Decision Making in the Backcountry

Decision Making in the Backcountry

Cold Feet, Hot Tea and Decision Making in the Backcountry

It is hard not to be overwhelmed with decision making in the backcountry. I mean, I get overwhelmed in the ice cream isle at the grocery store. Imagine this quandary in a backcountry setting, where decisions become tenfold, more challenging and important then whether to choose Rocky Road or Mint Chip. Making decisions in the backcountry dictate the level of fun, the safety of a group and the outcome of the day. No, this not a “how to guide” but more a skier voicing her own concerns of clouded judgement, and intuition in the chance it may help someone else who struggles with my own dilemmas.

I am a skier, and I am human, which means my decision making is often veiled in a myriad of factors. Seriously… if my feet are cold, if it’s a pow day, if I’m hungry, the overall energy of the group, you name it. The main thing is that I have learned to recognize that I am easily swayed by things like cold feet and the promise of hot tea. Recognizing my clouded judgement means that I know my faults and I am able to remember them when making a decision, hopefully reducing my overall risk. If I fail to realize that I am impatient based on my own personal “needs” I would likely put myself and my partners in a potentially bad situation.  

I have also come to discover that intuition is a master. (Disclaimer; this may not be the case for everyone) Realizing what I’m good at, what I totally suck at helps me figure out how and why I make decisions. Maybe someone is a pessimist or a crazy positive optimist, It doesn’t really matter what qualities you possess, just so long as you recognize them. In a group situation I like to cover all the bases and stock my team with an intuition wizard, a factual thinker, a pessimist and optimist. It’s like a superhero decision making team where all aspects of decision making are covered.

Earlier this season a group of friends and I skied one of the Sierra Nevada  classic lines ,the “Bloody Couloir”. The Bloody is a 3,000 vertical feet, a beautiful steep couloir that looms high above the 395 corridor. Fueled by early season amperage we started to steadily make our way up the chute. As we climbed higher, the narrower and the steeper it became. Nearing the top of the accent we clearly entered a hanging snow field riddled with faceted-sugary snow topped with a substantial crust layer. We quickly realized we were entering a potential trigger zone but we were not yet at the top of the line, which meant if we turned around it was going to be a tricky zone to get ready for our decent. We were faced with the options of continuing to climb up in the potential trigger zone, climbing back down which was quickly becoming not an option, or   beginning our decent. With the top of the climb brimming only a couple hundred feet away we momentarily pressed on because how nice would it be to get ready on the peak and not on a sketchy slope?

Hazel competing in FWT. Photographer: D Carlier.

Here enters my issue, a creature of comfort I was ready to put myself in a potentially dangerous situation for the sake of a nice view and easy gear changeover. Luckily I am learning about my weaknesses and my strengths. The group talked it over and the pessimist, the optimist, the intuition wizard and the factual thinker collectively decided to turn around. While it was totally sketchy to change over our gear at the top of a gnarly chute it was safer than hiking up through a faceted hanging snowfield.

Would the outcome of the decision have been the same had I been oblivious to my personal weaknesses? Probably not. Simply put, learning that I personally make decisions based on comfort and intuition helps me know when I’m blowing it, so that I can fix it.

As it is also early in the season, my “mind muscles”  are rusty when it comes to risk, reward and skiing. So as I  look forward to the rest of this amazing El Nino winter I will endeavor to remember that I can use my cold feet and hot tea to help me enjoy many more beautiful days in the backcountry.


Words by Hazel Birnbaum.  Follow Hazel on the Freeride World Tour here

Contact us now to ski with Freeride World Tour Gold Medalist Hazel Birnbaum this winter: or +44(0)7710566530

Ab Workout for Skiing

Ab Workout for Skiing

Ab Workout for Skiing

Abs are one of the most important areas that contribute towards you being a strong skier.  Your core will help give you balance in your turns, lift those skis in and out of the pow, and help you stomp those landings.  This video will show you the ideal ab workout for skiing.  To give you an idea, when I was training for the Freeride Competitions in Chile last year I was doing 1,000-1,500 sit ups in a work out!!  They were all different kinds of sit ups, some with weights, some with out but that is the length that Freeriders go to ensure we can ski all day and have fun sending it.

