Unfortunately, while visualization is frequently used as a tool for elite athletes, many recreational skiers fail to completely utilize this helpful skill.
What is visual imagery? Does imagery actually work?
Have you ever watched a top skier on the North Face at Mount Snow or on Slalom Glade at Stratton and then tried to recreate those exact turns? Have you every tried to mentally picture a series of turns before leaving the lodge? Generally, visualization involves the production of a meaningful mental image. Ideally, this uses all our senses.
Stop. Sit. Relax.
Whether interested in refining bump skills at Mount Snow, intermediate turns for skiing Carinthia, or simply interested in becoming a more polished expert able to master any trail or mountain, visual imagery can be a useful skill. Try to visualize your ideal turns. Try to (kinesthetically) feel the turn. Try to hear the sounds of the turn. Picture the trail. Picture the snow. Feel the snow!
Is visual imagery helpful?
Approximately 90% of Olympic athletes use imagery! In fact, yeas ago, in a unique experiment conducted by noted psychologist Dr. Richard Suinn with US Ski Team Olympic racers, it was demonstrated that imagery could improve skills more rapidly than skiers who did not use this skill. The experiment was actually canceled in order for everyone to use this technique.
How does visualization work? Basically, when you visualize yourself performing a movement - or series of movements - you actually use similar cognitive pathways as when you perform those movements.
To be sure, this is a very complex skill. For example, some folks use external imagery, which is similar to watching a videotape, while folks who use internal imagery picture themselves executing the skill.
The closer the image to the ideal the better. Ideally, of course, finding a sport psychologist who is also a coach is ideal to learn. But that’s probably not very realistic. As a secondary choice, find a coach or instructor who has received training from a sport psychologist. Frankly, even this is something of a rarity. So, what can you do now? Try this drill.
1) Select a skill, such as short radius turns.
2) Relax by taking a few deep breaths. Relaxation is a key to visualization.
3) Picture a favorite run.
4)Visualize that run. Close your eyes and try to see yourself on the run. Hear the sounds. Now, feel your body
performing your skill.
5) Practice for about 10 minutes.
6)Visualize, carefully, what you want to do.
7) Fine-tune movements.
8) Be realistic.
9) Practice several times a week. Practice before you ski.
10) Use good visual images as models.
Like learning any new and complex skill, visualization is not mastered overnight. It takes time. And practice. Ideally, find a knowledgeable coach to help refine your visualization skills. In the meantime, consider these points. Find a great visual image.
Enjoy your day, from your first turn to your last.
Contributing columnist Tony Crespi has served as both a ski school trainer and development team coach. His column is published throughout the season.