5 top tips for the nervous skier


From all of the hype, social media and marketing that goes into the ski industry – we could be mistaken in believing that everyone who has ever skied cannot get enough of the sport. While indeed that is a nice idea, it is also not the reality. I would go as far as to say that perhaps 25% of people on the slopes would identify themselves as nervous skiers, and are there to conquer their fear, indulge their peers, spouses or kids – or because they don’t want to waste the money that they have spent to be there.

The reason for this feeling of unease could come from one of many sources, but the overwhelming trend is a previous bad experience. A very unfortunate freak accident, an injury, being in a stressful situation – such as at the top of an icy mogul field while still perfecting the snowplough – or pressure from those around, are all commonly sighted examples. Whatever the reason, an huge number of individuals clip on their skis every winter with a knot in their stomach and a feeling of impending doom. Fortunately, we can turn it around and develop a healthy relationship with skiing, and to get us started – here are 5 tips for the nervous skier.

1. Perspective – it is only skiing

This may be an outrageous statement to diehard snow sport enthusiasts, but – it is only skiing. It can be so easy to allow our fear to take on a life of its own and feel all consuming, but it is so important that we remind ourselves what the whole thing it suppose to be about. It is, after-all, a sport, a hobby, a past time that we choose to do during our free time, holiday time, away from work and general life stress time. One of the saddest things observed on the slopes is how many people that take themselves – and skiing – all together too seriously, and forget to enjoy it.

If we fall, the world does not end, if we look daft, it does not matter, and if we tire or get cold – we can use it as an excuse for a hot chocolate. In the context of our lives it is a very small element, and it is supposed to be a fun one. It is all to easy to become tunnel visioned by the our nerves or our appearance, that we miss the magic. So don’t forget to enjoy the views, take some photos, try some food and drink, breathe, relax, and shift our perspective a little. A wise man once said `The best skier on the mountain is the one having the most fun; touche.

2. Choose your terrain – and your company

Nothing propels a stressful situation like being in unfamiliar or unsuitable terrain for our skill and comfort levels. Do give some thought as to where you are, where you are headed and with whom you are heading there. Grab a map, ask a friend, ask a member of the public what you need to know to make sure that you end up on the slopes that you want to be skiing. It is too easy to take a wrong turn or follow those that have more confidence – and have incidentally overestimated yours – only to find that you are on slopes beyond your skill and enjoyment level.

Unfortunately and ironically – these situations are dangerous, as it is when we are the most stressed that we are the most likely to injure ourselves. Knowing yourself where you are and where you are going will give you ownership and control in the situation, and you will feel easier for it. Though we enjoy skiing with friends and loved ones – resist being coaxed onto a slope that you feel is beyond you, and never be afraid to let them go ahead or to other slopes. Better to mosey on at your own pace than feel rushed, pressured or stressed by our well-meaning companions.

3. Don’t lean back

The mother of all ski instructor quotes – don`t lean back. When we are nervous and lacking in confidence, our reaction is to shy away from the thing that we are afraid of. If our fear is going too fast down the mountain or in a way that we cannot control, we pull away from the slope in front of us and seek comfort from the slope behind us. As irony would have it, doing this shifts our centre of mass back with us, and we find ourselves weighted on our heels. Once there, we loose much of our ability to control our skis effectively and the effort index required to do so increases massively. We then rely on our core to do everything that it can to bring ourselves back to the middle of the skis where we can once again control them. Often we simply lack the strength to do this, and after a speed increase as our ski tips swoosh off ahead of us – and a moment of blind panic – we concede to the ground in an ungraceful manner.

As a more dignified alternative, do everything that you can to stay centred on your skis. That is, keeping your weight over the middle of them and keeping off of your heels. That may seem easier said than done, but if you pop your poles to the side for a while and place your palms on your knee caps – it will automatically bring you into a better position. If you are strict with yourself – hands on knees will also preventing arm waving, another unhelpful instinct that serves to throw us off balance and shift our centre of mass in every which direction. Throughout most levels of skiing being `in the backseat` and subsequent arm waving is often the primary culprit for mountain mishaps.

4. Relax and warm up

It is true that we are more likely to injure ourselves when tense or ridged, compared to when we are relaxed and calm. The reason is two fold; psychologically we can get ourselves worked up to a point where we abandon logic and tried and tested techniques in favour of wild eyed flailing and panic mode. Secondly because our muscles, tendons and ligaments can go a long way to cushioning and absorbing impacts when warmed up and working effectively. When we are tense and fearful, we are often not moving our bodies properly and achieving as full a range of motion that we would want to be – making it more likely to injure sluggish muscles or tight tissue structures. So – before you head out, take a few moments to do what you can to relax, followed by some light exercise and stretches to warm up those body parts.

