Flying through the snow in the eyes of Richard Branson

Virgin´s Richard Branson is probably the world´s most exciting entrepreneur. It should come as no surprise that Sir Richard is currently enjoying a heli-skiing vacation in Canada. Skiing instills the “I can do anything” that successful business people require.

Some describe this attitude as “chutzpah.”

What is Chutzpah?

Until it joined the American vernacular vocabulary, the word “chutzpah” had a negative connotation.

Now, people use it as a synonym for:

1. Cheekiness
2. Nerve
3. Daring


The Finns use the word “Sisu” to describe these qualities. Roughly translated, sisu means strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. It is interesting to note that similar concepts exist among-st other people whose habitats were in cold environments, such as the Inuit cultures.

Sisu goes beyond the concepts of bravery and strength. It implies is an ability to finish the task and get things done. Perhaps chutzpah and sisu are co-dependent concepts. Chutzpah gives you the nerve to accept and complete the task at hand, no matter how challenging it may seem. Sisu gives you the determination to carry it out.

Yes Virginia

The actress Virginia Madsen can also tell you a thing or two about the relationship between snow sports and sisu. In an interview featured in Oprah Magazine, she describes the AHA” moment that changed her life. Postpartum depression plagued her after the birth of her child, causing her to think of herself as a Hollywood “has-been.”

The turning point in her life, so to speak, was when she was asked to participate in a celebrity ski event. Although she did not ski, the event organizers sweetened the deal by assigning two stud muffin ski instructors to coach her. In the middle of the race, she suffered an unfortunate “face plant’ on the mountain. At first, she was discouraged. Then, she got up and finished the race.

For the next few days, Madsen would practice from the moment the lifts opened, till the end of the day when the lifts closed. A few days later, one of her instructors saw her looking down from the top of a Black Diamond run. He told her that if she could learn how to ski it, she could walk into any audition free of fear. When she got home, she decided that if she could “hurl herself down the mountain” she could “hurl herself back into life.”

Richard Branson´s Skiing Heritage

Unlike Madson, Sir Richard Branson always had a passion for skiing. During the 1920s, his father was one of the pioneers of the sport. Describing his father´s skiing adventures he writes “They would spend the whole day walking up the mountain with rabbit skin on their feet and gigantic wooden skis.

By the time they got up the top of the mountain they’d have a picnic, then have one chance to ski down, with very unsafe shoes and skis. They very often ended up with broken legs or torn knees.”

Ironically, when Branson grew up, his family did not have enough money for skiing! Then, when he was 28, the government-subsidized music industry stalls at the Cannes Festival.

At the time, his company, Virgin Records, was trying to get international companies interested in Mike Oldfield´s Tubular Bells album. After three days without success, they put up a sign saying Virgin: Going Skiing.

“We headed to the slopes, went to the top of the hill, put on our skis, and basically fell the whole way down. We’d never had any skiing lessons and were completely out of control.”

This type of incident might have discouraged others, but Branson never lets his failures discourage him. In fact, in his business articles, he often jokes about some of his early entrepreneurial disasters.

That was Sir Richard´s introduction to skiing. Fast forward to January 2014, and he is heli-skiing in Canada. He´s a bit nervous because he´s the least experienced skier in the group. Worse, he´s been away from skiing for a while because of an ACL injury. Still, in line with his famous “Screw it, Let´s Do It!” philosophy, he goes for it, and lives to tell the tale!

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