Everybody has a few technically bad habits. When you first start skiing, you have so much to think about, that you are bound to develop a few. As you improve to intermediate level and beyond, you tend to bring a couple of these bad habits along with you for the ride. Some have only a slight effect on your skiing, some can add a little individual flair and some will simply prevent you from ever truly skiing well.
In this article, we focus on some of the more common counterproductive habits and give you a few tips about how to break them.
1 – Backseat skiing
Essentially, backseat skiing is leaning too far back and is about as useful as backseat driving. Absolutely everyone is guilty of this at one point or another, but left uncorrected, it leads to all sorts of problems.
Firstly, it’s utterly exhausting. Go and stand with your back against a wall and bend your legs just over 45 degrees. Now hold it for a while, your thighs will start to burn in no time. Imagine repeating that all day, for a week. Yes, it hurts.
Secondly, control over your skis is greatly reduced. Your turns become less sharp and controlled because you aren’t using the ski tips to grip the snow at the beginning of your turns. This means you need more time to complete the turn, leading to increased speed and reduced control. People who lean back are also significantly affected by lumps in the snow and can be bounced around. This instinctively makes you lean back even further until you eventually fall onto your bum and wash out.
You might be leaning back if:
- You have a shin splint-type pain
- You frequently fall backwards
- Your thighs are burning or hurt excessively the day after skiing
- You find it difficult to pick up your inside ski to change edges
How can you fix this?
The key lies in your ankles. Even if they feel trapped within stiff ski boots, giving the impression that they’re unusable, they remain the most crucial joint in your body for skiing. It’s essential to relax them and let your body’s weight rest on your shins against the front of your boot. Ensure you can see your boot flexing, which indicates you’re doing it correctly. Proper pole plants and arm positioning are also beneficial. Furthermore, poorly fitted boots might be a contributing factor.
2 – A Call to Arms
Arms are an afterthought for most skiers. Loose, low arms are a common sight on slopes around the world and are often the hallmark of an average skier.
What’s the problem?
Flailing arms can cause a turn to be jerky and unbalanced. Droopy arms impede balance and will cause you to use excess energy and extra movement when you have to swing your arm up to make a pole plant. Having them down low also restricts them from moving freely, so your turns won’t be as smooth.
How can you fix this?
Put your hands out in front, as if you’re holding a steering wheel or about to hug someone. Your hands should be at about 10 and 2 o’clock, and you should always be able to view your elbows without turning your head. It may feel a little weird at first, especially if you’re used to keeping your arms down low, but you’ll soon start to feel the difference. Your shoulders and elbows shouldn’t swing but should stay fixed.
If you’re skiing faster or carving, it helps to spread your arms even wider to maintain balance and control.
3 – Myopic Mistakes
Short sightedness in skiing isn’t anything to do with your eyesight (or lack of). It is more accurately described by the absence of foresight.
In skiing, it occurs when you’re only considering the turn you’re making, rather than what’s coming a turn or two down the line.
This prevents you from utilising the whole piste to maximum effect and is also what leads to situations that you are not prepared for. For example, that huge lump of snow that unexpectedly materialises in front of you and sends you sprawling or the ice patch that causes you to suddenly (and violently) lose your edge.
How can you fix this?
Often, sports that involve movement via skis/boards/skates etc, induce the desire to look down. A quick glance isn’t usually detrimental, but too long means you have travelled a fair distance without checking ahead.
Aim to look ahead horizontally in the direction you are travelling in rather than down towards your skis. Keep shifting your gaze around. This will help your balance, keep your body position in neutral, and in turn, improve decision making. When you see where you want to be, your body is prepared and moves accordingly. You’ll pre-empt what’s coming subconsciously in your head and body.
4 – Swing if you’re (not) winning
A distinguishing feature of advanced skiers is their ability to keep their upper body’s orientation separate from that of their feet. The lower body, from the hips down, should rotate more during turns, while the upper body, from the hips up, should remain somewhat aligned with the fall line, always anticipating the next turn ahead.
Do you find yourself ending each turn facing the side of the piste?
You’re swinging your shoulders.
Using your shoulders to turn requires a lot of energy and throws you off balance, leaving you to spend more energy and time recovering in order to make your next turn. Also, it only works on groomed runs. If you want to move off-piste or just tackle ungroomed pistes better, you need to be able to separate your upper body from your lower body movement.
How can you fix this?
An easy exercise is to take your poles and hold them in both hands, across your body at chest height. Try to keep them oriented more towards the downhill line than your lower body while making turns. In short turns, they should feel like they’re facing down all the time. As you increase the turn radius, they will start to face the side more, but always less than your feet, knees, and hips.
5. Avoiding ski lessons
It’s understandable that if you can ski relatively well, you don’t want to spend the time or money on lessons. But many people associate the term “lessons” with beginners and lower intermediates, so they stop and therefore stagnate.
These people are totally and utterly wrong. If you are serious or curious about becoming a better skier, then getting lessons/coaching is a must.
We’ve given you an exercise or tip for each mistake, it may work for you, or it may not, but a good instructor will have dozens of tricks and solutions to every problem up their sleeves.
Yes, many skiing instructors will have a lower level of qualification and will teach exclusively at beginner/lower intermediate level. But there are qualifications that cover everything you can hope to achieve on skis and most resorts ensure they have a good range of instructors to cover every need.
How can I fix this?
It’s all about perception. Many people see the term “lessons” as something that people who don’t know what they are doing have. They don’t want to bracket themselves in that group. The trick is to look at it as coaching, which at intermediate level and up, would be a more accurate term. Footballers from the grassroots level up to professional, all receive coaching, as do most sports for that matter. If it’s good enough for them, why not you?
You don’t need to spend your whole holiday with an instructor once you can negotiate most slopes comfortably, but if you want to unlock your potential, then getting a few hours of lessons/coaching/whatever your ego wants to call it, is by far the most effective way to improve.