Skiing European Alps, while the former originated from

Skiing is defined as a sport that allows a person to travel over snow using skis and boots specialized for this sport. This sport has two main categories, including Nordic and Alpine skiing, with the latter origins being in the European Alps, while the former originated from Scandinavia.

Skiing is an ice sport that requires a lot of precision, courage, determination, practice and motivation. This sport is not for the faint hearted or for those that are cold averse since bad weather is synonymous with the winter season in Europe, when the sport is played.

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To succeed in the sport professionally, skiers need to be athletic, handy and comfortable with discomfort, love the country (read mountains), and possess high level of physical coordination. Skiing could be termed as an extreme sport (it involves height, speed, special gear, risk and high level of physical exertion), and is usually categorized as sky diving and surfing, snowboarding, and mountain biking among other extreme sports.

In skiing, mastery is paramount if the skier it to move to the next level of the Sport which goes up to getting a Euro Speed Test qualification. This is a qualification that every ski instructor and professional skier in European countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia and the UK has to acquire in the course of their career. The Euro Speed Test is a must have requirement for one to become a Ski Instructor, and is part of the Level 4 International Ski Teacher’s Diploma (ISTD).[1]

The Euro Speed Test is also international and has tough rules and regulations. This is the reason why only the very passionate, competent and determined individuals are successful after working very hard at attaining it. [2] People who seek out skiing are mostly in search of excitement, thrill, excellence, social affiliation, self-actualization and the obvious physical fitness.

Like any other sport, skiing enhances the physical and psychological health of the skier, and improves their self-image. However, the skiers need to also take care of themselves not only physically, but also psychologically, spiritually, and all round, in order to enhance their endurance of the harshness of the sport.

The subject of psychology comes to light in this discussion because, for the sportsmen/ women to perform to their optimum, they have to be physically, technically and most importantly mentally fit to be able to meet the demands of the competitive and exerting sport. Skiers need to be psychologically ready for the ski racing competition.

This paper will be a source of information for sportsmen, regarding how to best prepare and keep psychologically fit for a competition that is both physically and mentally demanding. The positive impacts and importance of mental preparedness to skiing will also be highlighted. The Euro Speed Test will also be discussed in detail to give interested parties an insight into this important qualification for Skiers.

The main characteristics of high caliber ski competitors include passion for the sport, determination, persistence, drive and self-motivation. These competitors are hard-working and spend hours every day training. Skiing is a sport that involves extreme conditions and regulations, and the professional skier needs to be well prepared psychologically to face the competition positively. This paper focuses on the mental preparedness aspects of a skier whose intention is to pass a Euro Speed Test.

Views of Different Personalities regarding this sport

Professional skiing is for those who want to go beyond their boundaries, for the risk takers, for those who want to exert their full body and mind into the sport and the competition, and those who are passionate about the sport.

American Psychiatrists, Kramer and Why disclosed some insights regarding this sport, “I’d prefer to answer ‘why ski’ in terms of exhilaration or the conquest of fear, but my persisting with the sport bespeaks a certain obstinacy; when I succeed (in limited fashion) that same trait must count among the explanations” [3] This message shows that skiing competitors are the most driven and courageous characters, for without these characteristics, it becomes difficult to be a high achiever in skiing.

Smith, the Author of SKI Instructors Confidential and a Ski Instructor has talked extensively in his online comments about his love and thrill for skiing despite being an instructor for many groups of students, and others who are out to have fun – outside of the normal hustle and bustle of life. Smith believes in the power of mental training for skiers and sports personalities.

This is clear from his observation that, “A fundamental aspect of the mental side of sports is that athletes possess differing levels of mental skills that, like technical skills, can be developed with time and practice… mental factors such as self-confidence and concentration are malleable characteristics. Given the appropriate training, significant improvement may result.”[4]

The quality of the mental training and the abilities of the competitors have an impact on the actual outcome of the sporting competition. The mental status of the skiers affects their physical and technical outputs, and therefore needs to be well taken care of.

This is because the mind is a very powerful organ and is instrumental in life, as it fuels the action of the other organs either positively or negatively. When the person involved is optimistic and views everything with a positive and affirmative spirit, then, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

On the other hand, a pessimist and emotionally laid back individual may not achieve much, unless they work at improving their mental attitude, which can be developed and improved with the right coaching and mentoring. It therefore goes without saying that a ski coach or instructor, and the people that are around the skier while he trains, socializes and goes about the business of his training routine are fundamental in supporting his success in the final analysis.

