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We’ve all had it. You suddenly can’t make a left turn. Your mind says yes but your brain says no! Why does this happen and what can you do to minimize it from happening again?
Fear is an emotion that can be difficult to control. If it gets out of hand it will work against you, however, if you learn to embrace it and make it work for you, you’ll find it a very positive force. There are numerous techniques to help you overcome nerves and increase your confidence in the process. Most of the techniques are simple, step-by-step processes, which help you create a more realistic view of your world.
When we describe fear, it is an emotional reaction to a person or situation that we feel threatened by. By feeling fear our bodies prepare to either fight the threat or run away from it, so it is a perfectly natural reaction that everyone experiences.
As our body gears up with fear and becomes stronger, our blood rate increases to feed our muscles, while unnecessary activities, such as digestion are temporarily shut down. Sometimes, however, if someone struggles to own their fear, they get overwhelmed by it and it becomes irrational and difficult to control.
Luckily, if you struggle to control your fear there are plenty of techniques that will help you regain control and embrace your fear, using it as a positive force.
Most of us are used to overcoming fear when we return to skiing after a year’s break. You step off the lift, approach your first run, and suddenly conclude that your entire skiing knowledge has been wiped from your brain. However, embrace the fear and push-off, and slowly, from memory, all the tiny actions you need to juggle when skiing start to drop back into place.
1. Fear is your Friend
Fear exists to make you stronger but if you perceive it as bad you are more likely to just freeze, hold your breath, and desperately hope it will go away. Instead, if you acknowledge fear as soon as it starts and embraces it, you will find you can channel it as a positive source of energy.
2. Get ready to Tumble
If you’re starting out with skiing and your biggest fear is falling, then confront the fear and fall! Choose a safe, flattish part of the run, gets a bit of speed up, and then fall over to one side in the snow. Experience it a few times and you will quickly learn that falling isn’t the huge monster you imagined, it happens to everyone.
3. Get back to Basics
If the runs you keep choosing to fill you with fear, give yourself a break. Return to simpler runs you previously enjoyed and ski them a few times, taking different routes. You will soon find as your fear diminishes your confidence returns.
Then, when you feel ready to return to the more difficult runs, you know you can use the easier runs again as a confidence builder.
4. You’re on vacation be kind to yourself
Don’t feel you always have to test yourself by choosing runs that you find hard. Be kinder to yourself and do some easier runs just for fun. If you are continually struggling down steep or bumped runs your mindset about skiing will become negative ie. that skiing is a struggle.
It’s much better if you finish your vacation with positive memories of enjoyment rather than just what a struggle it was. Additionally, when you start skiing again next year you can carry over those positive memories.
When you start to feel fearful and tense it’s very easy to fall into the trap of breathing short shallow breaths. This disrupts the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, which in turn starts a stress reaction.
This stress reaction can start a vicious circle leading to even more shallow breaths and stress, as well as tense muscles – just what you don’t want when skiing! The answer is to breathe long and deep. This lets your brain know that everything is all right and you can relax and be more effective when you’re skiing.
If you keep forgetting to breathe long and deep practice counting your breaths out loud. This will keep reminding you until it becomes second nature.
6. Tackle more difficult runs at the best time
At the end of a long day don’t be tempted to finish with a difficult run. This is when a lot of accidents happen as you’re physically tired, so you can’t react to difficulties and you’re mentally tired, so your judgment is poor as well.
The snow and light are generally better at the start of the day but make your own choice. Weigh up all the pros and cons, how confident you feel, the snow conditions, the weather, the light, how many other skiers are around. If in doubt, there is always tomorrow.
7. Break the run down into smaller segments
If you’re standing at the top of a run fearful of how steep it is, concentrate instead purely on your first move. Then progress to your second move and the third etc. If you’re focusing on the entire run it’s bound to become intimidating, so break the task down into manageable bites.
By doing this you are shifting your focus from the whole run to a small portion, which is mentally easier to navigate.
8. When you’re feeling fearful use words and counting to get you through
Often newer skiers find it difficult to initiate turns. The brain says ‘make the turn’ but somehow the skis have other ideas! By using short phrases, you can talk yourself through maneuvers that would otherwise make you freeze.
For example, if you’re fearful of turns, initiate the turn out loud with the statement ‘I start with a pole plant’, and then ‘my outside ski takes me round the turn’. By using these phrases, you will be reassuring yourself you’re taking the right action and at the same time occupying your brain to limit your fear.
9. Conquer a hard run and repeat
After you’ve conquered a difficult run make a mental note of how long it took and some of the more difficult parts of it. Repeat the run a few more times to get comfortable with it and you will find your confidence will improve in leaps and bounds as you overcome your fear.
10. Read this book [BONUS]
If you’re looking for even more depth on the topic of skiing without fear, I recommend this great book by Kay Gill which provides a unique approach to conquering your nerves and building your confidence to new levels.