I Screwed Up – Looking Back on the Y-Not Couloir

I screwed up. This past week I have been trying to figure out if I got unlucky or made a mistake when I was hit by an avalanche and knocked off a 40′ cliff and then dragged 250′ down a tight rocky chute.

Up the Y down the Y-Not. PC: Andrew McLean

Today, it was pointed out to me that just two weeks prior to my incident, a party in the same couloir had nearly the exact same experience. They were able to take shelter and wait out the danger and descend later in the day. To quote the other party for their account on the Utah Avalanche Center website, “My partner and I got pinned down in the ynot by wet sluffing today”, “we made a pretty incredible miscalculation. We’re very lucky that no one was seriously hurt or worse.” I try to read all avalanche reports posted on the UAC and as many observations as I can. I had gotten lazy over the past few weeks.

Grey descending the Y-Not. This is what bad decisions look like sometimes

One way I have tried to “make myself feel better” is by justifying our decisions that day by seeing how many other people made the same decision. There were 6-10 people ahead of us on our ascent up the Y couloir. Back at the parking lot there was a solo person who was planning to go up and ski the Y-Not couloir and it was pointed out to me on social media that the Y-Not couloir was skied by another party right after us on the same day as the incident. I tried to tell myself this meant that my choice wasn’t that bad. However, really it just means that a bunch of people all made the same bad choice.

Bruised hip

It has also been hard to tease apart bad luck from the decision making process. Many people told me in person and on social media that, “you got unlucky”, or “when you expose yourself to as much time in the backcountry as I do, something is bound to happen”, or “not much to learn, you just got unlucky.” I do think I got very unlucky last week. I got hit by the avalanche in the worst possible location in the whole couloir. However, I was standing at the worst possible location in the couloir during a dangerous time. I set myself up for failure. What was the chance that I got hit by an avalanche right where I was standing? 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? 1 in 10,000? Honestly when it comes to making decisions in avalanche terrain none of those are acceptable odds. 1 in 100,000 is the edge of too dangerous when we are constantly exposing ourselves to danger.

Grey demonstrating the correct way down the cliff

So did I get unlucky last week? Yes. Did I make poor decisions that made the unlucky outcome to high? Yes. Did a lot of other people also make poor decisions on the same day in the same line? Yes. Did I also get insanely lucky and come out unscathed? Yes, and to not look back and figure out where I went wrong, would only set me up to make more bad decisions in the future.
My hope in posting this is that people can learn from my mistakes. Not only learn from the specific mistake of not reading the avalanche reports and not assuming north facing lines have no exposure to warming of snow above them, but also to learn how to look back at a decision and evaluate it and the importance of talking publicly about a poor decision from a place of vulnerability and being okay with that.

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It’s that Time of Year

I often talk about how difficult spring can be for me. In spring all the snow is melting and I usually don’t have a real plan for the summer. I have always figured something out, but every spring I still stress about life, and what I want to do with mine. A sentiment that I think many skiers often experience.

Beautiful!

A photo posted by Aaron Rice (@airandrice) on

The last few years, I have essentially eliminated fall from my life. Not intentionally, it has just happened. I work all summer and then come October, I head to the mountains and begin winter, escaping most of fall. Or in the case of last year, I came back from Argentina and began winter right away. This year has been different. Summer in Vermont is short and quickly transitions to fall. Often winter takes it’s time arriving and we are left with a very long fall. The way I have arranged my life, I am experiencing a full fall this year for the first time in a while. 

Fall is not as easy as I remember. Excitement grows, just to be squashed by the next warm wave. The days are short and the temps are cold. Motivation to go on long rides with cold hands is hard to come by. No matter how much I hope the ski season has started, it really has yet to arrive. It is usually either too cold or wet for real good climbing. So what are we left with? Trail running is probably a good bet, but I can only do so much with out starting to be concerned about my knees.

