How to handle skiing anxiety

How to handle skiing anxiety is simple, but requires discipline

Of liberty-bodices and learning

Ski intruction about anxiety handling skiing anxiety

Don’t bite-off more than you can chew!

A woman emailed me over the weekend, about skiing off-piste and such. It set me to thinking, as I chain-sawed my way through a recently fallen oak, preparing fuel wood for the year after next, and prior to sewing myself into my liberty-bodice for the winter.

The import of her missive – she will not be named for she may even yet not choose to risk a week with your writer – was that she has not been getting from her skiing that to which she feels entitled. She may well be right.

And what is it, you may ask, to which she is entitled? Enjoyment and a feeling of self-fulfilment, that’s what. And what is denying her that? A lack of progress at the kind of skiing she aspires to.

My enquirer reports that she is not making progress, and here’s the rub; this is despite the fact that she has been skiing with much better skiers than herself.  Some of them are instructors or aspirant instructors, and keep taking her off-piste, to places in which she feels uncomfortable.  The idea is that she will have plenty of opportunity to get good at it.

Those who know me, will be un-surprised that I sit here casting my hands into the air and being grumpy.

Anxiety kills ski learning

The experience of this lady exemplifies perfectly a depressingly common misconception that in order to get better at some aspect of a ‘risk’ sport that you are currently no good at and are fearful of, (or anything else actually, never mind sport) the thing to do is to repeatedly immerse yourself in the fear that you feel, by going into the terrain that you have already proved you can’t handle yet.

This is just plain silly. The idea underlying this approach is that it will constitute a kind of aversion therapy.  You will get used to the terrain and the conditions, and by repeatedly wallowing about in it, will somehow get good at it.  Well you will, it just depends on what you mean by “it”.  This is no way to learn how to handle skiing anxiety.

“IT” will be to increasingly embed your feelings of fear, apprehension, anxiety, lack of self confidence, lack of self belief, and feelings of inadequacy when comparing yourself with others.  Brilliant!

John Shedden, myself, and coaches from a host of other sports have established beyond doubt that you will not learn to perform better while afraid or anxious.  That anxiety might be no more than just that you “feel bad about holding the others up”.

Change is never easy.

Change is never easy. In circumstances that over-face you, it is impossible. You will embed your existing behaviours (in this instance, the skiing movements you make, and have proved don’t work too well) ever more intractably.  That’s why just “skiing around” embeds bad habits.

“Macho” merchants think so long as you keep chucking yourself down something horribly steep, or deep, or bumpy, or long, or unpredictable, you are bound to get good at it.  No, you are not. You will just get more and more anxious, and have less and less fun.

If you want to get good at skiing moguls, go find a small one and learn how to ski that. Then find two small ones and learn how to ski them. And so on. Do not find the longest, largest, steepest, mogul field and keep falling down it; what you will get good at, is falling down.

Be gentle with yourself, don’t expect the learning process to be quick.  If it were too easy you would probably be disappointed anyway, and go and take up bee-keeping. Your peers probably did not find it easy either, and even if they did it doesn’t make them any better than you.

The whole point of the skiing courses I run is to make it acceptable for you to embrace the idea of learning by just a small increment at a time.  We do not move on until you are skilful at each stage.

Where is the best place to learn skilful skiing?

The best place to learn to be skilful with the techniques you need off-piste is, for example, believe it or not, on piste. Learn it there, then take it into a bit of off-piste; then back to the piste for the next increment, and off again to practice it.

Same thing applies on piste.  Don’t go on hard ones until you can REALLY skillfully ski on easy ones.

If all you do is “try” hard stuff all the time, and find either no progress or not much, remember Homer Simpson’s wise observation “ Hmmm trying – the first step on the road to failure”!

Learn how to handle skiing anxiety by casting off the liberty-bodice of trying too hard on too-hard terrain, and embrace the diaphanous nightie of one easy step at a time. Hah! I laugh in the face of winter.

There’s a lot more on this topic, and others,  elsewhere on my blog

Leave a Reply