One of my favorite characters is Harry Callaghan, aka "Dirty Harry of the SFPD. Harry says that a man has to know his limitations. This can apply to sport. Take the golfer for instance. He has to make a decision to go for the green with a water hazard within reach. The risk is getting a penalty if he hits it into the water, the reward is a good score if he does not. No real threat to his body. Ratchet it up a notch and see Peyton Manning trying to thread the needle to a receiver. Again, the risk of an interception with a scoring penalty, the reward is a reception. Take it up another notch if Peyton stays in the pocket too long and two goons are charging to take his head off, the risk is then accentuated. Finally, look at the picture above. This is the infamous Corbett’s Couloir at Jackson Hole,Wyoming. Now in good snow years, the couloir is filled with light, fluffy snow and you can enter the couloir and ski the fluffy stuff all the way down into the slope below with very little risk if you can handle the steepness. However, as in the picture above, there are years when the snow is lean and the conditions are rock hard with the entrance to the couloir requiring a leap to the snow surface. In these conditions, you hope that your bindings stay on and you make the first critical turns. Otherwise, they may have to scrape you off the rock walls on the side of the couloir with a puddy knife. I have skied Corbett’s in both conditions and the follwing principles guide my path to execute or not to execute.
The first principle is called the Pucker Syndrome. If you were to plot a graph with the beginning in the lower left hand part of the graph and extending at a 45 degree angle to the right, there would be a point where we plot when one would pucker his lips and say,”OOOOOOH Man, I don’t know about this one? Accompanying the Pucker Syndrome line would be a parrallel line which I call the Oh Shit Factor. The OSF can also be plotted to the point where the cognitive mind steps in and says that you have a family, a job, and the risk is too great. The OSF is there to help you live to ski another day. There are folks who ski 100 days plus or are young, strong, free skiers, who think nothing of conditions like this. Their risk versus reward is not a factor and they ski it with ease. But for the rest of the world who perhaps don’t get as many days or are older, the combination of these two elements guide judgement.
Sometimes the Pucker Syndome and the OSF come on in a hurry and unexpected. Like the time I was climbing up the Hourglass in Tuckerman Ravine and my friend Eric was above me and told me to turn around and look at the storm approaching in the valley below. As I turned, I sunk into the snow up to my waist with no sensation of solid ground below me. I had apparently stepped onto a snow covered crevasse. The Pucker and OSF were upon me as I scrambled to safety. Otherwise they would have had to pull me out with a rope or find me in the spring looking rather disheveled,wrinkled, and cold as a clam.
If you go to You Tube, look up Alex Honnold on 60 Minutes. Alex is a celebrated free climber in Yosemite and without giving the video away, he seems comfortable in what he does. But in my world,he has pushed the OSF into the stratosphere on the graph. So, in life and in sport, listen to my man Harry Callaghan. If the factors are comfortable, go for it, the risk may justify the reward. If not, listen and live to ski another day. Thanks for reading.