Doubt is Okay (Ben on the First Races of the Season)

Oddly enough Nordic skiers love snow. That’s why the SMS Elite Team endured a cross-country odyssey from the rainy (but not so snowy) forests of Vermont to the snowy (and not so rainy) forests of Montana. Now we’re here in the City of West Yellowstone a town everyone in the ski world seems to know a bit too well, and already we’re here for the second time this year.

Why are we here for the second time in two weeks?

Well, West Yellowstone is one of the few places in North America that is currently offering snow good enough to race on, and thats the reason for our second visit. Initially we were supposed to spend only one week in West Yellowstone and retreat to Bozeman Montana for our first SuperTour Races, but alas, snow is scarce and there are many beautiful -albiet high, dry, and cold- kilometers to ski in West Yellowstone. Which is why we find ourselves in West Yellowstone once again.

But despite having Deja Vu while skiing out on Deja View this morning, being back in West Yellowstone is exciting. We are here to race, and at the start of the race season, I think again about pain, and about doubt, and I look back on something I wrote down in 2012.

The start of the racing season is exciting because it is always so hard to contain your emotions. At the start of a racing season a summer’s worth of anticipation, joy, anger, and fear is brought to bear against the clock. This is because ski racing takes all of the things we feel about skiing and concentrates them into their most potent forms. 

That, I think that is what I would call the “simple” answer to why people get excited about racing. However, I think that if people are completely honest there is another reason.  

Doubt.

After months of hard training, your mind inevitably begins to forecast the future. You wonder, “Will I be able to beat my competitors? Will I be able to beat myself?” This seed of insecurity plants itself in everyone’s mind – whether or not they choose to acknowledge it – and the only way it can be eradicated is to put forth the effort of a race so you know where you stand. It is not the results that really end up mattering. What matters is that question in our minds. What makes a race great is that a race creates a respite from that question. Because it is in a race that a skier acknowledges that question by putting themselves on the line, and in that way they push the question of doubt out of their minds because it is answered for a little while – until it returns, as it does to everyone. At which point, you must race really hard, again.

People may find that explanation hard to believe or scoff at it because it seems to say that we are all too competitive or too insecure, things people tend to speak of with distaste. However, I don’t think that it celebrates those things.  Instead, it celebrates that competitive drive that leads us to race at all. That doubt is what leads us to better ourselves and to test ourselves at all. Without that feeling we would not leave our comfort zones to race at all.

I am not saying that we do not race for fun, because we do. There are few things as enjoyable as a race. However, I believe that what truly makes us excited to race is that question that gnaws at us, asking us what we can do and what we are worth as a skier; that is what makes us look forward to racing. Racing provides both an answer and a respite from that question, and that is why it is both our deliverance and haven. That is why we love it.

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