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Improve Your Skiing: Dealing with Fear and Apprehension

Fear can be very debilitating to a skier. It can lock up the legs and make them stiff or it can make the legs rubbery and unresponsive. There are many tactics and methods to deal with this phenomenon. In this article I will address some of these issues and demonstrate a few options on how to control fear.

In my racing years I skied many high-speed downhills with big jumps. Whistler, Lake Louise and St. Moritz first come to mind. During training for these events, skiers on my team or others had falls and accidents but we went on with the job of racing even after we saw the possibility of a bad fall right before our eyes. Downhill racing also forces you to sit at the start for many minutes contemplating the runs. Often, there are delays due to weather, falls, and course preparations. You learn to put these delays out of your mind as you wait. You learn to focus on your run and what you are going to do to perform perfectly. You never dwell on the mistake you might have had in training or in some previous race. You always remind yourself of your best runs and your best performances.

If you are a recreational skier you can use the same approaches for skiing runs that challenge your experience as a skier. Remember, I said challenge your experience as a skier, not your skills. You must already have acquired the skills to ski new, more difficult terrain. These skills can be developed on less aggressive slopes but you have to be sure you can perform them flawlessly.

How to test your skills
Before you attempt a steep, narrow couloir or a long, steep bump run, make sure on Blue or Black slopes that you can perform the kind of turn required for the difficult runs. These slopes and even wide-open steeps require the ability to control speed and direction. You can test yourself on groomed slopes by imposing restrictions on the space in which you make your turns. Pick grooming lanes and make a series of thirty turns in one groomer lane width. Pretend there are rocks or trees on either side of the lane and force your turns to stay inside that width. You not only have to make the turns, but you must stay in balance and keep the speed under control. If you cannot make these runs you should be fearful on steeps and couloirs!

If you are convinced that you want to ski these slopes, focus on developing your ability to make crisp short turns. One way to do this is to seek out your local masters racing program and sign up for some easy slalom training. There is nothing like slalom training to give you the confidence that you can make precise short turns on difficult terrain and keep it together.

OK, let’s say you have done the above and can ski slalom courses with confidence and also Black groomer lanes of thirty turns without an interruption, but you still freeze up at the top of a steep ungroomed or bumped run. Of course you have to have practiced on some shorter, easier bump runs before you tackle the long steep ones. The tactics for success on these runs begins with the proper mental training. You have to learn how to talk to yourself honestly and assess the reality of the situation. You must be positive, but not unrealistic. Assess the situation, and look at only two turns down the slope. If you know that you can make the first two turns you are on your way. Talk to yourself about the reality of just two turns at a time. If the slope were only two turns long, would you have a problem skiing it? If you are sure you can ski the two turns, you have an excellent chance for success. You must know that you have the ability to stop at any point during the run. Begin by planning to make only two connected turns and then stop. Test your ability to stop. Do two more and then two more until you are ready to make three. Near the bottom of the run when you are sure of yourself and you can see the transition to a flatter pitch, attempt at least four turns in a row without hesitation. Most skiers can ski relaxed and with more confidence on the last part of a steep long run. This should give you the confidence to take on the last portion of the slope more aggressively, then starting a little higher up on each successive run.

Notice how the words “confidence” and “positive” crept into this discussion. If you look at the runs with too much trepidation, your performance and skiing movements will suffer. Great steep-slope skiers have the confidence to let go. Specifically they let go to release the skis. Releasing the skis means tilting them off their edges to the flat bases. This is where most skiers hesitate. Letting go involves letting the body move downhill with the skis. Learn to move your body downhill by pulling your feet back under your body as you release. Many skiers freeze when they release on steep slopes. You must become active and use your muscles while you are moving. When practicing this on easier slopes, over-exaggerate your move to pull your feet back. I find skiers don’t practice and acquire their movements on easier slopes with enough exaggeration to mimic the requirements of more difficult terrain. New movements won’t hold up on the steeps unless you have complete command of your “Primary Movements”. Build your confidence by knowing you own the “Primary Movements” When you have the confidence it is easy to stay positive. The message here is clear: if you do your homework you will be skiing difficult terrain with success.