What is adversity? Adversity can be defined as “a difficult or unpleasant situation.” Understandably, one could be forgiven for choosing to avoid a task falling into either category, or at worst, both. Yet skiing is a sport which can regularly present its participants with adverse conditions (bad weather, challenging snow conditions, etc).
What I would like to discuss is the benefit of actively seeking out adversity for our own enjoyment and certification preparation. The benefits as I see them are twofold. Firstly, it can be a fast track to improving your skiing – put simply, the more you make time to tough out some rough conditions, the more fun you will get out of your skiing when you revisit the easier terrain/conditions. Secondly, if you are moving through the certification process, you will be better prepared technically, tactically and mentally for any exams that you plan to do.
Snowsports are meant to be fun. Recently a group of instructors were asked to brainstorm why they were here. The number one reason was unsurprising, simple and obvious – ‘fun’. If this is our main goal, then surely spending time skiing in unpleasant conditions is not worthwhile? At this point I think the key is delayed gratification. If we actively embrace training under adverse conditions, then when we return to our comfort zones the experience you have is likely to be even more fun thanks to the improvements you have made in the interim period. You might find that your balance is more accurate, or you’re getting more performance from your skis; you might feel more comfortable exploring a greater range of motion than before, or skiing challenging terrain with a better mindset or more aggression than before.
Daron Rahlves, Olympic Downhill skier for the USA, wrote a letter to his younger, teenage self, in which he stressed the importance of pushing through adversity. He summed it up saying “The tougher the challenge, the more satisfying the reward”i.
In my own experience the joy from overcoming a challenging situation far outweighs the frustration I’ve experienced while something is difficult.
Certification preparation As previously stated, skiing is a sport which has many uncontrollable elements (snowpack, weather etc). It can be tempting to play to your strengths in training by spending most of your time on terrain and snow that makes you feel confident. It is worthwhile building confidence and skills while skiing within your comfort zone, however that confidence could easily be shaken if you are suddenly faced with unfavourable conditions on an exam, for which you feel unprepared. Skiing under more challenging circumstances can often make you feel like your skiing has regressed which can be hugely frustrating, but the payoff is worthwhile. If the weather and snow don’t roll your way on the days that your exam is scheduled, then knowing that you have already skied in similar conditions and managed to overcome the challenges that you faced will give you confidence to keep going and do your best with what you’ve got.
Michaela Shiffrin (USA Ski Team) often speaks about the benefits of making time for this type of skiing. “Training for adversity has several important benefits. First, it makes adversity familiar and comfortable for you, so when you arrive at a competition with difficult conditions, you can say, “Been there, done that, no big deal.” Second, training for adversity provides you with the technical, tactical, and mental skills you need to overcome the tough conditions. Finally, adversity builds your confidence, so you can say before a competition, “I’ve trained under worse conditions. I’m going to bring it!”ii
Skiing in tough conditions can also substantially enhance your intrinsic feedback, which can really help you be more self-reliant in preparation for exams. For instance, if you are skiing on ice where grip is scarce, you don’t need external feedback to let you know if you are in balance or not. Your proprioception will be greatly refined for challenging your balance in difficult conditions and you will own the changes far more rapidly than if someone were to coach you through them in a less challenging environment.
How can I look for opportunities to use adversity to my advantage? There are plenty of ways that conditions can be adverse – flat light, no visibility, icy slopes, large moguls, cruddy off piste, the list is endless. Once you start to look at these situations as a tool to help you develop, you will find that when you’re back within your comfort zone with visibility, grippy snow, you will feel that your skiing has benefited for having challenged your skills.
If you find that you are blessed with bluebird hero pistes every day, then there are ways to recreate adverse conditions. Ask yourself what you can take away to make your run more challenging. For example, impairing your vision can recreate a whiteout, or skiing an easy run on one ski can challenge your balance and accuracy in a similar way that ice might do. The same could apply to skiing bumps; if all you have available to you are small bumps and you know that you could be made to ski much bigger ones in an exam, then having a go doing this on one ski can be great for challenging yourself – this is something I did when I only had access to bumps in a snowdome which were pretty easy. I set a goal of skiing 3 linked bumps, then 5, then 8, and soon I completed the full run on one ski, after that I spent more time doing the same thing on my weaker leg. I got so much satisfaction from this session for pushing myself, which made it really enjoyable, which in turn encouraged me to seek out this type of scenario in my training more often.
If you are motivated to change your skiing, whatever your goal, certification, or just to get more out of your skiing, make yourself your greatest competition. It can be so easy to make fun your priority, to choose a coffee over skiing in a whiteout, or pick a hero run over a more challenging pitch, etc. If you want to be different from the skier you were yesterday, there is definitely value in making time for adversity in your training plan.
i https://www.redbull.com/us-en/daron-rahlves-letter-to-my-former-self ii https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201401/us-ski-racing-star-mikaela-shiffrinsays-embrace-adversity
Lorna Gibson July 2017