FEAR: An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

FRENEMY: Someone with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.

TRANSLATION: We hate fear, but it can be our best friend. So, yes, fear is awful, useful, an enemy, a friend in need. Most snow sliders know it well. How well? We asked you a simple question: What’s your biggest fear on the slopes?

More than 200 of you answered:

• Overly aggressive skiers/boarders. I’m capable of taking care of myself but can’t protect myself from others who ride too close (just like driving).
• Turning a corner at speed to find a gaggle of snowboarders sitting in the middle of the run!
• Rocks hiding under a thin base coat.
• Heights. Super high chair lifts.
• Colliding with/hitting/hurting a child.
• Flat Light. HATE IT.
• Can’t stand high lifts. I avoid trams and chair lifts without safety bars. I avoid resorts that don’t have safety bars on their lifts.
• Avalanches.

Here’s how to address some of the more common fears of skiing and snowboarding:

Fear of Avalanches

fear on the slopes

PHOTO CREDIT: JonoTakesPhotos /

Let’s start with the biggie — avalanches. As I write, the High Sierra is still reeling from the death of a sixty-something skier who, if reports are accurate, ducked a rope, skied a closed chute and either triggered or was triggered by a big, deep tsunami of white. Tragically, that was his last run. Ever.

So. Fear of avalanches is real. How do you deal with it?

Let’s start with the best avy advice I ever got, delivered unto me by the former head of Ski Utah, Mark Menlove. “Wanna know the best way to avoid avalanches? Don’t ski where avalanches happen.”

Think about that as a life lesson. Wanna avoid a bar brawl? Don’t drink at the joint where there’s a fight a night. Yes, it’s true that there are occasional fights in church and it’s also true that avalanches don’t always stay in avy zones. Still, you greatly improve your odds if you stay away from the places disaster is most likely to strike.

You can further improve your avalanche odds by not ducking ropes, not skiing closed trails, not ignoring the waving arms of the ski patroller. It’s also a good idea to call the local avalanche-alert number before you decide where to spend the day. And let folks know where you’re going to be at noon and at 4 p.m.

Here it is in a nutshell: Avalanches are real; fear of them is a friend. Keep out of their neighborhood.

Fear of heights/high lifts

fear on the slopes

Since I also suffer from acrophobia, a.k.a. fear of heights and high lifts, I have some unasked-for expertise in the area. And a solution that works to the high-lift problem.

The worst lifts by far are those that sail over crevasses with no safety bar. The problem isn’t that you’re going to fall off — not when you’re holding on for dear life — but that you feel like you’re going to fall off. Trust me, I know the feeling all too well.

But there’s a solution. You can trick your mind into thinking there is a safety bar. Here’s how: Take your poles and slide the tips under the chair’s metal arm rests. Then press the shafts against your stomach. The visual effect plus the body pressure combine to persuade your brain that you’re safe and securely held in. Works for me — I predict it will work for you.

Fear of flat light

fear on the slopes

PHOTO CREDIT: Kris Kendall

Again, you are not alone — flat light is most skiers’ least favorite weather condition. You can’t see where you’re going, so you lose your orientation. And your nerve.

And again, there is a solution. This one has three parts: Get low. Get slow. And get to the side of the trail.

Get low. Bend your knees to bring your torso — and your mind — closer to the snow. You’ll see more and feel more in touch with the snow under the soles of your boots.

Get slow. If ever there’s a time to slow down, it’s in flat light. Instead of figure-11ing, work on perfecting your turns.

Get to the side. The worst place to be in flat light is in the middle of a ski slope. Why? White to the left, white to the right, white in front — it’s a recipe for disorientation. But if you head for the side, you now have upright, vertical markers beside you, otherwise known as trees. It’s like the trick of looking at the horizon on a rocking boat; that helps stave off seasickness. In a similar way, those trees in your peripheral vision help relieve flat-light disorientation.

Want more fear solutions? Share your biggest fears in the comments below.

Buy in advance and save up to 80% on lift tickets at!

Jules Older’s ski book ebook is SKIING THE EDGE. His ebook of travel misadventure is DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE.

Both are filled with fearful adventure and misadventure.

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Sub-Categories liftopia / Ski & Snowboard

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