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Overcoming girlfriends fear of exposure/vertigo problem

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 
Sorry for the long post, but my girlfriend has been skiing with for about 5 years now, maybe ~10-15 days a year, but has been stuck on the green and easier blue runs. She's had a few lessons and has developed decent beginning/intermediate technique of an almost parallel turn with a little bit of wedging at the initiation. She really like skiing, but is becoming frustrated with being stalled out at that level.

The other day she got up the gumption to try her first black run. She's generally a pretty fearless athletic person, and will go out windsurfing in 35+ mph winds without fear (after only 3 years on the water) and mountain bike down some steep stuff even while bleeding from large scrapes. This run though she went completely rigid picking her way down the black run (Face at Mt. Hood Meadows, which is pretty mellow as advanced runs go). She would turn just fine and then panic and throw her poles out in front of herself to stop.

Afterward we talked about her experience and it turns out that she has a huge fear of exposure/heights/vertigo problem. She says that even on a green run she feels like she's going to just fall off the mountain, and that everything looks like a vertical cliff to her.

That lead us to figure out that the reason she's stuck with the partial wedge isn't lack of technique, but rather that turning her skis into the fall line is terrifying and she instinctively wedges up to try to slow down. She wants to get over this phobia and move on to better skiing. Maybe it's that she grew up on a tropical island, so mountains are a completely unfamiliar environment? Any advise on getting past this?
post #2 of 31
I always consider equipment first. Be sure her boots are adquately supportive...not too big nor too loose. She really needs the control.

Be sure her skis aren't too long/stiff nor too advanced. Wide skis are a drawback here, also. Skis that are either too soft or too demanding won't give her the best control. She needs boots that easily put her skis on edge, and skis that turn her easily when they're put on edge.

After that, all I can think of is to get her making smooth, round, parallel turns on terrain she finds to be easy. With those good turns, work her comfort level up as slowly and reliably as possible as you very gradually increase the difficulty of the terrain. If snow conditions become difficult, ease back on the terrain. Get her convinced of the benefit of skiing in a good position with her weight forward and over her outside ski...head and shoulders downhill, center of mass over the outside ski, hips slightly uphill across the skis. Outside hand & shoulder low and back, inside hand & shoulder high and forward. Of course, if she has her weight back on her heels, she's doomed. The Ski Coach helps reluctant skiers find a good position. One good drill for good skiing position that gets her skis on edge for control...hold both poles like swords...stretched straight out (way out) to the sides like extensions of the arms. Ski linked turns on easy terrain with both baskets contacting the snow all the time. Do this a lot until she can hold a position somewhat like the exaggerated position required with the poles outstretched. Have her notice how this puts her skis on edge for control. Rolling her ankles to give more edging is a big help. Gradually increase the pitch of the hill she does this drill on.

You say that her technique isn't the problem, but better technique gives her more control. More control expands her comfort zone. She needs to understand the paradox...if she works her edges into the snow very aggressively, she has the control she needs to ski as slowly as she desires. Learning good skiing position puts her skis on edge for control. Every slope looks like a cliff is she doesn't feel that she has all the control she'll ever need to handle that slope.
post #3 of 31
My take on people like your girlfriend is that they are the smart people and we are the crazy ones. Get her a copy of Mermer's book - In the Yikes Zone (I hope this link gives Epic credit for the referral). If Mermer's book can't help your girlfriend overcome her fears, it will at least get her started.
post #4 of 31
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the input. The Yikes Zone looks like a good start. Her equipment is appropriate K2 T9 Reflex 155's and some boots fit by the best shop in town. She need to angulate a bit more, but other than that her turning technique is pretty good. I really think this is all in her head.
post #5 of 31
Nexus6,
Your girlfriend and I have some things in common. I am now much less afraid (not free of fear but moving more in that direction). I think SoftSnowGuy's advice is excellent and so is that of theRusty (Mermer Blakeslee's book is excellent!).
Her turning technique may look good to you but it can't feel good to her (IMHO) because if it felt good, she would start to feel more comfortable. For me, great boots have been extremely helpful (dramatic difference) but also getting excellent help to figure out what I needed to do (very much along the lines of how SoftSnowGuy describes it). Hearing explanations is one thing, understanding them is another and actually feeling for yourself where your body needs to be and feeling the difference it makes when you project yourself down the hill (sorry if that's the wrong term) is yet another level of understanding. When you realize that you actually have a lot more control when you are facing down the hill and moving into the turn, the fear goes away (at least for the pitches you've tried out).
I don't have vertigo, so your girlfriend's case may be slightly different. But I think, skill development and being able to feel it's impact ties directly to increased comfort/less fear.
post #6 of 31
Its clearly a question of confidence. I went through this with my wife.

