Lessons Learned after 7 Comps on Freeride World Qualifying Tour
By Tess Wood
1) Training begins in the gym, the summer before ski season, because no one ever complained about not being sore enough after a hard day of skiing.
2) Once on snow, every run I take becomes a training run. Any type of terrain, from the most pillowy pow to the crustiest crud, can teach me something. Bad conditions are an opportunity to improve my fluidity through chunder and bumps; firm snow becomes the perfect time to practice utilizing micro-features; fourteen inches of new means time to let fly and work on those larger airs.
3) Choosing a line that plays to my personal strengths is paramount. Every competitor is trying to do her best, so skiing a line that highlights my own skills is a no-brainer. Identifying these skills took critical self-reflection, input from my skiing peers, and asking to look at my scorecards from each competition.
3) In my first comp “tactics” merely meant staying upright. Scared out of my mind, I chose a line that I was 80% sure couldn’t kill me and tried not to fall over. As my confidence grew and nerves settled down I could focus more on choosing dynamic, interesting, and challenging lines. Now when approaching a venue I look for a line with airs and exposure, but features I know I can stomp. I steer away from anything that has me saying, “ehhhh I think I might be able to do that?” If I doubt that I can slay my line, chances are that I won’t. This is fine when I am freeskiing and trying to get better, but in a comp it only means that I won’t make it to day two, let alone get near the podium. Competing is about proving to the judges I can execute, not pushing my skiing beyond what I am capable of.
4) How to mentally handle competitive freeskiing has been my greatest realization this past year. I watched the rituals and approaches of my fellow competitors hoping that one of their tricks could help me, a clueless rookie with a racing pulse and her heart in her throat. Some blast music and tune out their competition; some watch every athlete before them, scrutinizing her airs and speed; others revel in the camaraderie and take a shot of Fireball in the start. I started to question if my approach to competition day was really setting me up for my best run possible. Should I not try to have fun and be friendly? Should I be focusing more on my run? Maybe I am focusing too much? Should I be taking shots at the start, too? Do I need to calm down? Or am I too relaxed?
After a year of competing, some more successful than others, I finally feel like I’ve dialed my own mental game to maximize my preparation and performance. I know what I need to do to keep my head straight and my nerves in check. For the record, it doesn’t involve searing, cinnamon shots or being a stone-cold bitch to my fellow competitors; Instead, I stay calm and visualize, visualize, visualize. I close my eyes, making my run from top to bottom in my mind; I take deep breaths; and right before I drop I make sure there’s a big smile on my face.
5) The biggest threat to my mental game is distraction. Most damaging is the preoccupation of thinking about what my competition is up to. My worst performances have been when I’ve let jealousy, anger, or anxiety about what the other athletes are doing cloud my focus on my own run. The only shit I can control is my own, so I’d better get it together. Letting concern about my fellow competitors get in the way of my own skiing is basically forfeiting any power I had. Once they’ve won the majority of my attention it’s going to be much easier for their skiing to win over mine, too.