Teach a Man to Fish

Education, the key to civil society. Also a crucial key to a life in the backcountry of the world. From trail to peak the education you take with you is all you really have to rely on. I finally got enrolled in learning a skill set that I have needed and wanted for a while now. A certification in Wilderness First Response was a loftier goal then I realized, but some good teachers and a good attitude go a long way. 

^"Just tie a clove hitch at each end here and…" instructs Cody Porter, one of the class-act instructors employed by Mountain Education and Development. "Ummm… What is a clove hitch?" I question from my position as a terribly novice rock climber that has no idea what a clove hitch is. I am by no means a climber, and I have very little medical training background beyond the lifeguard class I took many years ago and my recent honorary oncology degree from the front lines of my son's cancer fight. Now I know that these skills are a good cornerstone to successfully navigating a Wilderness First Responder course. However, despite my realization of my short-comings yet again, my good attitude carried me through the hybrid accelerated course I latched onto with the guides and staff from White Pine Touring in Park City, Utah. Once I was neck deep into the hybrid course I knew I was in over my head, but I studied up, gave it my all, and persevered. It was not easy. Not at all. I usually don't struggle with academic pursuits, but this material and practical skill set was very difficult for me. I have always been a numbers and theory kind of guy that was paramount in the finance degree I obtained in college. However, medical processes and memorizations fell on me like a wet blanket. I was humbled to say the least.

^My good friend and photoman, Steve Lloyd, is dressing a fake wound on my arm to practice some bandaging skills. Interestingly enough, I was with Steve when I made one of my many mistakes in the backcountry. I was shooting with Steve when I crushed my pelvis and broke my back in a trajectory miscalculation hucking a cliff many years ago now. With that kind of injury I should have found a comfy safe spot out from underneath that slope, stabilized my spine, and been evacuated out by helicopter. However, in my naiveté and young brash bravado I opted to ski out on my one good leg to the road before the pain really hit me in opting for an ambulance evacuation over the helicopter option. It probably saved me some serious deductible payment, but from a medical standpoint was probably not the most sound call I could have made. However, it did work out for me so my instructors actually did not balk to hard at my decision when I brought it up in the classroom.

^After seventy-hours of training in seven days I must say that I feel like I not only passed, but that I have the skill set to actually make better calls in bad situations. By no means do I feel like I have an aptitude that would qualify me to call myself any kind of expert, but I do feel like I retained the most important, practical, and relevant skills to be a better backcountry traveler and companion to my touring partners. My avalanche skills are tight by now from over a decade of experience and mistakes in avalanche terrain, but I always knew my medical and rescue skill set was lacking. Although I am still yearning for more and better skills in the medical and rescue arena, I do feel a little better now. Better equipped, better informed, and better prepared. I have always been able to maintain my cool under fire. I have operated in what I call the fog of chaos. I have risen to the horrible occasion on a number of occurrences. I have also struggled in that fog as well, but my reaction has rarely been one of panic in the face of adversity. This new skill set should serve as yet another compliment to those scenarios. One in which I am now very grateful to have learned from very competent and respectable instructors that took the time to go the extra mile with me to not just give a man a fish, but really teach a man to fish. A certification is meaningless to me if I have not come away with a real life grasp of the concepts and skill sets.

^Brain drained and twitching from a really long week in a classroom, and I needed to get out in the new snow. There was not much of it, but the deep breaths of cold crisp mountain air rejuvenated my depraved mentality with rather immediate haste. As usual the first step was awkward, but the second was better, and the third was glorious. The first tour of the year always brings me back to life. Don't get me wrong, I love my mountain bike and summer terrain scouting missions, but I am a skier. In the depths of my soul, I am a skier. On skis, in snow, my world makes sense. With simple strides and pole plants I can literally feel the layers of the snowpack below me. I have done my 10,000 hours in my craft. I operate in this space as an artist. Intuition guides me like a blacksmith's hammer hand to an anvil. Even as skilled and at home as I feel on snow this new skill set is an invaluable set of tools to take me even further. As confident as I may be in these environments I still retain enough humbled nature to understand that despite my perceived prowess I always have more to learn and more wisdom to acquire. Trying to be humble enough to always be learning from great teachers, mentors, and peers is all part of what I have come to know through these years in snow and on peaks. 

^Grassy turns are better then none, and certainly better then rocky turns. Plenty of gentle float to ease my relentless ski itch. Just two quick laps was all I took on in a relatively short day, but it was exactly what I needed.

^A view of this ancient tree overlooking the ancient canyon with the wind in my face and snow under my feet was all I really needed from this day. A walk in the woods, a deep breath, and a nice view was the only expectations I really had for the day. The grassy turns were bonus.

^To stay on the education theme of this post is this picture from our first event of the season down at the Freeheellife shop and headquarters of Telemark Skier Magazine. The wise avalanche guru, Craig Gordon, of the Utah Avalanche Center came down to put on an avalanche awareness workshop for our customers and friends. He is also a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that I cherish every opportunity to learn from. While I have avalanche training well above the basis of this short evening workshop I was pleased to do my part to bring knowledge, experience, and effort to help anyone else in even the smallest increments in their own pursuits in avalanche terrain. Telemark is the greatest community on snow, and the showing for this workshop illustrated nothing less to me yet again. When we teach a man to fish, we all eat forever, and it even tastes better too.