Category Archives: Writing

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Standard

I haven’t been here in a while. Instead, I’ve been working on a novel like a madwoman and neglecting my blog. While this isn’t a typical author’s blog, where I tell you all about my WIP and get you excited so maybe you’ll pre-order my book (although that’s okay too *wink wink*), I thought I’d share a secret with you.

Well not a secret really. More like a preview.

In the first chapter of my novel the main character witnesses an avalanche that destroys a chairlift. But here’s the kicker: I wrote that chapter way back in November. Before we set off the avalanche that destroyed Chair 6. And why am I telling you this now?

Because it’s kind of freaking me out.

The real avalanche that took out Chair 6

How to destroy a chairlift in ninety seconds

As some of you might know, the big kahuna that destroyed the lift in March was the biggest slide that area has most likely ever seen. In the snow science world, we have some pretty brainy professor types that talk about things like alpha and beta angles. An alpha angle is also known as the angle of reach and beta angles are a little more complicated than that. I’m not going to go into it all here, because it would take a while and I’m not a brainy professor type myself. But in essence these angles are used in zoning and land use planning and at ski areas to determine just how far a potential avalanche can go.

And guess what? The Chair 6 slide exceeded the alpha angle by a large margin.

But what is even weirder, and the thing that’s freaking me out a tiny bit, is that I wrote a chapter in a work of fiction that very much resembled the Chair 6 slide. Before it even happened. Except in my book, of course, there was even more at stake. In fiction we don’t have to adhere to rules of physics like alpha angles. That’s why we author types write fiction–so we can put our main characters in dire straits and then turn the heat up on them. It’s fun stuff, and one reason that I hope if there really is a Master Galactic Puppeteer in the sky keeping an eye on the human race, I really hope He or She is into writing fiction. Because if so, we’re all doomed.

But I digress.

Now that I got that off my chest I feel better. I didn’t want anyone reading my future novel and saying, “Well duh Kim. Where’d you get that idea?” Because I actually wrote it first. I just hope that the other plot points in the novel don’t some how come true. Because if so, well, we’re all in for a wild ride.

 

Is There a Cure for Re-entry Syndrome?

Standard
Porters carrying loads below Kabru Massif

Porters carrying loads below Kabru Massif

I just returned from a long trip abroad. Three weeks in the Himalayas. It was glorious. It was magical. It was horrifying.

Moments of grandeur and high-mountain beauty slice against images of filth and extreme poverty. But what endures as I try to sift through my everyday life, is the memory of smiling locals and a feeling of what can only be described as re-entry syndrome.

I’m no stranger to re-entry syndrome. When I got off a three-week trip on the Grand Canyon several years ago, I stumbled around in a fog for weeks. My usual sense of purpose and industry had vanished. I was left with the big questions that had arisen while floating the Colorado, but none of the simple answers that had reverberated off the canyon walls.

It’s the same now.

Sikkim is a state in India. Wedged between Nepal and Bhutan and butted up against Chinese Tibet, Sikkim was a separate kingdom until 1975. In some ways, it is more Nepali than Indian, and our trek took us along the border between the two countries. Goecha La, our high point, after two weeks on the trail, brought us to within 5 kms of Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world which borders Nepal and Sikkim.

sikkim himalayas

Prayer flags mark the pass into Dzongri

Yak herders bring the animals back to camp

Yak herders bring the animals back to camp

I loved walking amongst these giant mountains. Every morning the sun rose to reveal new ridges and glaciers, taller peaks than the day before and rows and rows of sharp beauty. I especially loved the “not-thinking” required in trekking. We had porters and yaks to carry the heavy gear. My job was only to eat, sleep and walk. I’d pictured spending hours on the trail sorting through the minutiae of my mind–plotting my upcoming book, making a final decision about whether or not to continue my radio show, figuring out how and where and if I could manage to create some significant work.

But that’s not how it worked.

Whole days went by and I just walked. No mental plans were made. No epiphanies found.

Chortens above Dzongri, Sikkim

Chortens above Dzongri, Sikkim

I wondered if I were squandering my chance. After months of research for my latest book and years of plotting and scheming, this was my opportunity to catch up. To let my mind wander. To come up with my next big idea.

Camp, 14,000 feet

Camp, 14,000 feet

Instead I just looked around. I gaped at the mountain view. I cried at the scenes of poverty in the cities. Some days, while hiking along the base of towering peaks, the tears flowed for no apparent reason. Maybe this was gratitude, I told myself. But even that thought vanished in the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe it’s an altitude thing. Perhaps I was a little hypoxic.

