Shreddin’ the Slopes: Courage, Fear & Assessing the Risk

The challenge for last weekend was my first snowboarding experience on real snow. The plan for this challenge had been to get Nick Wolf (my Gobi March team-mate) to talk me safely down a mountain in Switzerland on my walkie talkie system that I bought for this year’s challenges. It seemed like a sensible, achievable goal.

We stood at the top of the mountain in Switzerland, our boards no wider than baking trays, and prepared to “shred the slopes”. As we strapped in, however, I was battling with a growing sense of fear. Surging through my mind were waves of doubt which often surface before the rush of adrenaline takes over.

All the usual suspects were there: Why am I doing this? I’m going to hurt myself. I can’t do this. How can I get out of this?

But with the board strapped on the navel-gazing was squeezed out by the adrenaline in full flow around my body. I was compelled to get up and go.
A rush of blood to the head made me set off without doing a radio test on the walkie-talkie or checking if Nick or the others were ready. Before anyone could say a word I was off. Sliding, turning, falling, sliding falling, turning, falling. But with cries of encouragement from Simone I soon entered my own world.

After my first few slides I didn’t hear the others. As I lay flat out after another major tumble Nick caught up and told me that I was just metres away from a tree and he had lost sight of me over the brow of the first hill. We hadn’t turned the walkie talkies on for this first run – whoops!!
Challenges like this are always met with a balance between courage and fear but the key is to make a judgement based on a sober, objective assessment of the risks. The aim in trying snowboarding was already a stated one so that was not in question. However the fear I felt was, I’m sure, part of a conscious and unconscious series of risk assessments.
As I sat at the top of the mountain I was scared. But where did these feelings actually come from and what was I really scared of? Was I scared of hurting myself? Was I scared of looking like an idiot? Was I scared of having to write this blog post with a report that snowboarding blind is just too damn hard?

The answer is probably yes to all of these things but ultimately, whether subconcious or not, I made the choice to push off and give it a shot. I felt the risks were not insurmountable and I had factored some of them out. For example, I had tried to arrive on the slopes prepared and ready by taking lessons on the indoor slope. I thought I had overcome the directional issues with the walkie-talkies as a substitute for sight. And I was relying on my own ability based on experience from other sports.
Our ability to assess the risks, to balance courage and fear, is done by preparing. But preparation can only take you so far. Eventually you’ve got to stand up and step off the mountain. It’s up to you…


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