Thursday, 7 January 2010

Face Forwards

Those of you who know me, you will be more than aware that I had my first proper skiing experience a few weeks ago; and if I do say so myself, I didn’t do all that bad considering I had only previously spent about 8 hours in total on the man-made slopes of the Tamworth Snowdome.

However, knowing that I had this very limited experience, and bearing in mind that it had been almost 12 months prior to this trip, you could say I was a little apprehensive when I donned my extra long, beginner-stiff, ski’s.
Apparently, the more flexible, shorter ski’s are the equipment of choice for the more advanced skier, and trust me, flexible I did not feel in my borrowed, slightly pinching, but carefully colour matched Black ski boots.

If nothing else, at least I was well colour co-ordinated, ie, all in “Milk Tray Man” black, and remembered my good friend Paul’s advisory words,
“Al, you can never look too cool on the slopes”
as I promptly slid my reflective Oakley’s onto my hat, just to complete the outfit.

Ski’s on, and after my first fall of the day, which was getting off my first ever chair lift at the top of the ever-so steep Blue Run, I was ready for action.


Now, those of you who ski, will already notice my wry humour in a “Steep Blue Run”, but for a novice, it looked pretty steep to me, so I’m sticking with that – thank you very much.


Those of you who know me, you will be more than aware that I had my first proper skiing experience a few weeks ago; and if I do say so myself, I didn’t do all that bad considering I had only previously spent about 8 hours in total on the man-made slopes of the Tamworth Snowdome.


However, knowing that I had this very limited experience, and bearing in mind that it had been almost 12 months prior to this trip, you could say I was a little apprehensive when I donned my extra long, beginner-stiff, ski’s.Apparently, the more flexible, shorter ski’s are the equipment of choice for the more advanced skier, and trust me, flexible I did not feel in my borrowed, slightly pinching, but carefully colour matched Black ski boots.

If nothing else, at least I was well colour co-ordinated, ie, all in “Milk Tray Man” black, and remembered my good friend Paul’s advisory words,“Al, you can never look too cool on the slopes”as I promptly slid my reflective Oakley’s onto my hat, just to complete the outfit.

Ski’s on, and after my first fall of the day, which was getting off my first ever chair lift at the top of the ever-so steep Blue Run, I was ready for action.
Now, those of you who ski, will already notice my wry humour in a “Steep Blue Run”, but for a novice, it looked pretty steep to me, so I’m sticking with that – thank you very much.


And, as I have said many times before in interviews, and in my articles, I like to be at the bottom of a class. I like to be in an arena where I am a novice. It means I have a lot to learn, and that is a good thing not a bad one. Standing in totally unnatural footwear (no, not the Saturday night high heels), with planks of wood strapped to the underside, designed to actually allow me to slip and slide along, was no exception.


I may have been on the top of a mountain but I was certainly at the bottom of my learning curve.
Looking down at the slope, it somehow suddenly looked a lot steeper than it did from the relative comfort, albeit freezing cold, of the chair lift. I know fear. I have felt it many times in many situations. Some of my own doing, others forced upon me by the world I inhabit and the people who surround me in it. So, the feelings I had at this precise moment were no different than any other time, just conjured up by a different environment.
I would suggest that it was my closeness and familiarity with fear that dulled it’s effects on me, and allowed me to step forwards into it with an outward ease, and not my lack of fear or fearlessness, as some had commented.

That said, it was still a pretty scary moment as I pushed myself from a standing start into a zig-zagging, Frank Spencer like motion down the slope.

What I had remembered was something my first instructor had said many many months before in the, now seemingly tiny and flat snowdome. “Face forwards and attack the slope”.He also said, that even though we were high, the slope was no different from the top as it was from half way up, it just felt worse because it was higher.
But, I also remembering that falling on deaf ears to most of my group as we moved higher up the slope during our lessons. Our techniques all became less relaxed and less comfortable,, clear signs that fear was taking charge and forcing us into postures and a stiffness that would result in our fears being realised due to the bad technique and form.
So I faced forwards, and I attacked the slope. At one point, after a few spills, Lou actually heard me muttering to myself that this “bloomin slope isn’t going to beat me”.

John Berryman says:-
"We must travel in the direction of our Fear"

Facing down the slope; facing the thing that frightens you most; actually helps you to form a better posture and technique. This technique saves you and allows you to progress down in a controlled and efficient manner. It’s almost as though, facing your fears gives you the biggest rewards…… hmmm, what an interesting thought!


The best part was that, as I made more progress and the results confirmed the principals of facing down the slope to improve technique, I was keen to try this more. Just as though overcoming my fear had taken me to another level; a steeper slope; a greater challenge.

By overcoming this initial fear, my world opened up, a few more slopes and a couple more mountains at a time. I was able to travel further afield and reach other areas of the slopes that my fear would have prevented me from seeing had I not had the courage to face forwards on that very first slope.
What I would also point out however, just to keep a balance with this article, is that, whilst I didn’t remain at the foot of the hills, too scared to venture up on the lift.
Nor did I hit the advanced black runs for my first attempt. I did it in small, challenging but manageable stages. I was also prepared to take a step back to the slower Green slopes when I wanted to practice a particular technique or treat myself with an easy descent and give myself a break. I made sure I had great people around me who knew how to encourage me, guide me, coach me and stretch me safely.

Facing forwards and attacking the slope is no different to facing anything else that scares you.

For me, relating this back to my own martial arts training, it’s exactly the same as grappling an opponent who has you in a pin and who’s starting to rain down some heavy “Ground-n-Pound”.Turning away only serves to put you in a more vulnerable position. More often than not, the best defence is to face into the onslaught and actually turn towards the fire. Facing into the fear gives you more options and often offers better results.


In boxing, the one thing you are taught is to never turn your back on your opponent. Even when the punches are raining in you should never turn away. Instead you should cover up and face towards the attack.
Again, this means you stand a better chance of defending yourself and fighting back to bring it to a better conclusion.

I would argue that most things in life require us to face into the attack. Stare down that which frightens us, if only to be able to see it and analyse it more clearly, but in most cases, so that we can overcome it and move on to bigger and better things.


So, if my little trip to the French Alps serves you nothing more than this one lesson, it was very worth it.Face into your fears, and attack your own slopes – don’t turn away!
And remember, "You cannot have Courage without also having Fear"

Thank you for reading

Stay Safe and Have Fun
Al x