Learning to Ski
This step-by-step skiing guide will take you through all the basics from getting down beginner ski slopes safely, to mastering the infamous black runs and their terrible moguls. We cover skiing technique in-depth from beginner to advanced with lots of handy tips throughout for skiers of all abilities.
Learning to ski is a gradual process. The first techniques that you learn are the safest and, most importantly, the easiest for beginners. As your skill and experience increase through practice you move onto a new set of intermediate techniques that will allow you to navigate the ski slopes at a faster pace with more freedom, before finally dealing with more challenging ski runs and bumps in the piste called moguls. The best thing about skiing is that it is an enjoyable experience at all levels. In this Ski Technique section we will be familiarising you with all the different stages so that, when you get on the slopes, you will be well prepared for what awaits you.
Curiously enough the first thing a skier needs to know when getting started is how to stop. A beginner may well career out of control and become a risk to himself and other skiers if he cannot stop his random descent. At all levels of skiing, a rapid halt can be not just limb saving but life saving. If all else fails throw yourself on the ground. Its only snow after all and as a beginner you need practice in falling down. It will probably happen a lot and it's good to see that it doesn't really hurt if done correctly. Even really good skiers may need do this as, once they're going at pace, it is the best way to bring an end to danger closing in at speed.
Skiing equipment is designed to let you fall. Your ski-bindings (which connect your boots to you skis) should release when you fall, allowing you to crash into the snow without entangling your legs and damaging them. If ski bindings are set incorrectly, however, they will either not eject you (if too tight), which is dangerous, or frequently eject you unnecessarily, making you fall when you should not (if too loose). Ski instructors wary of being sued may be reluctant to help you out here, but lift operators often have a screw driver or pen knife on hand to lend to you. Adjust bindings by turning the screw 180 degrees at a time only. If that fails, get them looked at professionally in a ski shop.
Here are a few handy ski tips for falling:
- Fall sideways, try to land on your backside and not your knees. Always try and fall with your head uphill.
- Go with the momentum - being relaxed when falling reduces the chance of muscle sprains.
- Bring yourself to a sliding halt by bringing your legs down in front of you and digging the edges of your boots or your skis (if you still have them) into the snow. Stopping as quickly as possible is crucial as you don't want to run into hard objects, including other skiers. Also, you are going to have to trudge back up the slope to recover lost equipment and skis are much more fun going downhill than up.
- Never use your poles to stop! This is not what they are designed for and this can cause injury if you run onto them!
Getting up again
Well if you want to master the art of throwing yourself on the ground, it is natural that you need to follow up with the art of getting back on your feet afterwards.
Getting back up can be complicated for a beginner. Stuffed into a ski suit with goggles plastered with snow, a ski pole dangling from each arm and feet weighed down with heavy boots and long skis, a novice can be forgiven for feeling a little encumbered. If you have fallen down, take a deep breath and remember these easy tips:
- Relax, you may be out of breath. Let your friends know that you are alright and take however long you need to gather your wits about you. Don't take too long though because sitting in the snow can get cold.
- If you still have both your skis on, manoeuvre your feet just down the slope below your backside so you are in a squatting position. From here take both your poles and put them together parallel. Place one hand on either end of the poles, dig the end of the poles into the snow just beside your uphill buttock and push yourself up on the poles and back into a standing position centred above your skis.
- If you have lost one or both of your skis, first of all retrieve them/it and sit down to clear the bindings and your boots of snow. One by one, fit the boot into the binding space while in the position described and follow the same procedure to stand up. This will place the requisite force through the boot in order for it to snap back into place in the ski bindings. If you do not clear your bindings and boots of all snow you run the risk of being prematurely ejected, resulting in the tiresome experience of having to go through it all again.
- If you fall in deep snow, off-piste for example you can arrange your ski poles in a cross formation to help you spread your weight across the snow surface and stand up again. If you have sunken in and or lost a ski you may need to flatten out a region of snow in order to get kitted up and on your way again.
Snowplough (also known as the wedge in the US) is the first skiing technique a beginner should learn. It allows a novice skier to descend and navigate the ski slope in a measured and controlled way. The snowplough is designed to go slowly so that beginners do not zoom out of control. Despite being a technique used primarily by beginners, the snowplough can be used by very experienced skiers in particular situations - under extremely poor visibility for example.
