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Can you overcome ski anxiety that isn't just physical, but social too?

Leela

Diva in Training
#1
Hello Divas,

I just found this great forum yesterday and am hoping someone can empathize with my recent experience. Sorry that this first post is such a long one – it felt a bit cathartic to write.

Background note: I have a lot of social anxiety-related hangups around skiing. I grew up in ski country, but I come from a largely blue-collar family, where the winter pursuits are more likely to be ice fishing or snowmobiling. We did a lot of XC as kids, in phys ed class and so on, but I didn’t get on a pair of alpine skis until my early teens – the absolute worst possible time to start, when your psyche is just a ball of hormones and anxiety. In fact, I had such a horrific day that first time I put the skis on that I didn’t go anywhere near the mountain again until my early 20s. The best skiers around school and my community were by far most often the kids from the wealthiest families. Though my logical brain is well aware this is a generalization – there are great skiers in my own family -- I feel like my lack of skiing ability is a “tell” about my social class and that everyone can read it. (My closest friends with whom I grew up are a mix of ongoing ski lovers, kid skiers who gave it up as adults, and people who never took it up in the first place – and none of them has anything like the hangups I do about this.)

But I want to enjoy skiing on my own terms. I have dabbled, and that is definitely the operative term, in skiing most of my adult life – once or twice a winter, a few lessons here and there in my 20s -- but my logical brain knows full well that my time or resource commitment has not been sufficient to improve, especially because I am not really a natural athlete and I do have a lot of physical fear to overcome. (That said, I went to college with all kinds of kids from “the tri-state area” who apparently somehow learned to be brilliant skiers by doing just what I described, a couple of trips to the mountain each winter. How? How did they do it??? It was always hard to explain to these people why I was not a skier. I dreaded having to do it every time. I’ve come up with all kinds of quarter-century-too-late staircase wit I could have used at age 18, like “Does everyone in Hawaii surf?”)

I lived away from my home state until about four years ago, and when I moved back, I certainly had in mind to ski more. Winters are long here, and getting outside and going up the mountain feels so good. I went out twice this week. Once with my mom, my favorite ski buddy -- we stick to the green trails and have a good time. This has really been all I aspired to for the past few years. My equipment is not very up to date (though addressing this is a priority) and so on.

Unfortunately the outing with Mom lulled me into a false sense of security and I agreed to tag along with colleagues on a ski morning later in the same week. I think the colleague who organized the outing did not understand my explanations that I am not a strong skier, and when I think about that I understand why, because here in a ski-crazy state that could mean anything from “bunny hill preferred” to “I don’t do double black mogul runs but anything else is cool!” Anyway, it was a disaster. It started out OK as we did a green warmup and a blue that I handled OK (though bringing up the rear), but then I was dragged up a second blue trail with VERY variable conditions, and froze halfway down. The one saving grace is that with encouragement from a friendly ski patroller, I very slowly side-slipped my way down and made it to the bottom. Any attempt at correct technique went completely out the window. He had offered at one point to call for the sled, but I am 100% positive that if I had accepted that offer, I would have gotten to the bottom, politely thanked the ski patrol, put my skis in the car, driven home and given up alpine skiing completely for the rest of my life.

I’m now so humiliated that I don’t feel much like interacting with any of my colleagues today, especially the one who organized this outing. If I had it to do over again, I would have asserted myself more and split off from the group earlier, but my colleague was so cheery and insistent that we should all stick together -- and again, I’m pretty sure she didn’t entirely understand my limitations. I sought her out to apologize for yesterday’s mess, and she was kind and apologetic herself -- but I know she now thinks I am a crap athlete and feels sorry for me, and it makes me feel so lousy and left out that I wish I’d never agreed to go with them (my other colleague who protested that she’s “not a strong skier” is really not too bad at all, and I just overheard them enthusing about the runs they did after I went home). I am in my mid-40s, but I felt like a 5-year-old on the mountain yesterday. I’m sitting in my office on my lunch break writing this and trying not to cry, it was so awful. I can’t ever put this back in the box, and the colleagues on this outing with me yesterday will never look at me the same way or vice versa.

