Courage to Fall

By Khai Johannes Feb 15, 2024
How often have you made it top to bottom without taking a single fall? Three runs? The whole day? If you were to fall, what's your next move?
Courage to Fall

March 5th I stood in line at Snowbird's Gad 2 surrounded by powder-hungry cohorts all clambering towards the front of the line. Another large snowfall had brought joy out of all of us and courage out of others. That courage had inspired a skier to creep his skis to a cliff's edge within eyeshot of the lift line. A handful of us noticed, and with a few fingers and poles pointing his way, the majority of the line was tuned in. Cheers erupted as he stared gravity in the face and dared it to pull him down. 

The stranger leapt. 

Gravity said, "I'll take that bet" and yanked him from the sky.

A cloud of powder shot up and the cheers turned from enthusiastic "Woo!" to low-toned "oooo."

Like a groundhog a month late, our fallen hero's head popped out of the snow. He then erected both arms upwards to signify he'd survived.


When we first learned our preferred downhill craft, be it board or ski, we spent a lot of time falling. Inevitably the goal became to fall less and ski more. The more we kept after it, the further apart the falls became until eventually we arrived at the end of a run without having fallen a single time; success! In deeming a fall-free run a success, we demonized falling. We see falling as failing instead of what it really is; trying. 

From our earliest years when we made our way across the floors on fours, crawling inches at a time until one day we got the courage to try standing. Our feeble legs unaccustomed to stabilizing the weight of our oversized pinch-worthy-cheeks wobble a few times until with a soft thud, we're reunited with the ground. Again we stand, then fall. It goes on this way until one day that unstable base solidifies.

Spoiler alert, most of us didn't settle with standing. Having watched the giants that tower over us extend their long appendages one after another to move around, we decided to give that a try. One step…wobble…fall.

Undeterred, we're back on our feet only to again wobble and fall. 


It goes on like that for a while. Eventually, our efforts are rewarded with our first walk free of falling! We look up at the faces of those giants and on their massive faces are grins, there may even be some cheering. With support like this, we naturally are not just proud to succeed but enthusiastic to try!...Right?

Somewhere along our early journeys we try something else and fail, but the massive faces aren't smiling. Instead, there's concern or fear. That doesn't feel good to see. Slowly we begin to do more of what makes those massive faces smile and cheer and less of what twists their expressions into fear-filled scowls. We might think we're learning not to fall when in actuality we're demonizing trying and failing.

Think of the time you sheepishly dismissed yourself after a performance review rather than speaking up and asking for the raise you'd earned. Recall the time you watched the smoke show at the bar walk out. Even though the two of you locked eyes repeatedly, you couldn't bring yourself to approach them and strike up a conversation. Remember how you felt in school when teachers asked for an answer to a problem and you kept silent only to have someone else give the same answer antagonizing moments later. We allowed our learned fear of trying and failing to keep us from actualizing our potential. 

If the goal in snowboarding is simply not to fall, then why ride runs that are harder than green, learn to ride switch, or dial in casual front side 3's? Why even leave the lodge? A snowboarder could sit in a plush armed chair from first to last chair without falling a single time. If the goal in life is not to fail, why should we try at all? Why ask for that promotion, flirt with a gorgeous person, or speak up? 

"All living things, you included, are created, grow and then die. Since you already have been created and aren't dead yet, you are most in harmony when you align yourself with the positive process in between - growth. You live in a dynamic world. If you are sitting in a rigid comfort zone, then you are dying - slowly, but still dying. To stay vibrant you need to engage life and take risk... in order to learn and grow." -Arno Ilgner, Rock Warrior's Way 2003

The answer to the questions is simple; we try and fail because that's how we grow and to grow is to be alive. Looking back at the skier who went from flying with angels to making snow angels, I may have misinterpreted his body language. Holding his arms above his head he wasn't signaling, "I survived, I'm still alive." Instead, he was saying, "I tried, failed and grew. I am living."