- Assume the basic snowplough position. Once assumed, this position is not altered until the end of your run. Point your skis inwards so that they meet at the tips in a V shape. Incline your knees in towards each other by gentling bending your legs and the outside edges of your skis will naturally dig into the snow. Arms should be relaxed in front of you, holding your poles with the tips pointing outwards, this helps to keep you upper body relaxed. You should be pointing diagonally down a gentle run, facing the far side and thus giving yourself plenty of time to turn.
- Now begin your descent by planting your poles in behind you and pushing off gently.
- Control the speed of your descent in snowplough by digging the inside edges of your skis in and widening the vee. Speed up again by relaxing the pressure through your legs but never allow the skis to become parallel, i.e. maintain the snowplough position at all times.
- Next comes turning. In snowplough the idea is to zigzag down the ski slope in slow, meandering turns that are initiated at either side of the slope. To turn put your weight through the upper most leg (the leg that is up slope). This causes it to dig in and forces you to turn away from the leg, i.e. down the slope. Keep that weight going through the leg and hang onto the turn until you have come right round and are pointing diagonally to the other side of the slope. You will have completed an almost 180 degree turn. As you push through your skis you will naturally bend your legs so, as you come out of the snowplough, turn and relax and then straighten them - they need a rest before the next turn! At first give yourself plenty of time to turn before you reach the edge of the slope. As you become more experienced you will know when to initiate your turn and make the most out of each diagonal crossing.
When doing the snowplough here are a few handy pointers to remember:
- If you learn on a dry slope you will find snowplough turning on snow ridiculously easy. In fact you will most likely over turn. Be aware of this when first getting on the snow and practice a few on the gentlest of slopes.
- At the very beginning of your snowplough experience you can place both hand on the knee of your upper most turning leg (the one you are putting pressure on to turn). This helps you concentrate your body weight where it is needed at a time when you may be overly tense and under-coordinated.
- Do not be tempted to swing your body into the turn. This is very bad form and can result in over turning and excessive tiredness. Let your legs do the work and keep the upper body relaxed.
- As you move through your turning arc, there will be a brief point when you are facing more directly downhill. At this section of the arc you will speed up. Do not panic, accept this as a normal part of the turn and continue your turn by keeping your weight on the same, uppermost ski. Tensing up and digging both skis in is counter productive and will only stop your arc just where you do not want it, causing you to move downhill rapidly.
- Try a longer and then progressively shorter periods between turns. Play with your snowplough technique, experiment and make it your own.
- Always look ahead of yourself at where you are going and not down at your skis. You may miss something important - wall, pole, tree, other skiers etc.
Stem Turns and Traversing
As you get more confident in snowplough you can begin to relax the stance a little by bringing your skis parallel as you move across the slope between turns. Moving across the slope in this way is known as traversing and this represents one step up from basic snowplough. If you start going too fast, you can always drop your knees in and force your heels out to adopt a snowplough position again. The other factor that affects your speed is the angle at which you traverse - a steeper angle obviously means a faster descent.
Experiment with traversing to broaden your skill:
- Try traversing with one ski lifted up. This can be be very useful if you have lost a ski and need to catch up with it as it slides off down the slope.
- Practice traversing at different angles rather than relying on snowplough to slow down.
The next step is to get into a traversing stance neatly after each turn. This turning technique is known as a stem turn, also known as a stem christie or wedge christie in North America. Stem turns are not used just by beginners. Faced with difficult circumstances, stem turns may be the safest option for advanced skiers in a number of scenarios. If visibility is poor, the slope is overly fast due to adverse weather conditions, or a combination of factors make it dangerous to engage in more advanced techniques, then stem turns can provide the stability and control a skier needs to get to the bottom of the run safely. Here is how to do a stem turn:
- From the traversing position enter a wedge or snowplough position position to initiate a turn. You do this by forcing your upper most ski's inside edge in, dropping the knee inwards and forcing your body weight through that leg, much like in a snowplough turn. The small difference is that the downhill ski remains neutral - it does not need to be pointed inwards like in snowplough. Now keep turning in what is basically the same shape as a snowplough turn.