To get the most out of your Uthrive Ski Retreat you want to have a good level of fitness so you don’t get fatigued and prevent injuries.  So this ab workout for skiing video is a good place to start.  By the end you will have done 90 sit ups!!!  Enjoy 🙂  Rachel.

For more information on Uthrive Ski Retreats with Freeride World Tour Champions, Olympians and the guys from the Movies contact Rachel directly: or call +44 (0) 7710566530.

How athletes handle pressure | With Half Pipe World Champion

How athletes handle pressure | With Half Pipe World Champion

How Athlete Kyle Smaine, World Half Pipe Champion, handles pressure and stress.

Kyle Smaine joined us on one of our Uthrive Ski Retreats and talked to us about how athletes handle pressure and competing on the world stage (see video below).  So many athletes don’t succeed as they choke on competition day.  This can happen to some of us whether it’s on the ski hill or in the boardroom.  So how do athletes stop this from happening?

If an Athlete can’t handle Pressure they will fail.

Kyle immediately focuses on the internal pressure we put on ourselves.  We control the amount of pressure that is put on us.  It is the internal voice we listen to, not the external voices. Athletes have an amazing ability to zone this out.  Kyle even admits himself that he does not perform well when he is putting a lot of pressure on himself.  He distances himself from the pressures and skis to have fun, then he performs well – so well that he is World Half Pipe Champion.

How you as an athlete can handle pressure

Progressing in a sport is more than improving your physical ability.  You need to work on your mental aspect as well.  Athletes like Kyle Smaine, give us an excellent insight on how to improve using our mental ability.  Focus on why you’re doing something, in Kyle’s case it’s because he loves skiing, not because his sponsor say so!  On the Uthrive Ski Retreats we run our retreats with Pros and World Champions, like Kyle, so they can help you with your mental techniques; over come fear, handle pressure and stress, think positively and improve your confidence.  It’s more than your skiing technique you learn from these athletes.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re standing on top of a mountain, or a half pipe or in front of a room of people but as Kyle says, ask yourself, is everyone putting pressure on me or am I putting it on myself?

Visit here for more information on Uthrive Ski Retreats to ski with World Champions and learn how to think & ski like an athlete, handle pressure and stress.

Only got 10 – 20 minutes to work out? Learn to row

Endlessly we hear “I don’t have time to work out” – then you need to jump on a rowing machine.  If you’re not sweating within 10 minutes then you must be stronger than Olympian Matthew Pinsent!  Rowing uses similar muscles to skiing.  It is essentially squat movement but you’re sitting down.  A misconception is that rowing is all arms.  It’s NOT.  Rowing is 75% legs, the rest is upper body.  If you want to get your legs in shape for a Uthrive ski trip then rowing is an excellent way to achieve this.

To give you an idea you should aim to row 2km in 8 minutes (women)  or 7 minutes (men).   It doesn’t matter what you start at, I just want this to be your goal to aim for.  But first, let’s learn to use the rowing machine properly.  I am yet to see anyone at my gym use the rowing machine correctly.  Not only do I fear for injuries but you are wasting energy and effort if your technique isn’t correct.  By improving your technique you’ll knock seconds and maybe even minutes off your time.  So over to the former President of my rowing club Eton Excelsior, Steve Morle to learn how to row.

Main Focus:

To get the most out of your rowing workout:

  • Focus on your split time (at 1:58 in video).  This is the big number on the screen which tells you how fast you row 500m.  This number should be consistent through out your work out.  If you see this number raising, recenter yourself and dig deep to find the extra energy. As your fitness improves this number will get lower.  To give you an idea when I started rowing my split time was 2:25.  With in a couple months I had it down to 2:18 then I finally got it down to 2:00!!!!
  • Don’t think you need to row fast and get high rpms (2:35 in video).  Even if you are only rowing 20rpm your split time should still be consistent if you were rowing faster.
  • Focus on your technique!!! (3:34 in video) I can’t stress this enough.  You don’t want to injure yourself and your losing seconds off your time – which really count. Especially if you have a competition running with your friends like I do.
  • Straight Back (5:25 in video)
  • Breathe!!!!!
  • Sweat!  (the whole video)
  • Set yourself targets. It’s a mental game as much as a physical one.  If you want to row 2km in 8 minutes then keep track of your improvements and keep you determined. You can also break this up in to 4 sets of 500m and have a 30-60 second rest in between each set.  Before you know it you’ll be able to piece them all together to make 2km.

