The Psychology of Skiing and Snowboarding
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
We’re in the midst of the winter season. Many of you may have an inclination towards snow and the mountains, an interest in wintersports: skiing and snowboarding.
Both skiing and snowboarding may seem complicated and bizarre to the one who doesn’t practise them. They may make you wonder:
Why would someone realistically risk their physical health on quite a high price in order to slide on icy slopes, with one long stick under each foot or a big board under both? What makes the risk worth it?
There are actually way too many benefits and reasons people get involved with skiing and snowboarding…
Being a great fan of winter myself, I decided to dedicate today’s blog post on a sport psychology topic: the psychology of skiing and snowboarding.
Sense of Achievement
Both these wintersports are not easy. They require special technical skills and take a lot of practice to master (just like anything else), and they are often characterized by high stress that urges you to problem-solve and make sharp, fast decisions.
By learning advanced skills that enable you to progress, you can subsequently challenge yourself gradually more every time: go to a steeper slope, climb to a higher peak, go into deeper snow, stay longer, achieve more.
This deep sense of accomplishment and confronting challenges is extremely powerful and it increases your self-esteem and self-efficacy. It fuels your motivation to achieve even more.
Challenging Fears and Pushing Beyond Limits
“But it looks so scary! How do people do that?” you may think, as you are watching a video of a skier going downhill a vertical slope at incredible speed, or a snowboarder doing some amazing backflip tricks on a halfpipe.
Yes, it looks very scary, and it really is very scary. There are all sorts of fears at play on the mountain: the fear of getting hurt and even dying, the fear of failure, the fear of judgement and ridicule of others, but also the fear of missing out on an unforgettable experience and the high it will bring you if you dare do it..!
But, just like with any extreme sport- this fear and the high risk involved is among the most significant reasons that people do it. In fact, I believe that this high risk is the very reason that extreme sports are so expensive to begin with.
Humans thrive on fear and excitement. We need it in order to move forward. It is undoubtedly exhilarating to live on the edge, to seek thrills, to jump outside of your comfort zone. After all, isn’t it out of your comfort zone that all amazing things can happen?
Fear is excitement in disguise. Physically, the fight-or-flight response of our body means increased heart rate, adrenaline rush and enhanced stress levels in order to overcome danger. It is our cognitive perception that will translate these physical sensations in a threatening way (fear) or in a positive way (excitement).
But even if the fear takes over, there’s a thin line between fear prevailing and fear being conquered. This battle and subsequent conquest of fears plays a major role into why people keep going up those slopes, even if they’re afraid.
If you allow fear to take over, you literally paralyze and cannot move. Push through fear and keep going despite it, and you win it over. It is not uncommon that people may face an intense inner battle between fear , self-doubt and courage while on the slope. The power of perseverance will help them do it anyway, or their wiser mind may convince them to take a step back this time.
The ones that are charmed by wintersports will probably push beyond their limits eventually, but this allows for huge psychological effects to take place. You realize that you are in control, while respecting and not underestimating the power of the mountain around you.
Managing your fears is like reinventing yourself, building character and stamina. It may prompt you to question yourself: if you can face and master your fears on the mountains, why not do so in your everyday life too?
Being in the Zone
Skiing and snowboarding can be a cathartic spiritual experience, just like meditation.
One of the reasons that it is so enjoyable is because you can really “be in the zone” while doing it.
Being in the zone is otherwise called “flow”-
a state of heightened focus and blissful immersion.
It is the uttermost application of mindfulness; when you are completely Present and absolutely connected with your experience with all your senses and your full attention.
This high focus is essential. You can’t really be absent-minded and not careful when you are doing something dangerous- you have to be focused or you are literally risking your health!
This flow state results in clarity of mind. You simply cannot hold a thought in your mind, especially negative ones, when you are so focused and so absorbed in an activity that brings much pleasure and satisfaction.
