Okay, I have to be honest. This talk was NOT given at the Boston Ski & Snowboard Expo. Yes, it was SUPPOSED to be given, but the venue was really unsuitable, and I had a wicked (as they say in Boston) cold and could hardly speak. But instead of letting a good thing go to waste, I thought I’d post it here. (By the way, if anyone wants me to do this presentation, drop me a line. I’m ready!)
So here’s the set-up. Imagine that we’re at “Her Turn,” the first-ever women’s exhibit at the Boston Expo. Imagine that instead of a DJ blaring music in the next booth, the room is quiet and peaceful. Imagine above all that I’m not suffering with a cold and can actually speak without sounding like a frog. People are sitting in rows, waiting for me to talk about “Skiing with Confidence.” A hush falls over the crowd as I make my way to the front of the room. The intro is given. Here goes:
So how many of you here today are Ski Divas?
[looks around room]
To me, all of the women here today are Ski Divas. Some of us, to be sure, are members of TheSkiDiva online community. And I’ll talk more about that in a minute. But what do I mean by Ski Divas?
When most of us think of a Diva, we think of someone like a demanding pop star or an opera singer — someone who’s temperamental or difficult to deal with. But Diva actually comes from an old Latin word meaning goddess. So I prefer to think of ski divas that way…..as someone who’s a ski goddess, or who has the ability to be a ski goddess inside. And at TheSkiDiva, we’re all about unlocking that inner goddess!
So let me start out by telling you a bit about TheSkiDiva, because some of you might not know what I’m talking about. TheSkiDiva is an online community made up of thousands of women from all over the country — all over the world — who come together online to talk about anything and everything ski related. Gear, technique, resorts, clothes — you name it, we talk about it. I started TheSkiDiva 12 years ago because I was really fed up with the other ski communities I was finding online. They were mostly made up of men, and when they found out you were a woman, they automatically assumed you were a beginner or not a very good skier or not knowledgeable about anything to do with skiing. Plus the dynamic was pretty unappealing — there was a lot of bragging and boasting about who was the gnarliest and who hucked this cliff or that — and there were a fair number of misogynistic and sexist comments, too. It just wasn’t for me. I wanted a place that respected women — that didn’t look down on us or treated us like beginners. And I wanted a place where I could connect with other women who felt as passionately about skiing as I did. So since I couldn’t find anyplace like that on line, I decided to create one myself. I launched TheSkiDiva in September, 2006, which is like a bazillion internet years ago, and it’s been going strong ever since.
So there were a few things I found out very quickly. First, not all women who ski are alike. We come in all ages, shapes, sizes, fitness levels, and abilities. We’re all individuals. We all have different life experiences. And we have lots of different opinions, which makes for some lively discussions on the forum. But in spite of this, we have a lot in common, too. First, a lot of women felt the way I did about the other ski communities online. They didn’t like the way we were treated or perceived, which kind of brought home for me how important it was to have our own little corner of the web. And though the challenges we faced as skiers varied from individual to individual, there was one thing, no matter what our ability or how long we’d been skiing, that we all suffered from at one time or another:
And that was lack of confidence. Which is what I’m here to talk about today.
Remember how I said that on the other ski forums there was a lot of bragging and boasting about how great they all skied?
Well, I’ve run TheSkiDiva for 12 years now, and let me tell you: on a women’s ski forum, this is not a thing. I have yet to encounter a single woman who does this. It may be a sweeping generalization, but in my experience, this is not how women roll.
Don’t just take it from me — study after study confirms that women tend to underestimate their abilities, and men tend overestimate theirs. And this isn’t just in skiing, but in pretty much everything: in business, in academia, and yes, most definitely in sports.
Is this important?
Yes. Because without confidence, we lose faith in ourselves. We’re afraid to take risks, to forge ahead, to try anything new. We become tentative and unsure. We become tense and worried.
And in skiing, lack of confidence can be a real game changer. It can hold us back and make it difficult for us to tackle harder terrain or even keep up with our family and friends. And when we don’t feel like we’re good enough, we let that take over. We have negative thoughts, which leads to poor skiing, which leads to more negative thoughts, which leads to more poor skiing, until your confidence is so shot you may not even want to ski anymore.
