Spew and Do
An other trip around the Sun, an other ski season upon us.
Somehow, as I file through the events of my adulthood since returning from tasting life in New Zealand in 2015, I realize each memory is marked on a timeline that ties its relevance to the winters it took place during or between. I am not sure what prompted this shift, but I suspect when I came home I needed something to hold onto, something to build my identity around after all the shape shifting it had been through. Skiing housed my oldest and dearest memories. It was a natural thing to grasp with complete, pure, life-enhancing enthusiasm.
All of our stories that got us here are different, but we are all here together. We are people who live for winter. We tie the events of our lives to how many inches were had that season, its a point of reference that keeps everything straight. As we anticipate the coming season, we wonder what is in store for us. How will we shift with the storms and dry spells? What adventures will greet us? What challenges and turn-arounds are going to test our character? Who will come into our lives as new partners? What will we learn from them, and what will we uncover about ourselves in that process?
I want to offer a challenge. I feel that are losing ourselves. We are losing sight of the reason we are drawn to the mountains, allured by the journey, and in need of the solitude. We have become obsessed with talking about what we can do… so caught up in shoving it in faces, we forget to just experience the endeavor. We forget that simple happiness and exhilaration we felt the first time we found these wild spaces, before so many distractions lived in our pocket. We envision how the audience is going to react to our showing and telling of it before returning to the car. I want to raise awareness to this issue, because I am tired of turning these extremely healing experiences into social media content. I am tired of being surrounded by others who are also trapped beneath presentation pressure. I want to set us free.
This prompting came early this summer. In Utah there are a few chutes that are perfectly guarded from the warm desert sun. They offer a low quality return for a high physical investment into late July. I met with a friend to ski one of these chutes with two new partners. One of which managed to fill the entire time driving up the canyon with his stories of how fast his times were in his guiding course, what mountains he had climbed, where he had traveled to, how many different knots he could tie, you know the type. The only time his steady spew remotely resembled a conversation was when he had the nerve to ask my friend about what she learned in a bad ass all-women’s mountaineering course she had just completed. It became apparent shortly after the elicited response, that the question was a calculated opportunity to grill her on the technical terms of the rescue systems and display how much more he knew on the topic than she did.
There is a funny irony in spewing. The more you spew, the more insecure you appear. I felt relief getting out of the car. I hiked the bare crests of the mountain above the snow fields. I had left my skins at home which created cause for concern when everyone else turned up with theirs, but as it turned out I could move faster hiking efficient lines in my trail shoes, than they could skinning the meandering snow patches. As I moved farther up the mountain and further into seclusion, I heard the advice I received from an old Kiwi I shared a New Zealand hut with years ago, “You know what they say, never brag about how fast you did something. Because there is always going to be someone out there who did it faster.”
This humility is instilled in New Zealand culture. As a member of American society where everything is a competition, it was so refreshing to live somewhere where just being is more important than being the best. One of the most admirable men in history was Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest. In a time where parties from different countries raced to the top, Hillary was a mountaineer from New Zealand in a team of Englishmen. The team had no plan or expectation for him to summit. When he returned after more accomplished members of the team had gone before him and failed, he simply and causally said, “We knocked the Bastard off”. I don’t know anything more Kiwi than that. What I adore even more about this story, is that Hilary did not get a picture of himself on the summit. He took a picture of his partner, the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. He didn’t want to bother teaching Tenzing how to use the camera, it was too cold. Can you imagine, achieving the greatest mountaineering feat known to man and not taking a picture of yourself doing it? In our selfie-obsessed society, we could all benefit from channeling a little more Hillary into our lives.
The problem we currently find ourselves in is how much technology has altered our culture and thought process. Social media has not only normalized a continuous stream of self-promoting, it has created a system that rewards braggarts and ironically dismisses the people who are actually living in the way we seek to achieve. Platforms like Instagram offer so much opportunity in making connections with people and sponsors, that we are all kind of trapped in forced compliance with it. The general mindset of mountain people has shifted so drastically, that the phrase “Photos or it didn’t happen!” went from being a sarcastic snide to a statement followed by “…but really, can you take one from that angle too?” Additionally, due to the collaboration of everyone creating similar content at a rapid rate, and the algorithms that are used to offer us more of the same feed we have already seen, everyone is actually bored of social media. They look at it mindlessly, they post mindlessly… we are trapped in this machine of habit. We are chasing that passion in a hamster wheel and wondering why everything feels so empty and redundant these days.
Lets change this. I know it is not realistic to do away with social media and other modern technologies completely, and I know so many positive connections and messages can be born from these platforms. But we can at least harness it’s power rather than feel controlled and driven by it. This season, do what you are doing because you love doing it. Not because you want to tell someone about it or show 1,000 people you will never really know. I challenge you be present this season. I challenge you watch every minute of the sunrise without putting it on your story. I challenge you to be in the moment. I challenge you to ski your best run in a place where no camera angle can capture you, linking perfect turn after perfect turn until you are in complete euphoria from the exhilaration, unaware of how out of breath or how fired your legs are until you come to a stop at the end, gasping, laughing, and choking all at once. Pursue the adventures you seek because you want to. Not because you have anything to prove to other people. Focus on doing the things you set yourself to. Do them humbly, do them thoughtfully, and ask yourself if it was a better experience than all the times you only focused on spewing.