Wednesday, March 3, 2010

And that's why I love my job.

Pardon the wonky photo, my computer struggles with images currently and it was a bear to get this one up here. But I wanted to share this with you!

Yesterday, I had the honor of taking a client to the top of the Highlands Bowl for the first time.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's how it started. My client, lets call him Cy, came to me and told me, "I'm a quit after lunch kind of guy. I like to ski blue groomers, just cruise, and maybe MAYBE some black bumps. We'll see."

We had two days together. The first day, not only did we not quit after lunch, we skied until the mountain closed. Cy has an incredibly open spirit and a willingness that you hope to find in all your clients, and he made some enormous changes to his skiing in that first day.

He went from zig zaggy heel pusher to front seat round turn skier in about two runs. He was game to get in the bumps, and willing to find the coaching cue that worked for him.

I challenged him to ask himself if he could be disciplined enough to focus on making a change for three runs, and then go out and go wild. He was willing. The change came, it stuck, and we had set ourselves up for success the next day.

The next morning, we were at Highlands with big dreams of hopping in Canopy Cruiser, a never ending bump run in the trees right on the edge of the Highlands bowl. These are double black bumps, so I needed to be sure that the changes we had thought we'd made had actually stuck.

We started out with two groomed runs, hopped into Scarlets, a blue bump run, and had to talk again about patience, how patience in your turn should also equate to patience with yourself. Give it more than five bumps to see if all you learned yesterday is going to stick. How about three runs in the bumps with patience and intent?

It worked. Suddenly things were synthesized, smooth, and we were ready. Unfortunately, we were late, so instead of Canopy Cruiser, we skied Deception, Moment of Truth, Waterfall, Stien and Lower Stein, all double black pitches with huge bumps, all the way to the bottom. Flow, rhythm, willingness to go down the hill, it was all there. I was watching him ski this and I thought to myself, he needs to be in the bowl.

And not only does he need to be in the bowl, he needs to ride this wave and be there today. I knew he could ski it. It wasn't even about the skiing. I just wanted to let him experience the incredible sensation of standing on the top of a mountain you've climbed yourself because you have the skill set to ski down it.

This is not something I get to share with every client, the conditions have to be just right, with the client and with the weather, for it to really click.

We went in and had lunch at the Cloud 9 restaurants, and then we headed out. It was about 40 degrees, sunny, bluebird, no wind. We filled our pockets with Toblerone and water, and headed up the Loge Peak lift, under the huge banner that says "experts only!" and skied up to the waiting spot for the Cat that takes you part way up the bowl.

Cy had told me that he has a fear of heights, and he was concerned about how narrow the hike would get as it went up the ridge. He was concerned about his fitness, that he wasn't strong enough to climb the 780 vertical feet, and that if he couldn't make it, he couldn't come back down.

I knew that he could do it. I had no question. He is stronger than he thinks he is. He is a much better skier than he thinks he is. He has a quiet and open heart, and I knew that he could find his way up this trail. So we waited for the Cat, and I could feel his mounting concern, although he wasn't expressing it. Fear of the unknown, how steep was it? Could he make it? How dangerous was this hike? What if he fell off? What if he couldn't ski it? Why was he torturing himself like this???

The cat pulled up and in we climbed, there was no hesitation, no last ditch effort. We were going to hike up the bowl no matter what. The cat churned along, and I was grateful that he'd chosen to stretch himself, I knew he'd be surprised at how much he had inside.

We hopped out at the top and arranged our gear, and headed off up the bootpack. We had to talk about how to walk, how to use your knee as a hinge, and kick it into the step, and push your body up using your glutes and hamstrings, how to focus on the footsteps. We talked about pace and rhythm, how the trick is to find a pace that you can move at that allows you to keep moving, rather than going too fast and stopping all the way up.

The hike feels sooo much longer than it really is when you don't know how far you are going. And even though it was a beautiful day, and we could see the top, when you aren't used to moving through the mountains, its really hard sometimes to judge how hard it will be to get somewhere or how long it will take.

Cy focused on my feet as they swung and kicked, and we talked about what it felt like to be out there on the ribbon of the top of this mountain, how it was appropriate to feel fear, and that accepting that you feel it and allowing it to be present takes some of its power away.

We did the five sences meditation as we walked, and we found our bliss in the sunshine. Cy was of course much stronger than he thought, and he powered up the bowl with excellent pacing and willingness. The closer we got to the top, the more I could feel him opening. I believe that we are vessels, and my job is to facilitate you filling yourself up. Cy was filling up with every step he took.

We stepped out onto the tiny plateau at the top, and Cy looked around at the 14,000 foot peaks that he was sharing space with, the blue sky, the prayer flags, the camaraderie of the other climbers at the top, and I watched him change right in front of me. I looked at him filling to overflowing with that feeling of oneness with the mountains, of that feeling of utter insignificance when faced with beauty on that scale, of the feeling of solitude, of what it means to be one of the few people who are standing on the top of a mountain peak that day, and I felt gratitude. This is exactly why I love my job. Ordinary person.

One day, he walked up to the top of a mountain because he could. Same ordinary person, now feels extraordinary. Because he is.

We skied down through G3, a very steep and chalky pitch, and the skiing was fun and steep and exciting. But the hike was better. The hike was Cy finding space to become Cy, without limit or apology, without societal rules, or restraints. He used his feet to walk to the top and they became mountain climbing feet. I got to help him do that.

I love my job!


Liat said...

I love your blog! Just thought I'd remind you, since I still read every post but don't comment as much because I get it in my email. Thanks for this fun story! go Cy!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kate. It was a truly extarordinary and unexpected experience.

Gravity's Friend said...

I just found your blog and am inspired -- I am 46 years old and working on my Level 3, and now I have NO MORE excuses ... darn you.

Windy said...

Kate - wish I had his balls.