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Canadian Mielzynski uses fear training to help her mental game on slopes

Canadian alpine skier Erin Mielzynski is pictured during Canadian Olympics media day in Vancouver, British Columbia on May 13 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Erin Mielzynski is not a fan of heights but she still tried diving from a 10-metre tower this summer. The Canadian skier also learned how to surf last spring and took on the waves along the Kananaskis River.

Mountain biking is not her forte but she was determined to give that a try too.

She calls it "fear training."

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The slalom specialist is hoping that pushing herself outside her comfort zone during the off-season will help make her more mentally prepared on the slopes.

"Our sport has to do with a lot of fear," she said Tuesday at a ski team availability. "There's fear standing at the start. Fear of not doing enough, fear of the speed. I mean, it's fast."

Mielzynski, 23, competed at the 2010 Vancouver Games and has two World Cup podium appearances on her resume. In March 2012, she became the first Canadian since Betsy Clifford in 1971 to win a World Cup women's slalom race.

She added a World Cup silver last season and has a shot to make a podium appearance at next year's Sochi Olympics. Mielzynski hopes that fear training will help her stay calm and focused when the pressure is heightened during competition.

"It's just about pushing your limits," she said. "Do one thing a day that scares you and if not, then maybe do two the next day. I think that's really important because it keeps you guessing, keeps you pushing and keeps the love of the sport alive."

Mielzynski, who trains for five hours each day, felt invigorated after trying new things in the off-season.

"When I'm going down fast and I'm avoiding rocks and things, I have to be so aware of what I'm doing," she said. "Even though the fear is there and the heart rate is high, I still have to be aware. And that's the same with skiing.

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"The gates are coming at me so fast and I have to be aware."

Mielzynski, from Guelph, Ont., competed in the season-opening giant slalom event last week in Austria but didn't advance to the second run. It was not her specialty event and she had a late start, but she still found it to be a valuable experience.

She was also pleased that her mindset improved before the race and during the competition.

"It seemed like training and that's what I've been striving for for the last two years in a race," she said. "Although my results didn't show what I wanted them to, it was nice to stand in the start and (now I) feel confident going into the next races."

She's learning to feel afraid and to make sure it's a positive thing.

"There's always an element of fear," she said. "It should be there. If you're totally comfortable, it's not right. But you can learn ways to get around it.

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"Sometimes it's not thinking so much, it's just getting in the start, pushing out of it and dealing with whatever you have to deal with."

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