Zones of Comfort and Fear – Performance Skiing

The contents of this post have been incredibly important to my ski and golf teaching.  I have also used the concepts here for other types of athletes and performers. I labelled zones of comfort, performance, and fear in my own sports growing up IMG_1111.JPG(Motorcycle racing 1978-82, Surfing 1981-1992, Track 1986-92, and Cross-Country) I have found that several others have moved in parallel with these ideas.  I first shared this with my students around 1992.  In the mid 90’s I started meshing some of the terminology and ideas of John Phillips from Aspen Mtn. I honestly don’t know where my original ideas end and others began.  And for the learner’s sake, it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that these ideas are simple and work well if used during a learning process and the student stretches their personal comfort zones.  When I have the opportunity to have an “Adventure Lesson” with a skier I like to create a syntax in which the skier and teacher can communicate.  I call this the Zones of Comfort and Fear.  

All Zones are relative to the individual.  They are not necessarily Green, Blue, and Black runs.  They are influence by skier/rider ability, experience, and mental state at the time of assessment.  They can also be influenced by terrain conditions (powder, ice, moguls, etc), Traffic on the run,  and Time day (visibility, fatigue).  Furthermore, these zones are not fixed.  For example, a blue mogul run at some point may have been a yellow zone activity, however when the student gets comfortable with blue bumps it eventually turns green. It is also important to note when a participant is standing above a run and looking in, the “fear of the unknown” can be quite strong.  Once the skier/rider “takes action”, there will usually be a 1/2 to 1 zone drop in anxiety.

I remember a few times I’ve told myself, “Mind you can tell me how scared I was when we get to the bottom of this run.  I will listen to you.  Until then, body… do what I have trained you to do”.

Green Zone – Comfort/familiar  This is the point to add to the participants knowledge base.
An instructor can share and develop new movements, and exercises/drill in this zone.  Learned and Activity knowledge can be co-developed in this range. This can be considered to shallow end of the pool.  Remember that “a sailing ship is safe in a harbor, but that is not where sailing ships were meant to be sailed.”
Optimal Performance Zone – OP Zone- Knowledge and developed skill in conjunction with stress/arousal creates an optimal performance zone for the athlete/performer. I monitor this zone in my golf game with an optimal heart beat. (My golf Zone Hb is 85-98).  It is higher with skiing.  I enjoy spending time with my student in this area.  If I can pace the lesson properly we can stay here for an extended period of time.  I will also try to “Anchor” feelings, emotional states, and performance queues while we are in the OP Zone.  “What are you seeing?”  “What muscles are firing?”  “What thoughts do you have?”, etc.

