What To Do When Things Go Pear Shaped.

This might have been do-able last week, but, hmmm, today you can’t handle “it.” Rambo at Crested Butte. Credit: Chris Segal

Consider a ski run you’ve done before and which you found perfectly do-able with your present level of technical skiing skill. But conditions have changed, and the snow is less easy to ski; perhaps the temperature has fallen and the surface is now more crisp. Or the light has gone totally flat.  Or the cold is really distracting. All of a sudden you find yourself getting scared.

The most likely reason for this is you probably don’t have the skills that will make you feel confident you have total control of your skis. In the longer term, it is clear that you need to improve your level of skiing skill. Right now, however, you are not certain you will able to handle the situation.

Shouting “Be Confident” won’t work. Having someone else shout “Just do it” also won’t work. “Go on, you’ll be okay” won’t work, unless you find it immediately believable. Being able to ski better is the single thing that would give you more confidence, but it is not available to you in the moment, now, when you really need it. What you need now are a few self control techniques to help you get down safely in control of the situation.

Getting Focused Is The Key.

Here are a few “emergency situation” tricks that may help you get out of a bit of trouble, so you can get down safely, without too much psychological damage, and begin a plan of action to improve your skiing and the number of situations you can conquer.

• When things begin to “go pear-shaped”, we need to bring your focus to the situation, not think “expansively”. 

• First of all, even if there seems to be a shortage of time, STOP.  Stop and reassess.  Don’t be afraid to actually shout “STOP!”  You need to get your brain waves smoothed out. Stopping still will help. Be prepared to do it repeatedly as you descend; it’s likely not to be a one-off job.

• Ask yourself—and take care answering—”Is this the end of the world, or something less? What single small thing can I do that will help?”  Remember, whatever that is, it doesn’t have to be a complete cure;  it only has to get you through the next few seconds. They will in turn lead you to the following few seconds.

• The general rule of thumb is: The more dire the situation seems to you, the shorter should be your attention span.

• Don’t think big: think small. Don’t think “long distance”, think “the next ten yards”.

• Don’t think long term: think the next ten seconds or even less. “Can I get through and survive the next two minutes / ten seconds / the next one second? What do I have to do to hang on?

• Don’t think “skiing down to the bottom”: think the next single arc. Only one. Then stop again. Pull that one off, and it will give you confidence for the next one. (Successes lead to successes) Give yourself a few seconds at least, to take your single-arc success on board. Recognize it.

• Stop after each arc until something in your head says, “Hey, we could link a couple together now”.

• Finally, for now, do not blame yourself. Resist the temptation to call yourself names. Avoid belittling your self. Being scared is natural, commonplace, and surmountable. It is a strong emotion, and your best defense is anything at all that helps you not to be emotional. Do your best to be rational, and content with that “best”.

Get used to these ideas before you head to the piste. In the quiet of your study, spend some time sitting and imagining situations where you may use them. Those imagination sessions will serve you well next time you need one of these, in earnest. When you are imagining, get deeply into it, “see” more than you normally see, make slopes steeper than they really are, imagine the slope more polished, hear snow-boarders scraping the snow right behind you;  enlarge the whole situation. See the colors brighter. Hear the sound around you louder. Imagine yourself lifting one ski off the ground and sense what it feels like. You are completely safe, it’s only imagination. 

Define “It”.

Anytime we feel fear or apprehension, our perceptions are telling us that “we may not be able to handle it”. So, STOP and define what “it” is.

If for example “handling it” involves skiing with linked arcs down something you don’t like the look of, then how about redefining “it”. Call “it”, “Getting down the next 20 yards safely,” and the picture will look different, because you have now taken skis out of the equation. You could even take them off, carry them, and walk based on your definition.  Or you might perhaps side-skid if you know how. 

When you have taken control, you will have done it by defining the problem. No one would blame you or call you names (except you, if you let yourself). In fact probably no one would even notice; most folk on ski slopes, especially tricky bits, don’t notice anything, except their own situation.

Never be ashamed of being apprehensive or scared; just realize there are ways to handle difficult moments.

Editor Note: Bob Trueman has a free self-coaching guide called My Performance Review that has helped hundreds of skiers re-set their psychology after a difficult day.  It’s simple to use and powerful.  Click here to visit Bob’s website Bobski.com, then go to Contact Us and send him an email.  He’ll send My Performance Review to you via email.



  1. My first Western skiing was at Snowmass. I loved the Big Burn but I was just really a fair midwestern skier., After taking some slow easy runs I decided to be more aggressive and suddenly found myself “”flying ” down the run. I decided to slow down and luckily stopped before I was airborne !

  2. Great and helpful rules, which I have applied on more than one occasion. Usually, my fear is not well founded. By following variations of these rules that I developed over the years, my confidence will return.

  3. Helpful advice. I also just focus on the next turn or the next few yards to a “safe” spot to regroup. I have found that the longer I stand at the top and look down the harder it is to get going. I’d rather take a quick look and then take a turn or two. That seems to make the next turn come more easily.

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