On the flat
- Familiarisation with boots: run around in your boots both on the spot and in a circle. The boots may feel quite restrictive but there is some play in them which is important. Try pushing your knees over your toe piece as you look at it. This is what’s known as flexing the ankle. Now try and stand on tip toes. This opens the ankle up. It is important to be able to do both of these in skiing.
- Familiarisation with skis: Put one ski on and shuffle it back and forth to try and get a feeling for the slippy sensation of snow. Now go in a circle with the ski on the outside. Try putting on two skis and shuffling them back and forth both alternatively and together. Try lifting one ski off the snow and then the other. Notice how you have to move your body to stay balanced. Try turning round a full 360 degrees pivoted first around the tails of your skis and then around the tips.
- Develop balance and agility: whilst trying to stay balanced in the centre of your skis, bend down and touch your toes and then stretch up and reach for the sky. Try also the fore/aft exercise mentioned in the beginner section. A good way to test if you are centrally balanced is if you hop your skis off the ground. Your whole ski should come off the ground at once. Try doing this. A tip is to not look down because this disturbs your balance. Instead, look up at the horizon line. Now try and jump just the tails of the skis and then just the tips. This all gives you a better understanding of your balance as well as general better agility with skis.
On the move
- Staying balanced on the move: the skill of staying balanced while skiing is similar to that when on ice skates and any other sport where you balance on a moving platform. The aim for you should be to hold the athletic stance while sliding down the hill. In order to do this consistently, you will need to practise skills that develop your balance and agility while sliding. Try repeating the exercises you did on the flat while on the move. The important ones are the fore/aft, the hopping of the skis, and the ankle flexes.
- Skip, hop and jump: on the flat try stepping into the plough shape and feel for the weight transfer in your feet. You should be able to feel all the pressure on the insides of your feet. Notice also how, when you make the plough, your feet come out from under you and your legs rotate to point inwards. Try now to jump into the plough from parallel and then jump back again. Try also just giving yourself a little push with your poles and brushing into the plough making sure the brushing is even on both feet.
- Wedge changeups: this exercise strengthens your overall plough as well as enabling you to control your speed. Here we are going to assign a number for each size of the plough. Number 1 will be a plough with the smallest width and number 5 with the largest leaving all the others at in between values. Losing your poles here is also a good idea, as it stops you trying to control your speed with them. Start off in plough position number 5 (so you are stationary). Lean forward slightly to start yourself moving and then gradually start to relax the muscles holding the plough. This will cause the plough size to start decreasing. When you are picking up quite a bit of speed, maybe at plough size 2, then you can gradually start to work those muscles again to increase the size of the plough. This will start to slow you down again. When you reach number 4, let go again to about 1 then gradually come back to 5. You can play with your own variation of this. The important thing to realise is that the size of the plough directly affects your speed.
- Tail jumping: this exercise is slightly trickier. It involves rhythmically jumping the tails of your skis off the ground whilst going down the mountain. The hardest part is trying to maintain the same size of the plough when you land. Rhythm plays an important part in more advanced skiing.
- Throwing and catching a glove: if you have someone else with you, it is a good idea to throw a glove to them on your way down and catching it from their throw later. This tests your coordination and reactions as well as keeping your eye line horizontal. People tend to look at their skis when learning but this means that you cant see where you are going…which could be dangerous and also, it tends to free your skiing up a bit when you are doing it automatically.
- Point the arrow: the first thing to try in plough turning is to imagine that the plough is an arrow and to simply try and point the arrow in different directions.
- Big toe, little toe: try the exercise given in the beginner section for feeling the big toe and little toe pressure. Have a go at it on the go, trying to push your left foot little toe and right foot big toe against the sides of your boot for a left turn and vice versa for the right turn.
- Rotational separation: this exercise is designed so that you initiate your turns with your legs and not your shoulders. This helps your balance in later stages of skiing. Try holding your poles in front of you and the cross the ends so that the baskets stick together. You can then put the pole handles under your arms. You should now be in a position whereby there are effectively two arrows. One for your upper body and one for your lower body. This explicitly shows the rotational separation. You should aim to focus on one point in the distance, directly downhill of yourself, with the point of your poles. Now when you are turning on the slope, you should stay focused on your point in the distant. This should provide a clear picture of what I mean by rotational separation. The arrow that your poles form should be fixed down the fall line whereas the arrow that your skis form will be constantly changing direction and misaligned with the other.
