When was the last time this happened to you on the mountain: you’re skiing down one of your regular trails, having fun, where you know every turn by heart, and then, as you approach a trail sign for a more difficult run than you’re used to, you think maybe it’s a good time to try it…but then you keep on skiing down the regular old way.

So what happened?  It happens to me also: a tiny little wave of discomfort/anxiety/fear creeps into my head (I call it the “fear monkey”) and causes me to ski the easier way, meanwhile telling myself, “I’ll do this one tomorrow.”  And just like that… fear becomes the boss of me!  I hate that, but it happens.  How can we change our patterns, so we take the turn down the more challenging terrain?

Don’t let the fear monkey get in your way.

I’ve noticed this for years in my own skiing, although I’ve gotten better at deciding when I’m going to “go for it” and challenge myself more than usual.  The key for me in making positive changes, and skiing more challenging terrain on a regular basis, started when I began ski instructing twelve years ago!  Huh?  Let me explain…

I’d take a group of skiers, usually 3-6 people, ranging in ages from 18-50.  While the group was being organized, I’d always introduce myself to each skier, and ask each person a few questions about why they were taking a lesson, what types of sports and activities they enjoyed, what they hoped to get out of the lesson; stuff like that. I’d also ask, ”What are you worried about?”


I’d hear a lot of things that would help me figure out what each person’s “takeaways” were for their lesson.  It was almost like each person would give me the magic key for solving their “personal skiing puzzle.”  Everyone’s got one, hidden away, just waiting to be revealed, including me: “afraid of going too fast,”  “getting my skis more parallel in the turn,” “keeping my speed under control to lower my fear,” ”not be so afraid,” “looking as good skiing the tough stuff as the easier stuff!”   What’s yours?

For skiers, the degree of FEAR in their heads is the ultimate limiter on both performance and improvement. Of course, we need fear to warn us away from true danger, but fear is greedy, and likes to hang around unless we send it away.

The good news is that you can send fear to the back of your mind.  It’s simple.  Just figure out your own magic key to your own skiing puzzle.   What do YOU need to do on a tougher run to stay confident?  For me it was this: take the more difficult trail, but plan to ski it in a very measured way, slower than the other runs, pausing to pick each line, just one turn at a time, and stay smooth.  Once I started thinking differently about skiing the tougher stuff, it became much easier to choose those double blacks, and it felt good at the end of each day to have skied them.



  1. John Nichols says:

    My fear is tracking with the new shorter skis…wandering tips. Usually on a long gentle stretch, the answer is to roll slightly on edges making a minor turn. However on several crossovers where I ski, I need to carry speed to avoid having to climb a rise at the end or to get out of the way of skiers coming down the trail I’m crossing. I have had several near spills that would seem worse on a flat than on a slope. At 83, getting up from a fall would be easier on a slope, but on flat terrain, I need to remove at least one ski to get my legs under me.

    • Hi John, totally get what you described, and yes the skis of the past 15+ years or more really do like to be on edge, and one is much less likely to “catch “ an edge while rolling one’s ankles so that the skis are NOT flat to the snow. And I certainly know the tension of seeing descending skiers who, without regard to your right of way, may cause you to deviate from your line & cause you to lose speed and then need to hike/push etc. Best suggestion: be patient and wait for skier traffic to abate (sometimes it won’t). Also if I know I’ve got the right of way sometimes I’ll hold my arms out and slightly wave my poles, indicating to knuckleheads that I do in fact have a right of way…so stay away from me! As always, personal safety is #1 – great comment thanks!

  2. MICHAEL ROTH says:

    I know the feeling, I will not go off on a trail that I don’t know what to expect on the way down. I probably have missed some wonderful powder run but that’s just me. the same goes for in the trees.

    • Ya I totally agree on a “brand new” trail I’ve never skied before – I’ll almost always try that the first time with a pal, the exception sometimes might be a double black line I’ve not previously skied, so long as I’m completely visible from top and/or bottom, in case I got in trouble. I will never ski in the trees alone – for me just too high risk, tree wells, injury potential with no one around to help.

  3. Thanks John. Excellent post. I have a senior annual pass to Butternut, live nearby, and ski there regularly. Hope to see you there one of these days.


    • Hey Steve, excellent, likewise! Sounds like opening day is near, probably around 12/23 or so. The new chairlift seems to be completed and it’s a big one – great for the learning area. Thanks for reaching out!

  4. I don’t know how old Mr Gelb is but as I get older I find discretion is the better part of valor even on familiar terrain. I just turned 70 and have been skiing for over 60 years. While my skills are a s good as ever my endurance, not so much so. Slopes that used to be a snap are now more challenging and once you commit there is no going back. Falling down also isn’t what it used to be. Not only is it harder to get up but you pay for it a lot longer. More often than not that screaming monkey just may be saving your day.

    • Hi Thom, thanks for your comment! Well I feel younger than my age, but I recently turned 67. Your point is a good one, and important: as we get older we must adapt our skiing habits to the evolving realities of our bodies’ physicalities, and their capabilities, which is a soft way of saying…at some point, different for each of us, we’ve got to dial down the speeds at which we ski, the degree of pounding our knees are subjected to in the bumps, and the steepness of our runs. For me: I’ve mostly stopped skiing bumps, except slowly, and when I’m teaching someone how to navigate in the bumps. Great comment! And you’re right about the screaming monkey!!

  5. Robert Goldstein says:

    Hi John,
    Enjoyed your nice article! Trying to break out of the old school of skiing where my skis are nailed together and the turning is coming from the tail. Totally baby boomer skiing. Now I want to learn how to carve my skis with a wider stance. Is there anyone at you ski resort Stratton, that can teach this technique? I’m convinced it’s never too late to learn new technique and break old ones. -Robert Goldstein

    • Hi Robert, thanks for your very nice comment! So so true – first thing I had to re-learn when I started instructing at Stratton was…how to ski parallel!! I resisted the instructor/coaches telling me I had to stop hopping around my turns… Well that’s the way I was taught to do it by Stratton instructors 55 years ago, so how could it be wrong?! Well, it came slowly, and now I “love the carve”! Not teaching at Stratton this season, only at SkiButternut MA. Email me and I’ll fill you in on instructors at stratton. Best, john

  6. I discovered a wonderful 21st century trick to ski newer, more challenging runs. I “pre-ski” them on YouTube. So many people had posted their experiences on “Devil’s Crotch ” and “Whale’s Tail “at breckenridge that my first time down was far less intimidating. It’s a cheap, private ski gide.

    • Hey Mark,
      Very interesting…I’ve watched many online videos of skiers skiing Pipeline at Snowbird and Corbets at JH…but I’m not feeling the confidence yet!
      Thanks for the idea

  7. Patty Randall says:

    Great article. I’m going to try thinking to myself one turn at a time and to go slower. Great advice thanks for the article

  8. Anthony Summit says:

    Good Article I enjoyed reading it and the comments. Confidence building keys for me. Assurance that I have the proper equipment for me at that place and time. Frequently practicing skills on the greens and blues that become imperative on the blacks doubles. Self talk on the demanding slopes reminding myself of the skills I need to employ to safely and confidently accomplish my goals.

    • Anthony,
      Thanks for your comment – love last part about “self talk”, so helpful as a quick discipline when descending a more challenging run…and similar to the feeling of being a beginner filled with anxiety: one or two turns at a time. And in fact, I’ll often point out to kids and adults that it’s sometimes only one or two pitches that actually feel/appear more difficult, and realizing that spurs confidence.

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