How do I figure out how to get better at this sport, gain confidence, and comfortably enjoy it ON MY OWN TERMS (instead of to impress or “stay in line” with other people who I think expect it from me) without constantly feeling like the working-class kid who always got picked toward the end of the line in gym class? Logically I know it will just have to involve a lot of skiing on my own and some private instruction, but I’m even nervous about approaching the latter because if I don’t find an instructor who “gets it,” the lesson could turn into the same kind of nightmare I experienced yesterday.
Any thoughts/reassurances/advice? Books or other content that address skier psyche/anxiety, and possibly particularly in these terms? I feel like this question of social class and how it affects the ski learning experience is a bit of the elephant in the room -- I can’t imagine I’m the only person to have ever felt this way.
 

Obrules15

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#2
Wow, that sucks. There is no easy fix or a one and done that will change everything.

IMHO, you'll never get where you want to be with respect to skiing until you learn to love and accept yourself. #### happens. Everyone is great at some things and sucks at others (my writing is horrific). That does not diminish your value, it's just what makes you unique.

Skiing is very difficult for me, it does not come naturally. Each hard won step that I've taken on the ladder to improvement has taken me five times as long as everyone else. I've been laughed at by people on the chairlift, I've been yelled at by instructors, I've had to leave group lessons, etc., etc.

I keep skiing because I do it for me, enjoy it and refuse to let others opinions stop me from doing something I enjoy. I also know I am an introvert and accept that there are things that I won't enjoy (like being the laughingstock of a group) so I do minimize the chances of that.

Ultimately though, it has come down to me knowing myself, liking myself, and knowing what my beliefs are about what's most important in life.

Finally, you might be surprised, but I bet your co-workers feel guilty about forcing you into that situation. For the most part people are fairly self focused, everyone is usually so worried about what they did wrong or how they looked or what their issues are that they don't have the energy to judge you. And even the ones who do judge, often do so because their internal judger finger is so busy self-castigating that judging others is the only time they get a break.

Hang in there, cut yourself some slack. You sound like a pretty cool chick to me. :thumbsup:
 
#3
Don't take this the wrong way. I read more into this than making a bad call on a ski trip.I think finding a therapist to address all the underlying self doubt, self judgement and self confidence would be a good place to start. You sound very worried about what people might think of you. Do you know for a fact she thinks you are a "crap athlete" or are you making an assumption. I'd venture that anyone who does sports has at one point put themselves in the wrong place due to miscommunication, assumptions, or an unwillingness to speak up for themselves.

I have suffered from social and other anxiety all my life, and the only way I've been able to fix anxiety about one part of my life, sports for example, is to work on myself holistically. Ultimately, all anxiety is based on fear. A good therapist can help you sort out the wheres and whys of why you are living fear based, and how to overcome that. You can build confidence and become more clear on who YOU are.

You can start to learn to ski better "on your own terms" the day you decide to do it. No one cares about your background, or if they do you don't need them in your life. You might get stuck with a crappy instructor. Highly unlikely if you ask the right questions (read this forum) And if you do, you ask for someone different the next time.

In the meantime, don't over think, be gentle and as Obrule15 says, cut yourself some slack.
 

QCskier

Certified Ski Diva
#4
It's important to have empathy for yourself and to not beat yourself up when bad days happen. Everyone has there off days so it is important to think about what lessons we can learn from them and move on. I am fairly certain that your coworkers aren't judging you for this. You said your colleague was very apologetic when you spoke to her which makes me think she felt bad for pushing you to do something you might not have been ready for.