Tis a very confusing time of year… #mtbvt @stowetrails #2point5mil #training

A video posted by Aaron Rice (@airandrice) on

 

The result is that motivation to do any physical activity is low. Most athletes* I know don’t do well when their activity level goes down. When I do less activity I begin to try to solve problems that don’t need to be solved. I find issues with the people I am living with. Things that I should be able to brush off or let go of, I start brooding over. I sometimes start to spiral into the hole of unmotivation. In this state is easy to feel like the first person who has ever been unmotivated. However, I know that this happens to nearly everyone at one point or another. I think for many people that do not ski, this unmotivation spiral happens in the winter. Man, am I glad to have skiing!!

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This is Dexter, he lays here all day, everyday, sometime I feel like this.

Instead of getting stuck in the unmotivation spiral, I am trying to figure out what I can do to cope. Writing about it here is certainly one thing that helps me name the problem and start looking critically at solutions. Obviously staying active is a good solution, but often easier said than done. Sometimes, I think unsuccessfully fighting the lack of motivation only hurts more. Rather, maybe this is a great time to focus some energy on everything else, the stuff that I never want to do. Schedule a doctors checkup and dentist appointment (I actually like going to the dentist, just not scheduling things). Instead of going on a long ride today and this weekend I am planning on focusing my energy on shooting footage for the film T-Bar Films and I are making. I have also signed up for an AIARE II course and will be finding a place to live in SLC next week. I have been baking a lot of pies and cookies.

Digging out of the unmotivation spiral is always difficult, but I am learning that even just the act of trying new techniques for breaking the cycle helps. The cycles of the season are natural and it is only natural to be affected by these changes.

I also always hold on to knowing that seasons change and before long winter will be here and we will be shredding pow all day!

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Wasatch pow. Photo: Eric Praetorius

 

*I kind of hate this term. I have never considered myself an athlete. I am just a person and I think everyone can enjoy physical activity and the more physical activity we do the better we feel and healthier we are. Saying we are athletes somehow makes it sound like we are different for everyone else in a core way, which I do not believe.

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Long Hair

I have had long hair my entire life. When I was a baby I was bald for almost two years and I’ve just been making up for it ever since.

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Bald till 2 and making up lost time ever since

When I was 5 my mom convinced me to get a real hair cut. It was called a boy’s cut and she promised me it wouldn’t be too short. I’m not sure what I thought a boys cut was, but it was too short, and that was basically the first and last real hair cut I’ve had.

The infamous boys cut

The infamous boys cut, never again!

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my hair used to be straight

At some point in Junior High, I ended up with a mullet. I still can’t quite figure out how that happened. When you are 12, there is no such thing as an ironic mullet… I was the target of much ridicule.

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This mullet would rock the spring bumps so hard!

One summer at the hippy, and somewhat communist, wilderness camp I attended, I decided to wear my hair in a braid. It got much less knotty and was easier to manage. On the first day of school that fall, a kid I sort of knew from previous years was behind me in line and asked who the hot new girl was… I turned around feeling pretty embarrassed. Not that I should have, he was the one with misdirected misogyny. Somehow my 13 year old self didn’t let that get to me and I wore my hair braided for the rest of 8th grade.

IMG_3669What guys doesn’t get his hair layered for soccer?

I have always seen my hair as a litmus test. If people are going to discount me or when I was younger, tease me for my long hair, then they are not worth my time. Take the kids that relentlessly teased me in elementary school. In 3rd grade I was the new kid, with long hair and striped shirts that my mom dressed me in. I was the target of much abuse. But I found people that still wanted to be my friends. I’m not saying it was easy, but I also would never want to go back and cut my hair so I could be friends with the people that were teasing me. Little hint, they haven’t changed all that much and still aren’t doing cool things with their life.

