Matt Mosteller is a senior executive with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.
I am a ski bum. I understand if you think that’s absurd, my parents did not think it was a good profession when I first started either. Surprisingly, there was also silent applause from the neighbourhood when I said that being a ski bum was my lifelong career plan. My response to those blank stares and mixed reaction was simple, genuine and remained true. “I am going to ski for the rest of my life.”
See, what most people did not realize was the powerful wave of energy that this humbling, hard life endeavour evokes and forces upon you. The collaborative resolve of helping others was vital, as you could not make it without people helping you in return. This lifestyle encourages many people in our community to connect regularly, it makes us want to share joy and support people when the going was tough. In essence, it created flakes out of many of us because this isn’t a lifestyle for going alone. Flakes are your people and it takes many different flakes to make a good snowball- so every flake matters.
Early days matter in the formation of a flake
You may underestimate how the value of being challenged at a young age, having to depend on others and dealing with situations out of your control, such as bad weather and storms, is remarkably beneficial. It shapes you for the better. While many of us want to protect our kids from those types of experiences, it is what young people (and those of all ages) need to do. I love to ski, but the reality was I could not afford it. So I had to take a variety of jobs when I was young to pay for the sport that provided so much joy in my life.
One of those, the world’s worst job in my opinion, was spending lonesome months between Alaska and Russia as a fishing crew member on the Bering Sea. Imagine the TV show Deadliest Catch, but with a crew that could only speak Norwegian. No one to talk to, gruelling deck work all hours of the day and constantly sliding on ice in turbulent conditions. Potential near death experiences were common among the massive storms with waves the size of British Columbia mountains slamming the iron speck of a ship to pieces.
An overactive case of sea sickness each day made this even harder. But it made me feel eternally grateful that I managed to see the next sunrise, forever appreciate steps on solid ground and ensured I never took a stable place to sleep for granted. Long talks with friends, caring hugs with loved ones and the simple things become moments that really matter.
Before that wayward fishing experience, I was a fat kid who did nothing and had no friends. That is, until one day a neighbour invited me to go skiing. In the parking lot they all took off, leaving me in the car. As my breathe froze to the inside windows, opening the door for fresh air, someone grabbed my arm, saying “Hey kid, want to learn to ski today?” and took me up to the slope. I haphazardly slapped gear on, they shared some quick tips and soon I was pushed down hill. I became an instant ‘Flake’.
I found happiness with wind in my face and a renewed sense of freedom, joining a sport that kids of any fitness level participate in. This was my escape. Fast forward to when my parents asked me what I planned to do as I grew older, “Ski, I am going to ski every day for the rest of my life.”
Overcoming obstacles at an early age and finding joy showed me there are flakes like myself who can have a powerful impact on others. You never know when this might happen. We will all need flakes at some point in life. You have to find ways each day to lift others up, share smiles and give back. No matter your age, it’s good to to get dirty, try hard things, fail, be cold, be humbled and then try again. With skiing, this is the nature of every ski run.
As the terrain and snow conditions challenge every turn, you learn to embrace and excel. On the chairlift between runs, you have the opportunity to share laughs, listen and learn from others as you return to the top of the mountain. Standing atop the peak puts you and your crew in a place to be awe-inspired and feel the presence of something much bigger than yourselves. That feeling delivers an unparalleled reality check; being humbled by the size, immensity and stunning beauty of nature.
It is good for you
Life is simple when all you do is take another powder turn. Honing your form and skills to make good turns takes time, of course. But discovering this community full of my people, I head out on the road to bigger mountains and deeper snow.
As a kid, you don’t really know what it costs to take care of yourself. I spent more than 60 days living out of my car with a friend and a lifesaving sleeping bag rated for cold weather. At long last, this is where the good flakes come into play. They help you find the local happy hour that offers free food. I’ll never forget those angel flakes who provided a place for you to couch surf when temperatures dropped below -20C, or snow teachers who took you under their wings to show you proper technique. They developed your mountain skills, cheering as you progressed and offering respect and encouragement when you needed a second or third attempt to develop those skills. Remember, good things take time to learn.
My flake friends were becoming many, and it became an avalanche of positive learning and growth for me. You may still be evolving as a person yourself, but this showed me it is never too early to start giving back to those around you. Assisting and supporting them on their way forward isn’t just good for yourself, that influence can spark an impressive flurry of positivity that recharges the other flakes to engage and improve the community around you.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.