I think in your case your best bet is to pay the extra money for some private instruction. Explain your situation to the ski school and ask them for recommendations for an instructor who can best meet your needs. "A Conversation With Fear" by Mermer Blakeslee is a book which focuses on dealing with skiing-related fear. It was recommended to be by some of the Divas on this forum and I found it very helpful. I also think it would be helpful to see a therapist to work on your social anxiety issues. It will help you get to the bottom of where the anxiety comes from so you can work on overcoming it. In doing so that will give you more self-confidence.

Be kind to yourself and remember that bad days happen to everyone so don't beat yourself up for them.
 

Leela

Diva in Training
#5
Thanks all so much for the encouraging replies. @geargrrl not taking that the wrong way at all, I have been in therapy for anxiety/self-confidence issues in the past and this experience may be among the signals that it is time to return to that. I will have a look at the recommended book and think about what I need to ask for in terms of instruction, so that I can advocate for myself.
 
#6
This is a total segue, but if you are looking to get help with anxiety via therapy, look into IFS/Integrated Family Systems aka "parts" therapy. Starting this work 6 months ago with a certified IFS therapist has helped me more with anxiety than all the other work I've done with therapists in my life ever. It's been life changing in terms of rooting out anxiety for once and for all. I wish I had known about this system 30 years ago when I first started to deal with.... but I might not have been ready.
 

mustski

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
I suspect that your colleagues were not nearly as affected by your fear freeze as you. For the record, most of us have experienced a moment of being "gripped" by fear while skiing. Hence the reason we talk so much about Blakeslee's book. I am a terrible athlete. In fact, 40 years later, I still consider myself an intermediate skier. There is so much terrain that terrifies me. The solitary nature of the sport is what attracted me to it and has kept me going all these years. I don't hesitate to split from a group if they are going somewhere that I don't feel ready for ... and that can change from day to day, depending on conditions and how I feel. It's funny but, until you mentioned it above, I never really thought of skiing as an elite sport. Probably because where I grew up in Canada, pretty much everybody skied. It also was a lot less expensive back in the day. If you enjoy it, just keep doing it, but on your own terms.
 
#8
I'll just share a few thoughts. First, there's nothing wrong with not ever wanting to ski with a group like that again. The potential for it to be not-fun is high. Sometimes things can go really wrong in groups when a groupthink mindset sets in and people don't want to speak up about their misgivings. I have really enjoyed skiing in groups when I know others are of similar ability or it's a lesson or clinic where we are sorted by ability, but you definitely found out what the worst case scenario is like (well maybe not WORST). As a contrast when my husband and coworkers go night skiing after work they tailor their group to the lowest level and ski greens the whole time. For them it's about the camaraderie and novelty of being less than 45 minutes from night skiing.

I also agree that getting scared is normal and that your colleagues are probably thinking about this far less than you think. I've done quite a few women's clinics and I've have never been in one where someone didn't cry. But we don't go home thinking, wow, so and so cried or froze in terror, what a terrible athlete.

I am also not a natural at all at skiing and it's been a lot of hard work and many bad days. Sometimes I'm amazed I've kept at it but I'm a mountain nut and just love to be up there. A lot of times I shoo my husband off and do my own thing and that's fine with me.
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#9
You are the only person who can and does define what constitutes a fun ski day.

How I wish you were born into another ski culture, just for the sake of skiing. Japan and many parts of Europe do not have the elitist recent history related to skiing, and it is in essence just another sport, no more or less expensive than football or baseball.

I agree with the previous comments, that your colleague might actually be the one feeling uncomfortable for thinking they made a terrible mistake pushing you beyond your comfort zone.

Mermer Blakeslee has books that specifically deal with fear and skiing. Worth a read!
 

Leela

Diva in Training
#10
Thanks again to all -- I feel like I hit the jackpot finding this forum. I feel myself much more looking forward to my ski learning journey, to giving myself permission to learn at my own pace and to ski on my own terms. I will post again about future progress!

