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19December 2020

Gotta get up to get down: how to get strong for 2021

“No big deal. It’ll be a cruisy walk.”

It may have already been past five in the afternoon, but above the arctic circle in Norway, in mid-May, we had plenty of daylight.

And, apparently, plenty of confidence as we assessed our objective.

The ski hill in Narvik had officially closed a couple weeks prior, but those willing to put on skins and walk up the 875 metres (2,870 feet) of vertical were still welcome to enjoy the slopes’ spring conditions.

Jeff and I set off from the parking area, a few other parties visible above, looking forward to some late-day corn snow turns.

We climbed steadily up the groomers, Jeff picking the line to try to keep our steps even and gradual, the daytime melt layer sticking well underfoot.

About half-way up, our only choice in any direction was one steeper-than-comfortable pitch, for maybe a hundred metres.

It was also at that time that we reached an elevation where the top layer of soft snow was already re-freezing, hardening into ice.

The pitch of the slope combined with the firm, nearly-impossible-to-find-an-edge surface meant that switchbacking, the typical approach for a steep climb, was out of the question.

Nothing to do but grind straight up.

I think because I learned to ski in deep snow, trusting my edges on hardpack has always felt unnatural. Whenever I’m on an open slope where there’s nothing to sink into, even a little bit, my brain starts flooding me with images of falling, sliding, and having no way to stop.

The original doomscrolling. No apps required.

So, knowing this about me, as we took step after step up that steep icy section, Jeff offered words of encouragement:

“Yep, you’ve got it. Just small, deliberate steps…

“Make sure you keep pressing into those feet and stand up tall…

“Just needs a delicate touch. We’ll be there in no time…”

Meanwhile, as it was getting steep enough to death-grip our poles just to stay upright, the highest heel on our touring bindings well under-gunned, Jeff was thinking the same thing I was.

God, if she falls right now, it’s gonna be a while before she stops.

And that’s when Jeff slipped.

One of his steps didn’t hold, and gravity grabbed the opportunity, skidding him back towards me while he made a V with his skis and dug in with everything he had.

He righted himself just in time, but I was rattled.

My mind was NOT visualizing success.

I needed to get to the top of this section. Now.

In that moment I knew the worst thing I could do was panic and lean forward, trying to will myself closer to the top of the slope, but losing that oh-so-essential friction under foot.

So what did I do?

I panicked and leaned forward, trying to will myself closer to the top of the slope, but losing that oh-so-essential friction under foot.

Oh, and I think I also made a noise you could only call a shriek.

I stumbled, barely held onto it, and somehow managed to not fall to the very bottom of the earth.

I think I recall threatening to take my skis off, interspersed with a few four-letter words, but couldn’t find the balance to attempt it.

We made it to the top.

Turns out the adrenaline rush happened on the way up. The ski down, in the low arctic sun, drinking in the views of the fjord, was the cruisy part.

What are you willing to stick with?

When we have a goal in our sights, there’s moments when we’re ALL IN with commitment – like when you’re hanging on by literal threads on an icy slope – and then sometimes, along the way, we lose that drive.

Because usually, getting to the top, at some point, gets hard.

It explains the instant camaraderie with the people you meet at the top of a mountain. You know they all went through something to get here. They persevered when they could have given up.

And if you’re thinking that this year has been ENOUGH already, and the last thing you want to think about is endurance, I share this from the personal experience of two people, living through 2020 with you, who found comfort in the steady work of sticking with ourselves.

What could we control? Training for the season ahead.

So. We offer you this.

Skiing is the best way to get stronger for skiing. But when you can’t, on days when half of it is Zoom meetings, or you’re waiting for the day your buddy is free, you can stick with your own body, and make it stronger for the sport you love.

The world needs a lot from us right now. It needs your strength. And it needs your joy.

A new year is approaching. Get strong. Stay strong. Go skiing.

 

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