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School picture vs. Running ragged

If you’ve seen Freaks and Geeks, there is a great scene where Sam approaches Gordon Crisp, “the fat kid” about how he smells bad. Gordon explains that he has a medical condition called trimethylaminuria that makes him smell. Sam asks if he will smell for the rest of his life? and Gordon responds that he will, but he doesn’t mind because “The nice people don’t mind and it weeds out the jerks.”

While, I am not advocating that we all just embrace our BO to figure out who really likes us, the idea is there. The people that will accept us as is, are the ones worth our time, and the people that tease us are jerks and are not worth our time.

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Ah, college Ultimate…

gotta have at least one ski photo

gotta have at least one ski photo

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Veg Head

Being a vegetarian in this day and age is not a big deal. The idea of the meat, starch, veg dinner is becoming a thing of the past for many. People are realizing that there is plenty of macro and micro nutrients in something as simple as a vegetable stir fry, with the added benefits of it being easy and quick to make while only dirtying one pan.

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Still when a person is found out to be a veg everyone wants to know why. It is natural for a human to want to understand why another human would make a decision different from their own that maybe they cannot understand.

For many being a veggie is just a fad. For some it lasts a couple months and is preceded by glutenfreeness and followed up with a paleo diet. There is nothing wrong with experimenting with diet but often the conviction of the fad is not as strong.

Other people are veg because they believe in animal rights, and others because of environmental issues. Some people, because they don’t like the taste, some for health reasons. To me all of these reason are perfectly valid, but none are mine. In fact, in my 15 years of being a vegetarian I have only met one person who was for a similar reason and it was still not quite the same reason.

I became a veg when I was 10 years old. My mom never served much meat. Maybe chicken once a week and fish every other on top of that. Maybe the occasional turkey burger and once or twice I had a hot dog or burger. So at 10, for reasons unknown or at least long forgotten I stopped eating meat all together. To this day I don’t have any memory of ever eating a steak. I do remember eating swordfish once, and turkey on thanksgiving and bacon.

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So, why? This is what everyone wants to know. I have crafted my elevator speech to give to people with a good enough answer, but seeing that I am taking the time to write this post, I will go into a bit more depth. There is one main reason, and two supporting reason that I am and remain a veggie.

The first and largest reason can be a bit difficult to explain, but I will try my best. For many people there is the thought that meat is “icky” if it resembles the animal it came from. For example, if served a fish with the head still on some people will not eat it, and even think it’s gross. How is this gross? Served with or without the head at one time the fish had a head. So really some people just don’t want to think about the fact the what they are eating at one point was alive. To me this is a disservice to ones self.

This extends past what is on ones plate. The killing of an animal is a super intense process. One that I am not sure I could carry out. So how can I ask myself to eat something that has been killed, when I couldn’t kill it myself. This is the heart of it for me. If I cannot kill the animal then when I eat it I am just trying to ignore the fact that it was killed. So to extend this, if I do kill an animal myself, I will eat it.

I do not have many opportunities in my life to kill animals for food, but I have killed and eaten a chicken and a few fish. It is very intense to hold a chicken and shove a knife into its neck and slit it’s throat and then hold it tight and wait for it’s muscles to stop twitching. But in this powerful experience it also made the food on my plate genuine. I was not ignoring what it took to get it there.

I said there were a couple other reasons I am a vegetarian. For the trained ear there are a bunch of flaws in the above argument, they don’t make it invalid, but they do raise the question of why I don’t raise my own veggies because the same thing can be applied to all food. So I have a couple back up reasons. To start I think the array of reasons that people are veg all hold some validity and at this point I don’t have a great reason to start eating meat. I have figured out how to eat healthy and enjoy what I eat.

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Another reason I have been a veg for so long may seem crazy to some, but to me makes perfect sense. It is not always easy to be vegetarian, and I have never intentionally slipped up in all 15 years. Not once have I eaten meat intentionally that I did not kill myself. Sure in 15 years you have a soup that you were told 3 time didn’t have chicken broth in it just to find out that it did in fact have chicken broth, but I have never cheated. A large reason why I am veg, is just to test my self control. I enjoy testing my self-control and see it as a great tool to build for every thing in life.

