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Jump into the mind of freestyle skier Kelly Sildaru as she’s about to stomp
Freestyle skier Kelly Sildaru reveals on this extended episode of the Mind Set Win podcast the mental tactics that enable her to stay calm under pressure and win the biggest titles in her sport.
Kelly Sildaru has been landing flawless tricks and winning major freestyle skiing titles on the global stage for over a decade.
A child prodigy who started skiing before she could walk and who won her first of six X Games gold medals aged 13, the Estonian Slopestyle and Halfpipe star is known for her ability to stay calm under pressure and cope with whatever challenges occur on the mountain.
Listen to the full podcast here and read on below for some of the highlights.
Not freaking out is her biggest strength
“My biggest mental strength is that I can stay calm in hard situations,” Sildaru says. “I don’t freak out when something goes wrong.”
Being a world champion, Games medallist, and multiple X Games winner, Sildaru is experienced in stomping extremely technical tricks under pressure. The 21-year-old admits to being nervous before a major run but trusts her ability to remain composed. It’s a mental strength that enabled her to overcome a ski coming off during her second Slopestyle run in Beijing to still win the bronze medal.
I don’t freak out when something goes wrong
She can make decisions in the air
Explaining that factors like wind direction can change so many aspects of her trick or routine after setting off on a run, Sildaru’s calmness and concentration give her the clarity of mind to focus only on what she can control in the moment to give her a positive outcome. This also involves thinking about the situation in a positive mindset and only concentrating on solutions that present the best possible outcome.
“I’m not thinking about what can go wrong in that moment”, she says. “I’m thinking about how to make the situation safer and clearing the jump so I don’t get hurt.”
Visualisation is a key part of her routine
During her pre-performance routine, Sildaru uses visualisation and breathing techniques to control her breathing and focus on the upcoming task. Picturing herself successfully landing the tricks reassures her and raises her confidence levels at a critical time.
“It really helps me,” she explains. “It calms me down because it helps me remember that I’ve trained for so long, and I know exactly how to do the tricks.”
She trusts her gut and listens to her body
Sildaru credits having the mental strength to listen to her body with saving her from injury during her career.
If, during training, her body tells her she’s getting tired, but her mind is telling her not to go home until she’s perfected a new trick, the Tallinn native is able to trust her gut instinct and not put herself at risk of injury by repeatedly attempting difficult jumps and moves while not fully focused.
“You don’t need to rush. You need to take a step back, think it through, and then get back to your goal,” she says.
“If I go home and sleep on it, usually the next day when I return, it’s easier.”
Taking things step-by-step is effective
“I’m only thinking about one obstacle at a time,” Sildaru says. “I almost feel like there’s a tiny pause, and I can take a really quick moment before I have to think about the next one.”
After initially visualising the whole slopestyle run before dropping in, Sildaru changes tactics once she’s underway and takes a step-by-step approach to each obstacle. By fully immersing herself in one area at a time, she’s able to allow herself a split-second mental pause and reset before approaching the next one.
I’m only thinking about one obstacle at a time
Positive vibes only during rehab
In January 2023, Sildaru suffered a bad landing during a practice session and instantly knew she had another ACL injury, this time to her right knee. A long period of rehab, recovery, and time away from being out on the snow awaited her. Still, she’s refused to allow any negativity to creep into her daily life and instead uses the time to improve other areas of her performance.
“In rehab I tried to keep a really positive vibe and gee myself up a bit as I knew my knee would be OK again eventually,’ Sildaru says.
“When you don’t live up to the expectations you have before surgery, it can be really hard mentally, so part of my recovery has also been about working on my mental strength.”
Find out more – including simple exercises to do at home – in Mind Set Win.