Relaxed and fast may seem like contradictory adjectives, but any successful skier can tell you otherwise. Learning to relax while skiing is essential to racing fast at a high level.
Nerves and tension are natural components of any athletic competition, but if untamed they lead to choppy technique, inefficient movement, and a needlessly tiring struggle. “You can be as fit and strong as anybody but still not be able to hang on… You cannot power your way to win a World Cup race,” says Trond Flagstad, ski coach at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
It requires logging hundreds of kilometers and achieving a high level of comfort on skis, but learning to relax can be the difference between the middle of the pack and the front, or between silver and gold. “When you are relaxed your body is working at its optimal efficiency and you are getting every ounce out of each movement,” says three-time Olympian and US Ski Team member Kikkan Randall.
“Athletes that are able to keep cool and calm before big races often perform better – ski more efficiently and effectively,” agrees Holly Brooks, 2010 Olympian and coach of Alaska Pacific University (APU). “I find that when I’m not relaxed, my technique falls apart.”
So how do you do it? Randall recommends picking a few cue words like SMOOTH, STRONG, or FAST and repeating them over and over in your mind. “I block everything else from my mind and just repeat these words,” she says. “Pretty soon, my body just takes over and starts going SMOOTH, STRONG, FAST!”
When you’ve mastered the trick of relaxation, you’ll find yourself able to ski faster, glide farther, recover more easily, and probably enjoy racing more. Flagstad avows, “When you can ski relaxed, you have discovered how to really ski.”
Maddy is on the Nordic ski team at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where her majors are psychology, political science, skiing, and being an awesome JA.