You know, you may have all of the ability in the world, but if you don’t believe you have that ability, you won’t do well.
So what causes this lack of confidence? There are all sorts of theories. It could be biological, it could be hormonal, it could be cultural conditioning. It’s probably a little bit of each. Me, I think a lot of us are ingrained from a very young age to be good girls — good mothers, good wives, good friends, good daughters — so much so that we’re unwilling to give ourselves over to something in which we’re not perfect. If we’re not good at something, we feel like we’re either to blame, or that we’re deficient in some way.
So what we want, what we really, really want, is to develop a deep, lasting, and resilient belief in our abilities as skiers. We want to stay positive, motivated, and emotionally in control when we need to be. We don’t want to let lack of confidence or fear take over and drag us down.
There are a number of things we can do to help if we don’t have the inborn confidence that male skiers seem to have in spades. So let’s talk about some of the things that can give us the confidence we deserve.
First, confidence is something that has to start way before we get to the hill. And you can’t overlook the effect of how you feel, physically, in all this. Because if we’re not physically fit, if we don’t feel like we’re in good shape, we’re going to have a rougher time when we get out out there, and that’s going to affect our confidence when we ski.
So one of the things you can do is get involved in some sort of pre-season fitness program. You want to build up your legs, your core, your stamina. You want to improve your balance and flexibility. Yoga is great for that — I know there are some presentations about yoga going on here at the Show — but don’t overlook weights and cardio, too. There are all sorts of ways you can do this. You can take classes, work with a fitness trainer; there are lots of books, videos, and apps out there can help get ready for the season. Me, I’m a big proponent of keeping your fitness level going all year long. There are all sorts of studies that say exercise is good for preventing this disease and that disease, so if you haven’t begun a work out program, skiing is a great excuse to get started.
Second, you have to pay attention to your equipment, because poorly functioning equipment can be real confidence shaker, too. Which means, yeah, have your skis waxed and tuned. And you have to have your binding checked. But your biggest priority has to be your boots. Too many of us don’t have boots that fit properly. I’ve heard women say, “Oh, I don’t like snug boots. Mine are great. They feel like bedroom slippers.” No. This isn’t what you want. Boots are the one piece of ski equipment that comes in close contact with your body. So you don’t want them loose. You don’t want to feel your feet move or your heel lift up. Why? Because if your feet are moving and your ski boots aren’t, your skis aren’t doing what you want them to do. You’ll ski less well, and definitely less confidently. So should you buy your boots at a big box store? No. Go to a professional boot fitter who can properly evaluate your foot and your stance to find a boot that works for you. There are a number of boot companies here at the show. Stop by the booths. Talk to the reps. This is a great place to start.
So we’ve covered your physical fitness, your equipment, now let’s get you on the hill.
What’s a real confidence crusher? Peer pressure. When friends push you to do something you’re not ready for. If you’re a beginner or intermediate and your friends push you to try blacks, it can be intimidating, uncomfortable, and yes, even dangerous. Do yourself a favor and give it a pass. I know that skiing with people who are at a higher level can be frustrating and even embarrassing, but don’t let it get to you. Remember, skiing is supposed to be fun — not stressful. One solution is to look for easy runs that parallel steeper terrain. Ride the same lift as your friends, and then take a different way down.
Another alternative: break away and take a lesson. Personally, I think lessons are the best way to build your confidence. Because it’s easy to lack confidence when you don’t have the skills.
Whatever you do, though, don’t take a lesson from a spouse or a significant other. There’s way too much emotional baggage tied up in that. You want an objective third party, and you want a professional ski instructor. Now, there are a number of great women’s clinics here in New England. Why a women’s clinic? Well, you can certainly go co-ed. For some women, that’s fine. For others, no. Men and women have different learning styles. Research shows that women are more supportive and men more competitive in a learning environment, and that carries over to the ski hill, too. What’s more, women’s clinics are loads of fun. I’ve taken them at Sugarbush, Okemo, and Killington, and they’re great. There’s a listing of women’s clinics over at TheSkiDiva blog, so you might want to check that out. Or you can go to the various resorts here at the show and I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you what they have to offer.