I don't think it will be easy for you to get her over the hump on this. If you can do it the better course would be to have a couple of all day lessons (both of you together not just her) with an instructor who is not a hard charger but a teacher who inspires confidence. She must believe that he understands her ability and would never take her on anything she can't handle.

then if she can follow him, turn for turn, in a kintic way, it may get her over this quickly, assuming she trusts the instructor.

Just my experience, but maybe there are some instructors out there who have seen this.
post #7 of 31
Just something to think about. Had a friend that was a really good skier but could not handle traversing due to the vertigo thing and looking down. She could however ski these runs but would drop in immediately.

Maybe its worth trying some medium pitch runs where you can enter them quickly rather than having to traverse in.
post #8 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by nexus6 View Post
Sorry for the long post, but my girlfriend has been skiing with for about 5 years now, maybe ~10-15 days a year, but has been stuck on the green and easier blue runs. She's had a few lessons and has developed decent beginning/intermediate technique of an almost parallel turn with a little bit of wedging at the initiation. She really like skiing, but is becoming frustrated with being stalled out at that level.

The other day she got up the gumption to try her first black run. She's generally a pretty fearless athletic person, and will go out windsurfing in 35+ mph winds without fear (after only 3 years on the water) and mountain bike down some steep stuff even while bleeding from large scrapes. This run though she went completely rigid picking her way down the black run (Face at Mt. Hood Meadows, which is pretty mellow as advanced runs go). She would turn just fine and then panic and throw her poles out in front of herself to stop.

Afterward we talked about her experience and it turns out that she has a huge fear of exposure/heights/vertigo problem. She says that even on a green run she feels like she's going to just fall off the mountain, and that everything looks like a vertical cliff to her.

That lead us to figure out that the reason she's stuck with the partial wedge isn't lack of technique, but rather that turning her skis into the fall line is terrifying and she instinctively wedges up to try to slow down. She wants to get over this phobia and move on to better skiing. Maybe it's that she grew up on a tropical island, so mountains are a completely unfamiliar environment? Any advise on getting past this?
How experienced are you to be working with her on technique? If you're not experienced stop trying to work with her as you're probably wasting time for both of you. If you were to get her a lesson with a good pro, make sure the instructor knows what HER goals are, and at the end of the lesson she knows what she worked on - and where she worked on it. Ideally, a teacher should be able to to show very high level demos that result in very noticeably controlled skiing that she can comfortably emulate.

It sounds like what is lacking is confidence on all terrain - not just steep terrain. Easy terrain masks that lack of confidence. If I were her coach, I would take her back to EASY green runs and start basically from square one with her skiing - buy with a heavy focus on parallel skiing and carving. I would keep her on that terrain until she was proficient and comfortable on it (may take only a few days, may take much longer).

The drills and turns that she would start with would be easy - things that she could definitely do without feeling out of control or out of her comfort zone. From there she can be eased out of that comfort zone into more difficult tasks (not terrain) and higher level skiing, but before you have her jump to the next task you HAVE to be sure that she can handle it and that SHE thinks she can handle it.