Psychology and the Euro Speed Test

Sport psychology can be defined as the mental preparedness of the sportsman/woman for the day to day requirements of pursuing a certain sport including the physical practice and training on techniques of the sport. It also involves the preparation for upcoming competitions which are normally big events with dynamic conditionality, demands and professional requirements.

Sport psychology is a discipline that is most suited for those sportsmen/women who want to pursue professional careers in Skiing and who are aiming to attain the Euro Speed Test qualification. Competitions can turn even the most competent skier into a nervous wreck. It brings along with it a lot of anxiety and uncertainties.[5]

It is the dream of all professional Skiers in most European countries to attain the Euro Speed Test qualification in European Skiing, as it gives them an edge above the everyday Skier. For a Skier to be psychologically fit for the competition ahead of him/her, be it the normal ski tests or even the much tougher Euro Speed Test, they need to follow various guidelines that will help quell their nerves during the races.

A little anxiety is good to motivate the person to aim for the best, and to be in a mentally alert mode. Too much anxiety can be disastrous as it could lead to panic. However, excitement that is brought about by an adrenalin rush of facing the giant Euro Speed Test is a positive push for the skier. It would help much if the skier would view all the practice sessions before the big competition as the real thing. [6]

This means tuning the mind to the big event and all the expectations that come with it, aiming at excellence, dressing in the most comfortable and performance enhancing gear, having the right attitude, using visualization techniques that show a picture of winning and excellence, and performing with the same zeal and precision expected during the Euro Speed Test.

It could also be a big plus if the skier requests for some rehearsal, whenever this is possible, and when they are out there in the ice ranks practicing. This means, that the coach approaches his work during practice sessions as he will on the race day. The competitor wears the costume that will be worn during the race, goes through the race course to master the corners and the terrain, and invites friends and colleagues to act as the audience as this will be a good example of what to expect.

In essence, it will be in the best interests of the competitor to do everything in simulation of the main day, which will help towards reaching the target (the Euro Speed Test qualification). Building confidence during the training period is also a great way of preparing effectively for the Euro Speed Test.

This could be done through positive journaling where positive happenings during trainings are recorded on a daily basis. Going through the journal before the races will give the competitor a boost in confidence and belief in his/her abilities to win. Confidence could also be built by teaming up with other like-minded individuals during daily practice and in cases where the coach acts as a mentor and friend of the competitors.

All these tips that relates to subduing the nerves just before skiing competition have been recommended by Perlus, an author who has published various works including the Ultimate Achievement Journal. [7] According to Knudsen, the high flying skiers in the world have some mantra they follow to help them stay on top of the game and to keep the momentum and motivation. He referred to these as ‘merely good sports psychology’.[8]

Imagery is the art of visualization or imagined sensations. This theory projects that, if a skier constantly imagines something or in this case a series of physical movement, this visualization can greatly improve performance during the actual sport. Attention focus is straight forward and is the focusing of one’s attention on a particular task or physical movement, to the extent that distractions become a background occurrence.

In a field where the crowd is cheering, commentators are on top of their game, and the weather is rearing, if a sportsman employs the attention focus technique, then they will only focus on their skiing target, which is likely to bring forth success.

Internal monologue is an art of sports psychology where the sports person maintains a positive and winning attitude. Basically, attention focus is speaking positively to oneself, affirming your skills and talent, barring the mental obstacles, before and during the competition that you are going to win despite the odds.

Murrel in his paper Psychology of Skiing adds onto the tactics of psychological survival for the skiing professionals with what he calls neuro associative conditioning (NAS) and Anchoring. [9] He explains this concept as imagining the impact of one’s skiing by turning on high-performance state.

What clearly comes out from this is that repeating the same thing many times becomes a conditioning, and this applies to skiing too. He recommends this kind of conditioning for the ski race competitors. This is assuming that the competitors are quite passionate and driven about achieving success, because having the heart into something really makes all the difference between getting it right, or being just mediocre.

Like in any other sport or any other thing in life really, it helps for a skier to practice relentlessly, to be persistent, focused on the goal, and determined to get the prize. This will lead to mastery of the intricacies of the sport and to ultimate success. It is the goal of each competitor to be number one, and that is why it is imperative that they practice some of the recommended psychological techniques for winning according to individual situations and believes.

The coach or instructor is a key player and determinant of how the skier will be mentally prepared for the big day. The ski instructor or coach is not just the trainer, but rather becomes a mentor for the competitors and plays the role of teacher, friend, parent and even psychologist.

The coach is the person that steers the racer on, even when the practice seems to drag. He encourages and re-asserts hope. The coach is expected to have knowledge in diverse matters pertinent to the racers success including physiology, biomechanics, education and even psychology. The coach is instrumental being the closest professional skier to the racer, and who can give the right guidance.

