Blind skier seeks out risk, delivers motivational message
ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Skiing — and life — are all about “managing the unexpected,” according to Chad Foster. Especially when you can’t see where you’re going.
Foster would know: The avid skier, motivational speaker and tech executive has been blind since his teenage years. He recently returned to the slopes of Snowmass to continue a now seven-year tradition skiing with Challenge Aspen, an adaptive sports nonprofit based in the Snowmass Mall.
“If you’re looking down the mountain, you’re probably picking out a line and you’re skiing to that line. I don’t have that luxury, so I can’t really anticipate,” Foster said. “Skiing while blind, I think we have to be really nimble because things change so quickly.”
Foster skis just about any pitch on the mountain — he likes to “rip it up” on terrain from Big Burn (Dallas Freeway after a recent snowfall is “sheer bliss”) to Cirque Headwall to Campground, he said.
But he was new to the sport when he first clicked in with a Challenge Aspen guide a little more than half a dozen years ago. (Foster grew up in Tennessee and now lives in Marietta, Georgia.)
And sure, there was a learning curve involved.
“It was just enough for me to get comfortable with knowingly and willingly tying myself to these bindings and hurtling myself down a mountain not being able to see — that was a stretch for a concept,” he said. “All the while I was expanding my comfort zone.”
With every day (and every subsequent year) on the slopes, Foster progressed. He was hooked.
“It’s in my blood — now I can’t get it out,” Foster said.
Getting to that point was all about “calibrating risk versus reward” and taking an “acceptable amount of risk” to progress.
“When you expand your comfort zone, you have to make sure that the repercussions of that expansion are acceptable,” Foster said. “What’s the acceptable amount of risk that allows me to live a fulfilled and purpose-driven life, but doesn’t destroy me if I’m wrecked?”
Foster often finds a motivational message in anecdotes like this one. It comes with the territory of being a motivational speaker and, now, the author of what he calls a “memoir that’s motivational,” the recently released “Blind Ambition.”
And a whole lot of it goes right back to skiing.
Take fear, for example. He cites a conversation with Challenge Aspen guide Sonia Marzec about his approach to challenging terrain.
“‘People who can see the terrain are too terrified of it, and you, Chad, you aren’t terrified of the terrain because you can’t see it, and you just boldly execute the next maneuver without being overwhelmed by what your eyes are seeing,’” Foster said Marzec told him. “I think a lot of people out there, metaphorically speaking … are too terrified to ski down black diamonds in life because they’re too scared.”
Rather than take in the whole scope of the run from top to bottom, Foster has to focus on one turn at a time. It taught him a lesson that he said applies in life as much as it does on the mountain: “I think we’re all capable of more than we give ourselves credit for.”
The pursuit of growth, too, plays into a more universal message. It’s part of what keeps him coming back year after year.
“(It’s) the desire to be a little bit better skier every time I put on skis,” Foster said. “This is my mentality toward life, whether it’s professional, whether it’s exercise, whether it’s sports. … Yes, I do it because I enjoy it, but if I’m not trying to be better at it, I don’t really have an interest in doing it.”
Pushing the boundaries of comfort is the fuel that keeps that progress going, he said — whether that means tackling experts-only terrain at Snowmass, motivating audiences from the stage or chasing new goals as the senior director of worldwide deal management at the open-source software company Red Hat.
“I want to flirt with the edge of control, and when you’re flirting with the edge of control … I think that’s when growth takes place,” Foster said. “I know that if I stay out of my comfort zone, that’s where growth takes place, and I’m a person that gets a lot of fulfillment from doing that.”