I moved to California in August and my hectic travel schedule (Ukraine, Kentucky, Colorado, Thailand) prevented me from actually spending a significant amount of time here until recently. The impetus for moving away from my hometown of Boulder was multifold. There’s a reason people say everyone should leave their hometown at some point. I had grown weary and tired of being in the same place all my life, to the point where even my passion for climbing was dwindling. I loved my family and friends there, but I no longer looked forward to returning home after big trips. I lost motivation to train at any of the four amazing climbing gyms that the town has, and never even bothered to venture to the outdoor climbing locales that make Boulder one of the climbing epicenters of the world. Some may beg to differ, but I think Boulder is a nice place, full of talented and motivated individuals, with some of the best access to training facilities and the outdoors. I have been spoiled there all my life, but still felt the need to escape, see a new place, immerse myself in a new community. Whatever may happen, I felt like it would be better than staying in the safe place I had always known. So I packed all I could fit in my car and drove west.
I initially settled in Berkeley, where my good friend Beth Rodden was kind enough to offer me a room, but eventually landed in Tahoe, where I’ve been spending most of my time. Having never moved before, I’ve never entered a community as an outsider. I grew up surrounded by the climbing community, immersed in a sport and lifestyle that I knew intimately and defined myself by. It’s all I’ve ever known until now. Recently though I’ve formed new friendships and relationships not based on climbing, but on other interests. I’m spending the winter doing something new. Well, new and old. Instead of toiling away in the climbing gym or spending my winter traveling even more to go rockclimbing, I’ve been spending time in Tahoe skiing.
I don’t remember when I first skied. My dad tells me I was 6 months old, but I think I was more like 2. He put me in ski school at age 5, and I was racing competitively by 8. Skiing was important to him, and he wanted me to grow up with the basic skills under my belt so that we could share that passion together as I grew up. I don’t remember whether or not I liked skiing, but I am sure that if I did, it wasn’t as much as he wanted me to, no matter how hard he tried. I fell in love with climbing when I was 11 and never looked back, which my dad was also just fine with because he grew to love climbing just as much as me (if not more). I’ve put on skis once or twice in the last 15 years but never felt the same passion that I had for climbing.
I decided to give it another shot after realizing that I wanted to spend time in one of the best ski areas in the country and nearly every new friend I had made was the equivalent of a 5.13 skier. I bit the bullet and bought new gear, a ski pass, and even took an avalanche course to familiarize myself with backcountry safety. I still didn’t really know if I would like skiing, or if I’d even be good enough to keep up with the new posse of hardcore skier buddies I had now made.
Waiting in line: Powder day on Christmas Eve in the KT-22 Lift line. Everyone rips.
At first, I felt like a gumby in Rifle for the first time. Everyone knows everyone else, they’re all sponsored, and crush 13+ using kneebar beta that’s been fine-tuned from years spent lapping the same routes repeatedly. Meanwhile all the poor newbie wonders is “Where’s the warm up?!” only to find out that the warm-up is the 12d that everyone can do blind, hungover, and high. Tahoe (and specifically Squaw Valley) is home to some damn good skiers, professional and weekend warriors alike. They take their skiing seriously, like climbers in Rifle. I watch them rip down every run with perfect form, fearlessly hucking off cliffs, innately understanding their body positions and how to execute each turn fluidly and effortlessly, much like an exceptionally good rockclimber. That’s the beauty of watching outstanding athletes in any sport, they always seem to make it look so easy. Even though it took years of hard work to get to that point, the end result is truly inspiring.
But I was intimidated by the thought of failing. I’ve always failed in climbing, but this was different. I was afraid of finding out that I totally suck at something. As it turns out, I don’t really suck at skiing, I’m alright at it. It really was like riding a bike! My body remembered how to move over snow remarkably well for the 15 year hiatus I’d taken, to the point where I stopped worrying about sucking and starting concerning myself with how to get better. I ask my ski partners to give me advice on how to have better form, how to be faster, think ahead more, not hesitate, etc. I’ve become increasingly obsessed with becoming a better skier, right now maybe even more so than being a stronger climber.
Adrian Ballinger Photo
I wondered at first if this shift on focus would hurt my climbing, cause me to lose passion like I did for skiing as a child so many years ago, but the opposite has been true. It’s been refreshing and motivating to have another sport to try to improve at. I still go climbing a few times a week, at the little gym 40 min drive away (I’ve always lived within 10 min of the gym). They have a pretty decent gym with both routes and bouldering, but I don’t have many climbing partners here so all I’ve been doing is bouldering, something I’ve never particularly liked and always felt weak at. Now that I’ve been forced into bouldering more, I’m beginning to enjoy it, and get better at it. Not only that but because the gym is kinda far away and I am paying for a membership I have to actually want to climb and put in the effort to make it worth the time and money. The fun part is that I now only let myself go when I really want to, and my climbing is better as a result. Less is more – training is no longer a chore, but something to look forward to and I feel motivated and psyched when I’m doing it.
There is something to say for achieving balance in life. I’ve had trouble with this in the past few years, since graduating college, because my work and play merged into one. The life of a professional athlete is far from trying or unpleasant, but there are uncertainties I encounter that often cause me to question whether or not I chose the right path. But then again, who doesn’t do that? We all make choices and decisions to try to improve ourselves and our success in life. Sometimes it works out, other times we have to take a step back and reevaluate. I think its healthy and productive when either circumstance happens. I recently made the choices to relocate, try something new, and to put myself out there a little bit more than I had in the past, and I’m glad that I did.
Here’s to a new year of learning, opportunities, and more adventures. Make it count!
Adrian Ballinger Photo