Importance of Preparing Mentally For Skiing

In line with the above recommended ways of keeping fit psychologically for the high flying skiers, there is need to understand why this is important and what is aimed at, for the benefit of the skier. Mental preparedness calls for step by step planning and goal setting. In skiing, it means that every day during training and practice, the skier is preparing in doses, with the big picture in mind (the race).

This systematic and structured way of doing things leads to success. As the old adage says, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. In the same way, failing to prepare psychologically for the overall plan of action in good advance before a race comes up is a sure way of failing. When the skier is mentally well prepared for what to expect during the race, then it goes without saying that this relaxation and confidence will propel the person to success.

Racers, to which group professional skiers belong, need to have a relaxation and winding down routine, to build their mental strength. These activities could include having adequate sleep, meditating, deep breathing and relaxation techniques, yoga, reading, eating healthy, and having positive people around them.

These are part of the package of mentally preparing for the competition and the Euro Speed Test. They enhance vitality, strength and energy level in the skiers. It is difficult to separate the physical, technical and mental aspects in skiing, as they all act as one big package towards the success of the racer.

The physical and technical competencies could be well developed, but if the skier is not in a good and positive mental disposition, then all these other competencies contribute minimally to success. Mental preparedness builds self-confidence and belief in self among the skiers.

The positive affirmations under the guidance of a professional coach can play a vital role in helping and supporting the racers to aim higher and believe in their abilities. Mental preparedness, that is, visualizing the worst case scenario especially in terms of weather and getting ready to handle the situation, enhances the racers responsiveness to harsh conditions of bad weather, tough courses, difficult snow conditions, and further equips the racers to be prepared for any kind of eventuality during the competition.

The Euro Speed Test

The Euro Speed Test qualification is a credential that is valued in the skiing field and once acquired opens many doors for the professional skier. This test is the optimum for the professional skier and after its acquisition; the skier is certified to become a ski instructor. The Euro Speed Test is a competition like any other and is therefore cause for adrenalin rushes, anxiety, and panic to some competitors.

Having crowds watching and judges checking every move of the competitors makes it no easier, but rather increases the pressure points. The length of time that the skiers have to wait before they get a chance to start the completion, which can sometimes take hours, is a big cause for anxiety and nerve wracking for the skier who is in line, and could work against the skier’s abilities and competencies due to the mental strain.

They could become less responsive and lose focus on the target when it takes too long to start. However, it would help the professional skiers to prepare for this unavoidable occurrence, by practicing visualization techniques during intervals of the long wait. Visualization helps the mind to keep active and occupied and is a technique of delayed gratification. When the skier uses the visualization technique effectively in this scenario, success will be most likely realized.

This program prepares the skier for technical free-skiing on challenging terrains including chutes, steeps, off-piste and moguls. The program philosophy is to set up the skier for large mountain tournaments, while at the same time training them how to become responsible and physically and mentally well-built. It is also focused on preparing the athletes to safely find their way on a variable terrain with extreme snow conditions.

In this view, the Euro Speed Test is designed to encourage participants to enhance general wellness, find out the critical skills and joys of ski racing, build and develop friendship, build self-confidence, productive use of time, and learn how to set and achieve goals. To ensure that the program is successful, its organizers must set some goals for their programs. The goals of Euro Speed Test are set as follows:[10]

Develop advanced ski racing skills within our participants
To ensure that our program teaches the participants on psychological and physical well being
Provide and environment which is favorable to enhance and maintain friendship
To encourage teamwork in sport
Help participants realize their personal goals.

Physiology of Skiing

All major muscles of the body are engaged during skiing especially in cross-country skiing. Because of this, skiing is the best training for keeping fit and developing endurance. Skiers have the highest maximal oxygen uptakes (this is how much blood the heart can pump). This means that for skiers to be successful in the sport, they need to have well-functioning hearts as well as lungs for oxygen purposes. When the skier’s body has a high capacity to uptake oxygen, then it is likely that success will be realized in a race. [11]

This is because oxygen is transferred to the working muscles in right quantities and at the right time, enabling the body to travel faster and over long distances. Skiers therefore need to include high level aerobic exercises in their training regime. Training of top skiers needs to be professional in order to build their oxygen uptakes and energy levels.

Relevant and effective training is important in the life of a skier as this will protect the competitor from injuries which may occur in case they hit slopes unprepared, and more so because they spend an average of 5 hours a day on the slopes practicing and training and need to be strong.

