Steep shots: Skiing confidence helps in other parts of life

Emily Palm is back in the saddle with a new column about on-mountain confidence.

By Emily Palm

Last Sunday after the coldest (and first) chairlift ride of the day  at Arapahoe Basin, I caught an edge and found myself skidding down the icy top of Pallavicini’s cornice. I’d never slid so far before self-arresting, catching myself just before the drop into The Spine.

Despite intellectually knowing that falling is an integral part of trying and that my tumble was low-consequence (had I not caught myself, I most likely would have slid to a non-icy spot to more easily stop), it certainly shook my confidence first thing. Rebuilding the assurance necessary to charge down the hill, drop that knee, and have fun playing with the mountain got me thinking about the vital role confidence holds in skiing.

To clarify, confidence is not recklessness. Sometimes the latter mingles with bravado and muddies our perceptions of what it means to extend beyond our comfort zones. Rather, self-assurance in our abilities — and taking calculated risks that lead toward growth — is what I’m talking about here. In this regard, skiing changed my life, as lessons learned on the slopes can’t help but transfer to daily existence.

The best thing I ever did to improve my ski confidence and ability was to hit the slopes with a supportive group of people who were better than me. First off, the camaraderie in skiing with great folks certainly enhances the experience. It is also easier to explore new terrain and push your limits when with an experienced group.

The second best thing I ever did for my slopeside confidence was to ski alone. In the beginning of my love affair with skiing (I was a late bloomer, falling for the sport—pun intended—my freshman year in college), going alone gave me time to practice each newly learned technique at my own pace. With such practice comes expertise and her wonderful sidekick, confidence.

Years later I made the switch from an alpine setup to telemark. The same precepts that helped me to become a competent alpine skier have again helped build my free-heel confidence. My second full season in, and I’m proud to say I drop the knee on almost every slope (still working on doing the full tele turn in tight trees on steep aspects).

After my tumble atop Pallavicini at A-Basin , I got up, shook off the graupel, and carried on. It was the perfect day to lap the Pali lift, and you know there’s ample snow when Gauthier is open. Soon enough I was back in the saddle, the third most important component of fostering confidence on the slopes.

On the spectrum of risk tolerance, I’ve always been on the more conservative end. With pushing the envelope in skiing come great and wonderful rewards, for example, the almighty steep and deep powder run. I have to say, boldness on the slopes has yielded a bolder me. Learning that sometimes you fall, but also that you’re a mere traverse from a terrific run, has conditioned my ability to summon up the courage to follow other fulfilling pursuits.

Telemark skier and freelance writer Emily A. Palm Mulica lives in Golden, Colo. Check out her Web site at & follow on Twitter and Share with her your favorite joke at


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