The Power of Positive Thinking

Ok, this is getting real. It’s the first week of January, and we’ve got a 2-foot “base” of unsupportable facets in the backcountry and bulletproof manmade punctuated by rocks and stumps at the resorts. These are the times that test skiers’ patience; will I crack?

Most of us choose to live in the shadow of the Wasatch for the mountains’ consistency.  Some ski seasons start later than others, but – like death, taxes, and political rancor – it’ll snow, and we get plenty of good and great days. But there are years where we need to be more patient. However, as evidenced by the powder morning traffic frenzy in Little Cottonwood, crowds around yet-to-be-opened control gates, and pre-dawn headlamped first tracks down Superior, skiers are not quite known for their patience. But be patient we must, because The Weather doesn’t care much for what we want.

For a couple of years after I moved to Utah the seasons were pretty weak; not as bad as this year, but far below what it seemed it should be relative to the reputation of “The Greatest Snow on Earth©.” Like this year the seasons were shortened, there was heightened avy danger associated with long bouts of high pressure that generated faceting, and there were simply fewer good days in good terrain. I got pretty grumpy about it; if I moved here for the skiing and put up with the traffic, pollution, and heat to get great powder skiing and powder skiing wasn’t happening, why was I here? But another season would roll around that was at least average or above average and any prior-year’s grumpiness would be forgotten.

But then we had a few pretty lean years in a row: after the memorably-good winter of 2010-11, the subsequent five seasons averaged 70% of normal snowfall, and it was harder to forget last season’s dearth, because it was the same as this season!   But as it turns out, this deficiency actually helped my state of mind and decreased my lean-snowpack-anxiety (known in professional psychiatric circles as “LSA”) because it sufficiently lowered my expectations.

Some years ago a friend sent me a YouTube video of a graduation commencement speech that turned the genre on its ear. Instead of invoking the standard cliché’ of “you can be anything! You can be President,” the guy basically said: “you won’t be famous. You won’t make a million dollars a year. You won’t be president of anything. BUT…you’ll probably have a nice family, a lot of friends, a decent job that pays enough for a modest lifestyle, and despite enduring a few hardships, you’ll die happy.” And he concluded it by saying “here’s the key to happiness: lower your expectations.” The low snow years of 2011-2015 did that; the new normal was lower than average snowpack, and it lowered my expectations. So when last winter rolled around and the snowpack and its participants were all fat and happy, it was that much better!

During that period I also realized that no amount of grumpiness about The Weather would actually change The Weather; it just laughed at my inability to adapt to whatever it through at me. So over time I tried to learn to work The Weather; if it snows, go skiing. If it doesn’t snow, still go skiing! If that doesn’t work, go running on the trails that hikers have packed out, or riding on the same, or head down to the empty and sunny desert, or fly to Japan (where it definitely ALWAYS snows!), or get Nordic gear (it’s actually really fun) and/or a fat bike. Maybe finally get someone to drag your ass up the Great White Icicle? It’s not coincidental that it was during these lean years that the geeky sport of Skimo rose in participation in these parts; with the many weeknight races people have even more incentive to skin up than simply keep up their fitness for when it does finally snow. Being creative enough to still have a lot of fun during a lean snow year can become the fun in and of itself. And if you think it’s bad here, remember: you could be in Colorado.

Norman Vincent Peale published the classic book The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952. Though he was a somewhat controversial figure (Donald and Ivanka Trump got married in his church), his book basically created the enormous industry of self-help books. Not coincidentally, the winter of 1950-51 was a pretty lean one in the Wasatch: only 349 inches at Alta Guard, well below the historical average of 500 inches. It’s not well known, but there’s a possibility that Mr. Peale chose that winter to vacation at Alta, and in his frustration at slaying nice powder he realized that he indeed did need to invoke the Power of Positive Thinking and that prompted him to pen his famous work. As proof, here is a memorable quote from his book:

“The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hat(ing high pressure), your mind from worry(ing about faceting). Live simply, expect little (powder), give much (to other activities). Fill your life with love(ing adrenaline). Scatter sunshine (and blower powder when it finally comes). Forget (December) think of other (big snow months). Do (some ice climbing) as you would be done by. Try this for a (season) and you will be surprised.” 

And remember: it’ll snow; it always does.

Leave a Reply