Make sure the drills and turns are not for long sections of the trail at first. Force her to stop a lot. This will make sure she never feels out of control and she will be stoping A LOT. Practice makes perfect. Also - before you start having her make turns INTO the fall line, teach her to make turns OUT of the fall line. As it is right now, she doesn't turn into the fall line because she is probably afraid that she cannot turn out of the fall line.

If you want a list of some possible drills and fun games, send me a PM - and also let me know what your ability level is to be teaching her and I will target some drills that you will be able to effectively demo for her and still have her get some use out of them.

Later

Greg
post #9 of 31
Tbaussi: Just something to think about. Had a friend that was a really good skier but could not handle traversing due to the vertigo thing and looking down. She could however ski these runs but would drop in immediately.

I am somewhat afraid of heights and traversing steeps is probably my worst nightmare. I prefer to drop in as soon as possible to prevent my brain from panicking. I also have to focus around me and avoid taking in the vistas, so that I don't get the sense of height and exposure. I am an advanced skier with good enough skills to handle blacks (and reasonable double blacks), but that does not seem to help much.
post #10 of 31
HeluvaSkier, that was a REALLY good post. It is nice to see someone in these forums actually know what they are talking about.
post #11 of 31
Thread Starter 
Heluvaskier, I mostly agree with you and we usually stick with green runs for the reasons you mentioned. It's funny though, In most things she is a real charger and even after the black run experience she actually wanted to do it again (despite being in complete fear). I actually had to tell her that I didn't think it was such a good idea!

You maybe right that she is lacking confidence in her technique, even though she always seems to have complete control (maybe too much control?). The way i see it she needs to learn that doing her turns will result in her NOT falling from the mountain. Definitely PM me with some drills to try, once it becomes second nature and she sees that she really is in control hopefully her fear will subside.

As for my ability I've been skiing 30+ days a year for 26 years and have placed in the amateur division of an freeride comp, I ski in places like Mt Baker, Alta and La Grave, so my technique is pretty solid. However, I'm not sure I'm really the best one to be giving her lessons. I find that it's hard for me to relate what feels like second nature to me.
post #12 of 31
IMO, what she needs is a mental model of skiing and it's movements to believe in. She relies on the wedge, because she understands it.

She needs a pro to teach her why she is doing a drill and it's purpose. And not just "edging/rotary/stance & balance/pressure control" mumbo jumbo. But actually useful things, like weight transfer, control of fore and aft pressure, why we extend and flex etc. etc.....

Under pressure, we all resort to what we understand.
post #13 of 31
What Helavaskier wrote was right, but you can't do it yourself. If you are aware that she has a fear problem, she probably already associates you with that fear. You are part of the problem, and, in her eyes, you have no credibility to deal with it.
Get her a private lesson with an instructor who knows how to deal with fearful students (that includes any competent instructor), or a group program designed for dealing with fear.

BK
post #14 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bode Klammer View Post
What Helavaskier wrote was right, but you can't do it yourself. If you are aware that she has a fear problem, she probably already associates you with that fear. You are part of the problem, and, in her eyes, you have no credibility to deal with it.
Get her a private lesson with an instructor who knows how to deal with fearful students (that includes any competent instructor), or a group program designed for dealing with fear.

BK
Couldn't agree more about her needing to ski with an instructor. One time at Mt. Baker she was coming up Chair 5 (a chair with a really steep front side and mellow backside runs) while I was coming down the flutes under the chair. She said that after she saw me she had a panic attack and had to sit down at the top for 15 minutes just to calm down, so there's obviously something to that. Thanks everyone for the advice, just talked to her about it and she mostly agrees.
post #15 of 31
Besides what has already been said, it could be that she has no confidence because here equipment isn't up to the task. What make and model of ski is she using?
post #16 of 31
She ought to be here asking these questions. She sounds like she's an athlete with a decent head on her shoulders.

