By Matt Annetts
Standing on top of a snowy peak, I try to visualize what is below me. I can see my first landmark ridge but after that, nothing but the valley. There is a large cliff on the right I know needs avoiding. The questionable pocket of snow on the second pitch may slide. What if it goes? Where are my safe zones? I hope I can find the exit couloir. My stomach is in a knot, but now is the time to go. Slide the board a bit to make sure things are working properly, then go. Gravity then takes over. At that point, it feels as if I am just an observer and my body knows what to do. Everything slows down and becomes silent. Riding out the bottom with a huge smile on my face, I realize what just happened. My body had taken the fear, embraced it, and raised my level of focus to a place unreachable without that element of fear. It is an indescribable feeling and has become somewhat of an addiction throughout my life.
I believe it is my brother, Jeff who is owed a large ‘thank you’ for sharing with me what rewards could come by facing one’s fear. As the younger brother, it was a goal of mine to be like and keep up with Jeff. He was always going faster, jumping off the higher step, putting another board under the bike ramp for more height, or starting further up the sledding hill. It was by trying to keep up with him that introduced me to the love of fear. Of course, the things Jeff was doing were above my age/skill level, but that wasn’t going to stop me from being like my big bro. Watching him would produce fear I me, knowing that I had to follow his lead. After some hesitation, I would be right behind. Sometimes, it would result in a bad crash, other times I would barely pull it off and very rarely would be just like Jeff. The feeling was tremendous. It started with feeling anxious, then nervous, but as soon as the decision to face the fear and go for it was made, a sensation of accomplishment took over my body. Even if the outcome was not the same as the goal, knowing that I embraced the fear and continued was what took me a heightened level. Continuing trying to catch Jeff, I found the more I tried to keep up, the more often I succeed.
As I grew older, I found the most reliable way to interact with fear was on my snowboard. It didn’t take too much to push my comfort levels. A little extra speed through the trees would be more than enough to scare me and enhance what little skills I had. After being introduced to jumping of rocks, not much I found could produce that rush. But time goes on and that little rock that used to produce the fear has become the norm so a bigger one was necessary. This process was slow, but before I realized it, I was riding much faster and jumping off cliffs I didn’t even think possible earlier. It was all the baby steps of facing my fears that resulted in me being able to perform at levels I never envisioned. It was not a difficult process to improve, because I enjoyed every step facing my fear and receiving that rush.
From time to time I will get comments, ‘You are crazy’ or ‘You must have no Fear.’ This is not the case. Being crazy would be going into dangerous situations and having no fear. Fear is what keeps me alive. Anytime I am on the snowboard pushing myself, I have fear. It is this fear on which I thrive. The fear is needed to keep me focused and perform at the top of my ability. I am not just jumping down a mountain hoping for the best. There have been years of commitment, training and scaring myself step by step to feel confident in these situations. It is a little unfortunate I cannot still get the rush I love by trying to jump off the third stair-like Jeff.