Focus – Skiing In The Now

Where’s Your Focus?
Phil Smith, Director of Snoworks Ski Courses talks about the importance of focus.

“The future is a mystery, the past is history, now is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”

A great quote and one that I constantly use when teaching all-mountain skiing. Focus, or more commonly known as concentration can be likened to a spotlight in the theatre. The centre of the spotlight is the brightest and the further you move away from the centre the less bright it becomes. Your focus is exactly the same, the centre of your focus (where you direct your concentration) is bright and the outside of your focus, your periphery, is less bright.

Your focus is incredibly powerful. How and where you direct your focus can have a drastic affect on your performance and learning. It can help or hinder.

When learning to ski, most skiers have their focus directed either well into the future. Where am I going, what’s ahead, where’s my instructor, how am I going to turn?  Or well into the past, how did I do, was is correct, how do I improve? So many skiers are toing and froing between the future and the past.

That’s fine when the environment, the snow texture and terrain is constant such as well groomed blue and red runs but as you move into all-mountain skiing where the terrain and snow texture begin to change, every second, every milli-second, every nano-second a ‘now’ focus is required.

‘Now’ focusing means you’re focusing on what is happening to you, not what is going to happen or what has happened. Skiers who are focusing well into the future or reflecting on the past are compromising their ability to adjust to the changing and variable conditions.

The requirement to be ‘now’ focussed in changing conditions however does present a conflict in all-mountain skiing as safety issues require a focus more into the future. Where am I going, where are the islands of safety, terrain traps, line, convex slopes?

Great all-mountain skiers have therefore learnt to switch focus very quickly hundreds of times in every run between focusing on safety issues (future) and adjusting to the changes in snow and terrain (now). Or learnt to either direct the centre of the focus to the ‘now’ and the periphery to the ‘future’ or vice versa depending on the greatest need.

Leaving the safety issues aside just for a moment and looking at your performance you will begin to recognise that more or less every time you lose control in variable conditions it can probably be attributed to a distraction that takes your focus away from the ‘now’ (dealing with the changing conditions) to either the future (what’s going to happen), the past (what has happened) or something else entirely unrelated to the changing snow and terrain.

‘Now’ focusing is easy to say but not so easy to do as the number of distractions can be endless. Hazards such as other skiers, bumps, ice, bad visibility, trees, cold feet, tired legs, can’t see. Technical issues such as hands forwards, body position, width of stance and other technical information. Then we can have all the other stuff swirling around in our heads. How am I doing, how do I look, am I skiing correctly, what does so and so think of my skiing? So the distractions pulling you away from ‘now’ focusing are endless.

As adults we like to pre-empt what will happen then analyse what actually happened, toing and froing between future and past focuses and compromising the ‘now’ moment and the ‘now’ focus. We end up with analytical meltdown unable to just make simple changes and adjustments to a changing environment.

To ski in the ‘now’ you have to learn let go of all the stuff distracting you and just deal with what’s happening. An acceptance if ‘what is’ is required. Accepting ‘what is’ is no easy feat. We’re conditioned into expecting something to feel a particular way, conditioned into wanting to know the outcome before it happens, conditioned into analysing the result rather than accepting the result. Acceptance of the ‘now’ requires a retraining of how we think and learn. We need to let learning happen rather than trying to force it. We need to accept there are other ways of learning rather than listening to instruction and analysing the result. We all know children learn fast. Why? The answer is in the ‘now’.

Learn to bring your focus into the ‘now’ and you’ll be amazed how quickly your performance can start to improve. You’ll begin to adjust to changes in the snow, be able to slow down at will, push heavy snow aside, cope with ice, bumps and deeper snow. You’ll accept different feelings and sensations. Recognise there’s many different ways of doing things. You’ll even begin to feel like, if I dare say it, a child, experimenting and having fun.

Of course in all-mountain skiing safety is the major factor and this requires a ‘future’ focus. So you’ll need to learn when to focus on the ‘now’ and when to focus on the ‘future’. Future focusing can be done before you set off. Slope angle, snow texture, islands of safety, terrain traps. Make a plan before you set off so when skiing you can be dealing with and adjusting to the changing conditions (now) rather than filling your mind with other information. Of course things change as you are skiing and at times you’ll need to switch from ‘now’ focus to ‘future’ focus to check conditions ahead but this can be done when the conditions are more constant and you’ll begin to learn when and how to switch. Your focus will become as skilfully controlled as other aspects of your skiing. You’ll suddenly realise what skiing in the ‘now’ is all about and your skiing will develop a new life, one that is in harmony with the changing mountain.

Phil Smith is director of Snoworks All-Mountain Ski Courses. www.snoworks.com
Photo: Euan Gardiner, Snoworks instructor, skiing in the ‘now’

References:
Kung Fu Panda
Robert Nideffer’s Attentional Styles

All-Terrain (13) Backcountry (22) off-piste (23)