Ski Tip from the Pro: Train Your Brain

It’s almost December and I need to get moving. Other than squats and ski tune-ups, what can I be doing to improve the likelihood of having a great ski season? I consulted my friendly CSIA Level II ski pro and he told me I should start skiing now. Well, a handful of snowflakes is not going to get me far. What he meant was start the season in my mind: visualize to improve performance.

Many elite athletes routinely use visualization techniques as part of training and competition. There are many stories of athletes who’ve used these techniques to cultivate not only a competitive edge, but also to create renewed mental awareness, a heightened sense of well-being and confidence.  All of these factors have been shown to contribute to an athlete’s sports success….With mental rehearsal, minds and bodies become trained to actually perform the skill imagined.             source: sportsmedicine.about.com

I’m not in the elite athlete category, but the benefits sound great so I’m happy to try. According to the pro, this is how you do it:

First, create a mental picture of what you want to achieve. The more detailed the picture, the better, so involve your senses and hear the sound of skis on snow, feel the wind on your face etc. (It’s been a while since I had a ski day, so thank goodness for CSIA and YouTube. Watching the technical reference clip refreshed my memory.)

Second, visualize frequently and consistently. Pick a time to take a ski run in your mind, before you go to sleep or right when you wake up.

That’s the very brief overview. If I do this right, these simple steps may help to train my brain (by creating new neural pathways, which I learned a bit about at the CSIA conference) and improve my self-confidence before the season even starts. They may also provide the basis for some very sweet dreams.

I’ve posted the clips I’m using to get a head start on my season.

  • CSIA’s Technical Reference
  • CSIA’s John Gillies & Natural Balance

  • CSIA’s John Gillies & Adding Skating to Your Skiing

Do you think it can work?  Can visualization make the difference?

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Ski Inspiration #2: Starting with Why

Nothing like spending a day with 300 real life ski pros to get you thinking about winter.

I’m not an instructor yet, so I’m lucky to have a friend who is.  Last weekend I was invited to tag along and attend the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance Fall Conference.

What I learned: this is serious business and these people are at the top of their game.  Elite athletes, physicians, early childhood educators, motivational speakers – all skiers, all passionate about what they do and all happily spending time learning how to do it better.  Lectures ranged from Sarah Pilskalnietis’ “Inclusive Teaching for Children with Autism” to John Gillies’ “How Brain Science Helps Define our Approaches to Learning and Performing” to Warren Jobbitt’s “Motivation and Mentorship“.

Jobbitt is currently the Head Coach for Interski 2015 in Argentina and his lecture focused on purpose, the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’.  Inspired by author Simon Sinek and his views on inspirational leadership, he spoke of following your passion and harnessing that energy to drive something bigger than yourself.  Then he played a video for us.  This kind of video always grabs me, because I’m a traveller and a dreamer and an adventurer.  When you’re sitting with folks who live the ‘why’ every day, you realize sometimes life is even better than what you see in the movies.

Skiers, enjoy the 2:50 mark.

Ski Tip from the Pro: Brush Your Teeth

Counter rotation. Upper lower body separation. Scenes from an old Houdini magic trick? Nope. These are standard terms I try to decipher every year while standing atop an icy hill. This year I’m getting a head start and figuring out what they mean and how to improve my ski season before the hills open.

I consulted a friendly CSIA Level II ski instructor for some suggestions, which he was happy to share (and has more to follow). So, before it’s time to line up under the ski school bell, you may want to try this little move and improve not only your skiing, but quite possibly your dancing and golf as well.

If you watch mogul skiers, the only thing you notice are the bouncing knees. Take a look at the first clip. The upper body is silent. This demonstrates what the experts call upper lower body separation. You see it with ballroom dancers when their footwork propels them across the dance floor as they continue to hold their arms high and locked with their partner at an exact, unflinching distance. Golf is another sport where power and advanced play require this separation. According to Tom Watson in Golf Digest, “separation between the lower body and upper body is the key in any sport where you use the hips to create arm speed – think tennis serve or baseball swing.”

If you can figure out how to distinguish the upper from the lower, the top from the bottom, you’ll have an easier time progressing. All fine and dandy, but how do you practice this in the off-season? Brush your teeth.

Or at least use the minutes of teeth-brushing time to practice turning your leg from the hip socket. Hips and shoulders stay facing forward. Knees and feet turn from side to side with the turn initiating from the femur at the hip socket. Practice isolating and rotating one leg at a time. Just keep the hips and upper torso steady and solid. The clip posted below may not be as glamorous as the first, but even superstars need to build the foundation.

Incorporate the leg-turning practice into your dental hygiene routine and by the time snow starts to fall, you will be on your way to developing muscle memory that allows you to initiate the turn from the lower body rather than the upper. You’ll avoid looking like a robot, have more control, and most likely make someone very happy with your squeaky-clean teeth.

Thanksgiving and the Hunt for Snow

tremblant_village_2013

photo credit: NK Stevenson

In preparation for the October 17- 20, 2013 ski show, I took a little ride out to the hills this week-end.  Soggy (still in rain boots, not ski boots) and a buck hiding in the trees near the base. No snow.

Fingers crossed, things will look a little different come December. Maybe like this photo I shot at Mt. Tremblant in March. Yes, I could have posted the grey, rainy pic I took while standing in a mud puddle yesterday, but why not dream a little?

Thanksgiving is certainly the perfect time for it.  Time with family inevitably leads to reflection and long week-ends lend themselves to daydreams.

A little history: This ski thing all started when my father put a 4-year-old weebly-wobbly little me on skis and somehow got us both to the top of the bunny hill and back down. Ah, love.

Things progressed to my brother and I taking the lift together. Sigh, what memories!  Like the time he encouraged me to stick my tongue on the frozen steel safety bar as we approached the top of the hill.  (Don’t do this. Ever. But in case you have an older brother who talks you into foolishness: Cup your hands and breathe hard.  If you’re lucky, the warmth of your breath will melt the frozen water sticking your tongue to the metal.)

We then advanced to balancing our 18-inch height difference on the t-bar. After mastering that bit of survival training, a lifelong love of the outdoors was born. Which brings me to this season and the future. I’ve been blessed with years of sunny days, fluffy snow and the utter joy and freedom of flying down the hill. It’s time to step up my game and give back.

This season I am challenging myself to complete the instructor’s training program and put those skills to good use.  Now we just need some snow.

And you? Avid fan? Team captain? How do you give back to the sports you love?