Monday, June 5, 2017

Summits Matter! Teams Matter More.


Porter photo


When Abe Lincoln famously said “give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe” he easily could have been talking about ski alpinism. Heck, he could have stretched that 4:2 ratio to something more like 1,000,000 to one. If the “chopped tree” of backcountry skiing is a techy, hard, big mountain descent, the axe sharpening takes years while the main event can take minutes. We won’t bore you with the ‘stats’ of our Peru ski mountaineering trip, but you can rest assured that the ratio of prep to descending was mind blowing. The whole experience, start to finish and beyond, was well worth it, but the preparation was hearty. 
Porter Photo

Each participant came in with honed fitness, years of backcountry experience, and careful recent care of their bodies through travel, 3rd world diet, and last-minute trip and work stressors. The guide and logistics team tapped into generations of knowledge of Peru, skiing, camp logistics, and mountain risk management. Each individual smoothly yielded his and her individual self in the interest of joining what proved to be a well-oiled team. How does that happen? How does an apparently random group of skiers, some with decades of shared experiences while others met everyone else in the dark at the Lima airport, coalesce into a team that successfully transcends the sum of its parts to achieve more than any individual is capable of? How does that all happen on a guided trip? 
Smiley Photo

Distilling a group of big, adventurous personalities into a cohesive alpinist team is half discipline, half art, and half magic. Mark and Janelle and I hatched the idea for our latest Peru ski expedition years ago. From the very start, the group and group dynamics was a major consideration. Big mountain terrain and skiing are inherently appealing. Our Smiley/Porter teamwork and skills are now fairly well solidified, with inevitable and ongoing incremental improvements on top of our foundation. Where we had the most to work on was in the nature of the group we’d assemble. Reaching, interviewing, and preparing the individuals in the group is where we focused our greatest efforts. We knew we could deliver an amazing trip, if only we could get a great group together. 
Porter Photo

I’d say we did a damn fine job. We laid the foundation of the group from our most trusted and loyal returning clients. We then worked with other applicants to make sure they were 100% ready for everything skiing in Peru would require. 
Givler Photo

On the overloaded discipline/art/magic trident that makes up expedition “group assembly”, much is out of our control. We can only do so much to make sure everyone’s expectations, skills, fitness, and attitude is ready for something like skiing on giant, wild, equatorial peaks. On the things we can do, however, we went hard. We had extensive email and phone conversations with each interested participant. Folks sent us videos and resumes, delivering humble and vulnerable information to ensure that all would have an excellent time on the trip. We tapped into our network of guides to calibrate people’s mountain auto-biographies against the trips they’ve done with our colleagues. 
Smiley Photo

People “self-select” very well. Adventurous, expedition skiing like we enjoy and enjoy sharing is appealing, but its realities are clear. Those that aspire to such things are inherently adventurous, calculated, and self-aware. No one signs up to head half way around the world to “see if this is something I might like”. Those that want to ski something like Peru’s expedition ski peaks are committed. Every applicant to our expedition understood the expedition’s realities. Everyone involved planned enough ahead so that they could fill in whatever gaps they had in their experience, fitness, or equipment. We worked with each participant for at least three months, staying in touch through shake-down ski tours, gear selection, and rigorous sea-level physical fitness regimes. Of the 11 Americans on the trip, all but two skied with at least one of the others in the season prior. We coordinated some of these shared ski tours with folks that otherwise wouldn’t have known one another.
Porter Photo

Every one of the 11 gringos on our 2017 Pisco and Copa ski expedition arrived in Lima with 99% of the work done. We then joined a revolving, professional staff of Peruano guides, cooks, porters, donkeys, and donkey drivers to smooth the local hurdles and considerably mitigate the physical work load. We had an excellent plan, had performed careful preparations, and could essentially coast through the van rides, innumerable “duffel shuffles”, and miles-high skin tracks to the apex. From our trip high points, the payoff was enjoyable, but this team of adventurers carried prodigious understanding of the realities. The journey, starting years prior, was the destination. Those minutes of ski descending were the punctuation, the seasoning, the celebratory shot of pisco. The hours and months and years of preparation, each participant and guide bringing her and his own story and path to merge, ever so shortly and sweetly, with the rest, were rewarded as each of those paths continues on to the next adventure.