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.

Why you should only have one New Years Resolution

Why you should only have one New Years Resolution

Everyone tries to change the world and themselves every January and by February they can’t even remember what they said they were going to do.  Is this what your New Year Goal Setting list looks like?:

Yummy Healthy smoothies

  • Give up alcohol
  • Sign up to a gym
  • Eat Healthy
  • Give up sugar
  • Stop watching Netflix

Those are MASSIVE challenges to take on!!!  Not to mention the pressure you’re putting on yourself:

  • You will go in to sugar with drawls – yes it’s a real thing!
  • You will avoid social situations to avoid alcohol.
  • You’ll be knackered from the gym and won’t be able to find time to go as much as you’d like.
  • Be twiddling your thumbs without Netflix and desperate to just ‘chill out’.
  • Starving and struggle with all the food prep you have to do while you adjust to your new eating habits.

HABIT is the key word here!  When I was training for the Freeride World Tour I took on one new behaviour every 6-12 months to allow it to become a HABIT.

Taking time to reflect on my goal for 2018 Photo credit: Ed West

When I first moved out to Whistler, Canada, I was only focusing on my skiing technique and was already meditating on a regular basis. After meeting some of the Freeride guys I started joining them in the gym for weight training after skiing.  This was hard to take on as I was already knackered from skiing all day.  But this soon became apart of my daily routine.  Following this I was introduced to yoga so I started attending yoga classes late evenings and on my rest days.  Following that I met my amazing nutritionalist, Courtney.  I already ate pretty healthy but she saw the cracks and got me to my optimal strength.  Just as I was settling in to this daily routine I was introduced my physio who gave me some exercises to do every morning before skiing to help engage my dormant muscles and get me that extra 5%.  After a few years my daily routine looked like this:

  • Physio exercises 30 mins
  • Yummy Healthy MASSIVE breakfast
  • Ski all day and have the best time of my life 🙂
  • Lift weights 30-60mins
  • Eat MASSIVE dinner
  • Go to Yin or Restorative Yoga
  • Meditate
  • Sleep

But it took me about 3 years to get here.  I knew there was no point in trying to take on all these things at once.  They would soon go out the window.  So this new year chose just one area you want to focus on until you feel ready to take on another challenge.  And anything else you do can be a bonus.  For example start by eating healthier, you will have a lot to learn and need to adjust your schedule so you have time to cook and do the food prep that’s required.  Then any walks you go on with friends will be a bonus.  Once you’ve got your new cooking routine dialed, start thinking about your exercise.  When you start exercising you’ll have the nutritional knowledge to eat appropriately for your new work out routine.

Now go do it – one thing at a time.

I’m here to help should you need.
Goal Setting Workshops are run regularly and can be held at your office or home for private sessions.

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


Why being in nature gives you excellent mental health

Why being in nature gives you excellent mental health

I have spent most of my life outdoors.  Having a childhood in California we spent our weekends biking, skiing, hiking and adventuring around national parks like Lake Tahoe & Yosemite.  Then in my adult life I lived in the beautiful mountains of Whistler, Canada.  Skiing 150+ days a year and the rest of the days I spent biking, hiking, camping and swimming in lakes.  I was always outdoors.  Even if I was just relaxing at home I would sit out on the balcony over looking the woods or soak up the sun on my front door step.  But I never linked being relaxed with how much time I was spending outdoors.  Until recently.

I recently moved back to London and it is quite the change from the Canadian mountain lifestyle I have been living for the past ten years.  I absolutely love London.  I can not get board.  It is full of excitement and a never ending list of things to do and see.  However, I haven’t been able to shake off my old habits of constantly being outside.  Majority of my weekends are spent out in the countryside exploring new areas and aimlessly hiking in the hills and forests.  When I want to meet up with my brother or friends I will always suggest a walk a long the Thames instead of or as well as meeting for a pint.  I’ve also taken up rowing since moving back to the UK.

A huge draw to taking up rowing was not only is it an extremely athletic workout but that it is an outdoor sport.  I love the quiet mornings and calm evenings on the river.  In the spring the ducklings are out, in the summer the sun is warm on your back, in the autumn the leaves decorate the river with colour and in the winter the frost creates a white wonderland.  It is beautiful.  I find when I come off the water I am buzzing with energy or extremely relaxed.

My partner lives in the New Forest.  This is a great place to explore.  Giant Sequoia trees, forest covered in purple heather, wild ponies and the sea and beaches.  It is a breathe of fresh air to be down there.  The forest is so quiet that you can only hear the leaves rustling.  I spend hours walking which helps me problem solve, relax and get the endorphins I need.  We don’t just hike around we measure how wide the trees are (using our own arm span of course), try to build forts with tree branches, rope swing across streams and slide in mud.  I apparently haven’t grown up.  But at the end of the day I feel so incredibly relaxed (also completely knackered).

When I’m not in the UK I’m in the mountains.  It’s where I feel the most at home.  Even though the mountains can be temperamental, it is where I am most calm.  Completely away from noise, crowds and pollution.  The beauty of the vast peaks, white snowcapped mountains, birds, such as condors, circulating in the air, creature footprints in the snow the sounds of the wind blowing or streams running.

