Life lessons from throwing myself down snowy mountains while strapped to a piece of board.
Snowboarding, like skiing, looks really cool, but is not all fun and games.
It can be expensive to access, requiring a trip to the mountains, and may even necessitate flying to faraway places in search of snow, if you live in very hot, non-snowy places like I do.
It involves quite a bit of pain, from being outdoors in the freezing cold for hours at a time, to falling a million times on mounds of snow or rock-hard ice, to twisting an ankle or smashing a knee while trying to maneuver the slopes.
(Once, after a full day of snowboarding, I woke up the next morning with my body so cramped and bruised that I couldn’t even move or roll out of bed.)
So with all the expense and the torture, why would anyone go snowboarding?
For the thrill of almost killing yourself, obviously. But also for the life lessons the activity offers.
Lesson #1: Everything you want is on the other side of fear
For me, the quote above sums up the biggest lesson I’ve learned from snowboarding. Fear manifests in various areas of our lives and stops us from doing a lot of things, but often they work so quietly and insidiously that you don’t even realize it when you’re self-sabotaging.
In snowboarding, however, the fear you feel is actually tangible – I can almost feel it pounding through my veins and taste it in my dry mouth as I stare in silent horror at the plunging slope ahead of me or (now that I’m a bit more advanced) the jumps and jibs in the terrain park that I am supposed to fling myself over.
One time, I honest to goodness sat at the top of the slope for a full 10 minutes trying to build up the courage to go down, which is a rather long time to be sitting on a windy mountain top in freezing cold snow. I had to methodically talk myself through all the nonsensical negative talk and carefully collect every small scrap of bravery I had in me to make that attempt.
Images supplied by my fear on what would absolutely, for sure, 100% happen to me if I tried. Source
When I finally reached the bottom of the mountain, the big deal wasn’t so much that I completed it without breaking a single limb, but that I had actually conquered the fear and am now equipped to repeat the victory again and again. I have since progressed to more and more difficult slopes.
I’m now attempting terrain parks, which is a few notches above normal slopes in terms of difficulty and danger.
A typical terrain park. Source.
When trying to do jumps, momentum is your best friend, even if it means more catastrophic falls at such high speeds. Here, again, my fear is so evident that I can actually hear it screaming in my head to “STOPPPP SLOW DOWNNNN OH MY GOD SLOW DOWNNNNNNN”
Most of my falls are the result of heeding my fear and clumsily slowing down halfway through a speedy run (never a good idea, especially in a terrain park!). Had I had just a bit more courage, I would have allowed momentum to carry me and lead me onto the jump, where I could land safely (if not gracefully) on the other side, which is where I want to be, instead of spiralling out of control into the snowbanks.
Just as in snowboarding, there are areas in our lives where fear reigns supreme, where just a touch of courage would do wonders to get us across the chasm, and I always think of snowboarding in these instances. Similar to my mountain-climbing epiphany, I think to myself: if I can plunge down a mountain and take on a half-pipe, why can’t I do this?
Lesson #2: ‘Fall 7 times, get up 8’
I’ve heard of this Japanese adage on persistence all my life, but nowhere did it manifest itself as clearly, and as literally, as it did while snowboarding. Snowboarding, especially in the early stages, is just glorified falling-and-landing-on-your-ass-in-the-most-embarrassing-way-possible.
The first day is the worst: you’re falling on your butt or head 90% of the time. Each time you manage to push yourself up (which in itself is a major exercise of the arms and core), you just fall right over, and the process is repeated ten gazillion times. On my first day, I was on a short beginner slope, and it took me the whole day to come down that joke of a run.
Once you get past the beginner slope, you move on to discover the sad truth about skiing and snowboarding: the more difficult the slope, the more spectacular the fall.
Sometimes, after I’ve tumbled down a little too hard and too fast, and end up sprawled, dizzy and trying to remember my own name and what year it was, it can be really, really hard to continue. After all, it’s freezing cold, everything hurts, and there’s no energy left whatsoever to even lift my head to check if it’s still attached to my body.
But here is where the lesson on persistence comes in. There’s no time for a pity party on the slope – people are zooming down all around you, and you are an obstacle in the path, just asking to be crashed into. No one is going to come cooing at you and whisk you away in a snowmobile or helicopter – you either get up and move, or freeze there and then.
After wallowing in self-pity like this for a few minutes, I would then realize that unless I plan to sleep there in the bank of snow for the night, I had no other choice but to pull myself together and finish the run. So, as much as I don’t want to, I’d get up once again and continue to snowboard downhill. The thrill would return in full force, and I’d happily forget about the disaster that just happened…up until the next spectacular fall.
But hey, that’s why the Japanese tell you to “fall 7 times, get up 8”. Or in snowboarding’s case: “fall 1,000,000 times, get up 1,000,001.”
Lesson #3: If you’re not falling, then you’re not trying hard enough
Here’s some good news: there will come a time when you will no longer be falling all over your butt. Once you’ve mastered the basics, worked on your balance and are able to link your turns, you will be zooming down the slopes just like the experts I watched in envy on my first day of snowboarding.
Snowboarding will no longer be associated with pain, but with ‘fun’. And it isincredibly fun to smoothly glide among the wintery landscape, slicing an S-shaped path in the pure white snow, maybe even showing off a bit with a few leaps and fancy footwork. You could finish a run in 15 minutes instead of the one-hour it used to take you, coming to a stop at the bottom of the mountain with practiced ease, a smug grin and zero pain in your body because you haven’t even fallen once.
The bad news is, the fact that you’re not falling means you’ve stagnated. It means you’re not trying anything new or anything more. And while it’s perfectly okay to be comfortable where you are, it would be a shame, given all the things one could do with a snowboard (I mean, check out the Olympic stunts).
While I don’t enjoy falling, and would much rather have a smooth run where I can just focus on being stylish and an annoying show-off, I realize it is an essential marker of progress and improvement. If I’m falling all over the place, clearly I am trying something new that I haven’t done before. And I like to think that is true in other parts of my life as well.
Lesson #4: Dealing with failure – lots and lots of failure
For most of my life, I had avoided failure simply by dropping the difficult things and going off to find easier stuff to do. I was incredibly uncomfortable with failure, of any kind (trivial or otherwise), until I started snowboarding.
Here’s the thing about snowboarding: it’s just one failure after another. And it’s the worst kind of failure too – the one that is accompanied not just by mental anguish, but also by actual, physical pain that lingers for days, long after the failure happened.
In a nutshell, it kind of goes something like this:
Me, dignified and graceful as always.