Managing Fear in Snowboarding

Every snowboarder has that moment where a trick or a feature pops into our mind, but we are just too gripped with fear to try it out; even the greatest pros encounter things they feel unprepared to handle, and with a career/paycheck on the line maybe doubly so.

One of the most common questions you will come across in any extreme sport is “How to hit ___” or “If there are any tips for doing ____”. It can seem as though these are rookies looking for a magical solution to get better at snowboarding, but 9/10 times the rider is usually only looking for reasons not to fear attempting to learn a new skill.

A little bit of the fear is never a bad thing, it is nothing more than a natural reality check… but if we always gave in to our fears than there would be no progression in anything, so when is it appropriate to push through your fears and how can you go about managing that?

We fall so we can get back up

For your average snowboarder, let’s say that fear can manifest itself in three different ways: as a familiar encounter that went badly, an acknowledgment of something new and unknown, and in response to something completely beyond our control.

When injured trying a new skill or feature, many are met with great hesitation when they step up for a second try. This is reasonable, since getting hurt sucks; but the key to overcoming this fear is to understand that even though it was negative, what happened was an experience. Remember after the fall when you asked yourself, “what happened?”

You probably realized your weight was wrong, or you didn’t pop high enough, etc. Since you know what caused your injury, use your mistakes to adapt a new approach and you have no reason to fear repeating the past.

Build a safe progression

Sometimes “the next step” means moving on to a feature or a trick you have never tried before. The brain, unable to calculate the sensation of what you are attempting, tells you to immediately back down…fear of the unknown.

And it’s only logical to be at least a little scared. If a feature is much bigger or a trick much more technical than anything you’ve tried before there is certainly a risk factor: you can’t compensate for everything because, as previously stated, you don’t really know how a new feature will pop/slide or what a new trick necessarily feels like.

Make it so that some aspect of the progression is under your control. When trying a new feature or bigger kicker, your stock tricks are your friends–a trick you can land 10/10 times will be your flashlight into dark and unfamiliar territory. As for new tricks, they are always best saved for low consequence features, the things you’ve fallen trying hundreds of times but never been seriously hurt on.

Also keep in mind that every new trick/feature should be just slightly harder, and ideally should build off a previously learned skill. Building your riding up piece by piece versus giant leaps will not only build a more complete repertoire of skills but will likely keep you injury free.

Patience is worth it, as a slow but steady progression also allows you to get comfortable with your new skills to a point where you can convey style.

Know when to back down

So far we’ve covered fears that usually can and should be overcome in order to progress. On the other hand, there are times when you should never regret going with your gut instincts. The majority of snowboard injuries and deaths occur when people ignore a very logical signal from their brains telling them not to do something.

An obvious example would be many of the snowboarders who are caught in avalanches each season. Backcountry riding is an incredibly thrilling and rewarding experience, so it’s easy to get overanxious and neglect minor details that later become vital. Avalanche training, equipment, and the company of experienced local riders are necessities before thinking about backcountry riding; and even all of those don’t offer any guarantees of a safe return.

Bottom line: If there is any hesitation or question about the conditions or outcome of a backountry excursion, this is a fear you should give in to and back down. All of the epic backcountry footage that makes it to your screens is the result of weeks of observation, research and waiting on perfect conditions… and not without reason.

What about those days when things just aren’t coming together?

Snowboarding comes with it’s share of off days, and when you feel like a stranger to your snowboard it’s usually best to just go with it; anything that you aren’t confident about, it is best to back off. This doesn’t mean the day is anywhere near over, since thankfully cruising the resort and exploring new spots is never boring.

A good point to stress in closing is that fear is always relative to the person. If it comes down to wholeheartedly not wanting to go for something, then always back down. Sometimes confidence alone can make something impossible possible.

Do you have any methods for managing fear on the slope? Feel free to post a comment with any ways you deal with hesitation when it comes to learning new skills…

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