- As you are exiting the turn, allow the downhill ski to drift parallel to the other so you are in a traversing stance. You have now done a stem turn.
- Traverse across the slope and re-initiate the stem turn again.
Here are a few tips you should remember when doing stem turns:
- The faster you go the easier it is to do a stem turn.
- Dig the edges of your skis into the snow to make the stem turns cleaner.
- As your experience builds you can initiate the stem turn later and later.
Parallel turns are the apex of skiing technique. With this skill in your skiing arsenal, you will eventually be able to handle the hardest of slopes - the infamous black runs. The idea of parallel turning is to allow a skier to perform rapid side-to-side turns in quick succession while travelling at high speed. In parallel skiing the skier is usually facing pretty much straight down the slope and changes the angle only to slow slightly and to navigate around objects such as trees, bumps in the slopes (known as moguls) and other skiers.
Unlike snowplough or stem turns, in parallel turns the skis always remain... parallel. It is a considerably harder technique but it yields the most impressive results. Parallel skiing takes a good deal of experience to master and should only be done by skiers who have first worked through the other techniques thoroughly. A novice or intermediate skier trying to show off with fancy parallel skiing without a solid foundation is a risk not only to himself but, more importantly, to other skiers.
Once parallel skiing is safely mastered, the true joy of skiing can be discovered. Whizzing down hill at speed, confident in your abilities to deal with a variety of terrain - the slopes are yours to discover! A truly polished parallel turning technique will make you stand out from the crowd. Here is how parallel turns are done:
- Before turning get your arms into the correct position. This will help your balance. Move your downhill ski pole in front of you. You should be holding both arms in front of your body where you can just see them out of the corner of your eye. Do not look at your arms, keep your eyes fixed on where you are going.
- Lightly flex your knees, keeping your weight central above your feet.
- Start to put your weight through the uppermost ski to initiate the turn. Dig the inside edge in to get some purchase on the snow.
- Maintain the other ski parallel by using the outside edge against the snow at the same time as lessening the body weight through that leg.
- Finish the parallel ski turn and quickly prepare for the next one.
There is nothing better than watching a well seasoned skier navigate the slopes efficiently with style. Work hard on your parallel ski turns and keep these tips in mind:
- Bear in mind that in parallel turns the uppermost ski controls the turn, making you turn and dictating the size of the turn by the pressure you put through that leg. Meanwhile the other ski keeps the direction of the turn clean.
- Keep your torso and head facing downhill as you make rapid turns. There should be a 'separation' between your trunk and legs as the upper part of your body stays relaxed, maintaining equilibrium while the legs do the work of moving you from side-to-side.
Moguls are bumps intentionally placed or left in ski slopes to make the sport of skiing more challenging and fun. You will generally find moguls on harder runs, called black runs, and they can be a variety of shapes and sizes. In order to ski moguls, you need to be a good parallel skier. Do not venture out onto moguls unless you have the requisite skill as they carry many dangers. The nature of large bumps means that other skiers (who may be descending at considerable speed) may not be able to see a novice in trouble until it is too late. The difficulties of skiing in moguls mean that it is easy to ski out of control and injure yourself by falling on uneven terrain at speed and from a height.
Once you have mastered quick successive parallel turns and red and black runs you may want to challenge yourself further. In that case here is a guide on how to ski moguls:
- Stop at the top and observe the mogul field in detail. Plan out your line of descent.
- In the beginning, use your poles as a guide. Plant your pole at the top of a small mogul and turn around it.
- Keep making short successive turns round the moguls.
- A gentle technique for skiing moguls is to ski up to the top of each mogul and turn at the top.
- Skiing only in the troughs is more challenging and requires faster turns, move onto this technique when you have mastered the other two.
It's easy for things to go wrong in a mogul field. keep these tips in mind at all times and you will end up having a lot more fun:
- Keep digging your ski edges in hard when turning to control your speed.
- Keep your body weight slightly forward. If you lean back it is hard to stop, if you end up leaning all the way back and sitting on your skis in a mogul field, you are in for a disaster! You can get stuck in this position and head downhill at considerable speed without the ability to stop or turn. If you feel this happening, throw yourself on your side. Keep your knees over your feet to maintain good balance.
