Risk versus Reward

03jack395.2 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.

13 thoughts on “Risk versus Reward

  1. J.R. says:

    Is Janet hearing for the first time that you did Corbett’s Couloir in this blog??? 🙂

    The Alex Honnold clip on 60 Minutes is very fitting for your post. It is worth watching. The link is:


    Thanks for sharing Pat.

    • McCloskey, Pat says:

      Thanks JR. She doesn’t know the particulars but then…… she doesn’t have to. Haha. Thanks for posting the link.

  2. Uncle Lucy says:

    Hi Pat,
    Great Post! I find that the OSF apllies in everything these days!

    • patmccloskey says:

      Thanks for reading Dean. Yes the OSF is omnipresent in this world of ours. Corbett’s Couloir, Tuckerman, Paranoids, Palavaccinni, other storied snow venues accentuate the OSF but sometimes you just ……………..take the leap!!! HAHA See you tomorrow night.

  3. Cuz-I-L says:

    Paddy Mac, Best blog yet! Vivid in description of literal places some may never have been, and of figurative “places” we have ALL been! Mine: whether to floor it, pedal to the metal, in a 1972 XKE Jag convertible, roof down, custom bose cranked, under a star-studded winter sky, onto “frozen?” Indian Lake…Pucker Syndrome, then…we took the risk and the reward of doin donuts for days, adrenaline pumpin, our screams mixed with Zeppelins’ AND gettin out dry and alive was SO worth the OSF!! xoxo Cuz-I-L

    • McCloskey, Pat says:

      Wow Lynne. That essay was a blog posting in itself!!!! You were definitely in the vertical OSF in that description. Thanks but yours was better!!!!!

  4. Cuz-I-L says:

    NOT so Patrick boyo, just to be lettin’ ya know this ole Irish Broad, though nary on a chair lift in me dear life, has had a few OSF moments in me day! Keep at yur writin”, tis a blessing and a thrill every read!! Slainte Cuz-I-L

    • McCloskey, Pat says:

      As always Lynne, thanks for your support. But that initial response had me laughing. As does this one!!! 🙂

  5. Mark Hutchinson says:

    pat! Your blog reminds me of a story that a good friend told me about skiing tuckermans. He skiied into a crevasse! Lucky for him, he wedged in there before hitting the underground brook below. He said he was able to take his skiis off, and use them to stick into the side of the crevasse creating a ladder to climb out on! Said he could see the brook below, tunneling under the snowpac! Oh shit!

    • McCloskey, Pat says:

      Hutch- this is almost what happened to me. Durf was impatient with me and I almost fell into the damn crevasse. WTH. The OSF was high that day. Hey we are getting close to your trip man. Can’t wait. Thanks for responding.

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