Don’t aim for the trees!

I was 38 years old when I started skiing. My then husband had skied all his life, and we wanted our family ski together. So Rory (5), Jaime (3) and Susan (38) started into lessons at the Mansfield Ski Club. 7 years later, we could all ski down anything, and had skied in Utah and all over Alberta and BC. In all those years of lessons, I am pretty confident that each and every ski instructor shared this lesson: don’t look at what you want to avoid…look at where you are going, and your skis will take you there. Trust your skis and your ability.

Susan, Julie and Kira contemplating our skiing exploits!

Susan, Julie and Kira contemplating our skiing exploits!

In 2007, we were skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with my most wonderful friend Kira and her family. Second to last day, lots of powder and great weather, I (stupidly) decided to follow Jaime down some steeps through the trees. I dodged the trees successfully…until I slowed down and came out into a clearing…and managed to catch a spruce tree that I was trying to avoid with my right ski. That ski released. The left ski did not. 

3 breaks in the lower left leg, a most memorable toboggan ride, emergency surgery, a rod, a plate and lots of screws, 7 months of intensive physiotherapy and I was back to skiing the next winter. Kira and I headed to Banff and skied Lake Louise. It was as if I hadn’t broken my leg. Except, I had developed a new and irrational fear of skiing in trees. If I even got close to them, I had an immediate and visceral reaction of panic.

I still love to ski, but I always stay away from trees. Those beautiful little glades with trails that beckon? I avoid them. Even the larger open tree areas in Whistler and Big White, I stay away from those. It limits the areas I can ski, but quells my panic. 

A bit of mountain to ski down...note the lack of trees here.

A bit of mountain to ski down…note the lack of trees here.

However, last week, the most miraculous thing happened. Kira and I were in Whistler, and after the first day of heavy, wet snow (and tired legs), Kira reminded me that we just have to trust our skis and our abilities…and make sure we look at where we want to go, not what we want to avoid. In other words, don’t aim for the trees.

We ended up in Symphony Bowl one morning, and down we skied. We took different routes and before I knew it, I found myself in some tight trees. I could feel the panic start to rise as my skis were turning. I found myself staring hard at the trees, turning past them and looking for the next one to get ready for my turn.

Then it happened. I heard Kira’s voice in my head, echoed by all those other ski instructors, and I actually listened. Then instead of looking at the trees, I looked at where I wanted to go.

Holy cow. 

It really worked! 

I was turning like a  ninja (or my version of an old lady ninja), gliding between the trees like I wasn’t afraid at all.

And you know what?

I wasn’t afraid at all!

I could end my story here, celebrating my brave and skillful skiing ability; how I learned to look at where I wanted to go, and not at what I needed to avoid – the trees. But that is not the purpose of this story. As we went up the chair lift, I shared my inspiration with my two ski buddies (who love and tolerate my relative insanity). In a moment of quiet contemplation, Remy turned and said something like this:

Three skiers focusing ahead...or at least on the camera!

Three skiers focusing ahead…or at least on the camera!

“That is a metaphor for life. Trust yourself, trust your abilities, and point yourself in the direction you want to go. Don’t look at what you want to avoid…look ahead at where you want to go.”

So, my friends, whether you are skiing, traveling, writing a policy document, developing a new learning program, or just trying to live a good life, remember to focus on where you want to go. Don’t focus on what you want or need to avoid. That will lead you astray, or at least into the next tree. Look ahead.

Trust me, it works. 

 

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13 thoughts on “Don’t aim for the trees!

    • If she’s hesitant about returning to skiing, have her talk to me! Getting back up and skiing was the best thing ever…I never doubted that I would, but it was hard. Get her out there!

  1. What a great story to tell Susan! I am not about to go skiing probably, as my experience has always been “oh…okay, this is not too bad… ah… this is scary out of control!… ah, okay this is not too bad… ah!!! scary out of control!” and it has never really been enjoyable, so I feel like I can live my life without having to ski. But there are many other challenges that I try to take and this is a wonderful way to look at it. Living here in Portugal, is sometimes like skiing through trees for me, because generally I love it, but there are things that are scary too. Any interest of coming to visit me here in Portugal? I am now living on the continent (will only return to the Azores to do research) and there is AMAZING folk dancing all the time. I just spent the weekend dancing in a castle. Bring your fiddle and some dancing shoes and you will have a riot! beijos e abraço, Alison Neilson

    • I’m glad my story resonated for you, my friend! Skiing is incredible, but like long distance running (of which I also do, as you may recall) is not for everyone. But the notion of moving forward and not looking for the stumbling blocks holds a lot of power and helps me all the time.
      My fishing buddy Tony is from Portugal and I’ve seen pictures of his trips home…incredible. Perhaps it is the time to come over for an adventure! It looks and sounds like you are doing famously, so joining you for a few days would be amazing. Who knows!

  2. Reblogged this on Accent and commented:
    Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. ~Henry Ford

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