Fear is a common thing in snowsports. Alpine, freestyle, freeride skiing and snowboarding are considered high-risk sports or extreme sports. To perform well in these kinds of sports you need education, courage, and perseverance. But if fear comes in the way it can be a serious obstacle in your learning process.
How can you tell?
If something limits the freedom, accuracy, and strength of your body, if your muscles tighten and you no longer perform with the skills you know you have, or if you continually shrink back from trying something new… it’s time to break that pattern. Easy to say, but how can we manage this?
In my view and experience as a ski instructor, it all starts with proper education. But as ski professionals, we also need to understand where this fear comes from.
I will not go too deeply into scientific studies etc. because this is not my area of expertise. Nevertheless, it is useful to know that certain patterns are recognizable.
A recent study by the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Zagreb with a total of 340 participants has shown some interesting patterns. The researchers collected data over a period of three years. It showed:
- Fear is gender-related. Men have less fear than women
- Regardless of gender, participants with previous ski experience scored lower in worry and higher in self-awareness had better skiing performance
- Beginners with lower scores in fear and higher scores in self-awareness were better in alpine ski learning
- Fear and worry have a major influence on the learning process
- Reducing anxiety also helps to prevent injury
If we check these results, it all makes a lot of sense. In my own experience, I encounter the same things. A limitation of this research is that it concerns a specific age group (early twenties).
What causes fear?
Now that we have an idea of how fear affects our performance and learning curve, it’s time to see where it comes from and how we can manage it. First and foremost, fear occurs at every level of performance. The beginner is afraid of getting into the fall line and the expert can be afraid of doing the double back-flip. It all has to do with your comfort zone. There are a few possible causes for fear:
- Afraid of the unknown
- Anxiety after an injury
- Fear of being injured
- Fear of heights
- Insecurity and a lack of self-confidence
How to manage fear?
The final – and to a lot of people the most important – question is how do we manage this fear and how to overcome it. For sure there are tons of books, studies etc… for this problem. But your coach, trainer, or instructor can play a big part in it. First of all, make sure you manage your basic skills by taking the right kind of course. Build on a good relationship with a mentor. He or she will be decisive in the progress of your skiing. Take the time to explain your specific problem, give as much info as possible, and feel if you can make the connection you need to feel safe.
Of Course, this is not a one-direction process! As an instructor you need to talk to your clients, only the words “trust me and follow” will not be enough. Explain in advance how you want to deal with the problem, what the steps are you are gonna make. This is very important the get rid of the problem of the unknown. Build op slowly and go step by step. Go one step back once in a while, find that easy slope where your client feels the most secure. And build up again and again. Try to increase the comfort zone without the skier noticing. Push the limits step by step.
Maybe the fear itself will stay there. But if it’s manageable at least, people can progress and enjoy skiing (again). That should be the goal of any instructor or coach taking on the responsibility of helping their clients.