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Photo US Ski Team
It’s hard to believe Phase I of the ski racing prep period is almost over this summer. Hopefully, you devoted the summer to building the foundation for your success next winter. You probably focused your efforts on three areas. First, you engaged in an intensive physical conditioning program. The reality of modern ski racing is that it has become a power sport. Consequently, your summer conditioning program was likely aimed at increasing your functional strength.
Second, you probably spent time on snow if the opportunity arose. Summer on-snow training usually begins with a fundamentals camp where you break down your skiing into its most basic technical and tactical components. Another reality of ski racing is that consistently fast skiing isn’t possible without solid technique and tactics. If you had a second on-snow camp this summer, it was probably dedicated to transferring those fundamentals to gates.
I also hope you used Phase I of the prep period to train your mind and lay the mental foundation for your success this winter. As you’ve probably heard me say many times, mental training should be treated just like conditioning and on-snow training; it should be comprehensive, structured and consistent.
This September, you’ll enter Phase II of the prep period for the upcoming race season, equally essential to your summer efforts to achieve your ski racing goals. With skiing as little as six weeks away in Colorado and Europe (and many programs arriving in South America every day) and the race season for everyone but the World Cuppers fewer than ten weeks away, you’ll shift your efforts and focus on your conditioning, from strength to agility and your on-snow training, to the ABCs, to translating good skiing into fast skiing.
So, what do you need to build on this fall to ensure you are ready to “deliver” consistently this winter?
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Your physical training should be focused on quality over quantity (though you certainly need to maintain a reasonable degree of volume). This involves getting the most out of your conditioning efforts to be in the best shape. This shift also reduces the chances of burnout or injury at a time when you need to be healthy and rested.
You can increase the quality of your physical training and simultaneously further increase your mental strength by understanding that mental training starts in the gym. This involves thinking about what enables you to ski your best in on-snow training and applying those same skills and habits to your conditioning. In other words, the same mental muscles and tools that you use to be mentally prepared on race day can also help you get the most out of your conditioning efforts:
- Confidence: Make positive statements about your ability to achieve your training goal for that set (e.g., “I am going to do ten reps.”).
- Commitment: Dedicate yourself to giving your best effort to every rep and finishing the set strong.
- Intensity: Match your physical intensity to your exercise. If you’re doing power squats, you want to actively increase your intensity before you step under the bar. If you are doing yoga, you want to actively relax your body.
- Focus: Focus on whatever will help you fully execute the exercise. The focus could be technical (e.g., hips forward) or mental (e.g., explode).
- Breathing: Match your breathing to your exercise. If you are doing power training, your breathing should be more intense. If you are doing flexibility training, it should be calmer and slower.
Phase II of the prep period is also essential to strengthening your mind as you approach the winter. The most powerful mental tool you can use to construct your “ski racing building” is mental imagery. By now, you’re probably sick of me always bringing this up. Still, I will repeat it: If you’re not using mental imagery as a consistent part of your mental training program and overall training regimen, you won’t be the best ski racer you can be this coming winter.
The fall is an ideal time to commit to mental imagery because you can get a ton of miles on snow and in gates (in your mind) before you get back on snow and into gate training. You can more deeply ingrain technically sound and fast skiing with mental imagery, so when the snow flies, it will be as if you’ve been skiing all fall and you can continue your skiing development from your first day on snow.
To help you develop an off-snow mental imagery program, you can download my Prime Ski Racing Race Imagery Program.
Here’s what you should do with mental imagery:
- Choose one or two technical (e.g., wider stance), tactical (e.g., going deep at the top of the turn), mental (e.g., relaxing at the start), or performance (e.g., fast skiing) goals you want to focus on in your imagery.
- Create a ladder of training and race scenarios, from training courses on your home hill to low-level races to your most important races of the approaching race season.
- Set aside a specific time every day, three times a week, to do your mental imagery sessions.
- In each imagery session, get comfortable, close your eyes, take five deep breaths, and then guide yourself through two training or race runs incorporating your imagery goals (see #1 above) into your imagined skiing (I have downloadable mp3 audio recordings for training, 2-run events, and 1-run events that can guide you through these scenarios).
- Stay committed and consistent with your imagery throughout the fall.
If you’re fortunate enough to ski this fall, your on-snow training will also narrow in focus. As the winter approaches, you should shift your emphasis in your skiing in the following ways:
- Significant technical and tactical changes to minor adjustments and fine-tuning.
- Focusing on details to concentrating on your overall skiing.
- Experimenting with your equipment to dial in your set-up.
- Trying out different ways of being physically and mentally prepared before training runs to establish a consistent training routine that you can translate into a race routine.
- Solid technical and tactical skiing to consistently fast skiing.
Get Ready for the Winter Grind in the Fall
The long winter of training and racing is incredibly taxing physically and mentally. Another important goal for the fall is to prepare yourself to stay healthy and rested from your first turns of the season until your last. The habits you establish in the fall will likely carry you through the winter with strength and stamina.
These habits you establish in Phase II of the prep period should include:
- Sufficient and consistent sleep (at least eight hours a night);
- Healthy eating (food either fuels or contaminates your body);
- Good study habits (stress in school will hurt your skiing);
- Make your ski racing a priority over other interests (don’t let poor choices hurt your skiing);
- Balanced use of screen time (a distraction which disrupts sleep);
- Rest and recovery (allow your mind and body to rejuvenate after intense training blocks);
- Being happy (a happy racer is a fast racer).
What you do this fall will significantly impact how you ski this winter. Using what I’ve described above and advice from your coaches and parents, spend the fall preparing yourself to be the best ski racer you can be this winter. So, when you enter the starting gate of your first and last race of the season, you’ll be physically and mentally ready to enter the “time to rock and roll!” Phase III of your race season.