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Visualizing the positive on technical terrain

Chris Fellows
Cathy Howard/Provided to the SunNASTC coach Chris Fellows instructs students on how to visualize a steep entrance at Sugar Bowl.
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Have you ever stood at the top of a dizzyingly steep run with your heart pounding and palms sweating, fighting the urge to back up and go around the easy way? You become trapped in the roulette wheel of the mind as the overabundance of possible outcomes entwines you and leaves you in a cloud of confusion and fear. Your drive is undermined by questions of self-doubt: What will be my fate? What are the odds that I could be killed? Is there a chance that I could succeed?

The good news is that this happens to many of us, at least those of us who want to test our limits and explore uncharted terrain. The pounding heart injects the juice that awakens your slumbering soul and nudges your psyche toward a new and more confident you.

To ignore the calling is to miss what you may be searching for. Solutions come from solid game plans that, when practiced, can deliver the off-piste skier through the fiercest terrain and gnarliest conditions.

If you ever find yourself in one of these sticky situations, you most likely ponder the possible outcomes, both good and bad. You soon reach the point when you must choose either fear and apocalyptic thoughts or the more positive and productive thoughts that will disclose a line and tactic to deliver you safely to the bottom.

Think back on past successes, which probably started with a crystal clear picture of how you would execute your movements. All good athletes perform some variation of this “positive visualization.”

Famed hockey player Wayne Gretzky, upon being asked why he was so successful in the National Hockey League, once said, “I never go to where the puck is, I always go to where the puck is going to be.” Gretzky envisioned the outcome before it happened, and his athleticism allowed him to move toward his intended goal in a confident and proactive manner even though his opponents often outweighed him by 20 or 60 pounds.

Good skiers follow the same pattern: They see a solution to a challenge and then anticipate how the course of events will play out.

You may have seen Olympic and World Cup ski racers practicing mental visualization at the top of a course. It looks as if they’re putting themselves in a hypnotic trance with all that hand waving and head bobbing, but the racers are actually rehearsing their strategies for that particular course. This positive “mental video” plays an integral role in executing a successful run. The focus often extends beyond how to move a body part, transcending to a level of performance that operates in the intuitive arena.

Patrick Vallencant, a pioneer in extreme skiing and one of the first people to ski a 60-degree slope, would become so focused on a high mountain descent that he claimed he felt lost and one with the experience.

“When I concentrate so, the world disappears. The universe becomes a pair of skis and life is their passage on a steep slope. The direction of the skis isolates me. There is a man, and a slope of snow, in unison …” (Skiing the Steeps,” The Ski Book. 1982).

These athletes rehearse all the possible outcomes so that they become a natural response to familiar and anticipated events. You can gain a great deal of ground in your developmental progress by practicing game plans that will give you a clear tactical picture of what you need to do when those menacing terrain challenges pop up on the radar.

Imagining a plan of attack will divert your thought pattern from “my life will probably end after I slip over this headwall” to more productive ” and less fatalistic ” thoughts. Because what fun is a skiing challenge if it’s one perceived near-death experience after another?

Chris and his wife Jenny are the directors of Truckee’s North American Training Center (NASTC), and Chris is a member of the PSIA National Demonstration Team. Chris will be writing a weekly column all winter. He can be reached at ski@skiNASTC.com or 582-4772.


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