On March 1, 2023

Adjusting to changes, conquering fear

By Merisa Sherman

It’s scary, this new thing. This trail I have never been on before. For so many years of my life, this trail hasn’t changed and now, here it is, with a completely different pitch and angle from what Pres and Joe had created all those many years ago. The idea is the same, but this trail skis differently than the old one and I struggle with my fear of new things, my fear of rolling over the bridge and onto the new, now very steep terrain on the other side. It’s new, it’s steep and it’s big time scary.

Do I miss the old version of Great Bear? Sure. It was comfortable, I knew what to expect and where. Now, I’ve got to change all the angles as I come across the roll-over and you can see exactly where fear has taken over all the other skiers and riders as they try this trail. There’s no snow on the first section of the trail, it’s all been scraped off like everyone couldn’t breathe in those moments. No turns were made here, on this first scary steep part, just sideslipping or falling leaf. Fear has pushed all the snow down the trail, making the terrain even scarier for the next skier or rider to come this way. Fear has made this trail scarier, more dangerous and certainly less fun.

Why do we do this? Why, when we are most afraid, do we as skiers and riders end up inadvertently or maybe subconsciously, completely altering our ski technique? On blues and green, we have no trouble sliding along, our bodies perpendicular to the pitch of the trail. We are comfortable, we feel safe, and we can stand comfortably on our skis. But change the pitch or the terrain, and suddenly we are no longer assured of our safety. Fear changes us, whether we want it to or not.

Fear of the unknown, of the difficult, of a change from the norm. A fearful skier is easy to spot on the trail, their body fighting the pull of gravity as they do anything to prevent themselves from actually moving down the trail. The lower leg straightens, pushing the upper body back up the trail as much as possible. Instead of perpendicular, we are now at almost 45 degrees back up the trail. The ski edges dig into the trail so intensely, the edge angles so high, that you struggle to make transitions to the next turn and switch over. 

It’s subconscious, this sitting. Our uphill leg shortens, trying to make room for the body’s weight on top of it and we start to sit down — this uphill movement instead of embracing life as we flow down the trail. An instructor friend of mine calls it Monkey Butt, where you start pushing your center of mass backwards. For some, this might feel like protecting the internal organs from the dangers approaching if we move forward too quickly. As the body folds over, the butt begins to stick further and further out, until you start pointing your toes and really have nowhere to go but backwards, into a power wedge or just sitting your butt. 

Everything that we need to turn is now counterintuitive. We need to ease up on our lockedin edges and stop the skipping and sideslipping. We need to roll our ankles down the hill, embracing the down, giving the edge transition a chance to happen. We need to move our hips forward and pull our feet back underneath us, unweighting the edges so they can release from the tight hold you have on them. We need to embrace the future, the beauty of what is happening right before our eyes. We need to free our bodies from the unwillingness to enjoy the ride.

So what can we do to work through this? How can we conquer Monkey Butt and Straight Leg Syndrome if they are caused by our subconscious and we don’t notice until it’s too late? According to Mermer Blakee, a former PSIA National Demo Team member, in her book “A Conversation with Fear,” we cannot do anything until we acknowledge that our fear exists. Once we acknowledge this fear, this penchant for sideslipping and ridiculously high edge angles, we can approach these moments with the right tools so that as we come over that roller, we are ready. We are prepared. 

In order to surrender our fear to the mountain, we must embrace it. The whole experience. The glide, the float, the feeling of the glissé that is skiing and snowboarding. Instead of fighting the pull of gravity, we must find a way to dance with it. Focus on the steps of the dance, on the movement of our hips and the roll our ankles down the mountain as we cross over the roller or step through the door. We must find ways to be comfortable with the change in pitch, because really, it’s only the first two turns that are scary. The rest are just left and right on repeat until you get to the bottom. 

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