A sign perched at the top reads, "Not a beginner trail."
Just past it, the terrain drops down steeply into the Upper Snowshoe terrain park, which connects to a longer, meandering route down to the Sierra-at-Tahoe main lodge. My friend Nixie and I have cycled through this park a few times already, playing mostly on the rollers, but my attention keeps getting drawn to a small jump situated halfway down the run. I keep wondering if I can make it, eyeing it down each time I speed past.
I'm still at a beginner skill level in the park (and new to snowboarding in general). Naturally, I’m scared of getting hurt. After a few runs of nervous deliberation (and replaying the snowboarding tips friends have shared with me along the way), I shove down my fear and aim for the jump. I launch straight up into the air, heart in my throat. In that split second of being airborne, I panic and realize I'm definitely not going to land this one. I fall, hard. Adrenaline surges through me and every particle in my body is screaming, "FAIL!" Besides the physical pain, this is straight-up embarrassing.
On my back, I yell out in frustration. But then Nixie swings past me and calls out, "Dang girl, you went straight for it!" And I take a second to think, "Yeah. You know what? I did!" I laugh it off, shake the snow off my jacket, and keep riding.
Snowboarding is a physical challenge, but it's also a lot more than that. Yes, you get your share of faceplants and bruises, but you also gain determination and tenacity from powering through your blunders. For me, it’s 20% muscle memory, 80% mental energy. When you learn to snowboard, fear is a big part of the territory, but the courage it takes to face any fear — big or small — is just as integral to the sport as the physical feats. The mental strength you develop on the mountain can be willed forward for anything else you want to do.
When I decided to forego a full-time job and pursue a freelance career instead, I experienced the same knot of fear in my throat and hammering heart that happens when I try something new on the mountain: my first toe-turn for example, or a scary tree run, or that jump in the Upper Snowshoe park. In this off-hill instance, I was abandoning the security of a 9-5 for a more capricious and flexible way of earning a living. On top of that, I was newly single and had just recently recovered from a car crash. Everything was frightening as hell. But in those moments of intense fear, I summoned the ability that I've developed in snowboarding: to let go, charge forward, and most importantly, to commit. The thing is, even if we meet failure (which is inevitable for all of us), the triumph of facing a fear can be more powerful than the disappointment of not succeeding.
Knowing that we can break through the barriers of our fear makes failure a lot less daunting.
Sometimes, I feel like being on the mountain and spending time on the slopes is really just a big metaphor for life. Some days we're crushing it, others we're doing nothing more than simply cruising, and the days we're struggling are often the ones we learn the most about ourselves — like understanding that we always have the power to pick ourselves back up and ride it out. ∆