CHAPTER 14: SNOWBOARDING WITH JENNY JONES (AND FEAR FIGHTING)
I used to think I was deliberate, considering and premeditative. But these days I seem to be rather impulsive. In the autumn of 2016 I saw a Facebook post from Jenny Jones. Jenny is the UK’s most successful (medal wise) snowboarder (male or female) and I’ve been following her on social media since I first read about her in Cooler magazine back in 2007. After winning bronze at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Jenny turned her focus to creating a workshop to share her knowledge about (and stoke for) snowboarding. The first workshop – a weeklong trip to the French resort of Sainte Foy – was to be held in March 2017.
“JENNY WANTED TO SHARE HER KNOWLEDGE OF AND STOKE FOR SNOWBOARDING.”
Wow! What an opportunity to ride with the one and only Jenny Jones. But the trip was expensive, around £2,000. The reason for the high price though, aside from riding with Jenny, was the fact she’d assembled a highly talented entourage comprised of two snowboard guides/instructors, James Sweet and Neil McNair, a yoga instructor, Sian Leigh, and Jenny’s sport psychologist, Louise Jones (no relation). This combination made the trip incredibly unique. I was sold. I booked it right then and there.
“I WAS SOLD!”
Arriving at Geneva airport a few months later I was a little nervous, mostly about the general riding level of the group. I didn’t want everyone to be crap; on the other hand, I didn’t want to be the worst in the group. As it turned out, I ended up being among the best.
I met Suzie first. Timid on the outside but with a belting laugh full of warmth, we instantly connected over climbing. She was around my age and when she described her experience I thought she’d be around the same snowboarding level as me.
I met the others a little while later as we hauled our board-bags to the mini bus. We were a mixed bunch; ages ranged from 27 through to 45-ish. Some had ridden a lot, others not so much. And I wouldn’t say there was anyone there I instantly latched onto and identified with. Plus, there was only one guy, Josh, and he was there with his girlfriend, Kelly.
We met Jenny and the coaches that evening. It was quite something to come face-to-face with someone you really admire and look up to. But it was so refreshing just how normal Jenny was. In another world we would definitely be friends. She has a great sense of humour, swears like a trooper and loves to party. But she eats well, works out and loves being outdoors and active, too. I found a real kindred spirit in her. Sian too. As the week went on I felt closer and closer to both of them, and the boundaries between client/guide and friends started to blur.
“THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN CLIENT/GUIDE AND FRIENDS STARTED TO BLUR.”
I got a major boost right after the first warm up run when Jenny turned to me quietly and asked where I’d learned to ride. I explained that I’d been an instructor and her reply was simply: “it shows. You’ve got great technique.” That’s basically how the week progressed for me. I can’t say I improved leaps and bounds on the snowboarding front, but according to Jenny that was because I was already doing most things right. It was just a matter of tweaking, getting more confident and riding with more control – whatever the speed.
The snow was epic that first day. So instead of doing drills on the piste, we headed into deep freshies. Although my legs were raw, I managed to hold my own, even getting a shriek of “oh yes, my god” from Neil as I did a major banked powder turn on the side of a gulley.
“WE HEADED INTO DEEP FRESHIES.”
The stoke remained high throughout the week. But Louise brought us all down to earth – in a positive way. We discussed fear. Why do we feel fear? Once we understood this – which was personal for everyone – we could start dissecting how to deal with it. Louise gave us some very practical tips for dealing with fear aimed at when you’re about to drop into something scary, but they translate to most other situations, too. I’ve shared them at the end of this blog post.
My fear stems from looking stupid and hurting myself. The former is just ridiculous. I shouldn’t care about what other people think. I’m getting better at overcoming this one actually. The latter, conversely, is often a real and present danger. It usually stems from a) doing something that’s above your ability or b) not believing in your own ability. Either way you have a choice. If it’s above you, you can back off. If it’s not, you have to believe in yourself before you go for it. Either way, it’s about managing risk. If it’s above your skill level then the risk of injury can be large. If, on the other hand, it’s within your ability then there is a pretty low failure risk. So it’s better to just go for it.
“EITHER WAY, YOU HAVE A CHOICE.”
The week rolled on. Snowboarding powder, piste, kickers. Yoga morning and evening. Eating and drinking. Mental fear-fighting training. It was a full-on week but one that I loved. I laughed so hard, even with people that I’d never pick out from a line up as being ‘my kind of people’. I realised that I have to open up more. Be more accepting of others, and myself. But most of all, I learned to have fun with snowboarding.
“I FOUND MY MOJO AGAIN WITH JENNY AND CREW.”
After being an instructor I lost this love a little. Too much emphasis had been placed on getting better, riding faster, jumping bigger. It wasn’t me. I found my mojo again with Jenny and crew. And that £2,000 was totally worth it in the end. Since then I’ve been on another trip with Jenny et al and I’ve just booked yet another, this time to Japan. More about these trips in later posts. But for now, check out Louise’s super fear-fighting tips below.
LOUISE’S JEDI MIND TRICKS TO KICKING FEAR TO THE CURB
1. Stop, look, listen…and breathe
We all react differently to fear. I usually freeze. But others panic, scream, jump up and down. However, we all have a loss of the here and now in common. We need to get back to the present so we can retake control of the situation. The best way to do this is to start by taking deep breaths and looking around you. Feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your face. Listen to the in and out of your breath. Once you’re back in the here and now you can make a more rational decision about what to do next.
2. Keep the glass half full
Why do we always think the worst? Why do I think: “If I jump off that kicker I might break my leg?” Why don’t we instead ask ourselves: “If I jump off that kicker I might look like the biggest badass in the park?” The glass should be half full, not empty. If you’ve got the necessary ability you don’t need to be scared. Especially if you practice…
If you see it, you’ll believe it. So start seeing it in your head. I’m not crazy, honestly. The trick is to visualise yourself doing that trick, riding that steep slope, taking that banked turn. Watch yourself do it in your mind’s eye before you do it in reality. Bye-bye stage fright. Adios first-time nerves. You’ve already done the move, one, two, twenty times in your head. Doing it for the 21st time (in reality) is suddenly no big deal.