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Bozeman Ice Festival “Learnings”

Date: 14th December 2012

Bozeman Ice Festival “Learnings”

A friend of mine calls lessons learned while out doing mountain sports, “Learnings.” “Learnings” are things gleaned from intense experiences and pensive reflection in the mountains and life; sometimes they are fundamental truths that re-shape personal reality, other times just little things learned that make the passage of time more pleasurable. I thought a lot about what I’ve learned this fall, all of which came together over the last three days at the Bozeman Ice Festival.

The Bozeman Ice Festival is a ritual tribal gathering grounds, a place where normally responsible civilians from all walks of life put on their Goretex battle clothes and spend a few  days listening to the tribal explorers tell tall tales from far-off lands; get half-frozen, fully drunk; and ritually scarred from flying ice. There are memorials  for the dead, celebrations of the living and always, always a sense of community and shared passion that is only found in the ice tribe’s gatherings. I attended my first Bozeman Ice Fest back when my slideshow had actual physical slides, so that had to be well over ten years ago; a lot has changed since then, and I found myself thinking back over the last 15 years of training, competing and mixed climbing. It was 15 years ago that I quit a great job to go climb, fly and adventure full-time. For some reason I really felt that passage of time at Bozeman, and kept reflecting on it all, and learning.

Learnings about climbing ice:

-The steeper the ice gets the more important it is to really finish your movement by getting your hips into the wall with your legs straight. If you look at a person’s body in the locked-off position on steep ice it makes a mild back-bend, or “C” with the pelvis the centre of the arch. This moves the upper body out away from the ice (especially important on really steep ice) and allows room to swing, and puts the most weight on the crampons and not the arms.

-There is a simple, repeatable pattern for climbing steep ice. I first taught “cycles” of movement at Bozeman more than a decade ago. One tool high, arm straight, move feet over, move feet up to the same height, stand up, place tool, relax, repeat.  Only the arms or legs should be bent, never both at the same time. Repeat to the top. I see this style a lot in Canada, but it still needs to spread more. Too many climbers are stuck in the 70s for ice climbing, and have both their arms and legs bent at the same time. It’s possible to climb any piece of ice with bad technique, but the goal is to float it with a high level of security, safety and fun.

-If your knees are slightly below your hip joints, or your femurs slightly “less” than parallell to the ground is about perfect for starting the stand-up move each cycle. This puts the lock-off in the right spot for most people; if the femurs are more than parallell with the ground (feet too high) then the lock-off hand position will be too low. Femurs less than 80 degrees and the lock-off hand will be too high. Neither one is good.

– Put your helmet toward the ice, don’t look away from falling ice. Not one of my clinic participants required steri-stripping this year.  I really drove that home during my second clinic as the ice was brutal, and we got out without blood.

-Staying warm is an active process. Yesterday my clinic and I did about 150 squats to stay warm at -15C., plus ran up and down the hill, etc. It was tolerable even though I had to talk a lot due to the clinic’s size. I take for granted all the things I do to stay warm, from swinging my legs to squats to windmills etc. If you’re cold it’s own damn fault…


Competition and Training Learnings:

I last competed in climbing about six years ago, but I got psyched to do the Bozeman Icebreaker mixed comp because so many of my friends were involved with it, and it looked like a lot of fun. I was also having a really good fall of rock climbing, and got in some good days of mixed action too. I don’t think I’m in the best shape of my life, but with a good base of hard (for me) rock climbing and a month of harder mixed climbing I started to feel decent this fall. I was shooting to win the over-40 division, but ended up flat-out winning against what I consider to be a pretty darn strong field.

-Winning is fun. Losing sucks. I’ve done my fair share of both over the years, and I wish athletes and non-athletes would be more real about both these emotions. Competition brings out huge emotions, storms of internal dialogue, demons and angels, but actually showing or even truly feeling these emotions is somehow taboo; the athletic ideal is a big smile for a win, and a bit of solemn reflection for a loss. I have never felt in the centre of the emotional range after winning or losing; I want to rip the walls down and dance on tables when I win, and crawl into a black pit with spikes around the lip when I have a shitty performance. I think pretty much every competitor who every really tried  feels this way. When you put yourself fully into anything there will be mental repercussions. So let’s stop pretending that competition is some sort of new-age self-awareness clinic, it’s just not. It can be massive fun at best and head-on car crash carnage at worst. The trick is to use both the negative and the positive to examine everything that led to the experience; emotions are fuel for achievement in my view, but only if the athlete is honest about how he or she feels, and why. Covering intense emotion with psycho-babble anesthetic does not lead to athletic improvement or self-knowledge.

-Training partners really, really matter, as does a good training scene. I had the good luck to get out a lot this fall with a whole host of really good people, which turned into a good scene. Three weeks before the comp I belayed my friend Ben Firth when he sent an M10 despite having no right bicep and severe nerve damage in his fingers from a bad skiing accident; he very nearly died and everyone said he would never climb again, but there he was going hard! It was one of the raddest sends I’ve ever seen, I damn near cried with joy to see it. Four days before the comp I belayed Sarah Hueniken when she sent a solid M11, the first woman in North America to do so, and the stoke was again just insane I had a really random experience with this at Bozeman; I taught a clinic all day with Whit Magro, and then we jumped on a classic local M11 and got after it for a few hours. We totally destroyed ourselves, got super psyched, and both sent the route in Bozeman. I wouldn’t have sent the comp route without his training psyche.. So many other good examples of this in the last two months; every one of my climbing and training partners was with me when I clipped the chains at the top of the route. Cross Fit and other training communities have this figured out; bad days and good days are better with other motivated people.

-Perfection in training doesn’t exist. No day will ever be “perfect,” nor will any month or year, or even competition. But doing your best to train is perfect. One of my best workouts this year was in a hotel room in England. I was jet-lagged, couldn’t sleep, and finally just got up and did finger-tip pullups on the bathroom door jambs (they were steel and strong enough), pushups, squats and some other stuff with the desk, which I at one point pulled over on top of myself….  I’m pretty sure that workout gave me the juice to finish the route at Bozeman.

-Flying, climbing and paddling comps are all obviously different, but they share one common theme: You’ve got to complete the course/time/whatever the standard is before going faster. I always worry more about climbing to the top of a route or flying a comp paragliding course completely than I do about going fast or trying to make the experience fit pre-conceived metrics of speed or position relative to other competitors. If I’m flying well I am fast. If I’m climbing well I am fast.  If I’m bouldering well I don’t worry about the time limits in bouldering comps, I just climb the damn problems. Trying to be fast or other external metrics just results in bad results, of which I’ve had quite literally hundreds if not thousands over the years. Every time I’ve won I’m just doing my sport as best as I can. Most every time I’ve lost I’ve been thinking too much and not just executing as I’ve trained to do. In Bozeman I just climbed; rested when I needed to, but goal 1 was to send the route. I knew I might come second if I rested too much, but I could come last if  I fell off…




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