• Caitlin Kennedy

Touched by the Fear

By Millie Shredder

One girl’s tips and tricks for when you’re scared shitless & there’s nowhere else to go but down.

Picture this; I was a young, cocky ski racer, ripping around the mountain like I owned the place. I thought I was the best skier on the mountain; untouchable. Then - BOOM - injury struck. I crashed, badly, and heard the dreaded *pop* of my first ACL tear.

It turned out to be a partial tear, so no surgery required, and I returned to the mountain the following winter excited to be back on the snow. I clipped in no problems, and hopped on the chairlift with my mum. But nothing could have foreshadowed what was about to happen at the top.

It was a green piste; chill, easy - a perfect first-run-of-the-season warm up. But it was at the top of this run that my ski life changed forever. I got hit by The Fear, and I got hit by it hard. I was completely blindsided as I experienced my first ever panic attack. My entire body seized up. I couldn’t breathe or shout and I didn’t know what the hell was happening to me as I watched my mom ski away in front of me. I’d been excited just two seconds before! It was as if my subconscious remembered how badly I’d been hurt skiing and was refusing to let me do it again. Man, the whole experience was scary. This was the day The Fear sunk its ugly claws into me and has never totally let go since.

Fast forward 8 seasons, two more ACL tears and a full reconstruct surgery later. The Fear is now something I deal with in varying degrees almost every single day I head out on the hill. The problem is I love to ski, so I couldn’t let it stop me. Instead, I’ve learnt some tricks to get my brain to shut up and let me throw myself down that pitch. The saying is mind over body, but here are my tried-and-tested ways of coping when I need to put my body over mind (especially when there’s no turning back).

Get prepared to take yourself on a ski date. Before you start getting into side country, off-piste, back-country or the park and all the wicked fun that they bring, spend some time on the groomers alone. Get in tune with your turns and remind your mind that your body is fully capable. Build trust between the two. Work on your skiing by giving yourself little challenges like,, this run I’m gonna link 3 turns, and gradually work up to skiing the run top to bottom without stopping. I get frustrated when I’m not skiing to the best of my ability because I’m trapped in my head, and it’s hard to explain that to other people. When you’re riding alone, you can go wherever you want at whatever pace you want with no pressure to perform. (PSA: be safe and stay in bounds when skiing solo!)

Talk to yourself, aloud! This one might be a bit kooky, but I’m constantly talking to myself (or singing if I’m really happy) whilst skiing. Sometimes, I need to verbally tell The Fear to fuck off and say to myself, “you’re being silly! Just go! You’re fine!” Saying things out loud helps pull me out of my head and into the present, physical world so I can get on with my run.

Say yes to friends on a pow day. Skiing alone is helpful to build confidence, but skiing with the homies is always more fun. The most common times I have “moments” these days is when I’m skiing tricky stuff, like icy entrances, tight trees, or really deep snow. When I’m in these situations, I always find it helpful to have someone I trust help me pick my line. Or, to turn around and shout up at me that it’s no sweat and I can do it. It’s kinda the same effect as point 2; just having someone else telling you you’re being a wimp (in a loving way) instead of yourself. Also, it’s a pretty fantastic feeling and terrific confidence boost to finally ski that scary thing and have all your mates cheering you on from the bottom.

B R E A T H E. If you’re really having a moment, your buddies are too far in front, and all you can see is your knee blowing, for example, take a minute and breathe. Seems obvious, but when you’re panicking this is a great tool. Inhale the good and exhale the bad. This may be a cliché but it’s still good advice. Take a deep breath, and visualize yourself slaying the run instead of crashing. Breathe in calm and strength. And really, truly, with every exhale push that fear right out of your system.

There you have it, my top 4 fear fighting suggestions. I’m no psychologist, these are just things that work for me. Like I said, fear is something I deal with every time I clip in. Some days are worse than others, but once I conquer it and start skiing it’s almost always replaced with joy. Actually - that’s my final tip. Even when you are terrified at the top, and you’ve got what feels like rope squeezing around your middle, the fear you feel then is nothing compared to how amazing you feel once you’ve overcome that fear and skied it! It may take a couple of extra minutes, and maybe you won’t ski it with the most style, but the amount of stoke you get when you finally drop in — it’s unparalleled! I’m smiling just thinking about that “I DID IT!” feeling.

So tell your mind to be quiet and straight-air off that cliff - no, wait! I want you to lose your fear not your common sense! But I do hope, if you’re like me and get nervous as hell out there, some of these tips will help.

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