It’s hard to believe the summer, which I consider Phase One of the ski racing prep period, is over. Hopefully, the summer was devoted to building the foundation for your success next winter. In all likelihood, your efforts focused on two areas. First, you engaged in an intensive physical conditioning program. The reality of ski racing in the second decade of the 21st century is that it has become a sport of power. As a consequence, your summer conditioning program was likely aimed at increasing your functional strength.

Second, if the opportunity arose, you also spent spend time on snow. Summer on-snow training usually begins with a fundamentals camp in which you break down your skiing to 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.

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I also hope you used Phase I of the prep period to train your mind and lay the mental foundation for your success this coming winter. Mental training, as you’ve probably heard me say many times, should be treated just like your conditioning and on-snow training; it should be comprehensive, structured, and consistent.

With September having just arrived, you have entered Phase Two of the prep period for the ensuing race season that is equally as important as your summer efforts to achieving your ski racing goals. With skiing as little as six weeks away in Colorado and Europe (and many programs arriving in South America each day) and the race season, for everyone but the World Cuppers, only about less than ten weeks away, you will be shifting your efforts and focus in your conditioning from strength to agility and your on-snow training from the ABCs to just going fast.

So, what do you need to build on this fall to ensure that you are ready to “send it” this winter?

Physical Training
Your physical training should place a greater emphasis on quality over quantity (though you certainly need to maintain a good degree of volume). This involves getting the most out of your conditioning efforts that will result in your being the most fitness version of you there has ever been. 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, at the same time, further develop your mental skills 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:

  • Confidence: Make positive statements about your ability to achieve your training goal for that set (e.g., “I am going to do 10 reps.”).
  • Commitment: Dedicate yourself to giving your fullest effort every rep and to 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: Narrow your attention onto 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.

Mental Training
Phase Two of the prep period is essential to your continuing to strengthen your mind as you approach the winter. The most powerful mental tool you can use to build your “ski racing building” is mental imagery. By now, you’re probably sick of me bringing this up all the time, but I will say it again: If you’re not using mental imagery as a consistent part of your mental training program and overall training regimen, you’re not going to be the best ski racer you can best this coming winter.

The fall is an ideal time to make a real commitment to mental imagery because it allows you to get a ton of miles on snow and in gates (in your mind) before you actually get back on snow and back 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:

  1. 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) areas you want to focus on in your imagery.
  2. 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 season.
  3. Set aside a specific time each day three times a week.
  4. 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 2-run events and 1-run events that can guide you through these scenarios).
  5. Stay committed and consistent with your imagery throughout the fall.

On-snow Training
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:

  • Big technical and tactical changes to small adjustments and fine tuning;
  • Focusing on details to focusing on your overall skiing;
  • Experimenting with your equipment to dialing it in;
  • Trying out different ways of being physically and mentally before training runs to establishing a consistent training routine that you can translate into a race routine;
  • Solid technical and tactical skiing to consistently fast skiing.

Get Ready in the Fall for the Winter Grind
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, hopefully, carry you through the winter with strength and stamina.

These habits you instill in Phase Two of the prep period should include:

  • Sufficient and consistent sleep (young people don’t get enough sleep these days);
  • Healthy eating (food fuels or contaminates your body);
  • Good study habits (stress in school will hurt your skiing);
  • Making your ski racing a priority over other interests (don’t let poor choices hurt your skiing);
  • Balanced use of technology (which threatens sleep and distracts you);
  • 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 have a big impact on how you ski this winter. Using what I’ve just described above, as well as advice from your coaches and parents, take the fall to prepare yourself to be the best ski racer you can be this winter. So, when you get into the starting gate of your first race of the season, you are physical and mental ready to enter Phase Three of your race season, it’s called “time to rock & roll!”

If you’re a coach, you might be interested in Prime Ski Coaching 404: Psychology of Training Champion Ski Racers. This 4-week course shows coaches how to incorporate mental training into their overall athlete development program.