Finding My Mojo At Stratton

Stratton was my skiing destination on Wednesday. I needed some slope time.

Conditions were great. Fast and firm on most trails, with some a bit softer where there had no doubt been some man-made snow mixed into the corduroy stripes. The ungroomed trails, from my view of them as I rode the chairlift, were lumps of hard snow with troughs of ice in between. I didn’t venture into the ungroomed territory.

I was a bit hesitant about going because it’s a holiday week with lots of schools being on winter break. But it sure didn’t look like a holiday week. There were 4 cars at the Sun Bowl when I pulled in shortly before 8:00 AM. It was about 3 degrees when I arrived. But without a whisper of wind to be felt, the temp was quite bearable.

For the first few hours there were very few skiers or riders out and about. A number of trails were closed, or partially closed, for various free-style and race training events. So there were lots of school kids on the slopes, but they were all clustered in those areas where the training sessions were being held. That left more than enough mountain to play on.

I’m heading off on an annual trip to Killington with my daughter Allison in a couple of weeks. We hit the slopes long and hard, with numerous unofficial challenges to see who gets top-to-bottom first. Each year the challenge, for me at least, gets tougher and tougher. Last year was the first year she beat me down the hill. Not by much, but a clear and clean, unofficial win.

No Confidence & Self-Doubt

As I have said, I needed some slope time. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I have been struggling to ski well this season. Actually that’s not true. The struggle part is true, but not that I don’t know why. I just lost confidence in myself, creating huge self-doubt. That’s the “I don’t know why” part.

I ended last season skiing a pair of Blizzard Quattro RS race skis, skiing stronger, faster, and more confidently than ever that I can remember. What happened between now and then to shake my confidence to the point it toppled over and shattered? Like I said, I don’t know. But it happened.

So there I was at Stratton. I took a first run down Black Bear, caught an edge and almost fell. Next run I ducked under the gondola and went over to the broad, gentle “meadows” trails for beginners. Caught an edge and almost fell. I wondered if I should head home before I got hurt.

I took a quick break in the lodge and had a hot chocolate. This whole thing was idiotic. The problem was in my head, and only my head, and the question was how do I get it out of my head? I could not stomach the thought of an oh-so-disappointing trip to Killington where I would be afraid to ski. There had to be some way to unknot that part of my brain saying “can’t do this.”

I decided I would go back to the summit and ski my most favorite, and least favorite, single trail at Stratton. How can a single trail be both most, and least, favorite simultaneously you ask? And just what trail at Stratton might that be? That trail would be Kidderbrook.

Upper Kidderbrook is big and wide with a few nice steep sections where you can ski a real “fall line” because the trail is basically straight up-and-down. Lower Kidderbrook is a narrow, twisty-turny, not very steep section of trail taking you back to the chairlift. Right at the end, just when you think it’s over, you have to scale a small hill to get up to the lift.

It’s my favorite trail because of the exhilarating plunge down the upper portion. My least favorite because you have to wind your way along the long, slow runout back to the lift, then scale a hill to actually get to it. Fun on the upper. Fun-sucking on the lower. Technically it’s two trails, but functionally it’s one. If you ski the upper, you must ski the lower.

Confidence Building

Why Kidderbrook? It’s a confidence builder. Kidderbrook is the trail I have brought daughters, nieces, and friends onto as they progress from beginner to confident, advancing intermediate. I take them when I see that their skills are good enough, but they are convinced they just aren’t ready ski or ride a black diamond, expert trail.

I hustle them past the trailhead sign which clearly says “Experts Only” and shows a black diamond (or two) in front of every trail name. The trail starts easy. On the first plunge, the width of the trail makes it seem more manageable somehow. No woods or twists and turns to worry about on the steep plunge down. And then, at the bottom of the second drop off, you stop and have them look back up the hill.

From that vantage, Kidderbrook looks as steep and challenging as it actually is. All I say, as they gaze back up the hill in awe is, “That’s a black diamond, and you just came down it.” They then realize they just slid down a really steep, expert, black diamond trail and didn’t die! The newly found “expert” basks in that great feeling all the way back to the lift and says. “Let’s do that again!” I of course say, “Let’s find another black diamond to master.”

That’s why I was sliding over the snow at the start of Upper Kidderbrook trail at Stratton. For some reason, and I don’t know why, even before I hit the first headwall on Upper Kidderbrook, I felt that focus come back into my head. The thick, nasty miasma rooted in my skull thinned like morning fog over water as a gentle breeze begins to blow. And the body responded. The skis tipped into the snow, the edges bit deep, and we carved our way down the fall line. Confidently.

I went back to the summit and skied down Tamarack. Then down Upper Standard. And then anywhere and everywhere, that was groomed. The skis responded as they should. As I knew they could, as I knew they would.

I don’t know how the fog of “no-confidence and self-doubt” got into my head, but I hope it doesn’t come back. It’s so very frustrating a thing to feel like you can’t do something that you darn well know you can. The nasty no-confidence, self-doubt thinking creates a self-fulfilling, self-feeding cycle of doubt that takes solid root and blossoms.

Fortunately, there’s Kidderbrook, confidence builder. I got my mojo back and working. Now I can look forward to Killington, knowing that I can at least keep Allison in sight as she rips down the slopes in front of me. If she is in front of me that is.

AlanD
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