With COVID-19 now (mostly) in our rearview mirror, ski racing in the U.S. and worldwide returned to some semblance of normalcy, with training and race opportunities again in abundance. Unfortunately, at the same time, another global problem, climate change, has made training and racing more challenging, with too much snow in the West and too little snow in the East. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ski racing was an indoor sport (it does seem to be heading in that direction)?
After a long and demanding winter, you’ve had some downtime to put away your skis, catch up on your schoolwork, and begin to think about the next season. But before you put the 2022-23 race season behind you, keep in mind this famous saying: “Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.” In other words, if you don’t reflect on the last season, you may miss out on some important lessons. Valuable information you can use for next season that will allow you to rapidly continue progressing toward your ski racing goals.
Evaluate This Past Season
Begin with a simple numerical rating of some critical areas of ski racing. On a 1-10 scale, how would you rate your season and explain why you rated yourself as you did:
- Achieving your overall goals (1-terrible; 10-awesome).
- Enjoyment (1-hated it; 10 -loved it).
- Physical development (1-weaker than ever; 10-stronger than ever).
- Technical development (1-didn’t improve; 10-improved a lot).
- Tactical development (1-didn’t improve; 10 -improved significantly).
- Mental development (1-didn’t improve; 10 -improved considerably).
- Skied faster (1-not at all; 10-a lot).
Given what I do for a living, I would be remiss in not recommending you do a similar evaluation concerning the mental side of your ski racing:
- Motivation (1-not at all; 10-very).
- Confidence (1-none; 10-total).
- Focus (1-totally distracted; 10-totally focused on skiing fast).
- Consistency (1 -huge ups and downs; 10 – consistent with few ups and downs).
- Drive (1-always skied tentatively; 10 -always charged).
- Routines (1-no training or race routine; 10-very structured training and race routines).
- Imagery (1-never used imagery; 10-used imagery in training, on race, and off the hill).
- Expectations/pressure (1-no expectations or pressure; 10-huge expectations and pressure).
Ten essential questions
Next, could you reflect on this past race season and evaluate how you did? Here are ten essential questions to ask yourself (and your coaches):
- Did you achieve your goals this past winter? If so, why? If not, why not?
- What are your goals for the next race season (outcome and process)?
- What strengths do you bring from this past season that will propel you into the next season?
- What weaknesses do you need to address?
- What has worked for you that you want to keep doing?
- What has mostly worked that you may need to fine-tune and tweak?
- What hasn’t worked that you want to discard?
- What can you add to your training (physical, technical/tactical, mental) that has been missing?
- How can you innovate in the different aspects of your training to take your skiing to the next level?
- Finally, and specific to my area of expertise, what mental areas do you need to work on to reach the next level?
With these questions answered you can, in collaboration with your coaches, decide what worked in your training and what did not. You can then use this information to create an individualized prep period program that builds on your strengths and improves your weaknesses. Undoubtedly, this simple process will help you ski faster next season.
It’s About Preparation
How you perform next season depends on what you do during the spring, summer, and fall. The physical conditioning gains you make and the technical, tactical, and mental skills you develop in the off-season will determine how much you improve and whether you reach your competition goals next winter. Notably, there are three areas you should focus on to maximize your preparation.
First, commit to an intensive physical conditioning program. Ski racing has become a “beef” sport, meaning you need muscle, strength, and power (plus significant agility and mobility). The most reliable way to develop these attributes is with an organized fitness program that will likely involve weight training, plyometrics, speed work, flexibility and agility.
Second, the most committed ski racers will spend at least part of the summer and fall on snow. Summer and fall skiing are essential for your technical and tactical development because you can focus exclusively on improving your skiing fundamentals without the pressure of getting ready for races.
Summer and fall skiing also let you test and adapt to new equipment (though my motto is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” meaning if your equipment works for you, don’t mess with it. Testing can easily distract you from training and cause you to question which equipment is best for you).
Finally, equally important, the off-season is the best time to engage in mental training. Like physical conditioning and technical skills, the mental tools of ski racing (e.g., confidence, intensity, and focus) take time and effort to develop. An organized mental training program can have significant benefits when you enter the new race season. More on mental training next week.
The key to achieving your goals next winter is to start now! Talk is cheap. It’s easy to say you want to be a great ski racer. However, it’s an entirely different thing to do the work necessary to become one. Commit to intensive off-season physical, on-snow, and mental training programs if you have high goals. When you enter the starting gate at your first race next season, your goal is to say: “I’m as prepared as I can be to ski my fastest.” And, with all that hard work you put into the off-season, you will likely ski fast and achieve your goals.
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