By Monica Purington
On the 40-minute knife-edge ridge hike to the Day 1 starting gate, I had a decision to make between two lines.
Line one had me flashing huge GS turns into an exposed area and airing back into one of the main shots, exhibiting my ability to maintain technical skiing at high speeds.
Line two aired into a straight-line forcing me to quickly dump speed on the exit.
This was the Big Sky Freeride Qualifying Tour stop. The last comp of the season.
I had skied scared here the year before, but I’m a better skier now and a savvier competitor. I needed to ski to my strengths. With Jackson as my training ground, I was confident ripping turns on steeps.
My foot slipped off the boot pack, a 50-degree slope below me. Instant adrenaline.
I had my line choice decision. Why was I going to ski a line that included a straight-line to shut down when I wasn’t confident with straight-lines and having to scrub speed? Line 1 it was. I’d ski to my strength – GS turns at high speed.
Instant relief. The noise fell away and I focused on Line 1’s features.
I skied it well; confidently. It was a little bit boring – just one main feature, but I stomped the air, and made beautifully, fast GS turns to the finish.
The judges liked it too. I landed in 3rd place after day 1 – highest I’d ever been in a comp!
My body vibrated with excitement about the possibility of a podium finish. This was my second year on the qualifying tour, and my highest finish so far has been 7th.
Now what? Push for higher or play it conservative?
These questions quieted when the event directors told us Day 2 might be canceled due to weather. If so, our Day 1 placings would be final – and I would podium!
This possibility was noise, noise I should have muted immediately but instead, it flooded my whole being. I was anxious. Anxious not to ski, but anxious about losing my podium position.
I wasn’t surprised by my first-day run, but I thought other competitors were. Could they be right? Was it luck? Did the judges get it wrong?
Asking these questions was my own doubt leaking through. Doubt became poison. My mind became my enemy.
Day 2. The venue was socked-in and my spirits soared!
Not skiing meant I’d podium! I wanted to hug onto my 3rd when I should have been pushing off from it for the win.
The emotional roller coaster began.
We weren’t going to ski, we were going to ski, we might be skiing tomorrow…
The noise was deafening. If I’d had more mental strength I would have pushed it aside.
The final word came. “Female athletes, get to the start, you’ll be dropping in an hour.”
On the hike to the Day 2 venue, the noise was screaming, breaking my mental dam.
“MESS IT UP MONICA, AND YOU’LL DROP TO 8TH!”
I meekly tried some positive self-talk, “You know your line perfectly. Ski it smooth. Ski it fast.” But I didn’t believe.
My turn at the gate. Instead of focus and excitement, I was emotionally exhausted. I just wanted to get it over with.
“Stay on my feet,” was all the focus I could manage. “Get to the bottom.”
Thoroughly distracted, I immediately dropped into the wrong finger chute, missing my chosen line.
I skied the chute well for what it was, but the line was featureless. The judges took notice.
I had the third best score on Day 1.
I had the worse score on Day 2.
My nightmare came true. I finished 8th overall – dropping as far as I could have given my Day 1 result.
I was so mad at myself. Complete disappointment. I had the podium in my grasp and choked it away.
I really thought this was going to be a breakthrough year, and I think it was for my skiing, overall.
But obviously, my competition mental game needs work.
Dwelling on it, feeling sorry for myself, being mad at myself – this is all just more mental noise. It’s time to move on.
What now? Physical fitness is dialed. Skiing technique is there.
I need to train for mental endurance. I had it on Day 1. I skied to my strengths. It melted away on Day 2.
How? Research what the experts say, learn from others mistakes. I’m hardly the first athlete to choke in competition. Figure out what worked for other athletes and experiment with what will work for me.
Eight short months to ski season. Training starts now.
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