Skiing Avalanche Terrain – Group factors to Flow – Jon Turk
Jon has practiced performance FLOW for decades, and reminds us that there are a multitude of factors that go in to a flow experience, none more so being on the same wavelength as your group.
I am a back-country skier, and I routinely ski exposed avalanche terrain in the mountains of southern British Columbia. A few weeks ago, four of us were shredding fresh powder on familiar terrain. The riding was excellent, friendships warm, and spirits were high. All day, the snow had been stable, meaning that we experienced no avalanches or even indication of danger. On the last run, as the short winter day was waning, two of our party led us toward a higher, steeper, more exposed ridge line. As we climbed into this alpine zone, we reached an elevation where the mountain wind had compacted the surface of the snow into hard, rigid, consolidated, potentially deadly chunks.
This was no subtle change. As experienced alpinists, we all saw it, felt it, and knew the consequences of a bad decision. So why didn t we turn back?
The ultimate, overriding, goal of back-country skiing is to come home safe. All too frequently, we tend to forget this goal and create other imaginary goals such as to climb higher, faster, longer, and to ski the steepest line. But compared to safety, these supposed goals are merely dangerous distractions generated by our think-too-much-know-it-all brains. The primary driver of a FLOW experience is to concentrate completely and utterly on the real and ultimate goal and to avoid sidetracks, distractions, ego, and ÔÇ£I wantsÔÇØ. Yet, within a group, distractions can easily arise, fester, and quickly multiply.
One person climbed into the dangerous wind-slab, eager to be the leader that brought the group onward toward the best line of the day. We all like to ÔÇ£ski the goodsÔÇØ, so that is always a distraction from the overriding goal of safety. But now, there was social pressure not to be the wimp, the cold blanket who said, ÔÇ£Hey, guys. I think we should turn back.ÔÇØ Two distractions steering us away from FLOW internal and external. And the distractions fed on one another. I thought, ÔÇ£We don t need to do this,ÔÇØ but then I threw attention and awareness out the window, and allowed myself to concentrate on what mattered least (A few extra turns. Not to be criticized by the group.) And not what mattered most (Our lives). So against all reason, I followed the leader toward a dangerous situation. I felt hassled and grumpy. I questioned my own judgment, the judgment of others. ÔÇ£Why can t we just ski from here?ÔÇØ I mumbled, quietly, almost to myself.
Suddenly, my wife, Nina, stopped. I was in line behind her.
ÔÇ£What up?ÔÇØ I asked.
ÔÇ£I m not going up there,ÔÇØ she replied.
At first, I was internally annoyed at her. Those guys were going to ski the coolest line, and I wanted to be up there with them. But the physical pause initiated a mental pause which solidified a physical pause. Reason prevailed. We held back.
The lead skier started an avalanche and went catapulting down the mountainside in a moving white river. Amazingly, he didn t get hurt. We were lucky.
There are always more distractions than FLOW paths. Entropy works like that. A near infinity of ways to do something wrong and only a limited number of ways to do something right. Group dynamics, within a family, at work, or during play are powerful. All the more reason to understand and practice FLOW.
The Flow Centre would like to take this opportunity to thank Jon for her time and energy.