Psyched up to ski!
HOW OFTEN have you actually skied at your best? When everything comes together and you know that you are truly reaching your full potential? Particularly in challenging conditions or steep slopes, where every turn counts, are you laying it down the best you can? To achieve this, most skiers I coach are constantly asking what specific techniques they need.
As skiers we are constantly under the illusion that technique is the key to everything, in the belief that if we follow Steps 1 - 4 and repeat, perfect turns will be the result. This would be brilliant if we were skiing on a constantly smooth, perfectly angled slope, with exactly the same type of snow from top to bottom. However, the reality is completely different, and it can come as a nasty shock when you go for Step 3, and find yourself instantly sliding down the mountain with a garage sale of ski gear rapidly following you!
The truth is that technique is just one part of the whole picture which makes a great skier. In this final issue of the winter, we’re going to look at improving your performance by focusing on some other areas which are just as important: the psychological and the physical.
The gully pictured opposite is the perfect example of the kind of situation in which you need to be focused. Most skiers fall into the trap of having too wide an attention focus - so many thoughts going through their heads before attempting the pitch that their minds can be overwhelmed with it all. Result – a blizzard of different thoughts, such as: ‘God, this looks steeper than I’m used to. Not sure I have the right skis for this! Should I jump or twist the skis to turn? Wonder what the snow’s like at the bottom?’ At this point they set off, blindly trying to combine all those thoughts into some kind of simple message.
In tough terrain, you must be focused. I always focus on speed. If I can zero in on trying to maintain a
constant speed, everything else seems to flow. However, that’s what works for me. It may not work for you. The important point is that you need to focus on something. Almost anything! It may simply be one point of technique, like a pole-plant. Or simply to ignore anything technical, and just think about enjoying the moment. Whatever it is, pick on one thing, and only focus on that before you make that first turn.
That’s all very simple in theory, but how do we get focused in the first place? Well, breathing can help. If you feel anxious and unprepared, try three deep breaths from your stomach. Place your hand on it, and feel it move as you inhale and exhale. Athletes call this ‘centering’ and it’s a great way to calm yourself and focus on the job in hand.
Another great way to get ‘in the zone’ is mental rehearsal. Run the descent through your mind before setting off. The more accurate you can make this rehearsal, the more your performance will benefit. So if the snow’s going to be heavy and windblown, inevitably making the turns physical, that’s what you need to rehearse. All top performers do this – they’ll have an accurate, detailed practice running through their mind before actually delivering the performance. This helps focus the mind, and prepares the body for the movements it’s about to make.
Act out of character
Apart from the basic tools we’ve been discussing, one of the key areas which is going to have an effect on your performance is you. What sort of person are you? How confident are you of your own abilities? How do you view risk? Do you trust your body to react when it needs to? How do you normally approach new challenges? Obviously we can’t really change who we are, and many of our character traits are developed from previous experiences. But very often, our skiing performance is a reflection of our character. A lot of research has been carried out into this when analysing high-level athletes, and results.
show that they tend to have the same type of personality profiles as successful entrepreneurs. This means they probably have a strong work ethic, are prepared to take on risk, and most importantly, bounce back quickly from setbacks. This means that when performing, they don’t have a fear of failing, and can approach difficult challenges with a ‘dare to lose to win’ attitude.
Hopefully you’re now focused, and ‘in the zone’ when going for that dream descent. It’s now your body’s turn to deliver to its full potential.
Be relaxed but alert
One of the classic mistakes when going for a tough challenge is to tense up physically. If you have a high
level of muscular tension through your body, it’s actually difficult for it to react naturally, or move and adapt when it needs to. It seems that recently a strong belief has built up that you must have a strong core when skiing at a high level. While there’s no question that you must have well developed
core stability to deal with all the movements that happen when you ski, if you constantly ski with
high levels of muscular tension through the core, you’re blocking the body’s ability to move freely.
To ski well, it’s a tremendous advantage if you have a body which is fit and strong, but for it to work at its optimum, you have to hand over some trust and let it react when it needs to. Imagine you’re walking along a pavement, totally relaxed, and then slip on some ice. What happens? Your body will make an instant change, and use all the muscle groups available to prevent a fall. And this happens within micro seconds. What would have changed if you’d had been in the same situation, but with the body pre tensed, stiff and locked in place? To put it simply, to ski at your best you need to be relaxed but alert,
and focus on accuracy rather than strength.
How much effort do you put into that one run? If it’s a tough slope with tricky conditions, it’s essential to give 100% of your body’s energy to the task in hand. Imagine a 100-metre sprint. How hard would you try to get to the finish line ahead of the competition? Do you use this much effort on tricky descents? Giving it the absolute max is sometimes the answer - but not always. On a deep-powder run, it may be better to back off, use less effort, and go with the flow. Basically, great skiers are always adjusting the level of physical application to match the type of skiing they’re doing. Most recreational skiers tend to use the same amount of application, in all situations, regardless of whether it’s needed or not.
Courtesy of Ski and Board Magazine www.skiclub.co.uk | Photos by Mark Junak www.snowimages.co.uk