It was supposed to be one of the best days of the season in Niseko. 40cm of fresh powder had hit Hirafu overnight, and the skies had opened up to a bluebird day. I woke up from a good night’s sleep, lined up some friends to ride with, and climbed onto the gondola with endless excitement about how much fun was ahead of me.
By 2pm, I was close to tears in a cafe at the bottom of the mountain, stuffing my face with hot chips and reflecting on what a shitty day it’d been.
With five seasons under my belt – four in Canada, one in Japan – there’s not a lot on the mountain that gets me worked up anymore. I’m prepared for cold toes, for long lift lines, for expensive cheeseburgers and unexpected cliffs. But sometimes, circumstances line up and skiing anxiety takes me right down.
Skiing anxiety is the term I’ve coined for when you’ve lost all faith in yourself as a skier. Something happens that shakes you up, and you spend the rest of the day beating yourself up for not being a better, different skier. You over-analyse every turn and hate yourself for the way your skis are moving. You walk off the mountain feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and annoyed.
On that particular powder day, I made a key series of mistakes that sent me spiralling into ski anxiety. I skipped breakfast, telling myself that we’d stop for a mid-morning coffee break somewhere on the mountain. But I was skiing with a group of intense boys who wanted to hike to get the best lines, and the mid-morning coffee break never came.
The first few runs were a whole lot of fun. But before we knew it, it had rolled around to 1pm. We’d done a whole lot of hiking and a whole lot of skiing black runs. I was exhausted, hungry and had just about lost the ability to ski. The boys were frustrated because I was slowing down, and they didn’t want to wait. I was upset at keeping them waiting, upset at the lighthearted jibes they were throwing my way. So I called it a day, told them to keep going, and went to sulk over my hot chips.
I was so mad at myself. Mad at myself for not being fitter, having stronger leg muscles, being more organised or being a gnarlier skier. Mad at myself because – after all all the time and money I’ve invested into skiing over the years – I still have days where I feel like the worst skier on the mountain.
And that’s ridiculous. Because no matter what level skier you are – whether it’s your first day out there or your millionth – we should all be practicing kindness to ourselves, regardless of what kind of day you’ve had.
So here’s how to get yourself out of the skiing anxiety slump.
Remind yourself how far you’ve come.
I grew up skiing, but my parents are nervous skiers (sorry mum, I know you’re reading this) and always refused to venture off the green runs. I never even considered doing a blue run until the age of 19 while on holiday in New Zealand. So, determined to further myself as a skier, I signed up to doing seasons.
I spent a season becoming competent on the groomers. Then another season in the trees. Then another in the powder. The next time I get mad at myself for not hucking myself off pillows in the backcountry, I remind myself that four years ago, I could barely make it over a mogul.
The lesson here? Take five minutes to reflect on what’s brought you to this point in your journey. Who cares if you’re not doing backflips, as long as you’ve done something to make yourself proud (and yeah, that can be anything – from trying your first double black diamond to making it to the bottom of the bunny hill without a stack).
2. Then remind yourself that everyone’s allowed to have a shit day.
Yes, really. Some days, your legs will refuse to work the way you want them to, and you’ll spill ramen all over yourself, and your hands will be extra-cold for no particular reason. It’s okay. Even Olympians have shit days. Be kinder to yourself.
3. Try again – with a ‘safe’ human.
Maybe your boyfriend’s always pressuring you to get down the slopes faster. Or maybe you’re skiing with a really advanced group who make you reflect on your own failures more than ever. Sometimes it can be really useful to ski with people who are going to encourage you to be a better skier – but when you’re feeling fragile, it’s just going to make the situation worse.
In these situations, switch off and go skiing with your ‘safe’ human. I have one friend in particular who is my ‘safe’ ski friend – our skiing abilities and interests are well-matched, and she’s super light-hearted about everything, which makes her ideal for getting my confidence back up in a fun and carefree environment.
4. Always eat breakfast.
… or be prepared to ditch your friends and fuel up with a hot chocolate when you need to.