Derek McManus, Canadian Adventure Company, Mallard Mountain Lodge
In mountain safety and risk management, you will read a lot about tangible things: route selection, weather, snow conditions, snowpack assessment, avalanche avoidance, equipment, & clothing.
An element we often forget about is intangible ~ your mindset ~ your mental approach. Adjusting your mindset certainly isn’t easy, but these tips can help you on your way.
1. BE WILLING TO LET GO OF AN OBJECTIVE
This is the hardest thing to do. It’s also the most important.
Everyone likes to go someplace in the mountains. It isn’t enough to just look at the mountains. More than that we need to be part of them.
We plan. Pick an objective – a place, a ski or board run, a ridge, a mountain-top, a lake, a where ever. Plan a time – a few hours, a day, overnight, a week, or longer.
And we set off.
Sometimes we reach our objective.
Other times reality sets in – the rules.
What are the rules?
- In the mountains, we are visitors.
- We are there with the permission of the mountains.
- We are not in charge.
- The mountains & the weather are in charge.
- If you attain your objective, it isn’t a conquest – it’s a gift from the mountains.
If you live by those rules, you will happily and respectfully recognize when an objective has become out of reach, and you will let it go.
How will you recognize this? The mountains will be talking to you – sometimes screaming at you – giving you hints – making you wonder – making you feel uncomfortable – working on your subconscious. Listen.
If you don’t let it go, there is a good chance you will get in trouble.
Letting go is hard. We have egos. We might feel disappointed. “I worked so hard to get here.” “I’m almost there.” “I can do it!”
Here’s a couple of ways to help you let go of an objective.
- Remember that your fundamental objective is to come back safely. Where you went is secondary. In this, I always think of my friend Hans Gmoser, who started the heli-skiing industry. He had one top of line message for his guides: “bring our guests back safely”.
- Make light of the decision to turn back – have fun with it – embrace it. There’s a very senior guide in the Canadian Rockies who – like many other guides – is excellent at this. In his trip reports – where he describes having to turn back – he writes things like: “we ran away”; “we ran for cover”; “we put our tail between our legs and retreated”
- Adjust. Be flexible. You can always find something else to do – a different hike, climb, route, ski or snowboard run – it doesn’t have to be your original objective. .
2. SPEAK UP
In most outdoor adventuring groups there is no shortage of opinions and loud voices making them heard. Often you’ll want to say something about what you are doing, but you hesitate – don’t want to be a spoilsport or complainer or whatever. Human nature getting in the way again.
It’s better to speak your mind. Loud and clear. Do not hold back. You may have sensed something or seen something that others have missed. People of the right mindset in the mountains will welcome your comments. You’ll also be surprised how often someone else will say: “ was thinking that myself, thanks for speaking up”.
This is the opposite of “Speak up”. Welcome the comments of others. Explore them. Re- evaluate and carry on.
4. HAVE FUN
We are in the mountains for enjoyment, beauty, awe, adventure, and challenges – in short, fun.
This doesn’t mean it will always be easy. We like our guests to be challenged – safely – maybe a little out of their comfort zone – but always with a smile on their face.
While it’s no easy task, having the right mindset can go a long way to having a fun, and most importantly safe adventure into the backcountry. If you’ve found that your mind has been too focused on work or other problems it might also be time for a reset of your overall life mindset.