Yellow/Thrill Zone- High State of arousal.  Some of my students talk about this zone as the “Yellow – wanna pee my pants” zone. Depending on the performer this range may see an elevated “fight” performance throughout the thrill zone. They perform well. They thrive in this zone.  Others may encounter a “flight” response as they move through this zone.  These “flight” skiers would prefer to finish the lesson segment and go back to their green zone.  A skilled instructor may be able to keep their student performing in this zone by encouragement, focus on the activity, and/or anchoring of the experience.
An important part about this zone is to realize that either response should be noted, as well as performance.  All results should be applauded NOT criticized at that moment. Some feedback can be given and should be given as an observation. i.e. There is an up-unweighting/extension movement at the beginning of the turn, rather than the absorption/flexion movement we have been developing.  The instructor can move back to the “green” or OP zone to work on skills that need enhancing/correcting.
In a learning environment the student/instructor would be best served not to spend an extended length of time in the Thrill zone.  Much like the driver who keeps their car in 2nd gear at High RPM for extended period time, excessive wear can be created.  Balance learning among Green-OP-Yellow-Orange zones.
Orange Zone – Think of this as the beginning of the Red Line in a car, or anaerobic in workout.  An instructor or coach can help manage the anxiety which is inherent within this level. An instructor/coach’s presence, words of encouragement, tactical advice, and reminder of goals/incentives can all be beneficial to the learner. In fact, this is an important reason top athletes hire coaches. They help the athlete focus when their world is “spinning”.
A skier can play here for a little time, but extended exposure to this mental state will start to see significant performance deterioration. A skilled coach can move the skier between the OP Zone-Yellow-Orange which will expand these zones outward.  The terrain or situation which was once orange, can become yellow, or even green with a few journey’s into that environment. This can also be viewed as the peak of an Adventure lesson.  Celebrate the effort and the experience rather than just the performance.  Most of our skiers are not peaking for the olympics or a major performance. They wish to move beyond what they have previously accomplished. Instructors and coaches can help a skier rapidly expand their skier’s vision and ability by venturing into the OrangeZone.  However, skill must be taken to select environments in which the skier may decompress back to a “safer” zone quickly if necessary. In most cases it is best to celebrate it without critique, but exposure to this zone is important for the skier to grow.  This zone also provides fantastic stories for student to share with friends and family during apres-ski!
Red Zone –  If a person steps beyond the optimum performance and thrill zones they enter a “danger zone”. 
Performance will decline rapidly as higher levels of anxiety or discomfort occur.  Sometimes lessons go here without the intent of student or instructor.  We sometimes call this “TF’ing” the student.  If at all possible, it is to be avoided.
After a Red Zone experience, it is often advised to go to a “GreenZone” run to decompress. Then you can build back toward the OP Zone.
I like to introduce these concepts to my students.  If I am planning an adventure lesson with a student either today or in an upcoming lesson
The reasons are three-fold:
1) Allow them to experience what is going on and identify these states
2) Allow us to have common language to describe the mental state of the skier/rider
3) Set a gameplan for understanding my feedback, and the reasons we are moving from zone to zone.

Skiing on a Monday in Breckenridge

I greeted Monday morning to sunshine and comfortable temperatures.  But here in Breckenridge we love Mondays.  There is more room to ski and you can just about ski right onto the lifts. 

Midweek days are usually fun to teach on because the folk who ski often have taken their vacation to ski.  January 11th was just such a ski lesson with Dave A. from the Highlands Ranch area. Dave took advantage of the new Adventure Session product with Ski School.  This session is offered for between 1-5 guests, and starts at 9:15.  It is not designed as a lesson but rather a guide around the mountain. A buyer of this product usually isn’t able to request an instructor for this product.  
I met Dave about 9am, and he had a few terrain goals.  Being that he was a Level 7 skier, I had a few ideas. When I saw that he was up for being an “All-Terrain” 7, we were off!  
We warmed up on upper 4 O’clock from 6-Chair on Peak 8 (P8).  We slipped around to the Front Bowl (Horseshoe Bowl) so that I could determine his comfort level.  We used a Green, Yellow, Red model to help me determine his level of “mental” comfort on certain terrain.  When we dropped in the snow was very good.  From there we skied the “Swamp”, then headed over to the T-bar.  Dave did well across Front Bowl area.  He told me that he had thought of skiing from the top of Imperial Bowl “12,900” and he wondered if he was able.  After seeing him ski and knowing a few things about skiing people from the top, we loaded the chair. In 4 minutes we were on top of the world.  Pike’s Peak was in clear view (90+mi away).  We skied the ridge, then reloaded the chair. Now it was time for the Imperial Bowl itself.  We entered and took bite size chunks of the bowl  By the time we were half way down the comfort level was high and we skied all the way down.  We skied a few runs on Peak 7, including Ore Bucket.  We took one more run off the T-bar, then had a few more runs before lunch at Spencer’s on Peak 9.
After a short but tasty lunch we headed back out to enjoy the bluebird day.  It was gorgeous on the hill.  We headed over to Peak 10 for a few runs.  We took a look out on the “southside”, then skied Cimarron and DoubleJack.  Great times.  With a few pointers Dave was skiing very well.  As our legs began to tire, we headed back to P8 for another Imperial lap.  
It was a great day to play on the mountain with temps in the 20-30s, and nearly cloudless skies.  We skied about 19,000 vertical feet by the end of the day.  That was a good Adventure Session. Thanks Dave.