- Counting: our next aim is to hold the steering effort for longer so that we will eventually be able to control our speed through turn shape. To do this, you will need to count how long you hold the steering effort for. That is how long you can feel big toe little toe pressure. Each turn try and hold for 1 more second. E.g. “turn, 1… turn 1, 2… turn 1, 2, 3… etc”. Eventually, you will hold the steering effort for long enough to turn back up the hill and stop. Here instead of using our own energy to resist gravity (i.e. in a plough), we have used gravity to stop us by turning back up the hill. This is much more efficient skiing.
- Pedalling: After you have tried linking some turns, try to feel which foot feels more pressure at the end of each turn i.e. the downhill or uphill foot. You should find that you feel more weight on the downhill foot at the end of each turn due to the forces acting on you causing your upper body to shift more towards your downhill foot. This effect is good because the extra weight on that ski allows it to grip in the snow, so you don’t slide down the hill out of control. This becomes much more important on the steeper slopes so we want to enhance this effect. To do this you will need to be balanced on the uphill ski at the initiation phase of the turn and stay balanced throughout the turn, so that this ski becomes the downhill ski. This allows maximum control throughout the turn. I like to think of it like pedalling on a bicycle. You put your weight on one pedal, then there is a transition stage, then the weight transfers to the other. It is a continual process, so make quite a few linked turns without stopping. This rhythm will help. Have a go.
- Pressure control and blending: for this we use vertical movement i.e. flexing all joints at the end of a turn and stretching at the initiation. This should not be done in a sudden manor. It needs to be a gradual stretch, reaching your maximum height just at the fall line, then a gradual flex reaching your smallest position at the end of your turn. This may also help blend the other movements together for you. Get some practice.
Basic Plough Parallel
- Go faster: make the width of your plough smaller and go faster. This will help lighten the inside ski because the forces pulling your body to the outside ski are greater. The inside ski may go parallel automatically at the end of the turn for you. Don’t worry if it doesn’t at this stage.
- Knee rolling: now try to roll the knee of your inside leg, so the ski goes flat. This will help you to turn the ski to parallel.
- Little toe: the next step is purely the rotation of your inside leg. The exercise mentioned in the main beginner section is useful for this. Make sure that your rotation is pivoted about the centre of your foot so that the distance apart your skis are does not change. Remember to steer back into a plough at the initiation of the next turn.
- Mantra: a mantra is a little saying you have to yourself to help you remember what your doing whilst skiing. A good one for this might be “balance, roll, steer” where you first balance on your outside ski, then roll the inside knee, then steer the inside ski to parallel. This becomes more natural at slightly faster speeds so try not to do it whilst going too slowly.
- The clock: for this exercise, the stages of the turn become analogous to a clock. You should be making your skis parallel at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. We now want to try and steer the inside leg to parallel firstly at 9 and 3 o’clock and then at 10 and 2 o’clock. No extra movements are needed for this except that you will need to steer your inside leg to parallel faster. To aid you with this, a tip is to make a smaller wedge when initiating and to link lots of turns together so you are able to get into a rhythm.
- Side slipping: this skill practises the simultaneous edge release. Stand at right angles to the fall line and roll the knees together down the hill. This will flatten the skis and allow you to slide sideways.
- Railing: this skill also enhances your control of the double edge release. Here, you can find a relatively low gradient slope and head straight down it but try to gradually roll the knees from one side to the other. You should be able to look back at your tracks and see two sharp distinct lines in the snow.
- Simultaneous two footed steering: you can practice this in a number of ways. One is if you are on a chair lift, you can try and rotate your legs in unison one way then the other. Another is to take your skis off, sit down and get a friend to hold tightly onto your boots while you try and turn them. The resistance here gives you a good realistic feeling.
- Directed extension: to help you become more stable in the initiation phase, try imagining that your belly button is a magnet and is drawn towards the tip of your downhill ski. This can be done while extending and rotating the legs but remember that your upper body does not want to lean into the slope so it remains still while the lower body is extended and directed.
- Pole plant: a pole plant helps to add rhythm and timing into your skiing. However, if done incorrectly, it can hinder your skiing. It is important to hold the poles out in front of you at a height where you can simply swing the whole pole with a swing of the wrist. Note I said wrist not arm. If you are swinging your arms to swing the pole, you will be put off balance. Your pole needs to be swung before the initiation phase so that when your skis are flattened, there is a third point of contact for extra support.