When you choose your partners first and your mission second, you set yourself up to succeed at playing the long game. Over a long life spent in wild places, the friends you make will be unlike the ones you make in day-to-day life. Risk, reward, trust and a deep connection to the natural world are elements of a friendship that last a lifetime. Prioritize the people you choose to go big with, and over time you will succeed at the missions – and you will do it in a way that will leave a mark on your life. The memories that I have shared with people I really care about and trust – far outweigh the memories of the terrain and conditions.
There are many factors that influence our survival in the very dangerous game of Big Mountain riding, snowpack, weather conditions, terrain choice are obvious factors. But the biggest determinant of survival in my mind – are the partners I choose, the conversations we do or don’t have, the priorities that we establish, the margins we maintain, or don’t. Nothing matters more than the people you travel with.
Over many years of high mountain experience you and your partners develop a culture – a way of playing the game that is unique to your crew. You build that culture everyday you go out with the language you use, the vibe you put out can either reflect respect, or dismissal.
There is no one right culture, but there are threads that connect the cultures of great teams. Create a communication culture, even on the simple days – process, question, discuss your observations of the natural world around you. Be a listener, someone who seeks the perspective of the team. Draw out the quiet, the less experienced ones. Create a culture where immersion in the environment is a shared experience. Great decisions are born of great observations. You can’t interpret what you have not already observed. Observe constantly
We don’t always pay the consequences of our mistakes. Sometimes a little luck can prevent a mistake from becoming an accident. Sometimes we make poor choices, and get away with it. Conversely sometimes we get smacked down, even though we made 99 great decisions, and one small mistake.
Because you sent the line, and came home to tell the tale, doesn’t necessarily mean you felt proud of your decisions.
Surviving a long life in avalanche terrain requires a lot of humility. The worst mistake I ever made, resulted in…nothing. We all came home safely. But when I reflect on that January day, I cringe. I got so lucky that day. Some of the worst accidents I have seen were due to mistakes far smaller than the ones I made that day.
Big mountain riding is a game of personal judgement, of risk measurement and one of the ways we get better at perfecting this imperfect art, is through experience. Never miss the chance to expose and critique your own mistakes.