1st Silverton, CO trip

Arrived home after a quick ski trip to Silverton, CO. I expected a big mountain, a slow 2 person chairlift, a quiet mining town, and plenty of hike-to-terrain.  All of which we found.

Silverton, CO is about 5hrs from Breckenridge, CO. Chang W., Lucy W, and I left Breckenridge about 1pm and arrived about 6pm in Silverton on Wednesday. 


  The drive from Ouray to Silverton is pretty incredible.  Have the best driver in your car handle this winding mountain road. It is a spectacular drive to say the least.  The drive from Durango is much easier, although the last 15 mi of that drive is pretty thrilling as well. The drive was relatively easy, although significant storm activity could create a much longer drive.  
We stayed at Villa Dalla Valle, an est.1901 historic home and now Bed and Breakfast.  We arrived to wine and cheese offered to us by our host Pam W.  We will look to stay there again on our next trip.  We will also bring our guitars as they is an extra room to get a little rowdy and play some music.  Summer is the busy time for Silverton, as the Durango-Silverton railroad makes 4 daily stops and brings 2000 visitors a day to the sleepy town.  After dinner at The Pickle Barrel, I used the hot tub at Villa Dalla Valle and stretched by legs out.  I wanted to be ready for the mountain.
In the morning after a nice breakfast with Pam, we headed to Silverton Mountain which is about 15 minutes from the town of Silverton.  It is suggested that you arrive at 8:15am to check in.  I would suggest to be their by 8am if you need to rent any ski/ride equipment or avalanche gear.  You can leave your skis, boots, and remainder of your equipment in the parking lot prior to check in.  The walk way from the lot to the “base tent” can be very slick.  Less to carry the better.  When you get to the base tent you can rent any additional gear that you require. Then go into the “equipment bus” located out the door and another slick walkway.
Checking in early will serve you in a number of ways, and is not due to delays or slow service, but rather it takes time to get your way around this “base area”.  Arrival prior to 8:10 will most likely get you a parking space right in the small primary parking lot.  The rest of the parking is on the main road.  (TIP) And since you usually get a ride back to the base area via bus/shuttle/or pickup truck and they drop you in the parking lot you can use your vehicle as storage each time you loop through the parking lot.  This came in handy at lunchtime. We chose not to reserve a lunch and bring our own. The base tent will have your lunch there if you pre-order it.  Otherwise, there are some snacks and basic bar in the tent.
Required gear:
Avalanche Beacon
Avalanche Probe
“Required” Gear:
Wide skis 100+mm underfoot
Backpack with the ability to carry your skis/snowboard
Water (only bottled water for purchase available at Silverton Mtn.)
And a good night’s sleep
Photo Album
There is a guided and unguided season for Silverton Mountain. We were there on the final unguided weekend. They offer a maximum of 450 unguided skiers/riders, and 80 guided
 visitors.  Those meeting for guided tours meet in the parking lot (at the base of the 2 seat chairlift).  Arron Brill (owner) did a quick sort of Fast and Medium hiking speeds.  
The 80 guided visitor limit was filled.  2 moved into the fast group, and 78 classified themselves as Medium/moderate.  Our group was originally 7, although 2 moved to a faster walking group on the second hike.  
Kim G was our guide for the day.  She asked about our shovels and probes in our packs.  We went through a brief safety check of our avalanche beacons. After which we went up for our first run (9:05).  Our first run didn’t require a hike. We skied a bowl on an east facing slope.  The snow was decent, but only a few inches of Powder.
 It was still a good one to get out of the way.   Our second was a 25 min hike about 25 minutes below the “Billboard”.  It was tough for some members of the group as we were hiking above 13,000ft at this point.  I don’t usually hike with a backpack, but I would say that a good pack to hold your skis or board, snacks and water is all but a necessity.
On the second run, Kim found some very good thigh deep snow in the “Witch’s Tit”.  I jumped in first and triggered a little sluff slide, but it was very minor and provided some nice fresh track opportunity.
After a brief 20 min lunch we went back up and skied over to “Coloradoian” and looked into the “Stooges” on one side, and the “100 acre woods” on the other.   Our fourth run was in “Sunset” below the Billboard area.  There is much more to explore, but it will have to wait until next time.  Most likely the next time will be March 3-5th.  
If you plan on skiing Silverton Mountain, be 
prepared to hike above 13,000 all day.  The mountain is open from 9-3:00 and 4-6 hikes is about average. We had a great time, but one of our party had a very bad afternoon reaction to the altitude.  Bring your water and drink often. Although the only “facilities” are located in the white outhouse behind the base tent.
Call in advance for guided skiing.  With Silverton Mountain becoming more popular the spaces are filling quickly. The bulk of the season is guide only.  And although the unguided season is popular for the value shopper ($49), the $129 price tag for a guide and lift is very fair.  
When I spoke with Kim she let me know how they guided and skied the mountain during guided only season.  The mountain has a number of zones which are progressively opened Thursday through Sunday.  Each zone is then “Farmed” to get max usage over the course of the week.  Assuming there has been recent snow, this should provide fresh tracks for those who make the trek to Silverton, and the hike up Silverton Mountain.
We also recommend having a little cash on the side for the guide, especially if they help you find the goods on the hill.    And if possible, ask for Kim.  She is also a guide in Alaska Mid-March to early May. 

