Preparation is the practical foundation of ski racing success. In short, it’s what you do that determines whether you achieve your ski racing goals. In this article, I hope to convey why preparation is so vital to ski racing success and the specific mental areas where your efforts at preparation must be directed. For you to be the best ski racer you can be, you must be serious about your preparations in every area that impacts your skiing including physical, technical, tactical, equipment, mental, and other aspects of your life (e.g., sleep, nutrition, school).
Preparation is comprised of five essential elements, the goal of which is to ensure that you get the most out of your training efforts.
Train Like You Race
The reality is that there is one huge difference between training and races – races matter! Your times and results in training don’t matter. And the fact that racing matters brings with it all sorts of baggage related to expectations, focusing on results, comparing yourself with other racers, and fear of failure. That’s why so many racers train much faster than they race.
Here are two important rules in ski racing. First, whatever you do in races, you must first do in training. If you want to ski technically and tactically well in races, you better get that technique and those tactics down in training first. The same holds true for every other aspect of your race preparations, whether ski tuning, physical readiness, or mental preparation.
Second, whatever you do in training is what you will do in a race. Ideally, the purpose of training is to develop effective skills and habits that will translate into fast skiing on race day. But here’s the problem: racers often practice bad skills and habits in training. For example, if you practice being in the backseat or dropping your hands in training (not intentionally, of course), that’s what you become good at and that’s what comes out in the race.
Whether you practice good or bad skills and habits has a huge impact on your mental preparation. Here’s an example that drives me absolutely crazy. On race day, you go to elaborate lengths to prepare for each race run. But, I see racers at the start of training courses leaning on their poles and chatting it up with their friends. What these racers are doing is developing the skills and habits of skiing at about 70 percent focus and intensity.
Think about what you do on race day to get ready and do the same things in training.
Consistency is what often separates great racers from good racers. The ability of the Hirschers, Shiffrins, Kristoffersens, and Vonns to go out there, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, and year in and year out, is remarkable. The key question is, what makes them so consistent? No doubt innate talent plays a big role, but I would argue that their consistently fast skiing and race results comes from consistent preparation in every aspect of their ski racing and life including their physical conditioning, on-snow training efforts, technique and tactics, mental training, nutrition, sleep, and school.
Additionally, their consistently fast skiing comes from consistency of their mind. Regardless of the circumstances, their attitude and confidence is steadfast. They reach their ideal level of physical intensity every run, whether in training or races. These superstars have an unwavering focus and a specific mindset that they adopt before every run. One key to their consistent skiing is a relentlessness that keeps them motivated to keep working hard and never give up. Finally, they have consistent, and positive, reactions to both success and failure; win or lose, they keep on the path that they have learned will work for them.
Most importantly, consistently fast skiing will come from consistency in your training efforts. The best way to build this consistency is to have a clearly defined training routine that you use before every training run. There are three goals to your training routine. First, it ensures that you maximize every physical and mental area that will impact your training. Second, it will ingrain consistent mental and physical skills and habits. Finally, this routine will ensure that every time you get in the starting gate of a training or race run, you are total prepared to ski your fastest.
The only way to change is to experiment and try new things. The problem is that change is difficult; it takes time and it is frustrating. Experimentation is uncomfortable because new things are unfamiliar, they don’t feel good, and they don’t usually work right away.
Despite these obstacles, you must be open and motivated to try new things – physically, technically, tactically, mentally, and with your equipment. Only through experimentation can you find that precise mixture of those ingredients that will result in consistently fast skiing.
One method that I find effective with experimentation is to go to extremes. For example, if you’re working on finding the right balance on your skis, you can try being really far forward and then really far back, then work your way toward the middle until you find your best place on your skis. Or, with your physical intensity, you can try a few runs really relaxed, a few really fired up, and a few somewhere in the middle. In doing so, you help identify what your ideal intensity is.
There’s an old Texas saying, “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you’ve ever got.” That means if you’re not experimenting and trying new things, you’re not getting better. Your goal is to constantly seek out and experiment with new ways to ski faster.
We live in a culture in which we are led to believe that everything can be accomplished quickly and with little effort (e.g., communication: social media, fame: reality TV, wealth: get-rich-quick schemes). But the reality is just the opposite. Anything in life worth doing takes commitment, time, and energy including achieving your ski racing goals.
If you buy into a fast and now attitude, you are doomed to a ski racing experience filled with frustration, dissatisfaction, and failure. This unhealthy perspective will come face-to-face with the normal challenges of our sport including uneven or no progress in training as well as DNFs and poor results in races.
To get the most out of your preparations, you must hold the long view on your ski racing. You must accept these setbacks as normal and expected bumps in the road to your goals – not brick walls that can’t be climbed or knocked down. You need to stay positive and motivated during down periods. You must be focused on the process and the present rather than be pulled toward the failures of the past or the results of the future. Ultimately, you must have patience, knowing that chasing your ski racing dreams are a long-term commitment; persistence, knowing that your only chance of success is to keep plugging away; and, finally, perseverance, knowing that you must overcome the inevitable ups and downs of our sport.
The four elements above are directed toward maximizing the quality and value of your practice. The quality of your training will have an immense impact on how you development as a ski racer and the results you produce in races. Specifically, it enables you to get the most out of your efforts, thereby producing more improvement more quickly. It allows you to make the most efficient and effective use of your practice time. Quality training enables you to ingrain effective physical, technical, tactical, and mental skills and habits that will result in consistently high-quality performances. Your goal is to engage in high-quality practice every moment of every practice day.
Learn more about my new 12-week online mental training program. This live and interactive program takes everything I know about the mental side of ski racing and offers it in an organized, engaging, and affordable format. I offer group discounts, and coaches can attend for free with an enrollment of 25 athletes from a team.
Cover photo from Marcel Hirscher‘s Facebook page