Last winter I broke my ankle in a high-speed crash on Revelstoke Mountain Resort. My ski season effectively ended on February 3 at 2:02pm (you better believe I marked the time). It was a soul-crushing blow as the winter of 2016-17 evolved into the most epic snowpocalypse in recent memory.
But the bigger blow wouldn’t come until the start of this winter. My first day on skis was an early-season tour up Missoula’s Snowbowl, and it hurt. A lot. The skin up hurt, the ski down in the warm heavy snow hurt. But what hurt the most was taking off my skis at the bottom because I was afraid I didn’t have the control for the combat turns out to the parking lot.
This winter, I’ve discovered fear in a way I’ve never known before, that unwelcome hitchhiker on the mental road to recovery after an injury. If it was just creeping in on Snowbowl, then it had fully set up shop a couple weeks later on opening day at RMR. It tamped me down into a more cautious skier. My risk tolerance for speed and drops had plummeted, and instead of leading the pack, I could barely keep up. Suddenly, the mountain looked less like a dream playground and more like a minefield for disaster.
It’s not the prospect of pain that I’m afraid of. Those of us who love adventure sports already have a high tolerance for misery (we actually categorize that as a type of fun—Type 2 Fun, to be exact), and pain is just another one of our regular adventure partners.
What scares me is putting myself out of commission again, the idea of making some preventable mistake that ends my winter before it starts, or worse. I’d never broken a bone before destroying my ankle last February. I’d never experienced something that kept me so definitively from doing the things I love. It was a dark few months.
I know that skiing is one of the things that makes me happy no matter what—that feeling of flying, the simplicity of the skin track, of being exhausted at the end of a beautiful day, all of it. I could be having the worst day, the worst week of my life, but I head out into the mountains and everything is washed clean on the other side. The fear comes from the thought of losing that again.
But what scares me even more? Not progressing as a skier. Failing to take advantage of this incredible place I’ve landed in because of over-cautious preventative measures. Holding myself back to the point that I forget what the rush feels like, flat-lined by staying on the perpetual safe side.
I’m still fumbling my way through this mental maze. I don’t know what the balance looks like. Maybe a healthy enough dose of fear to keep me from doing something stupid. I do think there’s a point when if we don’t put fear in its place, then we can’t break free from its grip. My New Year’s resolution is to wrestle this damn hitchhiker out of my head before its sets up permanent residence.
We all live with some kind of fear. I have a feeling that it’s how we deal with it that defines so much of the course of our lives.