Or maybe the physical act of walking was erasing my need to analyze and understand every little emotion and idea that entered my brain.

Maybe I simply needed to be.

Now I’m home, and I’m experiencing reverse culture-shock. There should be a to-do list on my desk a mile long getting checked off one by one. I should be getting back into the groove, preparing for the ski season, stocking up at Costco, obsessing over the weather forecast.

Instead, I feel like I’m floating. Somewhere between the Himalayas and my old life is a new path twisting in front of me like a toy snake. I’ll find it soon enough.

But I’m not in any hurry.

The Kind of Person that says WOO HOO

Standard
kim kircher

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!!!

enthusiasm

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!!

We’re ALL Winners: Free E-Books, The Next 15 Minutes

Standard
Get Your Free E-Book Today

Get Your Free E-Book Today

Today I’m celebrating. My memoir, The Next 15 Minutes, has been honored by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA) with the Harold Hirsch award for excellence in journalism in the Book category. The Next 15 Minutes, if you’re new here, is the high-octane story of how lessons learned as a ski patroller helped me get through my husband’s harrowing cancer diagnosis. More adventure-story than medical-memoir, this book reveals what it’s like to make the ski industry your life and how to use our voluntary adventures to get through real-life disasters. I’ve always believed that we get out on the edge to see what we’re made of. But we don’t expect to use that expertise in a real emergency. Until we have no other choice.

If you haven’t yet read the book, now’s the time.

Harold_Hirsch

Thanks NASJA!

The Book category is only given every three years. Judges are chosen based on their expertise in the field, and are not members of the organization. The award is named for Harold Hirsch, a long-time ski journalist, and member of the NASJA Board.

I’m thrilled to be honored by NASJA. My late father-in-law, Everett Kircher, was given NASJA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Mammoth, CA in 1999.

My husband and his brother, Steve, accepted the honor in their father’s name. It’s fitting that I received my award in Mammoth 14 years later.

To celebrate, my publisher, Behler Publications, is giving away free e-books of THE NEXT 15 MINUTES today and tomorrow. Just email Lynn Price at: lynn_at_behlerpublications.com (replace “_at_” with @ symbol) and put FREE NEXT 15 MINUTES in the Subject line. Hurry. This special celebration ends tomorrow.

Yea!

This Proves it: Skiers Make Better Lovers

Standard

Let’s face it. I’m a lucky woman. When not getting paid to ski around, start avalanches with explosives and help injured skiers and snowboarders, I write about it (see, I’m learning to include snowboarders in the discussion, maybe I’m not such a Bad Kim after all.) While researching my new book on risk and action sports, I’ve talked to thrilling athletes, interviewed fascinating scientists and unearthed interesting archives. Yesterday I found this 34-year-old newspaper clipping about skiing and risk, and why it makes us better lovers and well, quite frankly, better people. Of course, this was written before snowboarding, so I’m sure it would apply to them as well. This article was originally published in New London, Connecticut’s Daily The Day January 20th, 1978. It’s a keeper.

Skiers Are Better Lovers Part 1

Skiers Part 2

This sort of proves it. Skiing is good for you. What Sol Roy Rosenthal didn’t know about back in the 70s was the connection that dopamine played in our reward system. The euphoria experienced by extreme athletes is connected to dopamine, which makes us want to keep coming back to the slopes or the waves or the rock walls and experience it again. But most intriguing in Rosenthal’s research is how he claims taking calculated risks increases our awareness while pinpointing our focus, sort of opening us while honing us in all at once. If seeing the big picture with the ability to focus on the moment doesn’t make us better people, better lovers and better skiers (or snowboarders), than I don’t know what will.

Doing it for the Thrill

Standard
Verbier Extreme Spectators

Verbier Extreme Spectators

“Sensation-seekers”, according to psychologists, fill their days with thrilling adventures and novel experiences. Their brains seek more sensation, more of a dopamine kick, more of that optimal flow moment than the rest of the population.

Psychologists have been watching sensation seekers for decades, comparing skydivers to reckless drivers and gamblers, lumping them all together into a wide category of “risk-takers”. Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman created a personality test for sensation seeking, check it out and see where you stack up.

