I was fumbling around during some paragliding ground handling and feeling scared when my friend Chris Santacroce told me to smile.
Smile? I thought. I was stressed, scared of the possibility of getting dragged around on the ground, thinking negatively, and probably frowning. But I smiled anyway. And it worked.
The back pocket superpower of a smile changed everything immediately. Instead of taking the extra step to try and consciously relax, a smile changed my mood with nothing more than a moment of muscle movement. A similar scenario ensued a few more times, and I got told to smile a few more times. It worked, every time. I began to wonder what else a smile could achieve. I tried it while rock climbing and it worked then too.
Winter rolled around, and whenever I found myself standing on top of something steep or scary or both, a smile made everything shake down way smoother than it might have prior to knowing about the power of a smile.
Where did Chris learn the power of a smile? He was having a little problem with flailing around while BASE jumping, and asked his mentor, Miles, how to fix it. Flailing around in as high-stress a situation as BASE jumping is something that anybody can see as being less than ideal. Miles told Chris to start jumping with a smile and to take in the experience 100 percent for what it is.
Chris thought it had to do with his form, but Miles just told him to huck it with a smile. It worked. Having the same information passed on to me from Chris during a stressful situation fixed everything for me the same way it did for him.
As soon as I changed my mindset from focus and relax to smile and drink it in, the whole game of playing in the mountains changed. Smiling was taking focus and relax and distilling it into a single motion. Standing on top of a couloir that I d had my eye on for years was an experience to look forward to not one to fear. Learning to experience it as a special opportunity instead of getting wrapped up in logistics changed the whole game of skiing and being in the mountains.
Skiing and climbing and anything else in the mountains are potentially very high consequence, and a smile won t change that. A smile didn t change anything about Chris s BASE jumping. It didn t change the height of the object, the wind, the equipment, what Chris was capable of doing with his skillset at the time.
Smiling has never changed the snowpack, the surface conditions, the steepness and length of a couloir. What smiling did change is how we approached the situation, and that has allowed me to better enjoy the moment and savor it fully. Smiling makes things more fun, and I like to ski and be in the mountains because it s so fun. Ben White