Warning: Crazy Girl Talking. You may not all agree.
On Saturday, I passed a milestone with my baby boy (who is not much of a baby anymore but, he will always be my baby) when I convinced him to ski through his first double black diamond gate into Parachute at Solitude. Isaac has taken to lolligagging around the mountain. Mind you, he is carving beautiful arcs on the groomers and working on steeper turns off trail but really doing nothing that is pushing his capabilities or making him want to be a more aggressive skier.
I went through a similar experience with my older son, Noah, trying to get him to push his limits and get out of his comfort zone. However, I fully expected Isaac to charge right out of the gate as he is ultra competitive with his brother. I figured the mere thought of Noah skiing something that was above his own ability level would produce a holy tyrant of a no holds barred skier. Boy was I wrong. Really Wrong.
I have been hardly able to get Isaac into Black Forest’s gentle terrain let alone ski the frontside of Powderhorn’s trees without a meltdown of epic proportions. It is not that my child is not capable of skiing steeper, tighter terrain or that he does not have the ability or technique. The thing which holds him back (as well as most of us) is fear. Something that a barely seven year old does not understand how to control nor wants to. Fear is paralyzing and fear controls how we react, how we perform and how we emotionally deal with what is before us.
Although, a seven year old skiing a double black diamond in fear sounds a bit ridiculous, this lesson of overcoming the greatest obstacle which holds all of us back is a message we all can learn from.
More than any other thing, fear holds us back from participating, performing and overcoming many things that we face each day. Skiing is no different. Adults tend to fear more than children who have not felt the pain of a serious fall or who do not yet understand the devastating effects of a careless mistake. Fear inhibits us from taking the next step or progressing to the next level. For years, my brother in law used to regularly ski with a woman who never skied above a green run. Was it because she just couldn’t do it? No, it was because she was scared of the unknown and her feared paralyzed her into never progressing from the nursery slopes on which she had started.
It is normal to have anxiety over the fear of speed or the fear of falling. Even the best skiers in the world feel fear at some level. The difference is that skilled athletes have learned how to use their fear to their advantage. It boosts adrenaline, pumps them up and when properly managed can help them perform better. For most of the general population, fear is a wall that inhibits, it can even drive us away from an experience that may have been perfectly safe and which could have brought us much joy.
On Saturday, Noah and I had pumped Isaac up into ecstatic excitement as he passed through the gates and warning signs and onto the traverse which emptied into the steepest terrain he had yet to face in his young life. As I encouraged Isaac to cross over the threshold of recreational skier into “skiing is my life” status, I couldn’t help but happily envision the next phase of our ski lives together as mother and son. As he stood there atop the now very apparently steep run, his thrill at being a “big boy” turned to uncontrollable raging fear.
At that point, I could have let him turn around and ski back out or I could just help him figure out his crazy emotions so, of course, the frustrating negotiations began. You know how that goes. The “I’ll let you stop at Crown Burger on the way home” kind of negotiating but, it soon became apparent that a burger was not going to convince my baby into Parachute. Passerby’s started looking at me curiously as I heatedly locked horns with my child. We make for two very stubborn and obstinate people so I am sure the scene was ogle worthy. A patroller eventually cruised up and asked if I knew where I was and had I read the signs? “You mean the ones that say experts only and cliffs below?” I asked and laughed. I promised him that I knew exactly where I was, what I was doing and that this little midget in front of me with gigantic tears rolling down his cheeks and who was yelling at me was perfectly capable to ski the terrain that he was now perched upon. Surprisingly, the patroller bailed and left me to my unconventional devices.
Our children need to sense that we are courageous, strong and will protect them no matter what. I realized my misguided tactics needed to change. I calmed down and gently reminded Isaac that I would be right below him, that I would help him and that he could do it. Isaac began to relax as I asked him to look across the hill. “Is it steep?” I said. “No” he answered. I told him to then look down the hill. “Is it steep?” I asked. “Yes” he said. “Which way are we going to ski then?” “Across the hill” he replied and we slowly began to zig zag across the mountain on our edges.
Nature has a wonderfully calming effect on the body, mind, and spirit, especially on children and I turned Isaac’s attention to the moon which was noticeable in the crystal blue sky above the jagged peaks and the dead crooked trees which held a magic that only a child could perceive. He breathed deep and took in the beauty that surrounded him as he slowly traversed across the hill under my watchful eye.
Before long, he grasped that he could hold his edge on that steep hill and that he was not going to fall. I had helped him overcome his fear by letting him live through the worst of it in small steps allowing his brain to literally change as he defeated his fear. Soon, Isaac was in Parachute and was turning confidently down to his brother. As Noah showed him the ropes and the thrilling gullies, shoots and sidewalls of one of Solitude’s best runs, Isaac let go of his fear and began to have fun. Eventually, he made it all the way down all on his own
Had Isaac had his way, he would have backed out and continued on his merry path, oblivious to the feat that he ended up conquering and loving. Had I given in and amplified his fear in myself and let him take the easy way out, we would have never shared that experience. Isaac will be back up again and no longer will be shackled by his fears as he confidently takes control of his emotions and his skills.
We all must use the fear that holds us back and learn how to control this natural response that keep us from success. Remember that a certain amount of fear is normal and can help protect us from danger. I once witnessed a paralyzing fall when an egotistic teenager led his panicking girlfriend into an area that significantly exceeded her level of skiing. The lasting consequences of that action were felt far beyond the steep rocks of her fall. Be smart, use your intuition but take that leap of faith and find the pleasure that you have been missing out on. Get up on that mountain and conquer your fear. Maybe it is skiing down Easy Street or maybe it is skiing through Honeycomb or maybe, like me, it is the hike up Fantasy and no, my boys will not be following behind…at least not for a few more years.