Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Practice saying "no"

One of Andrew McLean's oft-repeated suggestions for how to get invited on grand adventures is to practice saying yes. In the context of which he speaks, it's good advice. If, when people invite you places, you always say no, you will quickly drop off the invitation list.

My resolution for 2013, however, is to practice saying "no." Not to invitations, per se, but to situations. Once in the backcountry, it is easy to become subject to group think. My friends are doing it, I should too.

Sometimes it's harmless. "Ski it from the top" is another common backcountry mantra. But if getting to the top requires an inordinate effort for two more turns through thin coverage, why not drop in from the shoulder if that's the most direct route to a safe, fall line run through the deep powder that you came for in the first place?

Other times it requires not being ashamed to "chicken out." Yesterday I found myself traversing a steep slope with thin coverage above a band of cliffs. Conditions were generally quite stable, but if something was going to slide, it was most likely to happen in an area of shallower snowpack such as we were on. The cliff band meant that if the slope did go, the likelihood of survival wasn't high. Sure, we went one at a time to try and make it safer for the group, but we should not have been there at all. I should have said no. I should have turned around.

Discussing the situation afterward, a friend indicated that he and another in our group were both also uncomfortable with the situation and wondered why we continued. Simply put, it's hard to say no. It's hard to turn around. Sometimes it takes more courage to chicken out than to continue.

This year, I am going to practice having that kind of courage. If it means fewer invitations, I am OK with that.