I'm trying to get my head in the right place and start visualization and other such things to prepare myself for a less fearful ski season. Last year was by FAR my worst year on skis in terms of panic attacks. Mostly on steeps. (Actually, only on steeps, no matter how deep and fluffy the snow was.) I've had the fortunate luck of skiing with several L3 instructors (including currently dating one, who had the patience of a saint with me last year.) But, once my fear kicked in, there was a lot of shoulder shrugging and frustration on their part.
What happens? I get to the top of a steep pitch, and freeze. I literally.can't.move. Terror takes over, oftentimes after I make one turn, then feel out of control, then it's really all over. I had to sideslip or traverse out of several spots last season, embarrassed and in tears.
An interesting scenario happened at Grand Targhee under the Chief Jo chair (for those who are familiar.) Day 1: foggy, soft and somewhat choppy, but I just went and did fine. I was definitely scared, but I did it. Next day? Sunny, and I could see to the bottom. It's a LONG way down. I froze and stood there for a good 30 minutes, trying to sideslip, but I was so stiff and defensive, nothing worked. I cry, I throw fits of anger (I KNOW I can do this!)
I was dealing with a LOT of upheaval in my life last season, which I know didn't help. I kind of lost my joy for skiing; I also felt, as an employee on the mountain, this pressure to ski "really well".
My skills in powder and chop/crud improved a lot last year, but steeps? I took a step back. Stuff I skied the previous two seasons with either no trouble or very little trouble, I literally panicked on.
Here's what's interesting. I ride my mountain bike at a pretty fast clip and the instructors I skied with last year who have biked with me are kind of confused at how I can ride that way, yet am extremely tentative on skis. I have no answers, other than I learned to bike as a kid, but ski as an adult. But, I learned to mountain bike just 3 years ago.
So, for those of you who instruct, what are some tools you use to bust through fear? If you get out on the hill and your client, who skis pretty well, suddenly freezes on a section and you can tell they have officially checked out and need to be brought back to earth, what do you do?
(Just finished "A Conversation With Fear, BTW. I could relate SO well, and it definitely made me realize I'm not alone.)
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OMG, this is me to a tee. I am one of those people who just isn't athletic and is terrified of everything. Apparently I lived a sheltered life. I'm in the process of reading that book, or listening to it for that matter. This fear issue has really affected my confidence, a lot of things. I've gotten better but I'm such a nervous nelly it's not even funny. I'll have days where I feel I'm skiing well and other days when I'll be skiing towards my guy and he'll say to me how much in my head I am and I know it. This has been a real problem for me in a lot of ways. Examples are I went paddle boarding and I am so afraid of lakes that I was a shaking mess and every time I stood up my legs were shaking so much I kept falling in. Same when I went to the synthetic ski park. I'd never done it before like paddle boarding so I was a shaking mess and the poor gal had to show down the magic carpet so I could walk on it. I'm terrified of being judged. I've gotten better with skiing in that my nerves don't bother me as much but it's something I struggle with every day. Confidence isn't my thing. The pressure of my guy going come on let's go doesn't help sometimes as he doesn't understand. What I do to work on all this is take lessons a lot, work with my ski school peeps, and practice drills all the time. It's little mind things I have to do with myself to calm me down. I like starting off my first ski day of the season on the bunny hill practicing drills all day long. I like to start off each ski day with a few drills. I have to say please don't laugh. I don't let my fear stop me but I have to do things to keep it in check. I used to have terrible mountain anxiety about going to a new mountain, OMG needed to study the trail map like I was rainman (movie with dustin hoffman). I'm better now in that I know I can ski so i do a quick check of the trail map to make sure that the chair isn't loaded with double blacks and nothing else but aside from that I'm better. I no longer care what trail names are and half the time can't tell you where on the mountain I've skied. This is huge progress for me but I'm one huge bundle of nerves. It's a work in progress. Anyway, long story but I understand
What makes it even more frustrating, @surfsnowgirl, is that most people REALLY don't get it. They have NO idea what it feels like. So, they also get frustrated and impatient. I try to ski alone or with people I KNOW won't pressure me a lot as a result. But that can be kind of sad, at least for me. Technically, I ski a lot better than a lot of folks who ski a lot more terrain than I do (at least, that's what I've been told, many times.) Yet, they are out there, not giving a *hit, having a blast. For me, if I follow along and get in over my head and can't escape to easier terrain, I'm screwed. So, I choose to not follow along. There is a lot of terrain like this at Snowbasin--you get off-piste, you'd better be able to ski a few thousand vertical of it. As a result, I do push my comfort zone in the areas of the mountain where I know the terrain, know the conditions, and know the bailout points, which leaves my by myself a LOT, because the majority of people I ski with spend the entire day out of my comfort zone. Yet, I have the SKILLS to ski that stuff. I just won't, because once I get scared, it's all over.