- Keep your legs lightly flexed and your upper body relaxed. Your legs need to bend to absorb a bump as you come into it and then straighten (but not lock) as you come into a trough. If your legs are rigid you will jump from one mogul to the next with dire consequences.
- Carve around the moguls. Keeping your torso central, extend your legs as you dig in your edges to turn around the bump. The effect is the same as absorbing the bump, as your body will hang over the mogul once your skis go around it.
Basic Navigation with skis
There are many times when you will need to move around on skis but not actually ski. Sounds confusing? Well think about this - one cannot ski uphill for example, but you may need to move uphill to retrieve a lost item or help out a friend. You may find yourself in a tricky situation and not wish to surrender yourself to the mercy of gravity and slippery slopes, or you may simply need to get from A to B in a direction that is not downhill. Taking skis off and putting them on again is a laborious affair, particularly where snow is desperate to clog every nook and cranny in boots and bindings, so here are the techniques you need to know to get around on skis without skiing!
Sideslipping is a way of moving down a slope without skiing. It is invaluable if you need to get yourself out of a tricky situation. You have taken the wrong lift, for example, and find yourself at the top of a run you are unable to ski safely. Alternatively you may just need to move down the slope slightly to give yourself room to manoeuvre. Whatever the reason, sideslipping is not a beginners technique - it is a skiing essential. It is always taught to beginners, as the skill teaches you how to use your skis correctly in other situations. In sideslipping, the edges of the skis must be used to alternately grip and then release the snow. It is this same use of edges that will be used in all ski turning techniques.
How to sideslip:
- Stand at the side of the ski run facing directly across the slope at the other side. You should not be in motion. The upper edge of both skis should be dug into the snow. For this, your legs are lightly bent with knees inclined into the slope.
- Roll your knees into a neutral position, thereby flattening your skis against the slope. You will slip sideways, so use your legs to maintain the position of your skis and ensure you do not start traveling forwards or backwards.
- Stop your sideslipping motion by returning to position 1 again.
- Continue to sideslip in small controlled slips alternating from stopping to starting again. Stop whenever you feel yourself losing control or your horizontal line being broken.
Remember in side slipping:
- Never let the downhill edges dig in. If you do, you will go flying! To avoid this always keep your skis slightly inclined to the slope.
- Look downhill to where you are travelling. Do not follow the line of your skis.
- Keep your weight evenly distributed throughout your foot. Any imbalance here will cause your skis to turn and your slide will turn into a ski. This is what you are trying to avoid.
- Keep most of your weight going through the downhill ski to ensure a smooth sideslipping action.
- Try and practice sidetepping. Simply step the uppermost ski upwards as far as it is comfortable and then bring the other ski up to meet it. Repeat the process to keep moving up.
A herringbone allows you to ascend a slope on skis. Unfortunately you do not ski up the slope, it is more of a trudge. However, if you need to go back up a short distance with your skis on, the herringbone is invaluable. If you need to go a great distance though, you may want to consider taking your skis off, slinging them over your shoulder and walking.
A herringbone is a simple manoeuvre to perform. Here is how:
- Face up directly up the ski slope. Point the tips of your ski outwards in a vee shape with the tails meeting together behind you. Lean your weight forwards into the ski slope. The inside edges of your skis must be dug into the snow to grip and stop them sliding away.
- Lift one leg at a time, placing it a comfortable distance in front. Maintain your skis position, paying particular attention to the inside edges of whichever ski is the current weight bearing one.
- Move up the slope one step at a time.
Remember the following points when using a herringbone to get around a ski slope:
- As long as the ski slope is not too steep, you can use a Herringbone to ascend. If it is overly steep then you may find yourself skiing backwards in an uncomfortable reverse snowplough. In this case you should use sidestepping to ascend the slope.
- The herringbone gets its name from the pattern left behind in the snow as the skier ascends.
- The icier or harder the snow and steeper the incline the more you will need to use your edges.
- The herringbone can be tricky for complete beginners. If you find the herringbone annoyingly difficult, switch to sidestepping and revisit the topic when you have more experience on your skis.