Ski Lessons in Breckenridge – December 20-29, 2009

Lessons for Ski and Snowboard have been busy over this Christmas holiday.  I have also been transitioning from Futures and Dollar Index Trading back to equity options and teaching skiing. In addition we have been growing the instructor database, and growing our Web 2.0 reach via Twitter.  You can actually follow us  @MySnowPro or me personally @JonnieLaw on Twitter.

Thumbnail image for P1000911.JPG
I say that to say… “I have been busy”, but I wanted to share some photos and videos from the past week in Breckenridge.  The T-bar, Falcon, and E-chair are open and skiing pretty well.  One or two more storms should do us a world of good. is planning a trip to Silverton Mountain, CO for a fun trip ($285).  Arriving on January 6th and Skiing 7 & 8.  Two nights (bed&breakfast), Two days on Silverton Mtn (1 day guided, 1 day without guide), 2 Breakfasts included, Wine and Cheese after skiing, and a ski movie on Thursday night.  I will also be taking all video and photo clips and putting our personal ski movie together. 
But more important that the future, here is some of the fun I shared with students over the past week.  I have had the good fortune of skiing with many new people this Holiday period.  Here are two lesson from the a week ago.
And here is a slide show from my day with Sherry and Valerie.  We spent much of our day finding intermediate runs away from the Christmas rush. You can double click on the slide show to go to the individual photos.
I was also blessed enough to ski with the Smith family from just outside of Aberdeen.  What a pleasure.  We met in a Level 8 class in Breckenridge, and skied a private lesson two days later in Vail.   We started at Vail Village and immediately made our way to the Northwoods (chair 14) area before the people found it.  I skied with Sue in the morning.  After lunch Emily, Rachel, Patrick, and I skied SunDown for a few runs.  Whistle Pig, then several runs in Game Creek Bowl.  It was a very afternoon route in which we found some very good winter snow and “Hero bumps”.  The theme of the afternoon was to maintain similar pressure between the skis and snow throughout the turn.  We improved as the day went on.
Breckenridge still has another busy weekend ahead, and I have a Birthday tomorrow. So no rest ahead, although I can’t wait to Ski Silverton Mountain next week. We still have some space available, so if your are able to join us we would enjoy having you.

Ski Tips from the Devil

Ski Lessons from the hot house.  Some say, “No snowballs in Hades!”  I beg to differ.  I will sit upon your shoulder and tell you a few of my favorite shortcuts for skiing better. But first, allow me to share where I received my idea for this topic.