So, my goal before I even hit the hill this year is to work on getting out of my head a little. And yes, day 1 will be on the bunny hill, working on getting out of my worst habit so it doesn't follow me around all season.
The two things you can do:
Improve your technique
Desensitize, ie ski the steeps often. If looking from the top of a long, steep slope scares you, start with a steep short one.
A really good way is to find a steep face, hike it from the bottom, and keep looking down as you hike it.
Then whenever you feel scared, put your did on and ski it.
Then repeat, going higher each time.
This way you have control of how long the scary slope is.
Humans are not mice. Paralyzingly fear is not what you had - if you can talk, cry, or throw a fit your not paralyzed. You can be scared and ski at the same time. skiing is not something you need to think about in depth so you have plenty of spare bandwidth to ski and be scared.
Just be scared and keep skiing. Train yourself to do that. Just keep skiing the scary lines.
I understand. You are right, a lot, many even people don't understand. I only ski with people who are really good fearless skiers. I mean that's my circle, not by design, it's just the people in my group have been skiing their whole lives and don't understand. Fear cripples me. I combat this by taking a lot of lessons and working on drills but it's something I have to be aware of all the the time. In the past year I've skied with some awesome folks around the country who are amazing skiers but they are also patient and understand I have a problem of being in my head and knowing they are patient helps me a lot.
We've recently met and started skiing with another couple from our ski club. Green skiers and very tentative. For the first time in my life I've met people I'm faster than and am willing to down more terrain than they are. However, I quite frankly understand their tentativeness so I never push them. Julia's very self conscious about how non speedy she is and noone understands this more than me. I frankly am just happy to have people to ski with who are just cruisers and aren't bombing the trail. We get along well.
Things I've been told and have learned recently when freaking on the top of a steep which I can go from confident to a blob of nerves in seconds.
- Don't look down, look side to side
- One turn at a time
- you are always one turn away from stopping
- side slipping is your best friend
- if you are feeling tentative on a particular day; IT'S OK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Baby steps right, good days and bad. Try, try, try to have fun and laugh cause sliding on snow is always better than just about anything else
Last edited: Oct 5, 2017
First off there is nothing to be upset about being scared. That is human nature. But it's getting over it, especially if you've done it before.
So in skiing - one turn at a time. AmyPJ - think about that video over on the Diva's. In some of the descents she is only doing 1 turn for most of the chute. Then she links them. And she's on camera!!
Take and follow the pro's. I would never have ventured into the trees at WB without Lady Salina. I don't know my way. Tremblant...hey, in and out no problem. Get to know the terrain.
Just do it...and that's Lady Salina's advice...you need to do the things that scare you, on your own time, in your own way. I told her I hadn't done much in bumps as the group I mainly ski with at Tremblant are into vertical/day, not difficulty per day. So it's now, I'm going to do that bump run a couple of times each day. That's it. And if I can follow my ski buddy(that's likes that terrain) SkiBam...all the better. Each time you do it, your confidence will grow.
I don't have any help, but I do have a theory. A lot of us like to be a little bit ... not a lot, just a little ... scared by the terrain. If you aren't one of those people, you are going to focus on the fear and try to make it go away. But "staring" at the fear just makes it worse. Try to accept it and perform through it.
Don't know how useful this will be, but I'll throw it out there anyway. You mentioned being good at mountain biking. I sorta have the opposite problem as you, where I'm a lot more courageous on skis than on my bike. Personally I have 2 reasons for that.
With skis, snow is soft(ish) and I'm wearing padding, while on a bike I'm surrounded by sharp, rough things and wearing very little clothes. So I have a fear of getting hurt on my bike while on skis I don't because of the friendlier environment.
Second having skis attached to my feet is a lot more "natural" than being on a bike. Skis are just making my feet longer and slippery, and the skis move at the same time my feet do. On a bike it's like I'm on this thing in between the ground and myself as opposed to being on the ground directly. There's more "lag" between what I do and what happens on the ground on a bike. The bike isn't "part of me" while skis are.
Don't know how useful that is, but it's a different perspective.