@snoWYmonkey that is such an interesting comment re ski culture elsewhere in the world. A generation prior to mine, people like my mom learned on our local small-town rope tows ... but of course most of those no longer exist (my hometown's closed for many years and is now owned by a family that has renovated it beautifully but doesn't open it to the public, a bit of a shame). In addition to the elitism, there was something else: I grew up a short drive from any number of mountains but the closest large resort to my hometown has a reputation (which its marketing department doesn't discourage!) of being an all-out aggressive, seat-of-your-pants kind of place to ski. (Anybody guessed where I am from yet?) And in the 1980s before helmets, that meant a lot of very traumatic injuries -- which my mother got to see first-hand as an ER nurse. I always knew that these safety fears were one of the issues driving her decision not to encourage me to ski as a child ... but the angle I never thought about was how to her at that time, it must have felt like skiing had completely CHANGED, to the point where she didn't want her sensitive, risk-averse kid involved in it.
 
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Tvan

Angel Diva
#11
@Leela - I can relate to your journey with skiing. I grew up in a place where only the wealthy kids skied. My parents were musicians, and we were not allowed to participate in sports because we might get hurt, so not only was skiing out of reach for financial reasons, but it was also dangerous... this is what I learned as a kid.

My husband grew up skiing but didn’t ski after age 18 when he went away to school. When I was in my mid-40s, he desperately wanted to try snowboarding, and he convinced me to come as well and take a skiing lesson. I did, and loved it, and we started skiing pretty much every weekend.

But it didn’t come easily to me. I took lessons, read books, watched videos, and studied the psia manuals. I spent FOUR YEARS skiing green slopes only, because I was terrified. I worked hard, practicing drills over and over again. One of my instructors called me “the little engine that could”. Slowly, with a lot of encouragement and many more lessons, I progressed.

Skiing is still work for me. In January, I went to the Okemo Women’s Alpine Adventure 5 day Program for the second year in a row. During my first year at the program, I was the one who cried... froze on the hill, couldn’t get down, had to be coached into turns, and met the rest of my lesson group with red eyes and streaked goggles. I felt mortified and humiliated. One of the other gals in my cohort assured me that she, too, had been in the same situation, and one by one, the entire class admitted that they had their own moments of terror at different times in their ski lives. This year, I was not the one who cried, but instead, I was the one who comforted the gal who froze on the hill.

I’m 57 now, so I’ve been working at improving my skiing for 12 years. I spent many seasons skiing alone, because honestly I preferred to go at my own pace and not hold back my speed demon husband. Once I found the Ski Divas, it was several years before I joined a Diva gathering, because I was sure I would be the slowest, least experienced skier in the bunch. When I finally did join, I learned that I was right... I was the slowest and least experienced in the group and it didn’t matter in the least. I found encouragement, helpful advice, a lot of laughter, and a wonderful group of friends who love to ski.

We’re glad you’re here!

Also, +1 on the recommendation of Mermer Blakeslees Book. It’s very helpful!
 
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mustski

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
I remember a day, at Vail, when my hubby inadvertently led me into a steep, bumped, covered in loose powder run. Those are my 3 nemesis type situations all in one. I cussed at my husband and cried the whole way down while my oh so patient husband led the way -one turn at a time - and my 18 year old son followed behind me, encouraging me the whole way. I have been gripped more times than I can even remember.
 

diymom

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#13
How do I figure out how to get better at this sport, gain confidence, and comfortably enjoy it ON MY OWN TERMS
You're already part way there--- you know you have to do it on your own terms. You say your Mom is you favourite ski buddy. So why not just keep skiing with her. If she skis blues as well, when you feel ready, try some blues with her. She knows your skiing, she knows your comfort level. My youngest says I am their favourite ski buddy. And that is fine with me. As a kid they were comfortable on blacks in Ontario Canada, and Holiday Valley , NY. Then came the early teens, anxiety, etc which resulted in several years away from skiing. Last year they started skiing with me again, and was happiest on greens. That's fine. I was having fun skiing with them, enjoyed the time on the lift talking about this and that. It was all good. This year we started the season with the easy blues. Whenever I pointed out a run from the lift that I knew they could do, I got a shrug. "That was when I was little, I can't do that now." Ok. All that mattered to me was that they were out skiing and having fun with it, and that we were spending time together.

