I spent last week in Switzerland taking a ski touring class where we learned the essentials of off-piste skiing, how to avoid avalanches, how to find people in avalanches, how to plan a ski tour, etc.
I don’t know what it is exactly about being in the mountains that makes me see patterns… maybe it’s all the time to think while I’m huffing uphill. Maybe it’s having the long-distance perspectives. Maybe it’s just that exercise is good for creating connections in the brain.
Last July, while hiking through Switzerland, I connected techniques for walking in the mountains and remote working. And on this trip, I saw similarities between how one plans an adventure in the mountains and, well… life in general.
Have a Plan B
Every night, the mountain guide, Jan, would discuss the plan for the next day. We would go over the route, the weather conditions, and timing… and after planning one particular tour he mentioned: Even though this tour appears doable, it’s good to have a Plan B – and more importantly, define the boundaries for when this plan will be implemented. Not having an alternate plan encourages one to continue going down a particular path without considering other options soon enough.
If they ask you to step up to the mic, sing!
In my early twenties, I wanted to learn about sound engineering, so I sat behind a friend of mine in a studio and watched him record bands. I started writing my own songs just for fun – and at some point, even after hearing me “sing”, the guys asked me to record a few tunes. I remember thinking “Well… if they ask me to step up to the mic, I’m totally going to sing” and it’s become sort of a theme in my life ever since.
I kept expecting Jan to kick me off the tour. I was, by far, the worst skier in the group; and needed extra attention and help with almost everything. Instead of kicking me out, Jan and the group assured me that I could do it, never once appearing frustrated or annoyed. Every day, I swore I wouldn’t go up the mountain again. And yet every morning, I somehow forced myself to try, thinking that as long as Jan thought I could do it, I would step up to the mic and give it a go.
Keep calm and stay positive
On the fourth morning, the alarm seemed to go off minutes after falling asleep. My muscles were aching, and I was dog tired. The group set out early, and within the first 30 minutes, I slipped and slid down the hill. I felt like an idiot and I fought the rest of the morning to try and keep a positive attitude. Half way up, the way was getting steeper and icier, and at one point, I started to slide backwards again (despite having felts on my skis) and – I panicked. At this point in the tour, there was no going back down. So I continued – with encouragement of the group. And once we were at the top, the panic struck again when I saw the route down. At this point, I was tired, with already rattled nerves and I was scared to the point of shaking.
Jan literally had to take me by the hand and lead me down the steepest part of the mountain. Once at the bottom, I declared it – with a big grin – to be one of the greatest adventures I have ever experienced.
When I got home and told a colleague the story, she immediately sent me this gem about… eating bear meat.
…bear meat: the taste of being strong and free, which means free to make mistakes; the taste of feeling young in the mountains, of being your own master, which means master of the world. – Primo Levi
Conduct a retrospective
After every tour, we would talk about what went well and what we would do differently. This is standard in most evolved project management processes and I enjoyed seeing it implemented with ski touring. Retrospectives allow us to continuously improve what we are doing.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to try something that pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone. I’m grateful to Jan for being a great Bergführer, and to the group for being so supportive. And thank you to my colleague for the fabulous story that made the whole adventure make sense. Bear meat sure is delicious… but it’s a bit chewy!