It’s hard to believe that we are only days away from the start of any ski season. The snow guns are blasting across the country and I will be on snow with athletes soon. For some of you, I’m sure you’re excited to be able to snap into your skis again after being off snow for the summer. For others of you, you’re excited to keep the momentum going after many days on snow in Mt. Hood, Chile, New Zealand, Europe, and elsewhere.
In my final post from last season, I exhorted you to buy into the notion that Next Season Starts…NOW! In that post, I encouraged you, after a short break to rest and recover, to use the summer to continue to develop yourself physically, technically, and mentally. That progression continues as you get on snow in the next weeks and months. You are now entering a critical final preparation period in which you want to consolidate all of the gains you’ve made in the off season and fine tune your skiing so you are a lean, mean speed machine this race season.
Your motto during this important prep period should be: “Money in the bank, baby, money in the bank!” (it won’t work unless you say “baby,” trust me on this). What do I mean by that, you might be asking. Well, you should think of all of your preparations as deposits that you’re making in your ski racing “bank.” Your goal is to put as much “money” (i.e., effort, improvement) in the bank because you want to write as big a “check” as you possibly can on race day. What makes ski racing different from a checking account is that, in ski racing, there is no overdraft protection, meaning you can’t write checks that you can’t cover.
As I wrote this, I realized that many of you don’t have a checking account, but rather a debit or credit card. So as not to make myself sound totally old, though your bank or credit card company will be happy to let you withdraw more money than you have (for a hefty fee, of course), you just can’t do that in ski racing. The bottom line is that with ski racing, you can only take out what you put into it.
I have three recommendations as you enter this final prep period.
First, assuming you’ve worked hard this off-season, if you haven’t acknowledged all of the deposits you’ve been making to your ski-racing bank account, now is the time to do it. Think of the hours of hard work you’ve put in in the gym, on the road, track, and field, and, of course, on the hill. Recognize the improvements you’ve made physically, technically, tactically, and mentally. Add up all those deposits and make note of the size of your account. Use that number to gain confidence in your ability to achieve your goals in the coming season; the more “money” you have in the bank, the more confidence you will have.
Second, in the coming months before your first race, ask yourself how you can put even more money in the bank. What do you need to really work on during this final prep period? Some technical tweaking? Straightening out your line just a bit? Getting better at tuning your skis? Or honing some mental area such as your intensity or focus? Whatever it is, identify what you need to work on most and really commit these next few months to making the most deposits to your bank account as possible.
Third, don’t forget speed. As a young racer, it’s easy to get obsessed with the technical aspects of your skiing. Let’s be realistic. You can’t go fast if you’re not technically capable of going fast. But good technique isn’t enough to make you fast; I’ve known many racers over the years who were incredible technically, but also incredibly slow.
Speed is also a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Developing the skill of speed involves looking for ways to push the envelope of your skiing, learning to take appropriate risks and skiing on the edge of trouble on course, and, most importantly, becoming comfortable with being outside of your comfort zone.
One of the great lessons I’ve learned in my years in our sport is that the best ski racers in the world are so successful, ultimately, because they are able to find and stay just inside that line between skiing safe (and slow) and blowing out (and being too fast).
As you get within a few weeks of your first race, your primary focus should be on honing this skill of speed. The proportion of your training runs should shift away from mostly technical training to mostly speed training. And your mantra in those final days before your first race should be three simple words: “Speed, baby, speed” (again, it won’t work if you don’t say “baby”).
Your goal, when you get in the starting gate of your race of the season, is to be able to say to yourself, “Money in the bank, baby, money in the bank!” Simply translated, this statement means “I’m as prepared as I can be to ski my fastest.” When you kick out of the gate, you’ll know you’re ready to make a big, fat withdrawal that will enable you to ski as well as you can. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee success, but, at the end of the race day, what more can you do.