I feel pretty safe claiming this phenomenon applies to everyone from intermediates to super-experts. You’re out on a good pow day. Maybe it’s even a sick one. But you’re just not feeling it. Something is not right. Your gut knows that basically, fundamentally, you are off. It hasn’t really manifested itself as a distinct problem yet, but it will. Your tips are crossing, you’re almost going over the bars, and you feel like a doofus. Nothing is happening instinctively. Everything feels forced. You’re all over the place. It’s just a matter of time before the first wipeout. Then the next one. Shit, you only fall four or five times a season. Maybe you should pack it up and go home before you get hurt. Even your wipeouts feel stiff, awkward, and spastic. Can’t anything go right?
Then there’s this, the much preferred flip side. The in-the-moment, dialed-in, can-do-no-wrong, sweet spot of mind-body Zen oneness. The Zone. Your reflexes are instantaneous. You are without thought yet fully aware. You enter and live in every split second, knowing that if you step back and take a look, you’ll lose it. This is the way it should be all the time. Everything’s in sync. You’re in perfect harmony—flying on autopilot—and you’ll remember this as one of the best days of the winter.
The irony is that despite the vast performance gap you feel between these two kinds of days, from your buddies’ perspectives it looks as if there is no difference at all. Faint is the line between success and failure, victory and defeat, bliss and despair. Except when it’s your own nagging, neurotic, self-doubting, Christ-I-really-do-suck self. (In almost three decades of shooting photos, I’ve always found this pathology irrelevant with pro athletes. The camera doesn’t know—or care—whether they feel they’re in the groove or not. It has no emotion. It just records.)
Skiing boils down to your ability to stay in the moment—which sometimes is completely out of your hands (or legs) due to uncontrollable external factors. Yes, a slip in concentration can have devastating consequences everyone can see—and laugh at. But most of the time your self-evaluation is harsher than those on the outside looking in. So you might think you suck one day. Or just as likely, you might think you’re the man. But rest assured it’s probably neither. You’re just you, and it’s just another splendid day sliding down a mountainside.