The more time I spend outside, the more I realize the importance of balance. Balance is a topic that I think we all struggle with from time to time. I find that this balance ends up being applicable to so many diverse situations and scenarios. It could be the balance between work and play or maybe finding that balance between playing in the mountains and being home with your family. Some less deep examples are more situational such as the balance between having enough and too much gear on a big alpine climb or finding that right balance of enough training and training way too much. I plan to write more about all of these balance games in the future. Today my focus is on my recent splitboard trip to NH and finding the balance between rushing and going too slow in the mountains. While I have always been decent at finding this balance while climbing and traveling in the mountains I recently got a stern reminder of the importance of this balance when it comes to backcountry riding.
Prior to this trip 99% of my snowboarding was done in the confines of a resort. Here it’s easy to not care about this balance, if you get cold there is usually a nice warm lodge to warm up in. If your water freezes you can just buy another and many times I find my only real concern is making it to the summit bar before last call. All this changes in the backcountry. While moving fast is great in many cases, rushing can and often leads to mistakes. These mistakes range from minor embarrassing issues to major life-threatening ones. Luckily for me my rushing mistakes just led to some good old fashion embarrassment. To set the stage it was our first field day of our Avy class and I was pumped to be the only Splitboarder (is that a word?) in my group. However, Tyler and I had to stop for gas prior to the group meeting at trailhead and we ended up running a little late. To add fuel to the fire Tyler had a longer set up time as he was hiking with snowshoes and carrying his board which still needed to be mounted to his pack. This led to frantic scrambling and rushing around to get set up before our start time. We got to the group just in time for the beacon checks and after 5 minutes we set off up the trail. I was relieved that we had made it but quickly noticed that something felt off.
About 25 feet into the trail I noticed that something felt odd with the way by bindings where impacting the board. I looked up to see that I had put the bindings on backwards and while they had full range of motion in uphill mode they were slamming into the top of the boards deck and not on to the binding heal rest. In more simple terms: my board was backwards. Previous to this I had attached the bindings many different times both at home when I got the board and also on a casual backcountry day. How could I have made such a stupid mistake? The answer is easy, rushing. In my hurried frenzy to get moving with the group I overlooked that my board was backwards when I put the bindings on. This was an easy fix but could have been much worse. The next day we met at the same location for our tour and arrived much earlier so we would not have to rush as much. However, as our group was gearing up I got talking to another student about a local climbing area and ended up having to rush after all to be ready on time. I vowed not to make the same mistake as yesterday and made sure my bindings were now facing the correct direction. Although a few minutes in I felt and heard a few loud bangs and realized that I had put the bindings on the wrong feet and the buckles where now banging into each other between my skis. My only thought was…….Idiot. Another easy fix but more embarrassment as I had to stop and make the switch.
Luckily both examples are ones that had easy solutions, had no real consequences and happened close to safety. However, let’s consider a few higher stakes rushing mistakes that could lead to more dangerous situations. One mistake that we as climbers hear too often are mistakes surrounding rappelling. These could be forgetting to tie knots on your ropes, failing to properly secure your device, or simply losing control of the rappel. These accidents are often triggered in an attempt to rush off the mountain to escape weather or darkness and in many cases end up being fatal mistakes. In the world of backcountry riding there are many rushing mistakes that can end with the same outcome. This could include rushing into avalanche terrain because your excited about the epic powder that fell last night. Or refusing to take the time to put crampons on because you are rushing back to the car and don’t want to stop. Both have serious consequences. So how do we combat this behavior? For me I find that the number one way to avoid falling into these rushing traps is to stop, take a deep breath, and really focus on making observations about what is going on in the situation. Taking this second to consider all threats and options helps me to slow down, reset, and not rush into a potentially dangerous situation. In addition to slowing down in the situation I have a couple pre-event items to consider that I think help to also avoid rushing:
- Prepare ahead of time. Put your skins on before you leave or at home so you avoid doing it in the cold parking lot.
- Pack your pack the night before when you’re not rushing to get out the door and have time to double check everything.
- Give yourself enough time to get there safely without rushing. This means give yourself more than enough drive time, factor in for stops, road delays, and weather events.
- Have a large warm jacket that’s easy to access either in your pack or car. This can be thrown on when everyone is gearing up. This helps to avoid getting cold and then being in a rush to get moving. I use the Patagonia DAS Parka for this but there are many other great ones out there from brands like Marmot, MountainHardwear, and Eddie Bauer. I ordered mine a size larger then I typically wear so that I can easily throw it on top of my other layers, that way I don’t fumble around with layers during transitions or prep. For example, when I stop on cold days to transition from skinning to riding I put this jacket on over my shell and leave it on until the last second before riding down.
A lot of this post was centered around the notion of slowing down, however it’s also possible to be on the other side of the spectrum and be going too slow. Stay tuned for my next post on this. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment or DM with any feedback. Enjoy the snow!