Dealing with Fear part 2

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Dealing with Fear part 2

Dealing with Fear

Stress, Worry, Confusion, Nervousness…

The Colours of Fear! Sometimes just seeing the colour of the run is enough to strike fear into a nervous Skier. I’ve seen very good skilful skiers lose their marbles if they see a red or black sign, even if they know we’re not going down it.

One thing about skiing that is definitely confusing is that the colours of the runs can be so arbitrary! A blue run in Austria can be so different from a blue in France or Switzerland, even in the same resort runs of the same colour are never truly the same. For example, where I live and work, Les Gets in the French Alps, there are two blue runs, Choucas and Campanule that if you compare them are green and almost red respectively. Arbis and Rhodos are two reds that are almost black and hard blue/easy red respectively, among many other examples. Runs are very rarely the same all the way down; a run could start easy and get harder out of sight or the other way round, so what can you do?

(Tip) Get a guide you can trust, loved ones and friends can’t always be trusted (sorry), as some instructors too I guess. Ask someone, ideally a professional ski instructor or a tour rep/chalet owner to give you advice on what a particular run is like and more importantly, what it’s like to get back from. What kind of lift is at the bottom, it could be a type you’ve never used before and therefore not a good idea to go on that run. Don’t rely solely on the colours of the run.

Re-designing the piste map

If I was given the task of redesigning the piste maps, even just in Les Gets, I would either come up with a completely new system;

  • light (easy) green, dark (harder) green, light (easier) blue, dark (harder) blue, pink, red, purple and black. This would make for 8 types of run instead of 4
  • Or, have the names of the runs reflect the feel of the run i.e. “The meadow” or “Daffodil” should conjure the idea that these runs are easy, whereas “Sleepy Tiger”, “Roaring Lion”, “Tyranosaur” and “Angry Veloceraptor” are runs that get progressively harder and challenging

Another thing with runs that people can be unaware of is that the numbers on the posts descend as you go down a run. If looking for a challenge whatever the run’s colour, if it starts at 56 you have 56 posts to pass on the way down, taking many minutes, if it starts at 6 you only have 6 posts to pass, taking seconds (See Tip in Risk Assessment).

Marshmallow Lines.

Here’s a tactic that can help. Find a slope you like to ski and can relax on, it doesn’t matter what colour it’s marked as. Imagine a line painted right down the middle of it, or imagine it in your mind’s eye. If you’re lucky you can use the lines or joins that the piste-ing machines leave. Make some turns and see how far away and how close you can be to the imaginary line.

  • If you can stay close to the line (in other words you don’t have to turn very far from it or even stay on it without panic) it’s a Nursery or easy GREEN for YOU, so paint the line green
  • If you had to go far away from the line it’s at least a hard BLUE run and in extreme panic mode BLACK

This will change, what colour you paint it today may be another colour tomorrow either because of your psychological state or the snow conditions.

Now find a slope where you need to go further away from the line. Each time you cross the line, cross it with the skis as close as you can to right angles (90 degrees). You may have to go a long way away from the line to manage this, the further away you have to go the harder the slope is i.e. RED or BLACK, even if it is marked GREEN.

Now try and imagine the line is made of piped marshmallow or another very soft and easy to cut material. Now as you go across it at 90 degrees cut it with your edges (slicing/carving), it’s soft so you only have to tilt your skis slightly, unless it’s icy (you’ll need to develop more edging skills). If it IS icy, down shift to a lesser slope if you can. If you have to use this tactic and if nervous even a green run can be steep and challenging no matter what colour the resort grades the run, at the moment for you this run is BLACK!

To progress, over time change how far away from the line you need to go (narrowing the corridor) and the angle that you feel you need to cross the line until your confidence grows.

Changing the angle of attack along with the width of corridor changes the colour you paint the line;

  • 90/80=Black
  • 70/ 60=Red
  • 50/40/30=Blue
  • 20/10 or less=Green

These are just guidelines not exact figures as each person will be different and conditions and mood will affect them. You can also decide whether your skis are slipping, gripping or ripping (See Steering inputs) as they cross the line at whatever angle you have chosen either consciously or sub-consciously.

