Another year, another week of downhill skiing in Verbier, Switzerland. This week has been the best so far – there was fresh snowfall at the start of the week, followed by a week of glorious sunshine, and on top we didn’t do any classes this time so we’ve been completely free to ski, rest and eat whenever we want! It’s just been a really lovely week of skiing. Whenever I’m out on the pistes, though, I’m always struck by the life lessons that skiing brings to mind! Here are 5 things that the skiing experience teaches you…
1. You’re on your own
You may have supportive friends around you, or an experienced ski instructor, but ultimately, no one can help you make it down the mountain (unless you really get stuck and they have to come and get you with a scooter!). Knowing that you’re all alone is both terrifying and completely liberating. You can block out the sound of other people, forget what they are doing or not doing, and just focus on what it takes for you to do what you need to do.
2. The longer you hesitate, the harder it gets
I’ve had so many moments over the years of stopping at the top of a slope or, worse, halfway down and just getting more and more panicked about how I’m going to do it. The truth is, though, that it’s not going to get any easier from waiting, so it’s really just a question of taking a deep breath and going for it. And turn, and turn, and turn! No ‘shopping around’ for the best turning spot, no stopping completely – as the next turn will only be more difficult!
3. A lot of the fears are just in your head
There are some very real fears when you’re skiing – accidents do happen, even with experienced skiers, and they can happen when you least expect it. I’ve fallen twice this week while WALKING so it’s not even just the skiing that you need to watch out for. However, I’ve actually very rarely fallen and when I have (TOUCH WOOD) it’s not been particularly traumatic; I have always made it down the slope, however terrified I’ve been; and I’m only getting better, so really there’s less and less to worry about. In fact the fears only make me tense up and do all the things that interfere with my technique so, as is often the case, your fears are actually having the opposite effect to what you are hoping.
4. You should be facing the slope head on and leaning forwards
Your natural reaction is to want to lean back, away from the steep slope that’s laid out in front of you – but in fact this is counter-productive, giving you less control over your skis and making it more likely that you’ll fall. Leaning forwards, down the slope, will make sure that the skis press evenly into the snow along their full length so that you have better control. The other normal tendency for beginners is to swing the body round with each turn, rather than facing the slope head on so that you can see where you’re going and again so that your weight is correctly distributed.
5. It gets easier with practice
I used to be scared just of the overall environment when you’re skiing: dangling from the sky in a little cabin, making sure you get off the chair lift in time, being able to control your skis enough to be able to stop when you need to! Of course over the years all these things have become a natural part of the process and no longer terrify me. It’s the same with the skiing itself, the more turns you do, the more you challenge yourself to take on trickier slopes, the better you get. You can let your fear stop you, stick to the easier pistes or even avoid skiing altogether – or you can commit to getting better, to pushing yourself and to keep practising. As the ski school ads around Verbier proclaim: better skiers have more fun!
In fact, the previous points essentially come down to this: you have to commit to each action you take, each move you make. You don’t want to be hesitating, you don’t want to be leaning back and you don’t want to be fighting against the natural force of gravity! I find that if I just take some deep breaths, find a rhythm and stop over-thinking it, I get into a really nice flow and it’s much less work. And for all the dangers and fears, the whole skiing experience is so totally worth it for the views, the food and the exhilarating feeling of whooshing down the mountain.