Over the Christmas break we were up in Bartlett, NH skiing where, in between time on the slopes, I read the book Tracking the Wild Coomba by Robert Cocuzzo about the life of the late “frontier” skier Doug Coombs. I say “frontier” because Coombs hated the word “extreme.” To him, that meant risk, and he spent his career teaching his ski clients how to reduce risk in their craft.
Coombs first experienced big mountain skiing at Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine, not far from our cabin. He would spend weekends camping at the base, working his craft each day. From there he went to Montana State University for the skiing, became a legend at Jackson Hole, turned Alaska’s Chugachs into a ski destination, and finally arrived in the French Alps where he lost his life at the age of 48.
Doug Coombs hated risk. He felt risk was something that could be managed. And he helped his clients manage risk beyond what they believed possible. I related to that while reading his incredible life story, told by Cocuzzo who spent fours years retracing Coombs’ steps.
Imagine skiing down a shower curtain and you can get an idea of what Coombs was skiing. He would bring his most capable clients atop descents he’d refer to as “NBA,” meaning the steepness, like a basketball, is such that you can’t see the bottom as you stand at the top. There were times, Cocuzzo writes, that clients would just freeze with fear and it was at these times when Coombs would come alive coaching them through the turns he expected them to take and believing in them when they did not believe in themselves.
Coombs, when asked who was the best skier in the world, would respond that that’s a stupid question. He said the best skier is the one who is having the most fun. And I would add, the best coach is the one that makes it possible.
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