Commit: Personal Velocity

Sponsored story: Arc’teryx skier Pia Nic Gunderson on finding the perfect balance between comfort and risk

I actually knew – the second before the crash that set me out of play for almost a year – that it would happen. Spring skiing in Norway, a season ender with friends after a long and intense winter. I could have stopped, I didn’t need to clear the cliff band; didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, at least not myself.

But even so I went for it, knowing I lacked enough speed and the result was as expected. I didn’t clear the cliff band, crashed on the landing, and had a tumble on wet spring snow. A risk I was willing to take, just because it felt easier to go with it instead of thinking too much and stopping for a second look. This recklessness cost me a torn ACL and a year not being able to ski like I wanted.

I’ve come to terms with the reason for not stopping for that second look. I thought that my body would endure it. The winter leading up to my mistake had been filled with new accomplishments resulting in sky-high confidence in myself and my skiing. I guess you could say that I had become overconfident.

When I got the results from the MRI one of my first thoughts was that this was an inevitability. I had been pushing my limits too far. You can’t be overconfident when your stage is a mountain and your are preconditioned to put on a good show on earthly elements hand in hand with gravity and velocity. You have to know what you’re doing. Using the mountains as your stage you ought to know when to step back, take a pause, or reflect on how you ski.

With this new knowledge in hand I started on a long recovery. As a former alpine racer, I’m used to visualisation as a tool to prepare before races. It is an important tool, and it helped get me through boring repetitive exercises. I pictured how I’d play my role as a skier in the future. Would my new learning or understanding of myself play a part in how I skied?

Visualisation is not only about being able to see yourself doing things perfectly, it’s also about being able to recall a state of mind that provides perfect balance. I tried to find that state of mind throughout those hours at the gym – picturing standing on top of a run, ready to drop with my head in the right spot, not too nervous or too overeager.

Arcteryx had faith in me, and as early as two months after my surgery, they asked if I thought I’d be able to plan for a photo shoot the following winter. I couldn’t be sure that the road to recovery would be without obstacles, but it could work. I got the opportunity to choose the location for the shoot and I instantly knew that I wanted to go back to my home turf.

Narvik, a small town in the end of one of Norway’s many fjords, is where I figured out how much skiing means to me. I’ve skied since the age of two, but moving to Narvik at the age of 16 was a personal choice to fully commit to skiing. This was also where I transformed from alpine racing to freeriding ten years ago.

And then the time came. I was at the final stop of my recovery, on the stage I’d pictured for so long. The scenery and conditions were beyond what I’d been able to visualise during my recovery. I’d been back on skis a month earlier, but not given my knee or mind the ultimate test.

I’ll admit it; I’ve taken a lot for granted. Being an active and somewhat risk-seeking human being for most of my life, I’ve never experienced an injury worse than a sprained ankle. Nothing has ever come between my desire to act and my capability to do so. I look at the injury as a gentle slap in the face. It’s life telling me to be humble. I consider the lessons learned in the mountains important to my personal development. It’s so genuine and true. Like life in general you should always have a humble respect and appreciation for your surroundings. That’s what I’ve learned.

I’m looking forward to once again playing my role as the skier I want to be. With the same confidence in my skiing but armed with a better understanding of the risks and a more sensible approach to what I’m doing. Tough but smart. Confident but not reckless. The right state of mind.

Limits are personal and it’s up to the individual to strike the perfect balance. Find that comfort zone and push it a bit. You have to be… just perfectly scared.