Category Archives: Risk Taking

What Does it Mean to be a Woman in the Outdoor Industry?

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When SheJumps asked me to be a part of the defineFEMININE event this week at the Seattle Artcteryx store, I wasn’t quite sure what I had to bring to the table. Sure, I’m a woman in a pretty testosterone-heavy industry. Only 20-30% of ski patrollers are women. But I’ve never really thought of myself as all that unique.

I just finished my 26th season as a ski patroller at Crystal Mountain. That’s more than half my life (just barely, but who’s counting, right?). While considering what wisdom I might have to add to a group of amazing ladies offering support through participation in outdoor adventures, I realized that my attitude toward myself and my job have changed over the years. I never used to think about what it meant to be a female patroller.

The women of Crystal.

The women of Crystal.

I just put my head down and acted like one of the guys.

In fact, I probably pushed the testosterone level up a notch. If a group of us were headed into Southback for avalanche control, I’d be at the head of the pack, breaking trail in waist-deep snow. If another patroller laid down an auger challenge*, I’d be the first one out the door with my skis on. Race to the top of the Queen via hiking up from Powder Pass? I’d push myself until my lungs burned. The stairs to the Summit House were buried in two feet of snow drift? I’d be out there with a shovel and Pulaski until ever speck of ice was gone.

I didn’t want to be known as a good female patroller. I wanted to be known as a good patroller, period.

And I still do.

The climate for women in the outdoor industry is changing. Through groups like SheJumps and with the examples of badass professionals like Lynsey Dyer, Lel Tone and Elyse Saugstad, women are banning together to create a sisterhood.

Today’s sisterhood is supportive and inclusive. The rules of engagement haven’t changed. Professional outdoor women still have to be twice as strong as the guys, and we can never blame our PMS. At least not in front of the guys. Instead, we can rely on the burgeoning sisterhood of others like us–those that have forged the way and those that are just dipping their toes in for the first time.

At the defineFEMININE event Thursday night, I shared the stage with some amazing women. Diane Hoff paved the way for female climbers in the Northwest and served as the first female president of the Mountaineers. Kristina Ciari found her outdoor passion in backcountry skiing and is going on 43 consecutive months of turns all year, all while wearing a pink tutu. Jenny Abegg is coming off a year of van life, chasing the climbing dream across the globe. One of my favorite moments of the evening was Jenny’s description of some of the setbacks she had on her trip. She said, “the way I react to this matters.” And she’s right. We make our reality moment to moment. Claire Smallwood, co-founder of SheJumps shared her journey of shifting self-perceptions. Sometimes we never truly see our best self until we risk jumping in. Claire did that with SheJumps and a sisterhood was born.

I was honored to share my story with this amazing sisterhood. My hope is that more women can find their true strength by jumping into adventure.

*The auger is a designation held by the patroller who most recently fell while skiing in uniform. If one holds the auger (or actually is wearing the wooden auger bit around his or her neck), he or she can challenge other patrollers for a run. If the other patrollers refuse to join the challenge, the auger holder can simply pass it over to the refusee.

Surfing: The Power of Trying Something Hard

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Let’s face it. Surfing is hard.

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

This is the least embarrassing photo, which says something

I just returned from a week surfing with Hillary Harrison at Peaks and Swells Surf Camp in Costa Rica. In the four years since John and I first went to Hillary’s camp my surfing hasn’t exactly improved. Granted, I’m a fair weather surfer. From the get go, I knew that surfing would never replace skiing as the sport I obsess about. I never planned on checking the swell forecast as carefully as I follow low pressure snow-producing storms in the Pacific.

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Smiles, sunset, surf and fresh coconut

But now, that might be changing.

First, let me tell you about the surf camp. It’s not just about surfing. There’s also yoga, massage, and all-organic meals. And of course, the daily walk to Montezuma for gelato. This place is more like a retreat than a “camp.” Every detail is handled for you, and once you arrive there are no real decisions to make. We attended the family camp with John’s daughter. One of the most appealing components of surfing is the fact that we can do it as a family. I’m not the kind of parent that truly loves watching the kids while they do their own sport (is anyone?). I’d rather be in there too, cheering alongside them.