But ...lately my teen has found some slightly younger, and less advanced ski buddies. No judgement, just fun skiing with other kids, and even being able to give the others some pointers. So when those kids started down a harder blue, and even a black on a hero snow day, guess who joined in. There was no pressure to ski the harder runs, just an invitation at the right time. Now my teen and I ski the entire hill together. I let them pick the runs, and there are still times when they choose to play around on the greens, especially towards the end of the day. I'm fine with that. I am still spending time with them, and that is what matters most.

So long story short- confidence on the slopes can be a process. Give yourself time, pick your ski buddies accordingly. And there is no need for a group to ski every run together. If there is bad cell coverage, arrange a meet up time and place in advance.
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#14
I just want to say I love you all. What a great group of encouraging, empathetic women! You are the best!

@Leela, I want to welcome you to TheSkiDiva. I agree with pretty much what everyone else here says. but I'll add a couple things:

1) Skiing is supposed to be fun. So do the stuff that brings you joy and don't worry about what anyone else thinks. If you want to improve your confidence along with your skills, lessons are a great way to go. There are a lot of Divas here who've taken lessons with a lot of different instructors, so let us know if you'd like some recommendations. We might be able to help.

2) Re what everyone thinks about your skiing: most people are so tangled up in their own underwear that they don't even notice what's going on with anyone else. (That is to say they're more concerned about their own skiing than they are with yours). You said your colleague was kind and apologetic; I'm sure she meant it. But it sounds like she created a bad situation. I'm sorry you had to go through it.

Best of luck to you.
 
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Cyprissa

Certified Ski Diva
#15
I am so sorry that you had that experience. I have absolutely gotten myself on the wrong run and had to side slip my way down. I think you need to extend yourself a little grace and stop beating yourself up. Your colleagues probably feel bad about pushing you rather than judging you on your abilities.
 

SquidWeaselYay

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#16
Ugh, that S-U-C-K-S! I hate that skiing is so associated with status STILL in some areas. I want to echo what everybody else said - take it easy on yourself. You were used to doing greens on outdated equipment (if your skis are the old school straight skis, I COMPLETELY understand, I learned on them and didn't get my first shaped skis till I was 19).

I don't think there is a skier out there who hasn't had a "oooooh sh*t I'm in over my head help" moment. I took my skis off once and tossed them down to a friend (who had made it fine and kept insisting that I was overreacting) and crawled like a baby over some stuff that was too much for me, trying not to shake. Then watched 3 other people go over it making it look like it was a cakewalk.

You made it down with your skis still on, and overcame the fear with some help from a patroller. That is actually pretty darn good.

I think moments like these are just part of the process. It is true that we are much more sensitive to how we look/do than others are. In my experience, they barely notice. Especially if you can find a way to laugh it off and joke about it.
 

SquidWeaselYay

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
Just to share another experience from the side of the one who dragged another into something that was too much...

I went skiing with my cousin, and she was a pretty good intermediate. We were in our late teens. She could go down the greens VERY well and did great on a groomed blue as well. Her parallel turns were on point and she had total control. So I convinced her to come with me to an ungroomed blue that was more tricky. She didn't want to, but I talked her into it, insisting she would be fine and that it wasn't that hard, and she could handle the other blue, so no problem. I put pressure on until she agreed.

