Matt Niswonger

Are you willing to play?

Jacob Dore's pole gets after it in some sweet Tahoe pow (Devin Ebright).

Jacob Dore’s pole gets after it in some sweet Tahoe pow (Devin Ebright).

As storm after storm pounds into California we are finally aware that the winter of 2016 is legit. For many of us, this presents a problem. The problem is that after a few lean winters we have grown lazy and unmotivated. As the Sierra snowpack continues to accumulate it’s almost like we don’t know what to do. Having spent so much time eulogizing about the death of winter and the good old days of skiing and riding in California it’s almost like we lost the ability to actually go skiing or riding anymore. Backcountry lines that haven’t been skied since 2011 are now just sitting there … waiting.

Compounding the problem is that the surf has been incredible all up and down the coast. Spots that normally see small crumbly waves in the summer are now seeing relentless sets of grinding barrels day after day. In a strange reverse of a time honored summer ritual, instead of driving around looking for waves that are big enough to surf like we do in the summer, many of us are driving around searching for waves that are small enough.

Suddenly it feels like we have spent the last few years in a state of dormancy or semi-retirement. Winter is back, but who is courageous enough to play with her?

In my last few editor’s notes I have been sharing some of my personal insights while participating in a series of professional development seminars that are offered through Landmark Education. The most recent course I took was called Being Extraordinary and part of the curriculum dealt with the role of courage in the lives of extraordinary people.

What I realized is that courage means choosing to go for it when you decide the timing is right and handling the fear that accompanies this decision without sabotaging yourself.

Fear is never fun, and courage is a description of the gut wrenching effort that is required to push aside the painful lethargy of fear and try your best in the face of uncertan outcomes.

One of the many insights I got in the Being Extraordinary seminar is that while I was once an extraordinary Yosemite rock climber I am really only an ordinary mountain biker, surfer, and snowboarder. This distinction has been a powerful and humbling lesson in authenticity.

In the world of biking, snowboarding and surfing I have achieved a level of proficiency that allows me to look good in certain limited circumstances and that’s about it. As soon as the drop-ins become too steep or the jumps become mandatory or the waves become too powerful I hit a wall that I won’t push myself beyond. This is not a bad thing, it just means that in the world of biking, surfing and snowboarding I am totally ordinary and put forth an ordinary amount of effort.

By contrast, I remember quite often being sick with worry when I was living the hardcore Yosemite climber lifestyle. The night before a big climb I could barely sleep and would slip into terrifying dreams of falling to my death while climbing and wake up gasping for air. And I am quite familiar with the amount of courage it takes to tie into the sharp end and tackle a thousand foot vertical wall in Yosemite. The courage I exhibited was extraordinary and the results were extraordinary as well.

With the return of winter in California we are reminded that nature is more than just picturesque hikes and idyllic sunsets. Winter has a dangerous side, a nasty side even.

I’ll never forget the sight of the Yosemite Search and Rescue team pulling frozen bodies from the last pitch of the Nose on El Capitan over two decades ago. Two Japanese climbers were caught without bivvy gear in freezing rain. As an aspiring big wall climber I took this as a stern reminder. Winter is not always mild in California.

Of course surfing, skiing, climbing and riding in the winter all require courage. How could it be otherwise? For people who play outside this is a chance to reach deep inside and become extraordinary – and that is the true gift of winter.

~ Matt Niswonger, Editor-in-Chief

This issue is dedicated to Leonie Sherman


Leonie has been sharing her adventures in the pages of ASJ for nearly a decade. Over time she’s become a cherished voice in the outdoor community, and we’ve enjoyed watching her following of dedicated readers grow.

On December 21, while stepping off a chairlift, Leonie got the news that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and proceeded to have the best ski day of her life. Her initial surgery went well and she’s upbeat about her six week recovery.

Leonie, you’re one of the most courageous individuals we’ve ever met and we feel privileged  to work with you. You are an inspiration to many. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We love you, Leonie.

If you want to support Leonie during her journey back to health, please reach out to her at