Life throws curveballs, and they don’t always have to suck. How we handle them determines the outcome. In fact, curveballs can be opportunistic gifts, delivered without warning to test our grit, our footing, and what we’re made of. I’ve been thrown a few pivotal curveballs that form the connect-the-dots story of my life. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a school of ‘what ifs‘ swimming in my head, wondering what it would be like if I had chosen differently throughout the game.
Back in February, I was thrown a fat, juicy hanging curve when I was lucky enough to get invited by The Ski Journal to enjoy three days of cat skiing at Island Lake Lodge as the winner of this year’s giveaway. Located just outside of Fernie, BC, in the Lizard Range of Canada’s East Kootenays, Island Lake might as well be powder heaven. It’s a bucket list standard, seasoned with legendary lore of heroes like Scot Schmidt and Craig Kelly, who years ago carved up and sent the virgin lines in the high alpine, naming them along the way.
El Niño was treating this region particularly well, and this winter was stacking up to be one for the ages. When I got the news, a flood of happiness, gratitude and excitement took over. I was in a bit of shock. I’ve never really won something so… perfect. But those feelings quickly transitioned into confusion. Blighted by thoughts of my new job and other very real responsibilities, my dream state was careening toward a ‘fat-to-flat’ landing.
Curveballs are never convenient. They’re difficult to anticipate or plan for, and exciting and scary at the same time. Intended to do two things, they force us to step back, away from the ominous orb, or, invite us to extend outside of our comfort zone to reach for the unknown and go for broke.
Several years ago, I was pitched a meaty curveball. It was an invitation to join a group of close friends to paddle the Grand Canyon for three weeks. At the time, I was working as a freelance designer. Busy, but not married nor with kids, I chose to side with my business responsibilities, turning away from the pitch. This is a regret I carry with me and something I can’t go back and change.
So, another breaking pitch thrown. And oh boy, this one had heat behind it! One thing I’ve learned since the Great Grand Canyon Dilemma is that life, at least in the skin I’m in today, only goes down once, so it’s best to sack up and step up to the plate. The dynamics of the world – the rise and fall of people, of jobs, relationships, even annual snowfall – is so fleeting, that moments are the new precious commodity. It’s what we can take stock in and hold onto.
Even though my life is considerably more complex now, It took me all of two minutes to emphatically respond to that email. We’re not always granted second chances in life, but this stroke of serendipity couldn’t have come at a better time. And it was only a two-hour drive north of my home of Whitefish, MT.
Beneath the surface of my being as a father, husband and creative professional, is a skier. And while that core piece of who I am goes in and out of dormancy, it remains a significant part of my essence; the flame still burns. It’s hard to put into words exactly what I experienced at Island Lake lodge—the sun drenched, spiny peaks of the Lizard Range, the endless alpine bowls, the exquisite food, the hot tub, the 12-foot-long-shotski, the amazing staff, the playfulness and camaraderie of the crew—but this curveball led me back to that core skier. Flowing around the natural waves, dips and undulations, spinning powder plumes across my face, I was awakened to the realization that this curveball wasn’t intended to take me OUT of my comfort zone, but rather, to bring me back IN… to me. With each consecutive lap, I shed a layer of man-made, self-inflicted stress. Each high five buried the assignments, the spreadsheets and quarterly goals deep in the snowpack, allowing me to enjoy to the simplicity and beauty of the slope, the powder, my new friends, and that party dance we live for.
I know I can’t live this moment, or be in this space, or even this mindset forever. Life—and it’s a good life—will resume. But right now, I feel like I’ve hit the shit out of that curveball and I’m rounding the bases in a perfect GS arc, smile on my face, heading home.