Well, she did okay for a while, but was visibly uncomfortable and going slow, shopping for turns and stopping a lot. Then she lost control in the small bumps and ended up going into the tree line at the side...which was lower than the slope and had soft snow build up. She got stuck and could not get back out. She couldn't even get her one ski off. Two ski patrol saw me at the edge of the slope telling her what to do to get back onto the slope, and her flailing in the snow and falling back down over and over. They came over and it took two of them and about 10 minutes to get her back out. She WOULD NOT speak to me and skied down to the bottom and disappeared into the lodge. She would not look at me or talk to me the rest of the day. I didn't push it.

I wasn't thinking about her skills, or the fact that she lost control and went into the woods....I was thinking about what an ASS I WAS for pressuring her to do a run that she wasn't comfortable with and then her having to deal with that humiliation....all because of me.

I never did that to anybody else again. Not only was that inconsiderate of me, it was unsafe. She could have been really hurt and it would have been my fault.

I know this is just one story from one person, but I just want to emphasize that the only person who I thought less of that day was myself.
 

SallyCat

Moderator
Staff member
#18
Welcome, Leela!

I work at a ski resort, as an administrator. The other day we had fresh snow and I decided to try skiing down our signature black diamond trail, which was ungroomed and had been heavily skied throughout the day. Bottom line: it was a ####-show. I was a wedge-y, nervous, backseat-driver the whole way down. I would have been a respectable "Jerry of the Day" video star. :wave:

The trail is smack in front of the lodge (which is lousy with windows) and the main lift, so everyone I work with could see my underwhelming performance. A liftie friend later said in complete earnestness: "Did you just start skiing this year?" (Oh, and did I mention that I work for the ski school!?)

I just owned it and joked about it and nobody really cared; there is behavior that a person should rightly be ashamed of, but not being good at a sport is just simply never one of those things.

Struggling while learning is not a character flaw. Granted, as an adult it can be uncomfortable to find yourself in any endeavor to be a rank beginner who makes mistakes. But the alternative I suppose is to never try any new challenge, and where's the fun in that?

How comfortable are you skiing alone? That can be a great way to get a lot of runs in and to feel more free to take your time practicing skills, etc., without worrying in the least about the judgment of others.

Good luck on your journey, and welcome to the forum!
 

GeoGirl

Certified Ski Diva
#19
Hi Leela,
I don't have much constructive to add to the awesome advice other Divas have given here, but I just wanted to say welcome! And that I would be happy to join your long-distance cheering squad along with the ladies on this forum!
Maybe it would help for you to pinpoint something that you love and are good at, and hold onto that positivity as a security blanket when you feel self-doubt about whether you"deserve" to be on the slopes?
 

Leela

Diva in Training
#20
Just revisiting this great thread one more time to thank all for encouragement. I do want to make one follow-up comment re the reference to Jerry of the Day (a site I previously didn't know existed, which is probably a good thing). I did a bit of digging around and found an anonymous interview with the guy who started that site. Color me surprised (NOT!): He is from my home state, and he pretty much embodies my critique of the elitism in this sport. US Ski Team-connected family, grew up in a ski town, got on skis as soon as he could walk, check check check. (There's also a reference to his job at a tech company in our area that I can guess even though it isn't named -- a place known for its brotastic culture.) This guy COULD just devote himself to loving skiing, but there is something in the culture here that has driven him instead to devote daily time to making fun of people who are trying it for the first time. It makes me think of Ricky Bobby's motto in "Talladega Nights": "If you ain't first, you're last." That's a completely NOT joking attitude that a lot of elite skiers who learned as very small children have around here -- they can't imagine not being effortlessly brilliant, so they pick on anyone who isn't. And it DOES scare other people away from learning later in life. And that's sad.

But! With the help of all these encouraging comments, I'm gonna continue to pretend stuff like that doesn't exist and forge ahead. ;-) Re the first step in my ski journey from here, upgrading equipment, the coming weekend looks like a possibility for trying out some demo skis (with Favorite Ski Buddy Mom along for moral support). Will keep everyone posted.
 

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