5. Take a lesson

Seemingly obvious, yet enormously important. A private lesson with an experienced (this is essential) and well qualified instructor is often the fastest and most effective way to become comfortable and confident on the slopes. Experience will have taught the instructor numerous tried and tested tactics for tackling the source of the nervousness, and you can be reassured that you are with a professional who has a sincere desire to win you over to skiing.

As skilled as a friend or spouse may be to assist, it rarely ends in a positive outcome. A big reason for this is the stranger/trust factor; somehow it is easier to trust, follow the direction of and listen to a stranger – than it is our own relative or friends. If you do decide to take a lesson, be sure to research your chosen ski school well and at the time of booking do let them know of your previous experiences and unease for skiing. It is very important that they allocate instructors that excel in these lessons, and deliver the most enjoyable experience possible.

Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.

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Comments (9)

  1. Hamish Brown says:

    The Number 1 tip – Perspective, it’s only skiing – is The Number 1 tip. I know too many people who take skiing far too seriously. If they relaxed and were less concerned about how they looked I’m sure that they would get much more pleasure out of their time on the slopes.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      I am completely with you here; interestingly enough the more competent the level of skiing, the higher the vanity factor often is! Sometimes as a Ski Instructor I decide not to ski with instructor friends and colleagues as so much time is spent analysing and critiquing one another that the fun factor is almost lost!

  2. Kirsty Emerson says:

    All very sensible advice. I had a fall about three years ago and it shook me up. It wasn’t a major accident, nothing was broken, but my left knee felt very tender for the rest of the week.

    My partner’s very keen for us to get back to the snow in 2020. He says that if I leave it much longer I’ll totally lose confidence and never ski again. I know that he’s right and I must remember these tips.

    • Brad says:

      I think this goes for a lot of us skiers. I used to be fearless. I had a fall last year which hurt and could have been really nasty if I’d finished on the rocks. I got up and limped away. No need for air ambulances or anything like that. The trouble is that I feel like a real beginner and haven’t even booked anything for this season.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Hi Kirsty, hi Brad. Thank you both for your comments and I am very sorry to hear of your accidents. Off the back of those, the most limiting factor for your both now will be psychological and the apprehension and unease that you feel.

      Getting back on the slopes and addressing this feeling is a good thing – when possible – and it is key that when you do, you ease into it at your own pace. Sometimes in these situations, we have mentally `failed` or `given up` before we have even clipped on our skis, and it can become a sort of fulfilled prophecy. If we don`t believe that we can make a turn without falling, when we try we will naturally pull back, be hesitant and give into gravity before we give it a proper try. It does not mean that you are not good, it just means that your confidence needs to be rebuilt.

      The cheap way to do this, is take yourself back to the most basic terrain, and in your own time, remind yourself what you can do. Keep repeating, and as your confidence returns you can start stretching your skills and exploring further a filed. This might mean that you tell your ski companions to go and have a morning doing their own thing, while you do yours. The more expensive option would be a private lesson; even a half day lesson can do an awful lot to regain confidence.

  3. Leo says:

    I’m coming up to 30 and never been skiing. All my mates tell me that I should give it a go before I get too old and my joints seize up. I sort of think that they’re right.

    But I’ve learnt a lot from this post as I will be the ultimate nervous skier. Probably the biggest lesson is not to go with a big group of mates who’ll make fun of me and push me too far. It will be better to go with my girlfriend who will be much more supportive.

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Wise words indeed! Going with mates can be great fun, but if you do just be sure to not be coerced to the top of the mountain on your first day, or put in a situation that is above your ability. All jokes aside, these situations are where accidents happen and holidays are ended. Lessons are the best option, and even 1-2 half day lessons can set you up for fun and success!

  4. Rachael O'Connor says:

    My friend keeps bugging me to go skiing with him since he broke up with his girlfriend. They always went together so now he’s got nobody to go with but I’m terrified of the idea. I’ve never skied before so this is quite reassuring to read! I wouldn’t have thought of leaning back actually, but I do think I’d probably lean too far forward with slumped shoulders and my feet would end up being all over the place. At least he’s a good skier so I’d be in good company, but I’d still prefer to opt for a professional lesson or two, and make sure to pick somewhere kind to novices!

    • Nadine Robb says:

      Yes, it is funny how what we envision in our minds and what our bodies choose to do are often completely different! Fortunately leaning too far forward is not so common, and does not come with the same likelihood of falling that leaning back does. As for getting skis and legs tangled – that is easy to do for beginners. Try clipping your skis on on the flat, and practise moving around on them; try to keep them on the snow. Think of sliding and skating them, as opposed to lifting them, and within a short time you will feel more coordinated wearing them.

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