Most of us will admit that we have experienced fear at some point in our skiing; some of us will even admit that fear has paralyzed us at one time or another. I recall a day when I was standing at the top of AMF at Snowmass; I was focused on a rock at the entrance. All I could think was, “I can’t do that; there’s a rock right there!” Weems was right beside me, coaching me on how to make the turn and avoid the rock. I just stood there paralyzed. Finally, he said abruptly, “Just make the damn turn!” That shocked me into moving, and guess what -- I made the turn.
Fast forward 9 years. I rarely have moments that paralyze me with fear, but I also tend to stay in my comfort zone, aside from dabbling here and there when I’m inspired do something a little riskier. When the opportunity arose to attend the Art of Fear Camp at Alta with US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame inductee Kristen Ulmer, I was more than a little excited. Imagine taking a camp about fear with someone who has accomplished so much in a sport that carries a lot of risk!
Kristen has accomplished many things in the ski industry. She was the first female to ski the Grand Teton; she was voted most extreme woman athlete in North America; she has been filmed in many ski movies where she stunned audiences with her risk taking. Kristen retired in 2003 to study and teach people about fear. She has facilitated many people, including top athletes, by teaching them to stop trying to conquer their fear, which never seems to work, and instead to create an intimate relationship with fear by using it to empower the very thing that caused the fear in the first place.
Now about the Art of Fear Camp: first let me say that I will be touching on my personal experience and how I “shifted” (more on that later) because the method that Kristen has developed is something to be experienced in a personal way and not something that I can describe in detail without diluting the camp. It isn't a typical clinic where you work on skiing skills or tactical instruction to get past a plateau in your skiing; it is more about learning methods to get you out of your own head when skiing.
We started the day with a little exercise about hope. Where most meditation methods have you breathe in the good and out the bad, Kristen asked us to think about one personal fear and to breathe in that fear, then to breathe out any hope of getting rid of the fear. Let that sink in. Breathe out any hope of getting rid of the fear. This exercise brought me to tears, because for the first time I recognized a fear that I had no idea existed, and it touched me in a very personal way.
Once we moved on snow, we started to "shift." This is an exercise where we recognize the 10,000 voices in our mind and body that talk to us through everything we do. These voices are literally everything that speaks to us, whether it's the voice that controls, the voice that regrets, the voice that feels fear, or even the voice of fear itself. When Kristen asked to speak to a voice, it was time to set our habitual self aside and make a physical shift -- whether it was shrugging the shoulders, wiggling the body, or clicking the poles -- and let the voice that Kristen asked to speak to take over in that moment.
The first voice was the controller. As the camp went on, we continued to acknowledge the roles of the 10,000 voices and the importance that each of those voices plays in our life -- in this case, our skiing. When we got to the voice of fear and realized that fear had been banished to the basement because we were resisting it for most of our lives, it became clear that fear would get restless and rattle the pipes in the basement, which would in turn rattle us. What do they say about fixing problems? Recognizing the problem is the first step in solving it. Recognizing that fear is an important voice in the 10,000 voices is the first step to unlocking the basement door and creating an intimate relationship with it.
Before I talk about the final exercise of the day, I want to share a story with you, a story about an EpicSki Academy at Stowe. At the end of the day, Robin Barnes gathered her group and said, “This is the last run of the day; we’ve clogged your head with skills, drills, and technique for two days. Now it's time to breathe in and breathe out and dance with the mountain on the way back to the lodge. Just be thankful to the mountain for welcoming you today.”
That is not how Kristen set us up for the final run of the weekend, and the final exercise. Imagine that there is a comet headed for Earth, and in less than 2 hr, Earth and everyone on it will perish. Ski the last run like it's the last run of your life. Ski it looking at the other skiers around you and realizing that they are going to perish too but they have no idea. How do you ski it, knowing that This Is It?
After that last run, I watched campers walk into the meeting room with a variety of emotions. Some were in tears, some needed silence, and some wanted to talk excitedly about the wonderful feelings they got, but one thing was clear: everyone was affected.
This camp can’t be compared to any I’ve ever attended. This one opens your mind and centers your body to embrace voices that you may have never thought about.
Don’t let fear rattle your pipes; let it empower you.
Quotes from others who attended the camp
"I learned about Kristen's Fear Camp while attending a showing of her new movie, Voices of Fear, at REI. I knew instantly that I wanted to attend and explore my own relationship to fear. Knowing Kristen's background and accomplishments as a big mountain skier made it easy for me to trust that she had something important to teach me. Fear Camp was a paradigm shift that opened my eyes to new possibilities and a new way of 'being' me - only better!"
- Melanie Webb, Founder, Sol Fitness Adventures
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