What I learned about fear, growth & 'flow-state' on an Austrian Mountain
Last weekend a friend invited me at short notice to join him for a couple of days Snowboarding in the Austrian Alps. I was in two minds based on the fact that last time I tried snowboarding (over a decade ago), I couldn’t sit down for a week and nearly lost teeth. But, I like board sports and it’s pretty clear that my new home, Brighton, is not going to provide a lot of good days for surfing.
So is was, with not particularly high levels of expectation, that I flew out to Austria for a weekend snowboarding in the Alps. After travelling for the day, we arrived after dark into the town of Galtur and got set - I was excited but not at all prepared for what was to come.
The following morning, I opened the curtains in our room to see a breathtaking view. There were pristine snow fields with steep valley sides swooping up on either side of the town. My first thought was how beautiful the scenery was. My second was, "I’m so out of my depth, I’m going to die!”. This was a league way above any level I’d played at before and I was glad that the nursery slope was close at hand.
We headed out after breakfast and I hired some equipment while my friends took their daughter off to ski school. When I caught up with them there was a small domestic in progress because the kindergarten ski class wasn’t available until the following day.
The debate centred on whether or not to fork out the 140 euros to pay for a one-to-one lesson so their daughter could learn and the parents could snowboard. I felt for them, ski weekends don't come cheap and an additional 140 euros is a lot for a toddler to learn skiing.
However, their moment of pain became my moment of inspiration. I could hang about being hopelessly outclassed by five-year-olds on the nursery slopes. Or perhaps I could take a lesson and achieve my objective twin objectives of:
Not being choppered off the mountain on a stretcher.
Being able to perform linked turns and begin to shred my way down a mountain.
140 euros might have seemed steep to my friends, but it looked like the best investment possible to me. So I jumped in. And what a brilliant decision it was.
The magic of a great teacher
The way to tell if you have got a good teacher or coach is not whether you like them or think they are doing a good job. It’s much easier than that, the best way is simply whether or not you improve under their guidance.
In this instance, I clearly had a rockstar teacher. Immediately the lesson began she headed to the Gondola up the mountain. When it became clear this was her plan, I’ll confess to considering returning to my room and self-placing a purse-string suture such was the lurch of fear/excitement in my tummy. But up we went - a very long way.
At the summit, we set up on a gentle slope and pretty soon we had some basics happening. Back rail gliding went well. Front rail gliding was a little harder but came quickly enough. Next, we were getting stuck into turns and weight transfer, concepts which had hitherto completely eluded me. But to my amazement within twenty minutes I could, on a very gentle incline, make a semi-controlled turn, facing down the slope in either direction. I was smiling so widely my face hurt.
And just like that, the 101 lesson was done and we hit the first run down. It was steep, too steep to try my turns all the way so I just got a feel for the board and then when we entered a slower section, I practised my turns, wiped out a bit and grinned a lot.
By the time we got to the bottom I was both adrenalised and amazed in equal parts. Looking back up the mountain I could not believe I had made it down.
We spent the rest of the lesson working on turns and I seemed to regress for a while and after a near-miraculous first run down - I did a lot of wiping out thereafter. But by the end of the session, I had mastered the basics and could snowboard. I was set for the rest of the weekend and now, while I still had trepidation, I knew I had the skills to keep me safe on the mountain and also have fun.
Entering flow state
The rest of the weekend went by in a flash. On the runs, strapped to that board there was no room for any thought unconnected to the sensory experience of hurtling down a mountain on snow and ice. No room for thoughts about either the future or the past. My entire mind and body were focussed on the here and now. This was the experience of 'flow-state' and it felt amazing, as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve had and without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I was bruised and sore (I could hardly walk by the end of the weekend) but none of that mattered. I had learned a new skill, made some new friends and had an awesome experience.
Deconstruction & Distillation
So is it possible to deconstruct this experience and learn something useful to apply elsewhere in life?
My reflections are as follows:
The best decision I made was to go. I was in two minds due to some fear about injury and expense. But fear is not our best friend and had I not gone then I would have missed out on one of the best things I ever did.
The next best decision was to get a coach - without that, I would have most likely spent four hours longer sitting either on my butt in the snow or, more likely, in the bar. Investing in my own self-development delivered a huge pay-off.
Fear is always present when you are trying to do something new and your fearful, inner caveperson can easily talk you out of doing things that might change you for the better if you let him or her. Fear is also fractal in nature. I was fearful of the experience in general and when on the mountain I noticed I was also fearful of committing to turn more in one direction that the other which resulted in way more back rail wipeouts.
When you master your fear, you pave the way to mastering a new skill. Fun also gets to join the party.
When you are doing something you love and consumes you entirely, you experience the activity in an entirely different way - everything else greys out in the background and you exist only in the present moment. Time becomes almost meaningless and your outputs are enormous.
When you are doing something you love this much you are willing to push through pain that would otherwise have you moaning and reaching for the painkillers or worse, giving up. In short, you accelerate your development exponentially.
There is no growth without risk taking and a willingness to do something different.
The distilled, neon-lit take-aways
Lean into your fear.
Invest in yourself.
Pick yourself up after the mistakes and go again - practice until it hurts.
Enjoy the moment and the wins.
Do things you enjoy.
I hope this somewhat epic post gives you some amusement and some inspiration. And if you did have something you wanted to achieve and needed a little coaching of your own, then please feel free to give me a yell.
For a free 30-minute ski pass on the veterinary leadership nursery slopes with me as your elite results “ski-coach" then click here. For those who want to break out of their current rut and grow quickly, we may soon be riding the gondola to the top of the mountain. And I promise you it’ll be an exciting ride with many break-breakthroughs on the way.
PS - If you are looking for a great place to ski or snowboard I cannot recommend Galtur and Ischgl enough.