Yes folks. It’s already March 1, and time to roll out the Long Road speech. Why? Because the ski racing calendar never changes…because the day before yesterday in Stowe a group of U-16’s sat through the agonizing selection announcement to hear who made it to the Promised Land of “Easterns”…because the day before that a lodge full of U-12’s and U-14’s in New Hampshire endured the same thing in state championship selections…because at the end of this weekend the U-14’s in Vermont will get their turn at Judgement Day…because on the long road this annual selection ritual—which takes place in some form all across the country—means NOTHING, yet in the hopeful hearts of kids living through it, it means EVERYTHING.
As I was slinking out of the lodge before one of the all-important selection announcements a coach noted to me under his breath, “Worst day of the year.” Just because we know the brutal honestly of ski racing teaches valuable lessons, it doesn’t make those lessons any easier.
Recently I’ve been thinking of a theme closely related to the Long Road mentality, and it is this: You have to go slow to go fast. Our first reaction, when things aren’t going well, or when we feel behind, is to try harder. We buckle down, we fight harder, we grind deeper. We run faster without looking where we are actually going. In ski racing, and probably in most anything, this is counterproductive. That urgency to make up ground often means going straighter at the gate, diving into the turn too early, abandoning the outside ski before it reaches full power. Reinforcing bad technique is like doubling down on a bad bet. In reality, it’s often better—though counterintuitive—to slow down, take a breath, assess the territory and proceed with deliberate steps.
When you look at top ski racers warming up for a race or a training session they progress methodically through a set of movements in highly controlled turns. Likewise, when they find themselves in a performance rut they have the perspective and discipline to ratchet it back and re-master the basics. Eventually, this instinct will come from racers’ own experiences, but first they need to see it and learn it from those around them. That’s where older racers, coaches and parents come in. We can all help support developing this instinct with an unwavering commitment to the basics of good skiing, and to the Long Road mentality. Ultimately, skiing as fast as your potential is about restraint, and taking the time to do things right. When you go slow to go fast you have the time to:
- Reconnect with all the people and things that make the sport FUN for you.
- Learn how to ski well first, and then learn how to race.
- Play other sports, and give your body time to recover, from training or injury.
- Rest and recover, physically and mentally.
- Learn how to ski the right line in SL vs lean in and reach for the gate.
- Have rock solid fundamentals in the technical events before moving on to speed.
- Freeski a ton to develop a bigger repertoire of moves.
- Reinforce fundamentals—and recapture your stance and balance—instead of beating your head against the wall in gates.
- Race only when you are ready to enjoy the experience.
- Did I mention having fun? It’s why we started this sport. Go do it!
That list is just a start, and we all have our own scenarios. No matter what yours is, know that going fast can look like many things. Before it looks like a red hot streak of wild abandon, it looks like a slow motion replay of patience and discipline. And that, my friends is the 2017 preamble to the Long Road. Read it if you need it, or pass it along to someone who does. Let’s all take a deep breath and enjoy the crazy, busy, beautiful sprint that is March.