It's all in your head

There is no mental challenge like the one you face at the top of a snowy mountain strapped to a snowboard (or skis), looking down realizing the longer you stand there, the steeper the slope becomes. At this point you’re unsure how you’re going to make it down and wonder what made you think that getting on the chair lift was a good idea in the first place. Maybe if you stay close to the tree edge, no one will see you slide down the hill although you know it will leave your thighs burning. Before long you’ve lost your mojo and given into defeat. You’ve told yourself that there is no way you’re getting down that mountain but there’s no turning back…

It’s that time of year again and with the winter we’ve had there has been lots of opportunity to get out on the hill. And although I started with downhill skiing at age three and have experienced the mountains of Austria, Banff, Nagano and Whistler, I’m faced with the same challenge at the beginning of every season: getting down the hill. I’ve learned over the years that as soon as we give ourselves an opportunity to have any doubt, we are defeated. By focusing your mind on what you can do, all of the sudden you can tackle even the most difficult challenges whether they be athletic, personal or professional. And that’s not all physical challenges can do for you; a recent trip to Banff taught me a few other important lessons.

I was traveling with my family and we decided to start our trip at Sunshine Village for somewhat sentimental reasons as this is where my Dad learned to ski and let’s be honest, he’s the reason any of us ever decided to take up this crazy sport. Up the gondola we went, a beautiful 20 minute ride, followed by both wardrobe and mental preparation to get up the mountain. I was overly concerned about being too cold but little did I know that would be the least of my worries that day. After a few great runs and finding my rhythm, I found myself at the bottom of the lift feeling nauseous, dizzy, faint. I put my head down, took a deep breath while having a conversation with myself: a reminder that it’s all in my head. In other words, suck it up and carry on. But when I lifted my head up and saw stars, I knew something was up. Next thing I knew, the ski patrol was on its way to pick me up and this is where the real snowboarding lessons began:

Lesson one never ski alone: At this point I was laying in the snow in fear of falling if I stood up and was thankful when the snow mobile arrived.

Lesson two fashion first, safety second: Before I knew it I had company on my snowmobile ride - a snowboarder showed up bleeding from his face and all I could think the whole way down was to hold on tight, lean forward and pray that he didn’t bleed on my white snowboarding jacket!! Luckily my jacket was still clean when I was safely laying down in the infirmary and it was time to take my vitals.

Lesson three do not wear nail polish when participating in high risk activities: It doesn’t allow for a read of your “sats” (the percentage of hemoglobin sites occupied by oxygen for the science nerds like me out there). So off came the socks and boots while I was hooked up to oxygen and after all was said and done my symptoms came down to one thing: altitude sickness.

Lesson four be prepared: I now know to drink more water, eat more food, and to take a couple of IBuprofen which I learned can act as mild blood thinner to help at high altitude. After a good lunch and lots of liquids, I felt like myself again.

Lesson five persevere: It would have been easy to give in, pack it up and call it a day. But I hadn’t come all this way to sit in the chalet. I was back to playing that mental game with myself to get going and sure enough it paid off - the afternoon continued to provide sunshine, clear blue skies and an inspirational view you can’t get anywhere else.

How do you mentally prepare for challenges? Please share in the comments below!