I have talked about self-control in other articles I’ve written. Self-control goes hand in hand with motivation. In order to push oneself to stick with a goal there must be something motivating you from deep down. And in order to stay motivated you must not stray and maintain self-control. So, in heading into the coming year and attempting to walk uphill 2.5 Million feet I am going to need a lot of self-control and motivation. 15 years of self-control training certainly cannot hurt.

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The Compromises we Make

I once had a professor give me some advice for life. He posed it as a thought experiment. He said,

“There are three things in life, work – what you do to occupy your time, paid or unpaid, place – where you physically are, and relationships – your interactions with other people, romantic of otherwise. Of these three things you can only expect to have control over two at a time. If you have control of all three expect something to go haywire, if you have control of one, pick another and go for it, and if you feel you have control over none of them get up off the couch and start walking.”

The thought experiment was as follows,

“If you had to pick just two of these to have control over, which would they be?”

The answer to this is always changing throughout life. When I was in a committed relationship I choose that first, and then let what I was doing during my free time be out of my control. Generally, when winter comes. I choose place over everything else so that I can do what I love and ski as much as possible. This requires large compromises on the work I do and the relationships I have. I see my family in the fall before the season starts and then not again until the spring, and I work waiting tables.

2015-02-06 07.29.06Talk about place.

For everyone the balance of place, work and relationships is different and changing. I have found it a great tool for making and analyzing tough life decisions. By seeing decisions through this lens, you don’t regret the compromises you make, but can rather recognize that you can only expect to control so much of your life, and the rest will figure itself out.

This summer I have been making a ton of compromises. I absolutely love my life, and wouldn’t change a thing, but getting to that point takes compromising and relinquishing control over the third piece.

To begin, I live in a basement. An unfinished one. With 4 loud pumps (not sure what a house needs 4 different pumps for). And a ceiling that is 5′ 10″ (I am 5’10.5″). And I am too cheap/lazy to buy/find a bed, so I am sleeping on a sleeping pad. And the sleeping pad has a pinhole leak in it, so if I don’t fall asleep in an hour I start feeling the ground and have to blow it back up (if I fall asleep I am fine until the next morning).

2015-07-20 11.56.32Home sweet home

This may sound like hell to many people, and I’m not saying it is my paradise, but I really don’t mind. The pumps just force me to be a sound sleeper. I don’t spend much time down there, so the ceilings are whatever. Inflating the bed nightly is just training for my lungs. And on the plus side the basement is a constant beautiful 65 degrees and makes for great sleeping when it is 85 and humid upstairs.

For work I am perusing Craigslist daily looking for odd jobs and landscaping gigs. The pay is pretty good actually, but it is certainly not steady work. It ends up this has worked out great and I have been able to spend a large amount of my time preparing for the winter logistically and training physically. I certainly let go of most of the control I had in the work I was doing though.

But really, I am happy to make these compromises because I am looking towards the future. I am scrimping and saving for the winter. I am living with friends in one of the most beautiful parts of Vermont. I have amazing access to mountain biking, so I can train. I have a veggie garden for the first time in years. Like a bear going into torpor I’m loading up on place and relationships for the coming winter. When December 1st hits I will be 100% committed to work. Granted I love the work I will be doing, I will not have the balance. I will be in places I love, but I will also be travelling a lot. And relationships, well my touring partners will be the extent of that.

Getting ready to drop [Photo: Louis Arevalo]

Life is about finding that balance that works for you. That balance can be a current one or an evolving one. For many people the balance needs to be in constant equilibrium, for others they can front load the balance and correct later. I find the balance is much easier to keep when you relinquish control over one element and let it just fall into place. When I try to control all aspects of my life, my stress levels start to rise and all the aspects start weakening.

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