Zen and the Art of Helicopter Maintenance: Heli Skiing in British Columbia
Heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies was a great experience and has taught me some great life lessons that will make me a better person, entrepreneur, and skier.
Life may be precarious. But I was not thinking about kneeling on one knee in deep snow, on a glacier in the alpine mountain range in British Columbia. I was waiting to get all the clear and for the helicopter to ascend after dropping us at the top for our first run.
Life may be precarious, but I was not thinking about when the helicopter started to ascend after the drop and then returned to the landing spot merely 2 feet from where we were still in the crouched position.
Life may be precarious, but I was not even thinking about when the guide was shouting over the eardrum bursting decibel level of the rotors, “there is nothing to worry about; you won’t be stuck here all night.” It did even occur to me to panic when the pilot shut down the engines and simply parked on this high alpine perch waiting for the gray light and clouds that reduced his visibility to 10 feet to lift.
That is how my first heli-skiing trip with the CMH Heli in Revelstoke, Canada began on our very first ride up the mountain.
Life is precarious for everyone, still despite the obvious danger. I wasn't nervous or afraid of the potential consequences that were very real out in the harsh, high-alpine wilderness.
Why didn't I or the other ten souls, still strangers in my midst, panic? Most of us had never been on a heli-skiing trip. We were living in the moment. A moment in our lives that was only just beginning— a moment with both great expectations and none at all. Yet with hardly a word uttered between us in those first few minutes of our adventure, there was a silent vow being made that our shared experience and utter dependence on each other would determine the outcome.
Despite the apparent calm or group bravado, there was plenty of time for anxiety and nervousness. The morning orientation included watching the safety video, learning and drilling on avalanche safety in the snow, and a stern talk by the pilot on how not to get your head sliced off by the helicopter rotor before boarding. That long first flight up the mountain range gave me ample time to contemplate my sanity and safety. Was this a risk worth taking?
The easiest part was skiing down the pristine powder and virginal snow in perfect weather. The hard part was the anticipation of the day after two years of covid delays and preparation for 25 years of skiing from Mountain Creek to Mammoth!
I admit that my goals when I slid into the bowl of fresh stuff for my Virgin run down the mountain were about finding the perfect line and amassing meters of vertical. But I soon found a higher purpose, and I suspect so did my nine fellow skiers. We became a band of brothers. We were from distant places and birth nations, including Spain, Israel, and the UK. Despite being strangers, we were bound together by more than just joy and passion for skiing. We were united in covering our partner’s backs and ensuring their safety. We knew that alone, we fail, but together, we thrive. The shared experience of the success and challenges made the voyage exponentially sweeter and the obstacles easier.
The obstacles were never the kind of death-defying stunts you see in Warren Miller films. I am sure we each faced our moments of doubt and concern. But I have been in many worse predicaments on inbound ski resort terrain. Still, there is no question that the stakes are infinitely higher in the backcountry. But we were not risk-takers; instead, our group was all risk mitigators led by world-class experts. The CMH guides and operation was a well-oiled machine of logistics, planning, coaching, and orchestration. Their design was to ski us down safely and within our limits.
While taking it all for granted is easy, a few quick lessons reminded me that the line between overconfidence and humility is razor-thin. Again, the helicopter incident on the first day reinforced the knowledge that every takeoff and landing on a snow-covered mountain is a complex orchestration of changing variables.
The final lesson occurred during my last run on day 2. It provided great excitement and entertainment for all. It started with me waiting for about 100 meters above the designated pick-up spot directing the last skiers in the group to a traverse. We were in low-angle terrain close to a flat plateau. I took a quick left instead of the traverse to float over what looked like a nice plump pillow of snow. What could go wrong?
It ended with my group perched below at the helicopter pick-up point yelling, "oh shit," "I think he has fallen into a cave," and "I hope he has not lost consciousness."
I had innocently hucked a 10-foot boulder and, before I could even say oh shit landed in a flat heap of snow perilously close to a cave under the boulder. With all my body and ski parts attached, I picked myself up and skied with embarrassment to my audience of astonished admirers. I was lucky, for sure. I skied the final run with too much aggression and overconfidence. My humility was now restored and properly stamped to my forehead.
Let me apply these lessons to my other favorite passion, entrepreneurship. I want to bust the myth of the entrepreneur as a risk-taking, swashbuckling hero out for the big payday.
Three principles to live by will make you a better entrepreneur.
Be a risk mitigator, not a risk-taker.
Humility is a better trait than confidence every day of the week and twice on Fridays.
Starting a business, as with everything else you do in life, should be about finding a higher purpose.
This is Alex Cooper. You can find and follow The MindsetCEO on LinkedIn or YouTube. Visit our website and book a call to see how I can help you on your journey from Founder to CEO.
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