The Mental Game | How To Build Your Skiing Confidence
Many of us are nervous skiers. Confidence coach Louise Pode shares her tips for changing your mountain mindset.
The skiing holiday is booked and the family can’t wait, but as the departure date gets nearer that inner dread starts to build. How can they be so excited, yet you feel so anxious? If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Anxiety on the slopes is more common than you might think. It creates a plethora of negative emotions – including isolation, humiliation and fear – for literally thousands of skiers. I should know; I was one of them.
In December 2016, I was on a Christmas skiing holiday in Val d’Isère. The children had been excited for months and I was putting on a brave face. On day four, I found myself at the top of Le Face – committed. I looked down at the steep, icy expanse; heart racing, a feeling of deep dread in the pit of my stomach, rigid with fear. Voices of encouragement floated across from the group: “You can do this”, “You’ll be fine”, “Follow me down…” I urged them all to go on ahead in an effort to take away that feeling of pressure, of being the focus of attention. Finally, I set off gingerly and lurched into a turn, leaning back, out of control…. down I went. Tears of frustration began to flow: “I can’t do this… I knew this would happen.”
Fast forward to Christmas 2023, and we are staying in the neighbouring resort of Tignes. Once again, I find myself committed to Le Face. It’s just as steep, icy and intimidating as before, and as I perch on an icy mogul – with crusty off-piste in front of me – a feeling of déjà vu sets in. This is really going to test my skiing strategies.
I take a moment and look up at the stunning view. “Wow…” Deep breath… I can feel the cool mountain air. “I’ve got this,” I tell myself. “I love my skiing.” My mind is clearing and I’m making a plan. I slide down into the middle of the run where there is a smattering of snow and look around at how other skiers are managing – there’s someone coming down cautiously; she’s got a good line. I step in and follow, focusing on her turns, and before I know it, I’m out of the worst of it and on my way. Reaching the bottom I feel elated: “I’ve conquered the world!” Finally, that run is no longer my skiing nemesis.
The difference between these two experiences is not about technique – I’d had plenty of lessons and knew how to ski. It is testament instead to the power of the mind. Let me share what I wish I had known in 2016 to create that shift from anxiety to liberation.
Control the controllable
Plan ahead. The idea is to create an environment which will enable you to enjoy your skiing and build those positive experiences. Aim for a suitable resort with plenty of easier runs that will nurture your confidence, and ensure you have a ski buddy to explore the slopes with. Be open with the group about your ability level so that you don’t find yourself out of your depth.
Own your anxiety
Anxiety can be an important and even useful emotion, but understanding it is key. The symptoms I described above – heart racing, deep dread, feeling rigid – were my own physiological stress response. Take a moment to think about your own. When have you felt most anxious while skiing? What were the three key signs for you? And which one came first? Recognising the first symptom and understanding how it manifests will put you back in control. It enables you to use the following strategies to calm yourself before anxiety overwhelms you.
Calm your mind
When your mind runs away with anxiety, it’s like white noise that stops you from thinking logically. It is well recognised that slow, deep breathing techniques – such as box breathing – promotes a state of calm and reduces that strong physiological response, allowing you to think more clearly.
Switch your focus
When we’re stressed, we focus on everything that reinforces it, creating our own ‘reality of fear.’ It’s
important to manage the inner voice that is doubting us and catastrophising. Be kind. Tell yourself, “it’s ok”, “you’re fine” or “you’ve got this covered”. Pull your focus away from any thoughts that build anxiety and focus on the things that calm you: stunning views; the coolness of the air; freedom from daily routine; the special experiences you are creating.
Make a plan
Rather than skiing with high stress levels, take control. Use your deep breathing at the top of the run, look up and focus on the beauty and clarity of the mountains. Observe other skiers – what can you
learn from how they are skiing? Look at the line they are taking on the slope and make your own plan.
Avoid stopping on the brow so that you’re looking down; instead, aim to turn across it to control your
speed and give yourself continuity. If you feel yourself being overwhelmed, stop and reset – just because a run starts off badly, it doesn’t need to end that way.
Change your mindset
With a strong inner motivation and the right coaching, you can overcome those barriers which are holding you back. Imagine how proud and liberated you will feel to be able to look forward to all those future experiences with friends and family!