Fear is no fun. And learning to ski or ride for the first time, or leveling up to new a challenge, can bring it up. It doesn't matter that a run is an easy green; if it's new for you, it can be intimidating. I know because I've pushed myself awfully hard over the last two winters and more than once found myself paralyzed with fear.
Fear doesn't just come up for new skiers; if you only ski once a year, or are pushing yourself to learn something new like moguls, you could find yourself getting unnerved.
While there is no "cure-all" for facing skiing anxiety, there are some techniques you can use.
1. Get Real
If you haven't skied in 10 years, don't head straight for the black runs right away. Instead, build up from less challenging terrain. Likewise, if you're a new skier, enjoy runs that fit your skill level. Snow sports are supposed to be fun, not masochistic. Being realistic about your abilities is the first step to enjoying your day.
2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
This is the advice I ignored, causing me more anxiety than I needed to endure. Don't expect to take a couple of lessons, then move to blue runs immediately. Yes, some people do, but most need to build confidence and skills on green runs. Focus on developing good form and having fun. It's not a competition. I moved from easy green to steep off-piste runs in a season. Unfortunately, it often wasn't fun because it was unfamiliar and scary. My blood would run cold as the run dropped steeply below me.
If you want to learn a new skill, introduce yourself a little at a time. Take moguls for example: introduce yourself to small moguls first, focusing on form, and simply getting the "feel" of them. Next build up to larger more challenging moguls. Repeated exposure and a slow progression, will not only build your skills, but also make something intimidating both familiar and less frightening. Essentially, you are desensitizing yourself to the frightening activity.
3. Avoid Peer Pressure
If your skills are beginning to intermediate, but your buddies push you to, "Give blacks a try," it can be intimidating and uncomfortable.
"We are social creatures, and most of us like to ski with our friends and lovers. Finding oneself significantly beneath the level of the people we are trying to ski with can be frustrating if not outright embarrassing," explains Steve Seliger, a Salt Lake City marriage and family therapist and avid skier.
One solution is to look for easy runs that parallel steeper terrain and tree runs. Alta Ski Area and Brighton Resort in Utah both offer areas where this works well. Ride the same lift, and then wind down nearby runs occasionally passing each other. I really like this solution because it keeps my partner and me together while allowing us to ski at our respective abilities.
Alternatively, you could break away and take a lesson. This both relieves pressure and develops your skills.
Lastly you could agree to each "do your own thing" and meet later for lunch or a beer.
4. Take Lessons
Yes, I mentioned instruction before--that's because it works! Lessons make an enormous difference when trying to break through to a new level or build confidence. Opt for a pro and ask questions before choosing an instructor. Look for experience, enthusiasm, and certification from the Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI).
"Frequently the temptation is to want to use our ski time together as lesson time - one partner helping the other one catch-up," explains Seliger, " That's great if it works for you, but many people find that it doesn't. Using a professional instructor (especially one who is highly qualified and recommended) is the way to go.
"Please don't feel bad or odd if your spouse, significant other, best friend, etc. is someone you just don't want to take lessons from. Their qualifications and experience may be exemplary - and it's so tempting to want to save money -- but there are a host of common and valid psychological reasons why many people have difficulty taking lessons from their significant other. If you want to overcome issues (which you can do) the slope is not the place for it. Resolve your emotional issues or develop your communication skills with each other in counseling. Improve your skiing / snowboarding skills with an instructor."
5. Take a Break and Breathe
Fear blocks our ability to think clearly. Not a good thing on the side of mountain with slick things on your feet. If you get really anxious, the best move is to take a break or at least pause and take 5-10 deep breaths. Sitting in the lodge with a steamy mug of hot cocoa allows you to relax and collect yourself. When heading back to the slopes, opt for something a step easier to warm up and regain your confidence.
Feeling afraid while skiing or snowboarding is common, even for people who have experience. It is part of being human. Using these suggestions, be kind to yourself and have fun.
See you on the slopes!