The Mountain Times

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The Mountain Journal: The fear factor

Sometimes even the best skiers can feel, well, apprehensive on the mountain. Some folks may even feel queasy from time to time looking down a steep, or icy, pitch. We're not trying to make fear our friend. That's not the goal. In truth, though, East to West, from runs the like of Ovation at Killington to Spiral Stairs at Telluride in Colorado you may actually feel your knees go weak.

If you're lucky, the snow's good.

Here's the take-home: There's a big mental game to becoming an expert skier. Whether you prefer skis or a snowboard, and whether you are on a shiny Black Diamond or staring down the bumps of Outer Limits don't discount psychological skills.

"There's a mind-body dimension to sports," explains Mala L. Matacin, Ph.D., chair of the department of psychology at The University of Hartford in Connecticut and a specialist in health psychology. "You can't separate from the physical from the mental."

How you think impacts how you ski.

Skiing is, in fact, impacted by how we think and can function like a feedback loop. For example, if you think you will fall, you then fall and you will likely confirm to yourself that you were right and this was too much! In fact, if you get caught in that negative loop you're not going to perform at your potential.

In contrast, in a positive loop, you can enhance performance.

So, what can we do to enhance our performance? Ski easier terrain and you likely will know you can ski it well. And will! Then, gradually increasing the challenge offers an opportunity to continually reinforce your belief in your skills. In this positive loop your muscles will remain more relaxed, and your attitude will keep you in a better position on your skis.

"These loops are critical," emphasizes Matacin.

When tense or fearful we may lean back, which is less than an ideal "attack" position. In contrast, when we are relaxed we are bettered centered and positioned on our skis. It's positive. It promotes a positive feedback loop.

Truly, one element which differentiates good athletes from great athletes is this feedback loop. Done well, this positive loop can be energizing. But, you need to have the mental attitude that you can do it, that you are good, and that you can get better!

Columnist Tony Crespi is a former ski school supervisor and coach whose column is published throughout the season. He is a frequent contributor to publications throughout snow country.

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