Chill Out, Re-Boot, Spring Forward

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Sometimes it feels like the chilly treadmill that is winter will never end. The car will always be wet and filthy, the socks will stay stinky, the dry skin will remain stuffed under layers of fleece, and the weekends will be a blur of thawing feet and reheated leftovers. And then finally, it happens. The ice releases all the snow off the roof, spontaneous on-mountain picnics appear, parking lot tailgates pop up, the costumes come out and spring finally arrives.

I had the noble intention to offer up a mid-March post as a lifeline to parents in the grip of championship season. A very precious few athletes emerge from their various championships giving themselves a satisfied high-five. The vast majority finish out the season with a long list of unrealized goals and unfinished business—missed opportunities, suboptimal choices, unfortunate timing, unfair circumstances and just plain bad luck. The further you get along the competition continuum, the harder these disappointments hit and the more terminal they can feel.

I figured I’d missed the chance for offering any helpful consolation once the acute trauma had passed, and the lingering effects had melted into the slushy pile of fun races and pond skims. Then last weekend, a parent asked me how to help her child get over the disappointment that is the inevitable by-product of lofty goals and expectations.

My answer is the same as it is for most situations, in and beyond ski racing. Look ahead. Nobody ever had a great run by skiing fast just to the next gate. You go fast by skiing through that gate to the next one and the next one, until you get to the finish. And then you keep going to the next starting line and all of the gates that lay beyond it. The same goes for a ski season. The most productive way to finish out one season, however it ended, is by looking forward to the next.

As a skier there is so much to love about this time of year, but my favorite thing is seeing kids shed disappointment and plunge into their pure love of the sport. That includes lots of fun time skiing with friends in low key races and on freeskiing adventures. Literally and figuratively, the racing that does go on comes liberally sprinkled with grains of salt.

The boom and bust feel of being a ski racer in this country is well expressed in the Holy Grail like quest for end-of-year rankings, lists that will thrash around wildly in the final throes of the season. When the frenzy ends, these results are just part of the hand each athlete is dealt for the following year. The rest is about preparation, and lining up all of the factors in your control. No matter how good or bad your hand, everyone still needs to show up and play the game. It will never go quite as expected but the kids who preserve their love of the sport, and muster the enthusiasm to keep finding ways to improve, will always win.

Those athletes use the springtime breathing space to honestly reflect. Rather than stewing on what went wrong, or chalking it up to “a tough sport” they engage in a relentless curiosity to assess the past season; what can they improve in mental and physical preparation, tactics, race selection, equipment, program? Identifying these opportunities, and making deliberate steps towards them, can replace the helplessness of disappointment with a rush of agency for a journey into new territory.

As an added bonus this spring, there is plenty of snow on the ground all across North American ski country. It’s all the best vibes of ski culture, without the pressure of high stakes competition. Shifting focus to next year and enacting changes also reinforces commitment to the long road. The spring re-boot is like planting the seeds that will ultimately fill the barn with hay in November.

On the topic of patience and the long road, I have a book to recommend to anyone involved with youth sports. Good for a Girl by elite runner Lauren Fleshman offers incredible insight that speaks to girls and women in sport and also to anyone in a position to improve the landscape of youth sports. The book also challenged deeply ingrained assumptions related to skier development, namely that women mature earlier than men and therefore develop in sport on an accelerated time clock. The info Fleshman presents turns that assumption on its head, and corroborates the reality of the many female skiers we have seen break through and peak later.

There is so much in this book to unpack that it will be its own post, but for now, suffice to say that her story is an epic long road journey full of unexpected potholes and sharp turns. In addition to opening the conversation about how to protect girls and their love of sport, it’s a reminder of how many devastating failures, re-boots and humbling moments are involved in building a successful career. If you want a taste check out these blogs and podcasts:

Whether you’re skiing clear into summer in the west, or catching a couple more weeks in the east then hiking for your turns, enjoy every bit of spring’s flings. We’ve all earned it!

2 thoughts on “Chill Out, Re-Boot, Spring Forward”

  1. After working World Cup etc for nearly 30 years I so miss the piste. Two years of covid shut down and another year of hip replacement; your writing keeps my mind in the game! Ski Fast and Be Safe…………ThomyT

    • Oh I hope you get back out there! Thanks for reading and here’s hoping you’re back on piste next season!

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