Image Credit: GEPA

When you wake up on race day, you have a lot on your mind. And if you’re like most racers, one thing on your mind is your fellow competitors. How fast they will ski today and whether you will beat or be beaten by them. But I would argue that those competitors are the least of your concerns. Why? Because they have no direct impact on how fast you ski. Ski racing isn’t tennis or boxing or basketball in which you compete face-to-face with your competitors and how they perform has an immediate influence on how you perform and your level of success.

Given their “after the fact” role on race day, I would suggest that you should prioritize your concerns and direct your attention to four more immediate and formidable “opponents” you must confront on race day. The reason you should pay particular attention to them is that, even more than your fellow competitors, their singular goal on race day is to really mess you up. Moreover, you absolutely must prevail over them if you want to have any chance of beating your fellow competitors.

I’m guessing now that you’re a little confused about what “opponents” I’m talking about and why I keep putting that word in quotes. Well, imagine yourself sliding into the starting gate and looking down the hill at the challenge that lies ahead. Without realizing it, you’re looking directly at those four opponents. I’m talking about:

  • Course
  • Terrain
  • Snow conditions
  • Weather

I realize that I’m anthropomorphizing here (i.e., attributing human qualities to decidedly nonhuman entities), but when you kick out of the starting gate, the course, terrain, snow conditions, and weather will do everything they can to ensure your failure. Depending on the event, the course throws changes in turn radius, rhythm, and combinations.

The course alone would seem like enough to battle, but, no, this is ski racing and the race is just getting warmed up. You also have to deal with the terrain which can include flats, steeps, transitions, rollers, and jumps.

No, the race isn’t even close to being finished with you. You also have to contend with wildly variable snow conditions including bulletproof ice (whether injected or the old Eastern blue variety), slush, ruts, chatter marks, holes, and even grass, rocks, and streams on occasion (I had the latter three all in one race in Italy back in my Burke days).

Finally, as much as we love those sunny and 30 race days, they are relatively rare (especially if you’re from the Midwest or the East!). Instead, it’s more common that you are confronted with bitter cold, high wind, heavy snow, hail, sleet, rain, or fog, or some combination of all of them (I had all of those in one race at Holiday Valley in western New York in my Middlebury days).

Here’s the bottom line. If you allow these opponents to impose themselves on you, you have little chance of skiing fast and getting the result you want. These four opponents can win the battle against you in two ways. First, before you even get on course, they can psych you out, so they have already beaten you before you’ve left the starting gate. In the start area before your run, if you see them as threats, your determination and confidence will lessen, you’ll get nervous and tense, and you’ll focus on everything that will go wrong. Second, with this mindset, once you leave the starting gate, you’ll be playing defense. You will likely be in the back seat, inside, getting thrown around, and skiing scared.

If you want to have any chance of having a good run and getting a decent result, you have to make sure that you impose your will on these four opponents, do what is necessary to resist their efforts, and, in fact, do everything you can to crush them unmercifully. The $640,000 question is how do you do that. Here are a few ideas.

First, you need to view the four opponents as challenges to pursue and conquer rather than threats to avoid or surrender to. Remember that everyone in a race has similar conditions (though start order impacts snow conditions and weather can sometimes change), so it’s not the conditions that matter but rather how you perceive them. With a threat attitude, you’ll be unmotivated, doubtful, nervous, and distracted, and have zero chance of overcoming the four opponents. With a challenge attitude, you’ll be motivated, confident, intense, focused on dominating these opponents, and, as a result, will have a good shot at vanquishing this “fearsome foursome.”

Second, you may not have always put up resistance to the four opponents, so your natural tendency may be to give in to them. To overcome your past passivity, you must, as your race day begins and once you arrive at the start area, make a conscious commitment to fighting them no matter what they throw at you. This commitment marshals all of your psychological, emotional, and physical resources that culminate in a determined effort to overpower the course, snow conditions, terrain, and weather.

Third, to ensure that you enter the field of battle well prepared, as you progress through your race routine, you should ensure that you stay confident in what you bring to the fight, reach your ideal physical intensity, and grab an aggressive mindset that will enable you to muster everything in your ski racing arsenal to “kick butt and take prisoners.”

As with any kind of battle, there are no guarantees that you will emerge victorious. As you well know in ski racing, sometimes your best efforts don’t pay off. But a few final thoughts about that. First, I can guarantee that if you don’t put up a fight, those four opponents will beat you. Second, if you do choose to fight, you have a darned good chance of coming out the winner. Finally, on those occasions when you put up a fight, yet the course, snow conditions, terrain, and weather still get the better of you, you’ll still be able to claim a victory of sorts by having fought the good fight (“it’s better to down with a bang than a whimper”) and, if you commit to always fighting, you’re very likely going to win the ski racing war.

Want to make get your mind in the best shape of your ski racing life? Take a look at my online mental training courses for ski racers, coaches, and parents. Team discounts are available and coaches can attend for FREE with an enrollment of 15 racers from a team.

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Jim Taylor
Jim Taylor, Ph.D., competed internationally while skiing for Burke Mountain Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. Over the last 30 years, he has worked with the U.S. and Japanese Ski Teams, many World Cup and Olympic racers, and most of the leading junior race programs in the U.S. and Canada. He is the creator of the Prime Ski Racing series of online courses and the author of Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Sports Goals. To learn more or to contact Jim, visit
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