Leg muscles, especially thigh muscles, need tender care and regular exercise as they are the group of muscles mostly involved while skiing. Strength training including squats and lunges are the most recommended for strengthening leg muscles. Stretching of all muscles before and after skiing is also recommended for best results.

Physical wellbeing also enhances the psychological wellbeing of a skier, and therefore this two should go in tandem. Regular visits to a physiotherapist are also a good idea especially for those that experience some weaknesses, swelling or stiffness of muscles while training for the race. The following table shows the maximum oxygen uptake values for different sports, and skiing scores the highest, even ahead of a marathon. [12]

Preparing for a ski competition is a long process for the racers. It requires physical, technical and mental training on how to handle the race. Regular practice and relentless learning and preparedness, do actually contribute to improved performance and ultimately to success.

A professional skier who has participated in other races stands a better chance of winning as compared to an amateur or a person without much experience. On the other hand, due to the physiological factors that have been discussed in this essay, regarding requirement for strength and aerobic training to build and strengthen leg muscles, it would be right to say that a younger person does stand a better chance than an older one in racing.

This is assuming that both have received similar training, practice and preparation, and all other factors remaining constant, considering the younger person has more energy and has maximal oxygen uptake due to youth and vitality. This is also in assuming that the heart and lungs of the younger person are functioning at optimal levels.[13]

Conclusion

Skiing is no doubt a sport for the go-getters and those who are naturally physically active, people who are always looking for the next bigger challenge fit in this category as well. One thing is clear though, this is not a sport to do at whim, if success and professionalism is the target.

It requires commitment, persistence, self-discipline and high energy levels for excellent execution. For a professional skier to be successful, they need to develop and train in the physical, technical and mental aspects as detailed in this paper. The mental preparedness of a skier is vital for their performance during the competition. It is even more important when preparing to attain the tough Euro Speed Test qualification.

Bibliography

British Association of SnowSport Instructors, Module Information: The Euro Speed Test is the highest level of qualification by the British, Union publishers, London, 2002.

Gallwey, WT, & R, Krigel, Inner Skiing, Random House, New York, 1977.

Knudsen, E, ‘Sports Psychology and Skiing’, Ezine Articles, 5 January 2011.

Kramer, P & S Why, A practicing Doctor’s Views on Psychiatry and Contemporary Culture, In Practice, London, 2009.

Montana State University-Bozeman, Physiology and Psychology: Performance Benchmarks-Maximal Oxygen Uptake, Montana publishers, London, 1998.

Murrell, J ‘Anchors- the secret weapon for competitions’, Psychology of Skiing , Vol. 1, no. 5, 2011. PP. 12-15

Perlus, H, ‘Race as well as you Train – Ski Racing and Anxiety in Sports’, Podium Sports Journal, Vol. 77. No 4, 2011. PP. 12-56.

Smith, AR, Ski Instructor’s Confidential, the Introduction of the online Book, Winter publishers, London, 2005.

Taylor, J, Getting the Mental Edge in Your Skiing, Denver Post, London, 1994.

British Association of SnowSport Instructors, Module Information: The Euro Speed Test is the highest level of qualification by the British, Union publishers, London, 2002.
E Knudsen, ‘Sports Psychology and Skiing’, Ezine Articles, 5 January 2011
P Kramer & S Why, A practicing Doctor’s Views on Psychiatry and Contemporary Culture, In Practice, London, 2009.
AR Smith, Ski Instructor’s Confidential, the Introduction of the online Book, Winter publishers, London, 2005, p. 25.
WT Gallwey & R Krigel, Inner Skiing, Random House, New York, 1977, p. 25.
H Perlus, ‘Race as well as you Train – Ski Racing and Anxiety in Sports’, Podium Sports Journal, Vol. 77. No 4, 2011. PP. 12-56.
H Perlus, ‘Race as well as you Train – Ski Racing and Anxiety in Sports’, Podium Sports Journal, Vol. 77. No 4, 2011, p. 15.
E Knudsen, ‘Sports Psychology and Skiing’, Ezine Articles, 5 January 2011, p. 12.
J Murrell, ‘Anchors- the secret weapon for competitions’, Psychology of Skiing , Vol. 1, no. 5, 2011, p. 56.
J Taylor, Getting the Mental Edge in Your Skiing, Denver Post, London, 1994, p.56.
AR Smith, Ski Instructor’s Confidential, the Introduction of the online Book, Winter publishers, London, 2005, p. 25.
Montana State University-Bozeman, Physiology and Psychology: Performance Benchmarks-Maximal Oxygen Uptake, Montana publishers, London, 1998.
J Taylor, Getting the Mental Edge in Your Skiing, Denver Post, London, 1994, p.12.