Fear and Focus

Backcountry skied the other day. The avalanche forecast projected a green day (safe conditions) and the weather pattern has been consistent. My skiing partner and I met at the trailhead in the early morning and found ourselves facing much colder conditions than the previous days and boiler plate snow pack. The snow forming the uphill skin track was concrete and wind had blown across exposed areas leaving a surface that was hard to set a ski edge. It was tenuous to avoid slipping down the slope. We proceeded, in search of the shaded side of our summit and the temptation of soft snow and memorable turns. We eventually found favorable conditions for descending and made a few long laps in colder, softer snow.

What struck me in the moment as we crossed the most exposed gradient that would not relent and blocked a ski edge purchase, was the mindset battle between fear and focus. Fear was easy to access. Look down the 1,500 foot slope and see a perfect sliding surface. No trees to hit, no changes in grade to break an unwilling luge participant. The focus was harder and required purposeful thought: relax the ankles, stay perpendicular to the slope, grip the poles in an offset fashion with the uphill pole requiring a lower grasp than the downhill pole, look for the best line to traverse and seek micro breaks in the snow surface that accommodate a ski edge.

Both mindsets were available to me within micro-seconds. I toggled back and forth between them before settling on focus. However, the accessibility of both realities demonstrated the ease with which an adventure doubles as a panic room.

How might we realize that one individual’s expedition might be the terror that keeps another person awake at night? How might we check-in with our colleagues to confirm that we are focused on the work that matters and not the possible disaster that looms just there? How might we make room for the conversations that recognize danger but does not amplify it unnecessarily?

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