Some of the most passionate skiers I’ve met are people who came to the sport later in life. I don’t know if it’s about “making up for lost time”, or just trying to get better at a new sport, but a lot of people who started skiing in their 30s, 40s, or 50s are out there every time I’m at the mountain – learning, evolving, progressing. When they feel like they’ve gone as far as they can go, they take a lesson to try to move up to the next level. When they have an injury or a setback, they come back from it even stronger than before. They start out as non skiers, move on to become gapers, progress further to become average weekend warriors, and then start touching the higher echelons of the sport.
I feel like I’m going through this evolution with mountain biking. The first time we went, Ace and I looked at each other and said “Is this what mountain biking is like?” “It’s so hard!” “Why are we so bruised and broken?” But, for some reason, we kept at it. Now, I feel like I have really developed a "passion" for it. When I see a tough section, instead of looking at it with dread and despair, I see it as a challenge. I want to be good enough to ride it. I want to be stronger, too. Road bike rides have gone from a way to get exercise to mountain bike-specific muscle training. I’ve been reading books and watching instructional videos trying to refine technique.
But WHY? Why do some people develop a passion for something, and other people find it to be just another enjoyable activity? After our first ride, Ace and I could’ve just said “That was fun”, and relaxed for a couple of months – similar to the people who ski once or twice a year, put the skis away, and move on to other things. But we didn’t do that. We rode again later that week. And twice the next week. And three times the week after that. Now, we ride our mountain bikes every weekend and a couple of times during the week – just like skiing.
I was thinking about this when I read an article on the Independent Fabrication Custom Bicycles blog. After recounting a harrowing crash during a 214 km “Gentleman’s Race”, the author (“G.”) spends some time in a hospital and reflects on why people push themselves the way they do. What is it that drives people (especially those in the industry)?
In my career in the outdoor and bike industries I've observed two types of folks: those that are in the space, and those that are of the space. Those that are in the space are there because at one point they may have been active participants in the sport, or they may have just been intrigued by the equipment or allure of the sport overall, but for these folks it is just the way that they make their living, not the way that they live their life.
Those that are truly of the space are a different breed, and I would argue more successful for it. They are there because it is the way they choose to live their life, and the making a living part is a gift with purchase... the marriage of passion with purpose.
I may have reached the point where more often than not I am going to be the slow man, but I refuse to give up and just be in the space. If I don't actively participate, meaning if I don't actually ride, and try to ride as hard as I can, then I am not truly of the space. My purpose will lack passion, and I might as well go do something more lucrative.
And so, I will get back on the bike as soon as I can, albeit with a new helmet, and still unwilling to accept my role as the slow man.
To truly be “of the space”, you have to have passion. Drive. Desire. After 25 years of skiing, I still have that passion. I still pore over trip reports and watch ski movies (I even put one on the other day after I couldn’t find anything on television). I still get a rush on the first skiing day of the season. I still want to get better, go bigger, and push harder. When I get to a ski area, I not only want to be “of the space”, I want to start expanding to fill the space.
I was at Sugarloaf one day in 1999 or so and Jonny Moseley showed up, fresh from his gold in the 1998 Olympics. By the end of the day, almost every kid at the mountain from age 6-16 was skiing with him. Moseley in front, huge pack of kids behind him, huge group of parents behind them. It was great! Glen Plake gets the same kind of posse when he goes on his Down Home Tours. When you are truly “of the space”, it’s not only about personal growth and personal development; it’s about inspiring others to live the dream, too (whether through instruction, blogging, or just general radness).
Passion is a strange thing. It launches careers. It fuels relationships. It drives Mother Theresa, and it drives suicide bombers. It’s not a little flicker of interest. It’s not even a fire inside. It’s a full blown inferno that can’t be extinguished. But sometimes, it does get extinguished. How do we keep it up? If we have to be “of the space”, what happens when we no longer like the space we’re in? When we want to move on to a different space?
I guess I don’t have all the answers. I just know that if I ever had to quit skiing, I’d have a hard time figuring out what do with myself through the winter. There are certain feelings that you get when you’re skiing that you can’t get anywhere else. It makes me want to do whatever it takes to repeat those feelings. I don’t think the passion could ever just go away. I haven’t really developed that sense from mountain biking yet, so I guess I’m not as ultra-passionate about that.
I mean, seriously. It’s June and I’m already watching ski movies . . . It’s going to be a long summer.