Only since moving to London have I been able to connect the dots that nature is what keeps me calm and in excellent mental health.  The feeling I have after a session out on the water, or a days hike in the forest or a weeks trip in the Alps is like no other.  I have such a feeling of accomplishment, I sleep much better, I am relaxed and full of endorphins. Studies show the benefits of being outdoors are

  • Less anxiety & improved happiness
  • Reduce stress levels.
  • Improve your sleep.
  • Improved eye sight.  Rather than straining your eyes looking at screens you’re exercising the muscles in your eyes to look in to the distance.
  • Getting your daily Vitamin D amount and boosting your immune system.

Eco therapy is a type of therapy that helps to heal mental health issues by being in nature.  It is proven to be extremely successful and is increasingly becoming more popular.  It is so easy to get fixated on the small daily annoyances or even the big things life throws at us.  But it all seems to melt away when you get out in nature.  So get outside and spend at least an hour embracing what it around you.   I promise you that pint and roast dinner will taste all the better after a walk in the woods.


Photo Credit: Rick Findler

Think Like an Athlete and Improve your Mental Health. Part 1 – Accepting Criticism

Think Like an Athlete and Improve your Mental Health. Part 1 – Accepting Criticism

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 handle criticism.

Taking Criticism

Athletes receive criticism day in and day out.  I don’t mean from the haters on Twitter, but rather from those who are closest to them, such as their coach. This could easily get anyone down, but it doesn’t seem to faze athletes.  A coach is there to analyse athlete performance and identify areas that can be improved upon. Yes, with every run I skied came a high five and “well done” but they also came with an endless list of things to work on such as: “your take off was too slow”, “you dropped your shoulder on your landing”, and “why the hell did you choose to ski that line?” Every chair ride back up the mountain was spent being told what I did wrong and how to improve.

Analysing our line choice after skiing Santa Terra, Chile.

After each Freeride competition there is an opportunity to ask the judges for feedback.  They will honestly and openly tell you where you went wrong.  They don’t do this to be malicious they do it because they want you to improve.  They want the sport to improve.  I remember one particular competition there was a new girl on the tour who didn’t place very well in the competition.  She was getting some tough truths from the judges after the award ceremony.  She was in tears.  But sure enough there she was at the next competition skiing harder and better than before.  It was obvious the criticism and disappointment had upset her in the moment but she was back displaying she had worked on what needed improving.  In every sport, every competition or match is analysed and criticised.

Judges at the Freeride World Tour watch and take notes on the athletes line choice and skiing technique

Think of a Premier football match.  The boys don’t get to go home and relax, they have a debriefing in the locker room on what went wrong and the next day they are back at training analysing the footage from the day before.

Athletes can filter the productive criticism from the useless criticism.  They know who to take advice from.  A coach, at trainer, a physiotherapist, a sports psychologist are all qualified and highly regarded.  It is easy to listen to the voice of a professional.   An athlete will take no notice of someone criticising them who does not know what they are talking about.  And you should do the same!  Lets face it there are some bullies out there who just like to put us down, but why take any notice of them!?  Listen to those people in your profession you look up to; a manager, co-worker or even a competitor.

When we are working on a project in our professional roles and we are provided with feedback and constructive criticism, it is natural to feel defeated and downhearted sometimes – but this does not have to be the case at all! Your boss, co-workers, and team are all trying to help you improve so that you can grow, learn and continue to succeed in your career. I am grateful to every coach, teammate, manager, trainer, and friend who has told me where I’m going wrong and as a result I am constantly striving for improvement. Don’t let the criticisms get you down, embrace it.  As an athlete, I am so grateful for constructive criticism; without it I would feel frustrated and wonder why I was still not winning medals. I now look forward to receiving feedback as I know that by the end of the day I will be a better skier because of it.  I have to admit being criticised my brother, Rick, telling me to “stop being such a pussy” is the best form of criticism to make me ski harder! 😉



Steps to Accepting Criticism:

  1. Listen closely to what is being said.
  2. Don’t react in the moment.  It is easy to get defensive.  Especially when we have worked hard on something.  Acknowledge the emotion but don’t engage with it.
  3. Go away and think about what has been said.  Are these criticisms true. We don’t always want to believe that we made a mistake but sometimes we need to put our hand up and say “Yes, you are correct”.
  4. Chose one thing you would like to improve on.  I could be told 5 areas that I need to work on by a coach.  It is impossible to correct 5 things at once, we can only work on so much.  I would chose one thing I wanted to focus on for the next few ski runs.
  5. Communicate the area you are going to work on to your team.  They need validation that you heard what had been said to you and that you are going to focus on improving a particular area.  If there are other areas that need attention, communicate you will focus on them once this area has been perfected.  Communication is key otherwise managers will think feedback has fallen on deaf ears.
  6. Make a plan on how to improve this task/skill.  This could be asking for advice, reading material on your subject or simply being more aware moving forward.
  7. As you begin to improve your skill level it will become second nature to you and before you know it this area is perfected 🙂