She may even want to confer with a psychologist about strategies she can use since it doesn't seem like it's simply a skiing problem. After that she can go to a ski pro and get the technique side to help implement them.

If you happen to live in Whatcom County you could PM me for the name of a really great counselor who also happens to be a killer BC skier.
post #17 of 31
My wife use to suffer the same problem. I remember riding up in the gondola at Steamboat with her, and she buried her head in her hands and simply would not look out. She lived in fear on chairlifts, we couldn't get the safety bar down fast enough, if it had one. Its amazing she stuck with sking at all.

While at a trade show one time several years ago she found a meditiation CD from an organization called Centerpoint, which interested her, but she wasn't thinking about her fear of heights, etc. She listened to it daily for 3 months, and felt like it helped her anxiety, but when we hit the slopes, she experienced no fear, and didn't even think about it until we were already going up on the lift. It was sort of surprise benefit which she attributes to listening to this CD.

BTW, she listen while going to sleep, so it didn't interfere with anything else she had going on. You might give it a try.
post #18 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ghost View Post
Besides what has already been said, it could be that she has no confidence because here equipment isn't up to the task. What make and model of ski is she using?
K2 T9 Reflex 155. It's an intermediate women's carver. Boot are Daebelo (can't remember the model) 4 buckle overlaps and seem to fit well. I don't think it's the gear. After the first season she went from rental gear to her own stuff and noticed a huge improvement.
post #19 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by nexus6 View Post
Couldn't agree more about her needing to ski with an instructor. One time at Mt. Baker she was coming up Chair 5 (a chair with a really steep front side and mellow backside runs) while I was coming down the flutes under the chair. She said that after she saw me she had a panic attack and had to sit down at the top for 15 minutes just to calm down, so there's obviously something to that. Thanks everyone for the advice, just talked to her about it and she mostly agrees.
Ahhh yes. I have been to this place.. some years ago I went through a panic attack stage, where I could not, just could not make a turn into the fall line, I would sit down, spin around on the ground and get back up again rather than turn. Only ever when my husband (who is the kindest most gentle man in the world) was with me, never with friends or with my regular instructor. BTW, I am a pretty experienced skier (20+ years) so it wasn't about not having the skills to ski.

I would suggest you find the right instructor, and try to get out of the picture for a while.
post #20 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by nexus6 View Post
K2 T9 Reflex 155. It's an intermediate women's carver. Boot are Daebelo (can't remember the model) 4 buckle overlaps and seem to fit well. I don't think it's the gear. After the first season she went from rental gear to her own stuff and noticed a huge improvement.
I'm not familiar with the T9 Reflex, but it sounds like it should handle intermediate terrain and speeds quite well. How fast would she be going on the steeps that give her the problem.
post #21 of 31
Fear is not an equipment problem, or a technique problem. I can ski anywhere in bounds, on rental skis doing wedge turns. If you are afraid because you do not have the skills to ski where you are, you simply don't belong there. When it gets steep, or frightening, you need to dial back your technique. Give up your Pure Perfect Carved Turns and do stem turns or step turns or sideslips or whatever it takes to get you through. You won't be able to use your amazing dynamic technique until you are comfortable with the pitch you are on. Part of becoming comfortable with terrain is getting in a little over your head, and when you do you need to use techniques you are confident about, not something you just learned yesterday.

BK
post #22 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bode Klammer View Post
Fear is not an equipment problem, or a technique problem. I can ski anywhere in bounds, on rental skis doing wedge turns. If you are afraid because you do not have the skills to ski where you are, you simply don't belong there. When it gets steep, or frightening, you need to dial back your technique. Give up your Pure Perfect Carved Turns and do stem turns or step turns or sideslips or whatever it takes to get you through. You won't be able to use your amazing dynamic technique until you are comfortable with the pitch you are on. Part of becoming comfortable with terrain is getting in a little over your head, and when you do you need to use techniques you are confident about, not something you just learned yesterday.

