Christine van Zadelhoff has been running Ski Amis with her husband Ed since 2002 and together they’ve built the company up to what it is today with 20 catered chalets in the 3 Valleys and Paradiski areas of France. In the beginning, she did everything herself – but nowadays the company has a whole team of people.
Skiing is her business, so she knows a thing or two about learning to ski and improving technique.
Heading to the mountains this winter? Maybe it’s your first-ever ski holiday or perhaps you’ve been once or twice before. Are you confident about it, or are you feeling a little nervous?
Even the most seasoned skiers have times of feeling cautious or tense – whether it’s because they’re getting back on skis again after a year or two away from the snow, or perhaps it’s because there’s a complete a white-out outside, or maybe the slope is narrow, crowded, or the home run icy?
I’ve asked the experts and we’ve put together a list of the most common reasons people can feel nervous on skis.
We use Oxygene Ski & Snowboard School in the 3 Valleys, where Emma Morison is Operations and Commercial Director. Oxygene is based in eight of France’s top ski resorts.
We also employ the ESF, which doesn’t need any introduction as it’s in every French ski resort. Mark Neville, their UK Business Manager, has given us some tips here as well.
Get Fit Before You Go
Even a couple of weeks of exercise can make a difference to your skiing – and do wonders for your self-confidence. Provided you’re fit you should be able to ski for longer, and you’ll also be able to recover more quickly at the end of each day. But you shouldn’t stop there: warming up before you start skiing each morning will help your performance, reduce any muscle soreness, and it may also reduce the risk of injury.
Have a Lesson on an Indoor, Real-Snow Slope
Why wait till you get to the mountains? There are six indoor, real-snow centres in the UK, and they all offer lessons for beginners on short, gentle slopes. Of course, the instructors speak flawless English, too – and have long experience of coaxing hesitant first-timers through their snowplough turns. After a couple of sessions, you’ll be familiar with the kit, and well acquainted with sensation of sliding over snow. You’ll approach your first day in the resort with much more confidence as a result.
Buy the Best Goggles You Can Afford
You’ll enjoy snowy conditions and survive better in white-outs with a good pair of goggles, with lenses that won’t steam up and that are the appropriate colour for the light. Not being able to see if you’re on the flat or going downhill does nothing for the nerves.
Pick a Ski School That Speaks Your Language
“This is especially important for children. Trying to learn a new technique when the instructor doesn’t speak your language can make a nervous skier even more uncertain. Check out reviews and pick a ski school that you feel confident about learning with”. (Emma)
Learn from a Professional
Never ever let a friend, partner, husband, wife or parent teach you to ski – and don’t try to teach your kids yourself. You/they will only learn other people’s bad habits, and – a bit like teaching a loved one to drive – it’s bound to end in tears! Don’t try to follow a more proficient partner or friend until you’ve taken plenty of lessons. Trying to keep up will use up your energy – and confidence.
Tell Your Instructor Your Fears
“A good instructor will take your anxieties into account and will help you overcome them using different teaching techniques to boost your confidence”. (Emma)
Get Used to The Equipment
“To start the process and to overcome the nervousness, try standing on snow in ski boots, without skis, which gives you the stability of being in control of your step. Now try attaching one ski only and walk on the flat snow, sliding and stepping until you have the confidence to attach the other ski. We would recommend you do this on a flat surface with no incline at all. Using your balance try walking up and down and lifting your skis from the surface each time. Also jogging on the spot lifting and dropping each leg and ski in unison. Remember, you are in control and you do not need to slide anywhere at this stage”. (Mark)
Have the Right Attitude
“Most of the confidence in skiing for the first time needs to come from the skier mentally, as the positive mental attitude of a new skier will propel him/her to a level where very little will scare them. The main thing to remember is you are skiing to have fun. If you follow the teacher’s instruction, your time on snow will be very rewarding”. (Mark)
“Remember you’re here to enjoy yourself. So smile, even if it is forced at first, it will help you relax and start to enjoy the sensation of sliding on the snow”. (Emma)
“Take the focus off your skis for a moment, take in your beautiful alpine surroundings and, as you start to glide on the snow, breathe in normally then exhale fully. Focusing on your ‘out’ breath has a calming effect and will help you relax your (probably tense) muscles”. (Emma)
“You must have a relaxed body position at all times as most injuries happen when the skier is tense and stiff, becomes unbalanced and falls over”. (Mark)
…But If You Do Fall
It’s fine fall over. Just try to stay relaxed and keep your legs straight, so that you don’t end up twisting. If you’re renting skis, make sure your bindings have been set properly for your height, weight, age and experience – so that they’ll release when they should. Always get an expert to adjust your bindings.
Get a Strong Core
If you find it hard to stay balanced and upright, a strong core will help you to balance. In bad light, keeping your arms in view can help with balance too. If you can see your hands, you will be more stable and less likely to fall over.
Ski the Conditions, Not the Piste Map
If you can already ski, but worry about icy/bumpy/slushy pistes, then don’t let the piste map be the only guide to your skiing day. Take the quality of the snow into account as well.
If it’s icy, then ski one notch below your usual level. If you’re usually comfortable on red-rated pistes, that means sticking to the blues. Many nervous skiers don’t much like a bumpy, uneven surface either. So it’s best to do most of your skiing in the morning, when the pistes are freshly-groomed. And if you’re holidaying over Easter, or during a thaw, read our guide to spring skiing, so you know how to make the most of the daily cycle of melting and refreezing. It can actually be a lot of fun.
“First and foremost, snow is just frozen water that has settled on grassland or stoney areas of the mountain in a fluffy and cold way! It won’t bite!” (Mark)
Avoid the Crowds
Getting up early is a sure way to beat the worst of the crowds. It gives you the chance to ski the most popular and visible runs while everyone else is having breakfast. Then you can migrate to the quieter, less visible edges of the ski area.
Many nervous skiers also find a resort’s home runs traumatic at the end of the day. This is when everyone is heading back into town, and the pistes are often both bumpy and icy. The best policy is to come down the mountain early or – better still – ride one of the lifts downhill.
Let me know, in the comments box below, if you have any of your own tips for nervous skiers!