Gone the wrong way and need to reverse direction quickly? Easier said than done when you have a great big ski attached to each foot. Unless that is you know how to do a kickturn! A kickturn will allow you perform a stationary 180 degree turn on skis. Sound marvellous? It is, and here is how to do one:
- Stand facing directly across the slope. You should not be in motion.
- Swing your downhill boot into the air directly in front of you in a straight legged kicking motion until your ski is vertical to the ground. Plant the tail of that ski into the snow just beside the tip of the other ski.
- Drop the tip of the vertical ski around to point in the other direction. Make it an angle less than 100 degrees to ease the strain on your ankles and knees.
- Using your poles for balance if you need to, transfer the weight to the ski you have just swung around.
- Quickly pick up the other boot and allow the ski to swing round in a normal fashion, horizontal the ground.
- Hey presto! You are facing the opposite way and can continue your descent.
This extraordinary looking ski manoeuvre may seem simple enough but there are a few points to bear in mind when thinking about kickturns:
- If you have any physical issues such as knee problems it may be best for you to avoid kickturns.
- Keep your body weight back against the slope. You don't want to fall forwards while your skis are pointed in different directions!
Ski Jumps and Tricks
The very pinnacle of skiing skill is jumping. Spinning through the air in multiple planes while performing daredevil acrobatic contortions is a truly impressive feat and best left to the professionals. However, if you are an intermediate skier and a bit of a daredevil, there are a range of ski tricks that look a lot harder than they really are. Let's take a look at some of the most popular ski jumps around.
The standard ski jump
Before you start anything too fancy you need to become accustomed to jumping on skis. This is something that will only come through experience so get practicing. Start with small jumps and work up to bigger ones. You will discover little bumps and inclines that can be used to jump all over the place in a ski resort. Remember where the good ones are!
It is easier to jump on short skis than long ones, so if you are really into jumping bear this in mind at the ski hire centre.
Here is how to do a a basic ski jump:
- Approach the jump with sufficient speed so that the incline will not slow you.
- Flex your legs, bend your body forward. Lean your weight into the jump as you go up it.
- Just before the top, quickly straighten your legs to jump up and get some extra height.
- In the air, remain relaxed and upright. Keep a slight bend in your legs to absorb impact when you land.
- On landing, try and get the tails of the skis down slightly before the tips. Absorb the impact of landing with your legs.
Once you are comfortable with flying through the air, you might want to try a few variations!
The Spread Eagle
This is a simple jump that looks nice and is fun to do. You do not need mega height for a spread eagle and there is a relatively low risk of mid-air entanglement should you get it wrong. Here is how to do a spread eagle ski jump:
- Use a ski jump to get some height.
- When airborne, split your legs to each side as wide as they can go with your skis pointing upwards at a 45 degree angle and hold your arms out to the sides.
- Hold that pose! The longer you maintain the spread eagle the cooler it looks. Alternatively a very quick open and shut motion off a smaller jump looks equally slick.
- Resume a safe landing position with skis facing forwards in plenty of time before you hit the snow again.
The daffy also involves splitting your legs but this time forwards and backwards. Because of the instability this causes and the fact that your ski tails will be pointing directly down, this is a much harder ski trick than the spread eagle. You need a higher jump and more mid-air body control to pull a Daffy off.
- Fly off a decent sized ski jump.
- Simultaneously kick one leg up and forwards and the other back. Swing your ski poles over your head and bend your arms behind you to get them out of the way.
- Maintain your position in the air for as long as you have time.
- Return to neutral in plenty of time to hit the ski slope safely.
Also known as the 360, this is one of the most difficult ski jumps to perform, as you can end up landing in an awkward position. However, if you can get it right, the helicopter is by far the coolest ski trick of them all.
- Approach the ski jump at medium speed. You don't want distance with a helicopter, you want control and height.
- Having decided long beforehand which way you intend to turn, initiate the spin just at the lip of the ski jump. Start by turning your head and your shoulders.
- If you time it right, the rest of your body will follow the circular motion as you get airborne.
- Whip your head right round again to complete a 360 degree rotation with it. You can now see your landing space before the rest of your body has completed a full spin. This is known as spotting and will let you know how fast you need to twist your trunk. Maintain your skis absolutely parallel throughout.
- Make a clean, firm landing and ski away to the rapture of all onlookers. Sweet!