Feel Free to Relax

Last season we dedicated this article series to proper ski technique and myths surrounding it. This year we will focus more on your own skiing and we will discuss common mistakes and problems we encounter on ski slopes. Since last year we know that skiing begins from the head, or more precisely the mind, and therefore in the first article of this season we will look closely how fear is influencing our ability to control our skis effectively. We will point two common mistakes caused by being afraid.

Fear in the head, tension in muscles and unbalanced stance.

Skiing is fun. However every one of us was in an uncomfortable situation in which we didn’t feel comfortable and our fear prevented us to take the next step on the road to improvement. These situations often have the same origins. Simply put, we do not want to get hurt. We are simply scared.

Fear is a result of low confidence in skiing technique. We have a feeling that we are not good enough to cope with given terrain. Beginners are afraid that they do not manage to turn and brake on gentle slope, while advanced skiers are not sure if they can avoid rocks and trees in backcountry. In these situations our brain is trying to interpret reality through past experiences and is applying patterns that originate outside of skiing.

When we walk down the slopes without skis, we are stepping on our heels and we are just as upright whether on gentle or steep slope. We are using friction of shoes against snow, and with every step we are resisting our body to fall off down the hill. What comes natural in walking changes with skis on our feet because everything suddenly slides. And this particular unnaturalness is hard to overcome as our brain constantly advising us to make the wrong movements.

When we stand across the hill we have no problem to stand on skis well, because in relation to our feet the hill is actually flat. But then single look down the hill will take our breath away and whole body stiffens. We start skiing down the hill nevertheless. Skis are steering down the hill, but it is as if they keep moving without us. Our body is in muscle tension, not compensating for the steepness of the hill and we find ourselves leaning back. Ski tips are helpless and it’s really hard in such a position to have control over skis and make them to turn. Our own deep-rooted walking instinct prevailed so that it seems on the heels we will cope with the hill better.

How to do it?

If your goal is to overcome fear and get onto more challenging slopes take a time to learn new skills where you feel safe and relaxed. Be aware of how you balance on your skis. Your feet are acting as sensors. From comfortable position, try to push both feet simultaneously forward so that your body is leaning back now. You are no longer standing on whole feet, your calves are touching ski boots and only ski tails are keeping you from fall. Remember how you feel in this position because this is precisely what you are trying to avoid while skiing down the hill. Now return back to the original position and focus on what muscles you have to engage and what joints you have to move. You should certainly involve core muscles and ankle movements. Try something similar while skiing. Experiment with balance and forget the idea that only one static position is the correct one.

It is also important to work on brain’s perception of speed and steepness. Ski straight on a gentle slope where you can brake safely and experience to ski a bit faster. Did you tighten all your muscles being nervous? Just remember how firmly you were holding pen when learning how to write. Your whole hand tingled and the words were crudely engraved on to the paper. Gradually you learned to hold pen so that your hand and arm is relaxed and writing is easier. During skiing you should be more in harmony with the terrain rather than in constant fight with it.

While looking down the hill try to imagine what your body is going to do in each part of the turn and plan where exactly you are going to guide your skis. You could prepare a sentence or sequence of words to repeat to yourself during the ride so that you focus on the correct movements and stay far away from the realm of walking instincts which are so automated in the human body. This conscious voice will be certainly good advisor. That great feeling when you overcome your fears and push your limits to ski down a new and steeper slope is just priceless.

[originally published in the SNOW Magazine Czech Republic, Issue 89]