The coaches at Peaks and Swells are fabulous. Each one of them exudes positivity. Lead instructor Victoria Ross actually smiles the entire time she’s talking. I tried it on for size, but it sounds ridiculous on me (and I’m okay with that). Victoria is an Aussie, so the accent helps. But her happy vibe infected every of her students. Even in the midst of their own cool surfer style, somehow all the instructors bring you along with them on the ride. This is a very special place.

Learning the pop up

Victoria teaching the pop-up

What I learned at Peaks and Swells is the importance (and the power) of sucking. It’s okay not to excel. It’s fine to look clumsy and awkward. It’s normal to be embarrassed. The first day of surfing at Peaks and Swells ends in a photo and video viewing of the day’s adventures in the water, and those feelings of awkward embarrassment are impossible to avoid. So I figured that I might as well embrace them.

If you never let yourself look like an ass, than you probably aren’t learning anything new. Which means you probably aren’t growing. The pressure to look good, and stylish, and coiffed, and camera-ready at all times is higher than ever. It’s only when you stop worrying about what you might look like that you really drop into flow. Only when you cease thinking of yourself from the third person and truly step into who you are in the moment, can you find happiness.

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The sunset is always stylish

Trying something hard, like surfing, is a risk. There’s a risk (albeit small) of getting injured. But the bigger risk is simply embarrassing yourself. One of the surf coaches last week quoted a recent student you asked her, “when does the sexy part of surfing start?”

Let me be clear. Surfing is not sexy when you’re a beginner. There’s nothing sexy or stylish about that roll of wet snot dripping from your nose when you first pop up on your board. Nor is it very sexy when your bathing suit comes unseated from around your backside. The red eyes from that surprise wave that crashed on your head and the bruises on your hips and elbows from your failed pop-ups don’t scream sexy either.

Beginners are just surviving out there. We don’t care about what we look like. That is, until the photos go up on the screen during happy hour and we wonder yet again, so when does the sexy part start?

Evelyn makes it look easy

Evelyn makes it look easy

But I applaud every single person carrying their ungainly boards out into the surf to give it a go anyways. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re trying something hard.

I’ve written about this before, but adversity is good for you. Trying (and even sucking at) something new changes your brain. We crave novelty. Our brains release dopamine when we have a new experience. It’s the brain’s way of telling us to keep at it. When old habits and skills no longer require much of us, it’s time to pick up a new skill. In addition to surfing this week, I learned another important skill. Humility.

But there are moments that make it all worthwhile. When you catch the wave just right–for me it was catching a green wave and popping up in time to feel myself drop into the trough–the feeling buoys you up. You are in flow. You completely forget about what you look like from the outside; instead you are focused entirely on the task before you. And when surfing is the task before you, there’s nothing quite like it.

Except, of course, skiing powder.

Off The Grid

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The open path before me

The open path before me, photo courtesy of Sue Ershler

Walt Whitman put it best when he said, “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose. Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune. Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”

Tomorrow I leave for Sikkim, a state in India wedged between Bhutan and Nepal. I will be officially off the grid. Incommunicado. Out of the loop. Trekking through the Himalayas. Skirting Kanchenjunga. Completely unplugged.

But just in case you want to follow our progress, one member of our group will be posting satellite dispatches to his website markursino.com.

Satellite dispatches. Don’t you like the way that sounds? Feel free to follow along. Or not.

I have two radio shows “in the can,” as they say. So enjoy Tracy Moseley and Lynne Cox in the next two weeks. After that, we’ll see what happens. I’m up for anything.

Scary Gondola Ride

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Gondola in wind

Yikes

Mountain weather is the real deal. Wind, snow, sun, even rain can change a beautiful scene to a pretty darn scary one.  I found this video on unofficialnetworks and had to share it.

We often have to shut the upper mountain down at Crystal due to high winds. And sometimes that seems questionable, especially from the relative calm of the valley bottom. Take a look at this video and consider whether you’d rather be riding in this cabin in high wind wishing you were “down there” or standing at the bottom wishing you were “up there.” Yikes.

The Kind of Person that says WOO HOO

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Woo Hoo!!

“I wish I was the kind of person that said, Woo Hoo.” A college friend once told me. Sandra is elegant, she is sophisticated, she is well put-together. But she’s not the type of person to sling high-fives around and you know, yell at the top of her lungs.

