The Power of Goal Setting

Durango Nordic athletes spent New Year's Eve skiing as far as they could within a three hour span in order to raise funds for the team.  Many discovered trails they had never been on before and several skiers more than met their distance goals.  Watching our athletes not only rise to the challenge, but also have a ton of fun while doing it got me thinking about how powerful having a good goal can be...

Goal setting is one of the most effective mental training tools an athlete can use to enhance performance.  With a couple races under our belts already and several more on the horizon, now is a great time to get motivated and set some goals!

I understand that thinking about goal setting can be intimidating for beginner skiers or those who are not interested in racing.  While goals are often race related, they certainly do not need to be.  Whether you’re a Winter Olympian or just started skiing this year, you can make goals about a variety of things, including technique, health, nutrition, or preparedness.

To learn more about different types of goals, which are most effective, and some useful strategies for goal setting, keep reading!

Types of Goals

Outcome goals are typically concerned with the end result.  Example, “win the race.” These goals are not entirely within an athlete’s control, as you can’t control how fast your competitors will ski.

Performance goals are focused on athlete performance, independent of the competition.  An example of a performance goal is, “Achieve a personal best time in a 5k.”

Process goals are related to the actions that will allow you to achieve a performance or outcome goal.  Example: keep hips forward and kick straight down while skiing classic.

Athletes are best served by setting goals for the variables for which they can control. While outcome goals can be motivating, they do little to enhance athlete performance.  In fact, they can actually hinder it.  If you’re focused on winning the race, you may give up as soon as you’re out of contention. Set and achieve process goals, which will often lead to accomplishing a performance goal, which will put you in the best possible position to achieve your outcome goal.

Goal Setting Strategies

A useful technique to use when setting both short and long term goals involves taking the S.M.A.R.T. approach.  Set goals that are:


Specific goals have a greater likelihood of being accomplished than vague goals (i.e. “do my best”).


Measurable goals are quantifiable.  You can set goals regarding splits you want to hit on a course, how many hours you want to train per week, or how many kilometers you would like to ski during the Ski-a-thon!


Goals should be able to be modified to reflect adverse conditions or unexpected circumstances. If course conditions are slow, a previously set time goal may be unrealistic.  Change the goal to reflect current conditions.


Unrealistic goals can lead to frustration or worse if repeatedly unachieved. However, there is a fine line between a goal that is too easy or too difficult.  Set goals that are challenging, but ultimately achievable.


Without a deadline in place, it is human nature to procrastinate. Give your goals a timeline or deadline for which you will achieve them by (i.e. be able to ski the entire North Loop without stopping by March 1st). It can also be helpful to set interim goals to keep you on track.

Examples of Process Goals

  • Be able to V1 comfortably on non-dominant side by end of season

  • Arrive at practice every day with the proper equipment

  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night

  • Complete a quality warm-up and cool-down for every race

  • Put on sunscreen before every ski

Happy goal setting!