Learn to row: Rowing exercises.

1. Only have 10-20 minutes to exercise?  Row 2km in 8  minutes (women). Under 7 minutes (men)

2. Looking at your SMPs we are going to do what is called a pyramid.   Row at: 20 SPM for 4 minutes, 22 SPM for 4 minutes 24 SPM for 2 minutes 26 SPM for 1 minute.  Then we are going to do the same in reverse. 24 SPM for 2 minutes, 22 SPM for 4 minutes, 20 SPM for 4 minutes.  Remember to keep your split time (what you row 500m in) consistent through out.

3. Fancy yourself more of a sprinter than an endurance individual?  Row 6 sets of 500m resting for 60 seconds in between sets.  You can set this up on the display so it counts down your rests for you, ask a gym employee to show you how.  Again, try to keep your split time consistent through each set.  You can set yourself a chosen SPM.  You could chose to row slow and controled at 24 SPM or maybe a bit quicker but still controlled at 28 SPM.

Breathe! Sweat! Have fun!  And to give you an idea of how hard you should work – I’ve never been able to stand up right away after a rowing session.  Then you’ll be ready for your Uthrive ski trip and keep up with the Pros xo

Think Like an Athlete and Improve your Mental Health. Part 2 – Asking for Help

Think Like an Athlete and Improve your Mental Health. Part 2 – Asking for Help

Larry King recently stated on Tim Ferris’ Podcast that by the time an athlete’s career is over (approximately at age 30) they will have gone through as many failures and successes as you will have in your entire career. I have experienced this through my career as a professional extreme skier. So how do athletes mentally handle the intense emotional roller-coaster? Athletes not only have tremendous physical strength, they also have resilience and mental strength. One factor that makes them so mentally strong is how they ask for help.

Asking for Help

Asking for help is second nature for an athlete. They recognise that without the guidance and direction from a professional they will never improve. Athletes also recognise that they cannot be expected to know everything; they are surrounded by a team of experts. For instance: a physiotherapist knows the ins and outs of the mechanical movement of the human body; a nutritionalist knows to the gram exactly what an athlete needs to eat to be at their full optimization and so on. An athlete knows it is their job to be in the best shape, mentally and physically, and to turn to others to ask for help when something isn’t quite right.

Asking for help on my line choice down Granite Peak

When I am out skiing with friends I am constantly watching how they ski, their line choices, their daily practices and routines so that I can learn from them. If there was something I struggled with on a ski run, like coming off a pillow line too quickly into trees, I would immediately turn to a friend and ask how they did it better than me. During my recent training for the Freeride World Tour stop in Chile I began to feel a niggle in my left knee. Within the week I was booked in with my physio and asking for help. When I initially moved back to the UK after 10 years of living Canada, I knew I would need help with the adjustment of lifestyle so I booked an appointment with my therapist, Vanessa. I am so used to turning to a professional and asking for help.

A client of mine, who was also a professional freestyle skier, was one of the best in the world. About half way through a winter he began to finish mid level at competitions rather than his usual podium finishes. He immediately thought “I need help”. In this particular case the issues were coming from his head and having self-doubt. He sought help with me and with a sports psychologist. By the end of the winter he was back to his podium finishes. He immediately took upon himself to resolve this as quickly as possible. Would you react the same in a work situation? How long would it take you to reach out and ask for help? How much would your work need to suffer before you asked your boss for help?

For some reason asking for help is one of the hardest things for us to do. Whether it is something small like asking a co-worker to take some of your workload or something bigger, for instance when suffering with depression and asking your boss for time off or support. Everyone needs help sometimes and recongising that there are professionals out there who are trained to do exactly that, it begs the question – why would you not ask for help? I personally love being asked for help. It makes me feel needed and wanted. Not to mention the warm biological reaction of having dopamine released when I get to access the giving part of the brain. So ask a friend, co-worker or professional for help next time you need it.

For further reading this is an excellent article written by the Guardian on a teacher who was suffering with depression and asked her boss for help – Guardian Article