating an introspective model doesn’t provide go or no go answers, instead it puts those decisions into a larger context of the diverse roles and responsibilities we all have to fulfill. Preflection and reflection allow for our backcountry skiing experiences to be driven by multiple perspectives rather than just linear blind ambition.
I am still twitchy and ready to get back to the mountains as quickly as possible. I will continue to obsessively check NOAA’s ten-day forecast. However, anticipation will be tempered by indulging my introspective cognitive abilities, finally writing out my disaster factors, creating diverse goals for the ski season, and probably catching a few more episodes of Scandal.