I was listening to Scott Fox‘s podcast with Jack Humphrey.  Jack wrote a post “Blog Promotion Tips from the Devil”.  I found it to be an interesting approach to the subject. 

lil' devil.jpg

Basically the opposite approach of many writers in getting a point across.  What about the random ski tip in leu of ski lesson given by well meaning friends or family members?

Those who ski often may have heard of “The Intermediate Rut”.  This is a point in which the skier’s current technique prevents them from skiing Advanced to Expert terrain without the “skill or grace” enjoyed on the blue terrain
As I listened to the podcast, it struck me that Ski Tips from the Devil would fit well in the realm of the ski & ride instructor.  So often, well meaning friends give advice of which they know very little.  Specifically, how to ski well.  Usually these ski tips get passed down from person to person with their own little spin. 


Prior to writing, I decided I should do some leg work and research the subject. Where to go to find those knowledgeable about the subject at 5:30pm?  A local ski/ride instructor watering hole  Quandary Grille in Breckenridge!  
There were quite a few “devils” willing to share their stories.  It was fun to knock one back and talk about a few war stories on the hill.  
When reading over these, realize in many cases they are band-aids to a real underlying skill deficiency in one’s skiing.  In the case of equipment choices or off snow choices it is just listening what others have told them.  Ignorance in it’s most innocent sense.
Here are a few of our choice tips (6+6+6=18)
1) Push your shins into the front of the boot, and edge more to slow down
2) Just “duck the rope”.  The snow is better on the other side.
3) Turn your head and/or shoulders in the direction you want to go
4) Always lean back in powder, and lean forward when you ski
5) Use your poles to push away from the lift
6) Wear two pairs of socks to keep your feet warmer, and stuff your jeans into your boots
7) Place the metal snap on your snow cuff between your boot and shin as a positive reinforcement device.
8) Use the “Texas Tuck” to help you go faster across the flats
9) Impress your friends with jump tricks whenever possible 
10)  The “Texas Suitcase” or the “Houston Handbag” are the best methods to walk around with your skis and poles
11)  Turn with your knees, and keep your feet close by attaching the boot’s velcro straps together.
12) Let your friends “teach” you how to ski, and teach spouses and significant others whenever possible.
13) Once you “learn” how to turn and stop, you are ready to go to the top!


14) If one beer at lunch makes you ski better, two will make you ski GREAT!
15) Your instructor doesn’t want a tip.  “Cheers!” is reward enough
16) 1990’s (faded) Neon will make you more attractive to the opposite sex.
17) Surprise your fellow chairlift riders by immediately pulling down the safety bar as the chair leaves the station.
18)  If your legs are tired at the end of the day, lean against the rear boot cuff and take an extra run.

Socialism Defined

This is from an Anti-Obama email I received.  Before I start with the email, the reader may know that I voted for Obama.  In my opinion, he was the best person for the job between our two main choices.  Although, my first two choices did not make it to the Republican Presidential ballot. Furthermore, I believe the premise of “Obama’s Plan” is not accurate.  Changing the health system is an imperative.  Although, I believe it can correct through business incentives rather than Congressional laws and regulations.  I don’t believe pure “equality” is the objective of the administration. But rather the “equal opportunity”.  And these are two very different things. 
I would also recommend that the reader take the time to read or re-read Atlas Shrugged.  Especially the chapters regarding the 20th Century Motor Company.  The concept is very relevant to the professor’s “expermiment” below.

Here is the professor who ran the experiment.It offers a very good lesson.


An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never
failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire


That class had
insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one
would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said,
we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s

All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the
same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. 

the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who
studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were

As the second test rolled around, the students who studied
little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a
free ride too so they studied little.  The second test average was a D! No one
was happy. 

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. 

scores never increased as bickering, 
blame and name-calling all resulted in
hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told
them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great,
the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no
one will try or want to succeed. 

Could not be any simpler than that.

Here is 1 of 6 of John Stossel’s take on Atlas Shrugged (Fox)

DewTour event in Breckenridge, December 19, 2009


I taught all day and had a good time with the Level 8 class.  The evening Skier Halfpipe is an INCREDIBLE event. Several thousand people smiling and excited for the event.  The athletes rose to the challenge.