Over the years I’ve wondered myself about the importance of the Woo Hoo. Am I the kind of person that says, Woo Hoo? What is the virtue of maximum enthusiasm?

What’s the value of not being cool and instead letting our excitement wash over us in an embarrassing vocal outburst?

When Sandra made that declaration all those years ago, I had agreed in a sort of “humble brag”. Too bad we aren’t like those pathetic frat boys getting all excited about the smallest little thing.

Dude! That was awesome! High-Five!

Instead I melted under a blanket of cool, blended into the gray surroundings of Evergreen State College, and didn’t make waves.

Now, as I embark again on the book publishing process, I’ve decided to make a change. I am going to be the kind of person that declares, Woo Hoo! anytime my new project gains even a slight bit of momentum. So, here I am waving my freak flag, because I have a new book and I have a new agent and he’s right now, as I type, sending it out to publishing houses.  And you know what? That deserves an all caps WOO HOO!!!

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Jumping for joy on the banks of the Salmon River

What is this new book about, you might ask? (I can hear you asking, and I’m letting out a very tiny woo hoo right now.) The book examines the risks and rewards in extreme sports. Looking at athlete’s stories and going beyond the “adrenaline junkie” stereotype to examine the brain science and experience of getting out on the edge.

One thing I’ve learned so far about the book publishing world, is that there’s no final destination. Instead, I have learned to celebrate each little milestone, every little moment and encouragement along the way. I’ll be keeping y’all posted on the book’s progress, and taking the time to high-five myself along the way (which isn’t as awkward as you might think, it’s kind of like clapping, but even better).

So you know what?

WOO HOO!!

Wingsuit Flying: Pushing (and Shoving) the Envelope

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JT Holmes

JT Holmes

When JT Holmes and Andy Farrington take to the skies, they aren’t just falling through the air.

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They’re flying. BASE jumpers, wing suit pilots, skiers, and stuntmen, JT and Andy are quintessential thrill seekers.

But what arms these two with the ability to leap over the edge? When every cell in their body must be telling them to step away from the abyss, how can they counter that urge for self-preservation and take that jump?

Every season more jumpers take to the skies, and every season more of them die.

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Redbull Airforce team member Andy Farrington

Do these two guys ever get scared? And if so, do they ever listen to those fears and walk away.

Or does their sport require them to ignore that tiny voice on their shoulder reminding them to BE CAREFUL? I’ll be asking these questions and more this week when I interview them both on my show.

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Andy is returning to The Edge Radio this week along with JT to talk about BASE jumping, wingsuit flying and their upcoming project with Red Bull, when they go to the Juneau icecap to explore the edge of airborne and snow sports. You don’t want to miss this one. Leave your comments or questions here and I’ll be sure to ask. Or call in at 1-888-346-9144 live tomorrow at 8am.

The Power of a First Descent

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At the age of 13, Brad Ludden’s parents told him he could do anything he wanted with his life. He took it literally and did the thing he loved the most–whitewater kayaking. By 18 he was living his dream; he had signed on as Nike’s first sponsored whitewater kayaker, was on the cover of Outside Magazine, traveling the globe in search of first descents on remote rivers, and filming with the largest production companies in the outdoor industry.

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Brad Ludden dropping in at Khao Yai

Despite all of his success, something was missing. Brad wanted to share the positive bounty of whitewater kayaking by giving the gift of outdoor adventure to others who needed it more.

After watching his Aunt fight cancer, he started First Descents, an organization that provides free outdoor adventure therapy to young adults with cancer. The organization has helped over 2,000 young adults live beyond their disease by providing them free multi-day adventure experiences.

Brad is an excellent example of someone spreading the love. Perhaps because of his early success, and the ultimate push to ever-increasing risk that comes with it, Brad saw beyond his own experiences. He turned his striving for excellence into a desire to share his experiences with others.

Brad could have simply brought his friends kayaking. Or he could have been happy with the first 15 clients that experienced the transformative power of moving water that first summer. But that wasn’t enough.

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Brad is still in the forefront at First Descents, opening new participants to outdoor adventures, and his work is truly making a difference.

Join me this Wednesday at 8 am Pacific on The Edge Radio when I talk to Brad Ludden about his own first descents, the First Descents organization and the power of getting out on the edge.