There is one powerful thing that has stood out about my experiences in the mountains over the last several years. It is the feeling of approaching a challenge and knowing that I am ready for what it has in store for me. Of course, there are times that the mountains are beyond anyones control, or when I am out of my league, but that isn't what this is about. This is about that feeling of being in control, and knowing I have the skills to deal with what is in front of me. This is about saying I got this,’ a grammatically questionable catch phrase used by my generation as we push our personal boundaries. This year I took that feeling to the next level and went back to school, with a goal in mind. 

 RIDGE coach Katy Kelly high above the valley floor in Glacier N.P.

RIDGE coach Katy Kelly high above the valley floor in Glacier N.P.

In the past, school was this thing I did because I was used to it, and I knew it was important to the world. I got my undergrad degree with this attitude. I did ok, but I was mediocre. 

Last night I was entering my grades into an application for a graduate program, and something starkly stood out. I took a winter off in the middle of my sophomore year to work as a lifty at a ski area near my parents house, I was 19. There wasnt anything remarkable about my own version of a gap year; it was just some time to reassess my priorities and get some experience working full time. I learned how much I love mountain communities during that winter. When I went back to school in the fall I got a job teaching snowboarding at the mountain near my college. At the time this was just a way to get a pass and make some friends. But my grades consistently improved by a letter grade this year, and they stayed strong until I graduated. 

I look for the feeling of “I got this’ when I drop into a chute I want to ride, particularly one that intimidates me. Time seems to slow down a little while I assess the snow, and think about where my next turn is. Its more zen then anything. I will have to work for it, but I have been here before, and I have ridden daily for years to get to this point. I am right where I am supposed to be.

I’ve found this same feeling in exams this year. They have been a huge marker of my success, and a sort of barometer of how I am feeling about school and my goals. It is scary to go back to school after taking time off. I usually start by flipping through the pages to see what I have in front of me. Many of these times I realize that I have put a lot of time into getting ready for this exam; this is the I got thisfeeling. I just have to slow down, and execute.  

At the risk of sounding a little geeky, I can admit that I can have fun taking school exams, when I associate the tests with the feelings I experience snowboarding. For me, the parallels between snowboarding big lines and taking school exams are striking. I know that I will have to work for it, but that I got this.

I have also found ways to have fun writing papers for my classes by associating my thoughts and feelings with snowboarding. I know I’m writing my best when the words flow like a good line on my snowboard. I love the feeling of accomplishment, and knowing that it is a part of my big picture. I love feeling confident that I know the material and I am on the right track- just like when I’m snowboarding. 

Prior to experiencing the I got this’ feeling in the mountains, I dont think I would have recognized it in the classroom. In the past, tests were centers of anxiety, not times that I gathered myself and performed my best. It was in the mountains, on my snowboard, where I learned the skill of recognizing the opportunity to perform in the moment. 

When I first attended college, I either studied for tests and stressed about them, or I blew them off because I was uninterested. If a subject didnt hold my attention I didn't put a lot of energy into it. Through my experience climbing peaks, I’ve come to value the work needed on the front-end for the end results I want. In other words, I can’t get a view from the summit without first putting in the work to get there. Likewise, I can’t succeed in school without studying before exams.

 Katie experiencing another 'I got this' moment in Glacier N.P.

Katie experiencing another 'I got this' moment in Glacier N.P.

Today this feeling motivates me to wake up at ridiculous times; I know that if I want to ace the test, climb a mountain, and then go free ride with my friends I need to get on it early. I want the empowerment of ‘owning it’ in all of the moments throughout my day. I don’t want to meet my students and encourage them to climb harder, knowing that I could have done better on my test if I had skipped some social time with friends the night before. I want to meet my students knowing that I am doing my best in all of my pursuits. When I ask them to do the same, it is with respect and understanding of how hard it can be to get out of bed, climb 2000 vertical feet, and then do the dishes afterwards. Because I know how hard it can be to do the dishes when you just thought you gave it your all. 

I recognize my own past struggles when working with RIDGE student athletes today. The day-to-day challenges of being a busy student athlete are immense. Finding meaning and reaching goals is even more challenging. Things seem to have come full circle now: I am able to provide mentorship to students who are where I was 10 years ago. 

I’m constantly in the process of translating my adventures in the mountains into my adult life. 

For me, adventures in the mountains can symbolize so many of lifes hurdles. After all, preparing for tests is similar to climbing peaks. 

As I prepare to head back to school this year, I am doing so with the experience of someone who has faced challenges and learned how to say I got this’.