Uncertainty. Most of us avoid it with everything we’ve got. We grasp tightly to what we know. We seek out safety, stability and confirmation. We aspire to be in control. In fact, most of us have spent most of our lives learning skills to help us stay in control. Whether it’s on mountain slopes, in a classroom or at a business meeting, we practice repetitive behaviors that are meant to keep us composed, certain and, ultimately, safe.
So what about the risk takers? What about those people who willingly leap into the unknown? Those people get ideas that haunt them, that push and drive them until they step into unchartered territory.
Some may call it insanity. Others call it faith. Webster’s Dictionary defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” or “complete trust.” Belief and trust, like love, are totally intangible and yet they are the catalysts for evolution—evolution of self, evolution of consciousness, evolution of humanity.
And what inspires faith? Love. Passion. Curiousity. Desire. The belief that there is something more to life than what is being experienced. There comes a time when safety and certainty no longer offer satisfaction. And that is when we choose to explore what else is possible in ourselves, on this earth and even, perhaps, in the universe.
Jackson Hole is home to lots of physical risk takers. We are known as a mountain community of extremists pushing ourselves on jagged peaks, exploring our potential and our limits. Why do we do this? Because it makes us feel alive. It’s about living life 100 percent. When dancing on that fine line between fear and faith, we have two choices: to retreat toward the certainty of safety or leap wholeheartedly toward what is possible.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out. People get hurt. Sometimes they die. These are consequences that seasoned athletes understand as potential reality. And yet they continue to go for it.
It seems that once they have tasted the sweet flavor of uncertainty, once they have surrendered their souls to the mountains and the unknown, they long for more. The sheer love of the experience supercedes fear and vulnerability.
And that’s when the magic happens. It’s no longer about proving how gnarly you are. It’s not about checking something off the bucket list or pushing physical capabilities. All of a sudden, at that moment of surrender, when they turn their board or skis downhill, the mind gets clear, the ego falls away and it’s about becoming one with the moment—fully present, alive, and in the flow of life.
Ever interested in understanding and connecting to that flow of life and what it’s like to leap into it, I sought out five very accomplished extreme mountain athletes who were willing to share their perspectives on love and fear and being present on the razor’s edge between life and death. They also spoke about how those feelings relate to everyday life.
PREPARATION & DISCIPLINE
“I’m interested in sustainable riding. We all want to come home at the end of the day,” says world renowned Snowboarder Travis Rice.
Yes, these athletes, are committed and disciplined in their craft. They are not egomaniacs carelessly hucking themselves for cameras. They put their time in logging hours both on the snow and in the gym to hone their bodies and their skills before they are ready to leap. It’s their job and they take it seriously.
“When it comes to a big physical risk, it’s not frivolous. You have to put the time in with the training and education. Showing up day after day and practicing. That’s how you gain confidence and get the trust. I put in the work. It’s the daily grind. The trust comes because you’ve put the time in and you’ve built upon things,” says skier Lynsey Dyer.
“When you see it on the screen it looks crazy, but what they don’t show is how much has been put into it….When you practice as much as I do, it’s comfortable,” says snowboarder Rob Kingwill. “You learn to make things more effortless. When you are just beginning, you get beat up and it takes so much of you. Ultimately, you learn to move with the mountains
versus fighting against them.”
A FULL SENSORY EXPERIENCE
A full sensory experience, staying innocent and trusting your intuition is necessary for being successful when the risks are so high.
“You have to take time to listen,” warns Rice. “To truly know something, you have to become it. There are so many whispering signs showing the danger – signs everywhere you look, in the snow, in the temperature. There is a beauty of not going into it with preconceived notions. I walk the line between years of experience
making it easy to fall into habit and keeping open to
new signs and the unexpected.”
Snowboarder Bryan Iguchi agrees: “I grew up as a skateboarder and a surfer. As a kid surfing, I had to learn to wait for everything to come together. Skill. The weather. The waves. Everything has to come together for it all to work out. When everything feels right, you’re in the zone. It’s hard to put into words. You just feel it, then you know.”
Iguchi also trusts when it’s time to say no. “A key to survival in the mountains and in life is trusting my gut. When in doubt it’s better to just walk away from it. If I get up there and I can’t clear my mind, if I can’t visualize it going right, or something doesn’t feel right, I won’t do it.”
Rice concurs: “When you make the leap, if you bring hesitation, if you don’t visualize the landing, it’s probably not going to work out.”
These athletes are not fearless, in fact their respect for risk is immense. But rather than turning away from uncertainty and what is scary, they chose to face it head on and look within.
“It’s interesting how massive risk show us how powerful we can be,” Dyer explains. “The thing we are afraid of shows us what we are made of.” Rice feels the same way. “Putting myself in uncomfortable situations, that’s how I’ve learned the most about myself,” he says.
Climber and Freerider Kelly Halpin finds that risk forces her to quiet her mind. “Risk helps us get back in touch with a survival thing that we really don’t need anymore. Absolutely putting yourself out there on the edge makes you feel more alive. It puts you in the moment, the real moment…You use the fear to get total clarity.”
Unquestionably, these risk takers are choosing to do so because it makes them feel alive and connected to everything that is around them. While they take risk and their job seriously, they also love what they do, and they let that love consume them.
“It’s about those moments of stoke when you feel alive and engaged,” says Kingwill. “That balance of progressing your skills that you can let go and let spirit move through. It’s a wonderful feeling to let if flow through you. One of the cool things about being a winter athlete is you get to see that breath—that force flowing through you.”
Most importantly, these athletes are aware that what they are doing in the mountains is teaching them about living their everyday lives.
Through both her accomplishments and challenges in skiing Dyer learned, “I had to find self-acceptance. I realized that anything we resist in ourselves can block our power,” she says.
Rice has learned about himself as well. “Snowboarding has been the tool for me to open up and unlock my creativity and open-mindedness that anything is possible,” he confesses. “My biggest aspiration is my conscious decision to take what I’ve learned in these extreme situations into my daily life—to take the peace of mind that I have in the mountains and bring it down.”
Kingwill recognizes that “snowboarding has taught me about being in that slow state, being present, mindful,” he says. As a result, he shares what he’s learned with his Live Activated Technique, based on his coaching techniques and when he’s “in the mountains and scared to death.” It’s geared toward being a freestyle athlete, but is applicable to just about any challenge and teaches how to calm down your amygdala and choose a path that calms your fear. It also helps people understand how their brain works. You can check out the technique at www.avalon7.co/activate-technique.
While courage, perseverance, discipline and strength are all necessary for launching into exposed terrain, the ultimate factor is trust. Trust in the self, faith in the experience. It is an act of love. Every leap is a belief that the flow of life will take you on the ride of your life.