I'm so jealous of those people who like to be a little scared of the terrain. I wish I was like that. I wished I wasn't so afraid of everything. I'm working on my I don't give a F attitude about stuff but it's hard when you have a fear moment, stare it in the face and just freak. One thing I used to do on steeper terrain was fight the mountain and lean back which makes it hard but in freaking out over the steepness I revert back to this. I constantly remind myself about positioning and tell myself to get over my skis because like freaking magic it's easier to turn. I talk to myself a lot and I'm always saying things like you got this, one turn at a time, weight on downhill ski and so on. Either people can't hear me or they think I'm crazy.
I have worked with skiers who have the same fear. The steeper the slope we are on, the smaller the ski's sweet spot is in the fall line where we need to pressure the ski the most. On the flats we have 170 cm under foot which works out to feel like a lot less on a 30 degree slope. The "tipping point" shrinks on us. This makes the ski feel very tippy in the fore/aft plane and it is this tippy feeling that makes us feel close to going over the handlebars which is an incredibly scary visual for anyone on the steeps. Doing things that develop a finer sense of fore/aft balance can build the type of confidence that will best allay this type of fear. One drill for this is to try to be able to slide forward on flat easy terrain leaning so far forward that your tails de-camber off the snow. Learning to ride that shovel so far up front will create a very tippy fore/aft balance point on terrain that is not scary to fall on. There are many off season exercises, sports and skills we can access to improve our fore/aft balance today.
I will often tell my therapy clients something like this:
With practice comes skill,
With skill comes confidence.
I will also suggest imagining what your preferred emotional response to a stressful situation might be. If you were already the wise, experienced, capable person you most aspire to be, how would she deal with the situation? Practice that. Which leads to another favorite phrase: Being awesome takes practice.
So what's happening? We are adapted, exquisitely fine-tuned to be able to respond to perceived dangers or threats. Cortisol is a stress hormone, has a very useful function of enabling rapid thoughts and increased metabolism in order to be physically ready to react. A fabulous evolutionary adaptation, however harmful when done too much and too long. It's like being on "red alert," having the shields up and phasers charged and photon torpedoes loaded, all the time, which stresses the warp core reactor and destabilizes the matter-anti-matter containment field. (Forgive the Star Trek- speak.)
So what do you do?
Act as if you were calm and confident. Strike a powerful pose, like Wonder Woman or Superman. Breathe. Two minutes of that can lower your cortisol levels and thus lower your stress and anxiety. It can also increase testosterone, which is associated with confidence and dominance. Two minutes of this will be a much better result, than 30 minutes of paralysis, I'm willing to bet.
You probably do stuff that is way riskier in terms of speed, chances of direct impact, external factors on a mtn bike than on skis.
I get it, I get gripped in some places usually not because I can't do it but because the consequences are high, I could end in a crevasse or on a long slide. And the times I have ended up in a risky fall its usually because I've been too relaxed and not paying sufficient attention (plus sometimes sh*t happens like a binding breaks). I've no magic recipe other than knowing that thinking about it indefinitely doesn't help. & that there is no shame in stepping out of a line or opting for something easier - skiing is meant to be fun not an ordeal.
^Yeah, what David says reminds me of something my college roommate and I used to tell each other:
"Attitude follows behavior."
Meaning the behavior comes first, and the attitude that matches the behavior comes from that.
As opposed to the usual idea that attitude causes behavior.
(It was in the context of talking to girls, but same idea....)
I have the same problem on my mountain bike. There are a few downhill sections that I cant do. I don't know why , they just totally psych me out. And a couple of large logs that I have fallen on, and now my bike just stops on its own when I approach!
It takes a big leap of faith to go ahead and do it the first time , and then it gets easier.
For the steeps on a ski hill, my advice is to master your short radius turns. When the going gets tough, they are your friend . You can always make your way down any situation when you have speed control and edge control. Practice your short rads. Start on the lesser pitches and work your way up.
A great preseason read that has helped some very accomplished skiers.
I'm not sure if it's still in print. I would be happy to get a copy circulating around for those who need it.
For those who don't know Mermer, she is not only a great writer but a member of the PSIA-E examiner squad.
Mermer does this workshop every year.
Haven't announced pricing yet at Wyndham but of course this is when I'll be in Banff. Grrrr.
I'd love to not be afraid of gravity one day but in the meantime all we can do is cope, this is a great thread. Thanks @AmyPJ for starting it
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