My favorite Xavier Bertoni was awesome, but Josi Wells and Mike Riddle were better.  There were 12 finalists and I can certainly admire their go for broke approach.  The entire weekend event was awesome.
The temperatures were very pleasant and very little wind.  My wife “let” where my Christmas jacket early.  The Mammut jacket is like wearing a -40 sleeping bag.  I loved it!  And prior to heading over to the pipe we spent a little time enjoying the warmth of the Grand Lodge at Peak 7.  
I tried to get a few shots from different vantage points, and I succeeded.  The bottom of the pipe was high energy.  Since the kids couldn’t see, we decided to move it to the top of the pipe.  I love watching the athletes mentally prepare for their run.  Visualization is key.  Training and athletic ability is essential.
In case you missed the first post from the Freeski Halfpipe Qualifier, enjoy it.

1 Mike Riddle 93.00
2 Josiah Wells 91.50
3 Xavier Bertoni 90.75
4 Kevin Rolland 87.75
5 Justin Dorey 82.50
6 Simon Dumont 81.00
7 Matt Duhamel 76.25
8 Banks Gilberti 67.75
9 Dan Marion 60.25
10 Matt Margetts 50.2
11 Thomas Krief 46.00
12 David Wise 14.25


I hope you enjoy the video.  It was fun to shoot, and I feel it came out reasonable well.  

Breckenridge 09 – DewTour

P1000576.JPGThe Dew Tour is hitting Breckenridge. A tent city of swag is in the Base area on Peak 8.  Lots of cool stuff, including GoPro HD Cameras!  I made it there for Skier Halfpipe Qualifiers.  48 men trying for 9 spots in the Prelims (friday), who will eventually qualify for the finals on Saturday night under the lights.

There will be a number of exciting park and pipe events.  I for one am in awe with regard to how these athletes put their bodies on the line.  The back to back tricks they pull is quite impressive.
I don’t have must time to type this out as I have spent a little time putting a video together to better show the time I was on the hill today.
Here is a slideshow using the photos of the day.

Thankful Thursday – Breckenridge style

A few internet friends are creating a Circle of Thankful Thursday.  I like this idea.  I like it a lot.  We all have the ability to create heaven or hell on Earth.  Some people think one must wait to visit these places.  I believe it is in your power to create either one.  


How does one create these alternative realities.  It is based on our beliefs.  What have we come to hold as true.  I have the ability to generate a great day.  One in which ideal situations attract to me.  I also have the ability to create a rotten day.  This is to say, I have the God-given ability to respond to situations in anyway I see fit.  I have the ability to manifest my reality.  I choose Heaven.  The writings of Don Miguel Ruiz resonate with me at a very high level.  
This morning I woke early.  I was pleased to see the market down and the dollar up.  Yes, I was please.  Crazy huh.  Why… well in trading I have positioned myself for the US dollar to benefit from a sideways to up moves.  And I have positioned myself to profit from the Equity Mkts to be sideways to down. If I am wrong, so be it.  I limit my losses and move on.
I wake up to trade which I love.  I then move on to teach skiing, which from this blog I obviously enjoy.  This afternoon was shared with my son and daughter who are joys of my life.  And tonight I went to visit friends and teammates with our PrePaid Legal Business, which is a product I believe everyone in North America should own.
It may have been a full day, but it was a full day of doing things in which I enjoy.  A day I could have said, “Whoa is me.  I have worked for 18hrs today.”  However I chose to say.  “Wow, what a life.  I am going to fill up my day.  Then rest, and do it again tomorrow.”

Into the swing of things – Breckenridge Dec 12 & 13 lessons

Many of the local skiers are still in training mode as we prepare for a real snow fall.  We are looking at the upper mtn wishing for a few big dumps.  It will come.  Breckenridge has had the temperatures to make snow.  We have had the winds to blow snow into the bowls. We just need some more snow soon.  Contest Bowl did have a brief opening on monday.

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