What does it take to succeed in ski racing?

Julia Mancuso following her bronze medal performance in the Sochi Olympics. GEPA/Andreas Pranter

Julia Mancuso in the midst of her bronze medal performance in the Sochi Olympics. GEPA/Andreas Pranter

A fundamental question I have been exploring in the 30 years that I have been working in the field of ski racing psychology is: What does it take to succeed? My life’s work has been devoted to answering this question so that all young ski racers who are willing to pursue their dreams can find success.

Yet, in recent years, I have come to the conclusion that this question is not the question that should be asked. Success is, of course, the highly desired destination. But in most people’s minds, it lies at the end of a journey — for example, skiing in college, being named to the USST, or winning an Olympic gold medal. Additionally, success can have as many meanings as the people who pursue it. As a result, success should not be the focus of your efforts.

Here’s a simple reality: if you can learn how to systematically pursue your ski racing goals and perform your best, some degree of success is inevitable. How much success depends on factors both within and outside of your control. But I operate under the assumption that if you continue to strive for success and ski your best, good things will happen.

So, instead of focusing on success, the challenge is to figure out the process by which success will result and how you can master that process. In other words, your fundamental goal should be to maximize your performances.

What Does it Take to Ski Your Best?

This discussion leads to an even more basic question: What does it take to ski your best when it matters most? Over the years, I and others have identified factors (like motivation, confidence, resilience, focus, practice, and others) that we believe are necessary to perform at your highest level.

Yet, I have always felt that these explanations were, standing alone, too simplistic to adequately explain such a complex phenomenon as performance in ski racing. What our sport has lacked is a means of pulling together the many and disparate influences into a comprehensive and cohesive framework of ski racing psychology.

Unified Model of Ski Racing Psychology

The culmination of this thinking has led to my development of a Unified Model of Ski Racing Psychology that provides a comprehensive and deep understanding of the two questions that I posed above: what it takes to ski your best and, by extension, what it takes to succeed.

Providing such a complete and clear picture makes ski racing performance and success more manageable and attainable. The Unified Model offers you a tangible framework that you can readily wrap your arms around. Importantly, as someone who has been a ski racer, researcher, consultant, and practitioner of what it takes to maximize performance, my goal is to offer you the deep insights, practical skills, and useful tools necessary to bring high performance and success within reach of anyone willing to commit to the pursuit.

My Unified Model of Ski Racing Psychology is comprised of four factors that represent what I believe are the essential contributors to performance: Perspective, Obstacles, Skills, and Tools.

Perspective (PrimeMind)

The five perspectives enable you to develop what I call PrimeMind, which involves looking at performance, competition, success, and failure in the healthiest way possible. By adopting these perspectives, you give yourself the foundation you need to pursue your ski racing goals from a healthy starting point.


Obstacles (PrimeHeart)

The five obstacles are often erected without your awareness when deeply involved in ski racing. These obstacles prevent both effective preparation and consistently high performance. Your goal is to remove these obstacles so that you can experience what I call PrimeHeart which is a psychological and emotional state in which you are liberated to pursue your goals with openness, freedom, and gusto.


Skills (PrimePrep)

The five skills are essential for you to prepare yourself fully to perform your best. They enable you to experience PrimePrep, which involves getting the most out of your training efforts. If you can learn these skills, you give yourself the means to enter races totally prepared to ski at your highest level possible.


Tools (PrimeTime)

The five tools provide you with the practical strategies you need before a race to ensure you are comprehensively prepared to ski your best when it counts the most. They are aimed at attaining and maintaining PrimeTime, an optimal mental and physical state required to achieve success. When you put these tools in your ‘mental toolbox’, you give yourself the power to take control of your skiing and experience success on demand.


Note: The Unified Model of Ski Racing Psychology is copyrighted and may not be used without the written consent of Dr. Jim Taylor.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., competed internationally while skiing for Burke Mountain Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. Over the last 25 years, he has worked with the U.S. and Japanese Ski Teams, many World Cup and Olympic racers, and several of the leading junior race programs in the U.S. and Canada. Jim is the author of Prime Ski Racing: Triumph of the Racer’s Mind, he publishes bi-monthly newsletters on sport, business, and parenting, and also blogs for huffingtonpost.com and psychologytoday.com. To learn more or to contact Jim, visit his website. 

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