You can with time, patience and practice (See Practice in Learning Curves) look down a run and decide what angle of attack and corridor width you’re going to use. You no longer have to accept the marked colour; YOU can make the decision what colour the run is. You are allowed to change your mind; move the line, change the task and when it doesn’t matter anymore all runs are WHITE but you’ll have different tactics to use in different situations. (To develop this, see Edging in How we Turn). There is also help in developing this drill in Why we Snowplough and How we Turn.


Here is an instance that illustrates how perception of ability can negatively affect performance of nervous skiers, which might fit in nicely next to marshmallow turns:

They (the nervous skier) often thought they were inferior skiers because they reached the bottom of the slope last in their group. They thought they must be skiing much more slowly than their friends. I would then point out that if they are making big long traverses between each turn (using a very wide corridor), they may not necessarily be moving slower but travelling a greater distance than the others who were taking a much more direct route. Often the traversing was just a habit (imperfect practice) and sometimes really nervous skiers would be pushing with their poles across the slope because they had reduced their momentum so much at the end of every turn requiring more work and input (arguably too much control?). We would work to progressively reduce the traverse between each turn (narrowing the corridor), trying to realise when they had actually achieved control of direction and therefore speed (See Blending inputs), until they were smoothly linking each turn into the next. Hey presto! They reached the bottom of the run in about the same time as their friends.

Friendly terrain is crucial for this tactic. The student needs to be able to judge whether their momentum is sufficient to help them into the next turn but still a comfortable speed for them. This awareness needs to be developed in a comfortable environment and marshmallow turns would be a great way to work towards this.

Risk Assessment

We can never totally get rid of risk in a lot of things we do in life but we can reduce them to an intelligent degree. To minimise risk to zero we would probably be doing nothing and life might be said to be homogenised or boring to some without the buzz that risk gives. Knowledge or re-assessing the situation with extra information can help lessen the fear unless you are totally risk averse. For example; the weather is out of your control but what you wear to combat it is in your control. Or realising the slope is quite flat (not as steep as first thought) and all you need to do is patiently travel across it until you slow down. The best way to reduce the risk of injury is to not to do anything risky, however this may mean not trying an activity and finding out how much fun there can be had. Being accurate, flexible and fit come a very close second along with intelligent choices of terrain and challenges.

(Tip) I remember seeing the British heart foundation’s advice on their TV advert, “do one thing a day that excites or scares you”, to get your heart rate up and help a healthy heart.

Everyone is different; one person will make do with one challenge and not want another until the next day or week, someone else will want to constantly be challenged. Choose at least that one small challenge that lasts for a short period of time and build the duration and occasions slowly. If the challenge you have just done has “knocked” your performance or confidence don’t try a harder one. You choose how many times a day you are challenged and what that challenge is, remember and note;

  • Repeating a challenge is still a challenge
  • Speed, either slow or fast is a challenge
  • One footed balancing
  • Steepness
  • Centre-ing
  • Turn shape, trying a more or less direct route
  • How long the challenge will last

A challenge doesn’t have to be big and scary; it could be just to do it more accurately. Also when choosing a challenge it may be wise to learn to deal with ice or steep first, having both going on at the same time may be too high an expectation.

Conclusion; focus on what is controllable; choose suitable terrain and look where you want to go and control direction to control speed. Be patient and create a roundness to your turns (don’t rush the middle part). Try to recognise whether you’re afraid or excited or a bit of both. Use all or any of the technical advice in other chapters, knowledge is designed to help diminish fear. All of the above is there to help anyone overcome the problems we can encounter, use what you can and there are lots of other approaches; but remember you are you and what works for one won’t necessarily work for the next person, find something that works for you! When all else fails we may have to confront our fear head-on. Please get expert help when trying this.

If you need something to tell a loved one who pulls your leg about you being frightened or slow when skiing; tell them “any fool can go fast as gravity does all the work but slow is pro”.

Answer to question at the start, a black run is about 30-40 degrees and from the top or bottom can look much steeper (is this a negative perception or maybe self preservation?).

A 45-50 degree slope would be deemed as extreme! If you measure it on a protractor on your coffee table while relaxing it won’t look that steep! I’m not saying it isn’t steep just that the perception isn’t “real”, people think that black runs are vertical 80 degrees or so when listening to them in the bar. Conversely a green run can be about 5-10 degrees; not steep at all? But will seem lot steeper when mountain biking or walking up it, as you’re seeing it from a different perspective. Whatever your perspective, what you see, hear or feel will affect your reaction.



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