In fact, skiing and snowboarding (like any other sport) help you disengage from brooding and rumination. They encourage you to just BE in the moment and experience it completely, something that literally clears the mind.
Suddenly, you find yourself with a peaceful emptiness in your mind, no place for worries or tensions. All that matters is you, your experience, the challenge ahead of you and the mountain all around you.
That makes both wintersports a perfect escape from the adversities of everyday life.
Connection with Nature
Though many sports bring you in contact with natural elements, skiing and snowboarding hold a unique place of bringing you awareness of the grandeur of nature, because of the transformative effect of the mountains.
You can’t help but feel awe and admiration when observing the huge land and rock formations that are mountains. You may feel a very unique sensation when surrounded by mountains, completely moved by their growth and beauty and at a loss for words, if you would try to describe to someone else how you feel exactly.
Do you hear the mountains calling and feel compelled to go? The mountains are especially powerful to some people, that feel a profound attraction and connection to them. You know you're one of them if you recognize this "call"and the restlessness you feel till you satisfy your thirst by going up there.
The Incas had a special word for the healing power of the mountains- Apu. They believed that connection with the mountains brings a sense of stability, balance, and supportive energy that opens the heart and makes us more grounded.
What is so healing about nature, is that it encourages you, even urges you to pay attention to your senses. That’s how you exit the often perplexing and twisted pathways of your mind. Even if negative thoughts threaten to darken your mind, it is up to you to shift your attention back to absorbing the beauty that’s all around you and let it slowly sink in.
Putting Things in Perspective
Skiing and snowboarding can bring about a deep spiritual self-realization.
Experiencing the flow state described before and being surrounded by nature helps bring some perspective in your life.
Seeing the world from a high altitude may urge you to feel a part of something much greater than yourself, or realize just how smaller your problems and worries become, when you get out of your head and see them from a distance.
Connection with your Body
Wintersports bring an endorphine and adrenaline rush and increase your energy levels. It simply feels good to be on the slopes and it helps reduce anxiety and depression.
Inevitably, such a vigorous activity will urge you to be connected with your body and simply listen to it more, something that you may not be used in doing in your everyday life. Am I exhausted? Can I go for more? Do I feel pain and exhaustion? Do my skills allow for this next run?
Wintersports are very exhausting, which is why they improve quality of sleep too: there’s nothing compared to how you sleep after a full day in the mountains, but somehow you wake up completely refreshed and rested, too.
Aside from all intrinsic motivational factors that inspire you to hit the slopes, there are significant social factors too.
If you have a group of friends that you go to the mountains with and enjoy your favorite wintersport together, this results in an intense bonding with them. By sharing this experience with them and creating memories together, you undoubtedly increase your connectedness to them too.
Skiing and snowboarding are definitely two extremely rewarding wintersports. The benefits associated with them are numerous, which explains why they are so popular.
The real and tangible dangers involved with both sports intrigue people, who are eager to challenge themselves and prove their self-worth through achieving more and crushing their goals. They laugh at their fears while they win them over or realize their weaker spots, subsequently feeling urged to overcome them.
The physically demanding nature of both sports help you feel connected to your body through continuous movement and keeping your balance.
Moreover, through these sports you can enjoy multiple emotional, cognitive and psychological benefits, such as mindfulness, being in the zone, focused attention, achieving a flow state, being fully present to your current circumstances, escaping negativity of your everyday life, experiencing a sense of gratitude, feeling content and satisfied - and so much more.
Despite the obvious physical exhaustion associated with both sports, they bring an undeniable sense of refreshment, rejuvenation, satisfaction and contentment.
For many, a day in the mountains constitutes an awakening, transformative experience incomparable to anything else.
It reminds you what it means to feel alive.
If you’re amongst the fans of these wintersports, then you most definitely know what I’m talking about.
If you’ve never tried, I hope this simple blog today spurred some curiosity within you to give it a go sometime if you can, and see for yourself.
Enjoy the rest of the wintersport season!