BK
Agreed. If her problem is due to a lack of confidence stemming from technique or inappropriate equipment, then it is not a fear problem. If it is truly a fear of heights, etc., then working with an instructor, or getting better equipment, will not solve the problem for her. However, if she works on the mental aspects of her phobia, she will be in a better state to improve her technique since she won't be distracted by that which frightens her.
post #23 of 31
I can totally relate, because I have a bit of the same problem. It's not fear of heights or dizziness, but this sense that I'm going to just pitch forward and fall all the way down. (Think holding onto seat backs while going down the steps at a stadium or crawling down from the top of the pyramid in Mexico City where the steps are only about 8 inches deep!)

Besides the excellent suggestions above, two more points. First, the advice to have boots aligned (not just fitting well) is really important. Pre-alignment, when I skied knock-kneed, it was very hard to get enough edge to feel stable and balanced throughout a turn. So, even though I was parallel turning on green and blue runs, there was a conscious and unconscious focus on balance. An instructor should be able to see if this might be an issue for your girlfriend.

Second, think terrain. I remember some blue runs at Snowmass that weren't hard but made me very uncomfortable because I could see ALL THE WAY to the base of the mountain. It may be less about steepness than about what you can see at the end of the run. Maybe a shorter steep run, or something narrower with trees hugging the side of the run? Kind of sneak up on steeper terrain that isn't visually intimidating.

Good luck and have fun!

DEP
post #24 of 31
fear of heights is hard to overcome because it is not exactly an unreasonable fear. losing it is not really adaptive from a natural selection standpoint.
post #25 of 31
wow my gf has the same problem.

at first i just thought she was lazy. but the she started crying and i stopped pushing her down the mountain lol. i tried being nice about it but that didnt work. the key seemed to be not letting her stop and look down.

kinda like that nemo movie..just keep swimming...just keep skiing, just keep skiing heh

not bad i took her from not being able to get down the mountain in 2 hours to skiing double blacks and tree skiing with me...although she doesnt charge the mountain yet im not waiting forever....love her for that
post #26 of 31
Get a lesson from Kristi Aserlind @ Meadows , she is the best in the buisness . and maybe try a different steep , the face is long and the run in can be funky . Try 3-d , titan or show off first .
post #27 of 31
Having worked with quite a few freaked out wives/girlfriends of other halves that are supposed to love them dearly, I have always wanted to turn around to the husband/bf and say "now you come with me". I would then take them to terrain that would scare the living crap out of them and afterwords inform them that this is how their better half feels everyday they ski.

Of course it is just wishful thinking, as i would never place anyone under undue risk.

Every individual has their unique time frame when it comes to how quickly they progress in skiing (if they progress at all) and the most important aspect of a skiing vacation is to have FUN.

I find it interesting that the junior skier is expected to upgrade their terrain instead of the opposite (for a decent period of the day at least)

Do your OWN thing in the morning, meet up for lunch and enjoy the rest of the day together. Just my opinion.
post #28 of 31
Disclaimer : I do work here , but I also truly believe in the product we offer .

Maybe this would help .

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I don't think vertigo is her problem , she is too athletic in other similar sports for that , I think her technique is just not solid . I would be scared too if I was stem christying down the black . Back-up a little , build some solid fundamentals and move forward again at what you are sure is her own pace . Nothing can be more detrimental than being pushed into steeper terrain , make sure its her idea .
post #29 of 31
nexus6,

Quote:
That lead us to figure out that the reason she's stuck with the partial wedge isn't lack of technique, but rather that turning her skis into the fall line is terrifying and she instinctively wedges up to try to slow down.
A women's fear clinic would be helpfull, I ski with Mermer often and know "the yiles Zone". Some really solid coaching on the green terrain will help her trust her skiing. It takes a series of lessons to start coping with her fear and gain trust in her self (and skis). Be patient. If that doesn't work, there is valium (just kidding).

RW
post #30 of 31
Or Grey Goose!!
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