You have to remember, though, that lessons are just the beginning to improving your skills. And the better you get, the more confident you’ll be. So you want to practice, and when you do, you want to start small and work up. Take moguls for example: introduce yourself to small moguls first, focusing on form and getting used to how they feel under your skis. Then, once you feel comfortable, build up to larger, more challenging bumps. Because repeated exposure and a slow progression will not only build your skills, but will make something intimidating both familiar and less frightening. Essentially, you’re desensitizing yourself to the frightening activity.
So let’s talk about fear for a minute. Because what is fear, but a lack of confidence? And I think every skier has been afraid, at one point or another.
Obviously, the better your skills, the more confident you’ll be, and the less reason you have to be afraid. But what can you do if fear takes over? We have a number of tools we can use, but one of the best is to just breathe. You know, when you’re nervous or scared, your body tends to tense up and your heart rate increases and you hold your breath. Deep breathing sends a signal to your brain that everything’s ok and you can relax. So you breathe in, slowly, and breathe out, slowly.
Along these lines, I’ve found mindful meditation extremely helpful. Meditation isn’t something I do on the hill, but I think mindfulness offers benefits for skiing, too. Now I know mindfulness has become something of an ‘it’ word lately, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a reason people are paying attention. Mindfulness is simply being aware of the present and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings at any moment, without passing any judgement. It’s not about rehashing the past or worrying about the future or things you can’t control. So instead of thinking about that fall you had this morning, or the terrain that’s up ahead, or the traffic you’re going to face three hours from now, you focus instead on what’s here and now: On the feel of snow beneath your feet. On the feeling of the cold air on your skin. And while you’re doing that, you breathe positive energy in, negative energy out. It’s a great stress reducer.
Now some of you may have heard of Mermer Blakeslee. She’s an expert on skiing and fear, and she wrote a great book about this called “The Yikes Zone.” Mermer has some great tips for dealing with fear. One that I particularly like is don’t stop moving. Because if you do, you might not be able to start again. I have a friend who never stops at the top of a steep run, where she finds it most frightening. Instead, she goes over the crest, and if she stops, she stops a little farther down. To her, the worst of the run is over. This makes it a bit less intimidating.
Another great tip from Mermer: Breaking a run into smaller, more manageable pieces. So instead of thinking, omigod I have to do this entire run and omigod it’s so steep, just focus instead on getting from point A to point B, and point B to point C, and on and on, working your way down a little bit at a time. It makes it a lot less intimidating.
So some other tips for building your confidence….Another good tool is positive self talk. Talk to yourself the way you’d like a good friend to talk to you. You want to focus on your strengths – we all have them — and instead of tearing yourself down, build yourself up. Studies show that maintaining a positive attitude can do wonders for your confidence. If you keep telling yourself you can do this, amazingly enough, you will. Just like negative thinking can bring you down, positive thinking can bring you up. It can lead to better skiing, which leads to more positive thinking and even better skiing.
Another thing you can do is link your feelings of confidence with a physical anchor, like clenching your fist. This can help you get good feelings flowing when you need them most.
All it takes is a bit of preparation. Right now, I want you to close your eyes and think about a time when you skied really well. Remember how you felt, what you heard, what you saw. Now anchor these feelings by clenching your fist — hard. Okay, now open your eyes and unclench your fist. Practice this every day for a few weeks before you go skiing, and the next time you have a crisis of confidence, clench your fist to bring back those feelings of control and confidence. You’ll be surprised. It really works.
And there’s one more thing that I think really helps with confidence: a good support system, like TheSkiDiva.com. One of the things that make it such a great community is the way we work to build each other up. Let me give you an example: I was on a trip with TheSkiDivas where a number of us went down some pretty difficult terrain. The ones who went down first stopped at the bottom and waited for the others. And as each one came down, we all cheered. You can’t beat that.
So I guess this is my way of saying next time you’re on line, check out TheSkiDiva and sign on to our community. I’d love to see you there. And I’m confident that you’re going to love it, too.
And before I leave, there’s just one more thing I want to say, because it’s something I read in another blog and I think it’s so, so important: Ski to the level of your smile. It’s one thing to want to ski at a high level, and it’s great to ski with confidence but you also want to ski with joy. Because after all, the bottom line is to have fun. And that’s what skiing is all about.