Why emotional health is as important as physical when skiing or boarding

Never underestimate the power of emotional fortitude on a ski hill. Why you should adapt your skiing to your emotional state.

Today I skied with Hilaree O’Neill, my new girl crush. Who can blame me and half of Telluride? She’s a bad ass skier, expedition athlete and all round super chick who incidentally has conquered Everest.

We chatted on film in the gondola (interview to come) and took a couple of runs on Telluride Ski Resort in one of the best weeks of the El Nino season thus far.

When I arrived I warned Hilaree and girl crew that I had little sleep last night (one hour thanks to tragic insomnia) thanks to a highly emotional day yesterday spent mainly in tears. Being the professional she is, she totally got it.

Why did I divulge my personal emotional state? Because exhaustion, either physical or emotional, can seriously impact your skiing ability and judgement and letting your crew know where you’re at means you can choose terrain accordingly.

This of course relies on those you are skiing with to actually listen and hear you and assume that no one knows your body better than you. There will be people who will put their agenda first and tell you to drink a bucket of concrete and harden up or swear they’re only taking you down a powder run without letting you know of the goat track, hike, traverse and rapel to get to it. These people are not your friends.

Now there isn’t much I won’t ski from green to double black (and more if a helicopter is involved) as I know you can always get down one turn at a time. I know I have the skills to ski deep and steep, tight or wide, hike to or take the chair but I also know I don’t always believe that I have those skills and there lies the difference.

On a good day when I’m in the zone then nothing is an issue and self belief is high and no one can stop me. On an exhausted day, like today, it only takes one fright to send my brain spiralling down into the death zone and my confidence into shatters.

We skiied Goldhill One chute today as the snow in the expert chute was in premium condition. To get out of Goldhill One at the bottom you traverse right over the top of a cliff. A cliff I didn’t know was there until I saw the sign CLIFF in big you will die now letters.

At which point my highly exhausted emotional mind immediately imagined myself falling over said cliff to my death. One wrong turn, one side slip too much and I would meet my maker. Yes I’m being dramatic but hey, I was highly emotional due to no sleep and tears, remember, tears.

I could feel the physical reaction to my mental collapse. My temperature rose, my heart beat rose and my throat went dry as I negotiated the tight turns required to get away from the cliff and into the traverse that would lead us to more powder. I knew I had all the skills to do it but I just didn’t believe.

Now on any other day (or without the cliff sign) this short terrain wouldn’t be an issue but my already emotionally charged state meant I skied like a gumby, or so I thought, until I reached the powder side. But because I had already informed Hilaree and friends of my state they were patient and kind with every turn I made in my mental danger zone.

Cliffs are my nemesis after being cliffed out at Red Mountain on a similar day of exhaustion. That day ended in ski patrol, this one ended in some sweet as powder turns in Andy’s Gold where my dignity as a ski journalist was redeemed.

Knowing when to say enough is just as important and that means putting aside your ego. I let the girls go on to Quail hike to find some even sweeter turns while I went home safe in the knowledge that we would ski another day together when my emotional and physical energy was stronger.

Hilaree understands this because energy in her extreme sports profession can mean the difference between one person dying, the entire team dying or everyone going home with an injury. In my experience we could all learn lessons in patience, empathy and understanding from those that know the mountains are bigger than we are.

Ego has no place on a ski hill. Get your head and emotions right and you’ll ski better every time.

What do you do when you’re exhausted, emotionally or physically, on a ski hill?

Read more: Knowing when to call ski patrol

Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.

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