Neuroscientists have recently dipped into the “sensation-seeking” brain and found more enlightening discoveries. I recently interviewed Cynthia Thomson of the University of British Columbia for my upcoming book on action sports. Thomson focused her PhD study on skiers and dopamine. Dopamine is the brain’s way of offering motivation in the form of a reward. It provides that nice kick of good-feeling reverie after we accomplish something big. And it turns out, not all brains handle dopamine the same way. Thomson found that skiers tend to have a variant of the DRD4 dopamine receptor that affects the way their brain handles dopamine. In other words, they needed more thrill to get the same kick.

Just another day in Chamonix

Just another day in Chamonix

Where psychologists and neuroscientists diverge is by lumping together athletes and addicts. In Thomson’s initial study, she didn’t separate them either. But she was able to determine the difference in later work. In addition to being sensation-seekers, addicts also score high for impulsivity. This is not so for high-risk athletes. At least not the ones that stick around. Just imagine an action sport athlete that was also highly impulsive. He or she wouldn’t be around long. Involvement in a risky sport, such as skiing, skydiving or surfing requires careful planning and extensive training. Anyone jumping off cliffs without first checking the landing (acting impulsively) isn’t going to live very long. Impulsivity tends to fade as we age, whereas sensation-seeking remains more stable.

Stevens Pass Boundary warning

Stevens Pass Boundary warning

I believe that as we get older and log more experiences our judgement overrides our impulsivity. This is evident in my job as a ski patroller and EMT. I’ve seen enough head injuries to wear a helmet while skiing. I’ve watched avalanches rip down slopes and break apart trees enough times to choose my line carefully. In many ways, I’ve gained judgement by learning from others’ mistakes. But I’ve also had my fair share of close calls.

My new book project, which I’m calling Crystalized: Finding Clarity on the Edge (but that title probably won’t last, so don’t bother googling it just yet) will take a look at the hows and whys of participation in action sports. I will especially look at my own experiences with dopamine-inducing sports and try to determine where I stack up against the experts. Most of the time I wonder what they have that I don’t have. Why are they able to huck bigger jumps, surf bigger waves, run scarier rapids and overall scare the shit out of me watching them from the near sidelines? Maybe it’s their DRD4 dopamine receptors. Or perhaps it’s their training. Or maybe I’m just a natural born scaredy-cat in comparison.

The best part about this book is the opportunity to interview some amazing athletes and brilliant scientists. I will be sharing some of these interviews here. I will also start hosting a radio show next month at Voice America, an internet radio site, where I will have many of them as guests on the show. (Hopefully you will join me for those interviews.)

Cynthia Thomson’s research suggests that some individuals need more thrill than others. If so, she posits that skiing and other action sports offer a viable avenue for sensation seeking, rather than the more destructive types of negative risks often associated with the term. Either way, her research shows there could be a genetic link to sensation seeking after all.

As if I needed another reason to go skiing.

Are You a Thrill Seeker?

Standard

Skydiving: pure transcendence

We all take risks. Whether schussing down a snowy couloir or speaking in front of a group, we  have all known the feeling of pushing our own envelope. Stepping into our fear can bring moments of great enlightenment. The thrilling edge between danger and suicide found in today’s surge of outdoor adventures has replaced religious asceticism as the way to transcendence.

Jumping out of airplanes and flying off cliffs is the new Nirvana.

Marvin Zuckerman, a psychology professor from University of Delaware, termed the phrase “sensation-seeker” for those that search for novelty and excitement. Chemicals in our brain govern our risk reward calculus. When we enjoy a thrill, our brains are flooded with dopamine, our own personal pleasure cocktail. Dopamine sits on our shoulder woohooing and heehawing while we walk the thin line of danger. Other chemicals, namely MAO monoamine oxidase, temper that enthusiasm. MAO gobbles up the dopamine sluicing through our brain, all the while whispering into our other ear, telling us to “watch out, this could be dangerous.”

Turns out, dopamine to MAO ratios differ in each of us. Risk-taking behavior is 60% determined by our genes, while the rest is shaped by our environment. Thrill seeking tends to run in the family. And yet, it too, can be learned.

I am fascinated by this slackline between risk and reward. As predicted by neuroscientists and psychologists, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for risk has diminished. Still, I score high on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking Scale. This test was developed to determine factors in all risk-takers, only one of which is thrill-seeking and adventure. But as we grow older, we develop more MAO, and that whispery voice warning us of risk grows stronger.

Find out where you stand on the scale. Just click on the image below to go to the test. Were you surprised by the results?