How To Become A Better Skier
In my last blog article, I wrote about how there’s always more to learn and that one should never stop learning. This was a result of my own real life experience through my ski training this winter. Indeed, it was a notion that can be applicable to many areas of life, not just in snow skiing. But as I hinted at the end of that article, I’m was going to write another article for my ski students from my mississauga toronto ski club meetup group on how to become a better skier so here it is for everyone else’s benefit.
Here are the steps and approach that I take even after 40 years of skiing and into my 15th year of ski teaching. I recommend these for all ski students. These are the same steps that I take which gets me positive results in my own skiing each season.
Get Ski Training From Certified Ski Professionals
Many recreational skiers never take ski lessons after passing the Beginner stage. And yes, many rec skiers can ski down black diamond slopes but if you watch them come down compared to how ski instructors ski down on the same slopes, you will notice that they don’t look the same. You will find that it’s often the recreational skiers that look shakier, less confident, less smooth and graceful then the instructors. And they are the ones to slip and wipe out when snow conditions are less than optimal (icy or messy).
Skiing involves many unnatural skills which just cannot be self taught especially if one wants to ski down all types of slopes with finesse. Proper ski training is required in order to improve. Without it, one will just ski the same year after year without any significant improvement to technique. These are what we often call ‘Perpetual Intermediates’ who have plateaued in their skiing skills.
So yes, the reality is that if one wants to become a better skier, one must take ski lessons from certified ski instructor professionals. This is why even as an experienced ski instructor (currently a CSIA Level 2 instructor) who have taught hundreds of ski students at various ski clubs and two resorts, I still take ski lessons each season on a regular basis (from coaches with higher level certifications).
Even it you take only 1-2 lessons per season, you can still get important feedback on your skiing and how to improve in your technique. It’s no surprise that the most improved ski students we see are always the ones that take the most training through ski lessons each season.
Ski Many Days Each Season
Another important point not surprisingly is to ski lots. I always tell my Intermediate ski students that in order to get any significant improvement in their skiing, they must get in at least 15 ski days per season, with training of course. Ski lessons alone are not enough as one needs to take the time to work on what they have learned from each lesson.
As skiers go up the ski levels, it’s a fact that improvements become more gradual compared to when they were just Beginners. Changes at higher levels are harder to come by as many ski miles are required. I ski a minimum of 50 ski days per winter (last season I did 70 days). So ski often.
Ski Each Run With Purpose
A big mistake that many recreational skiers make is that they ski too casually. When free skiing, they get bored if going down the same ski slopes. They make the mistake that less steep and shorter runs are a waste of time (especially in Ontario). They claim that there is not enough challenge at smaller ski resorts.
The question I would have for them is — can they ski that short Ontario blue slope like a certified ski instructor? Probably not. So this suggests that if one cannot ski that blue slope as well as a ski pro, than that slope has enough challenge, if it is skied with purpose rather than just casually. I can made a green slope or even a relatively flat crossover terrain challenging with a few specific drills for even advanced skiers.
Instead of just skiing casually and risk getting bored because of the lack of variety, steepness and length of slopes, ski with purpose on every run. Ski each run to actively work on a specific skill identified by your ski instructor during a lesson. Try to get better with that skill on each run.
Then once you feel some improvement, switch over to work on another skill you need to work on. There should be numerous skills for improvement in all skiers. If in doubt, ask your ski instructor which areas you need to improve in.
When you are skiing each run with purpose, you will not get bored. I’ve taken instructor training sessions when we skied on the same slope all morning long over and over. But because we were skiing each run working on something specific, it never got boring even though we were on the same slope for two hours both days.
When I’m working on my own skiing, I often stay on the same slope if I really like the snow conditions and will ski it over and over 5-10 times just to work on specific skills. I don’t need lots of variety to ski train.
Ski Outside Ontario
Now after having said that you don’t need lots of variety in slopes to improve your ski technique, it might seem contradictory that I’m going to also suggest that you ski outside of Ontario!
This is specifically aimed at Intermediate level and up skiers. Skiing the bigger and steeper slopes of Quebec, Vermont and western Canada is helpful in developing your skiing. Slopes are longer which will help develop endurance and often steeper which will provide challenge.
When certain skills are acquired on our Ontario slopes, then it’s time to take these same skills on more challenging terrain outside Ontario. This will help further develop your skiing as you try to adapt to the bigger slopes.
A good strategy is to develop a good foundation in your skiing skills within Ontario, then travel outside to further develop them (as well as to enjoy the nice scenery of the big mountains).
Spend Time On Easier Slopes Too
Sure it’s exciting to ski on black diamond slopes all the time. But for some ski skills that are difficult to develop (like separation between upper and lower body), it is worthwhile to spend some time on easier blue and even green slopes too to try and perfect such skills. If you cannot ski a green slope with near perfection on a specific skill, how can you possibly expect to ski a steeper slope well with that skill?
Near the end of the ski day, maybe do a few runs on easier slopes where the steepness factor is eliminated and actively work on certain skills. Once you are able to do specific skills well, like separation and getting more weight on the outside (downhill) ski, go back on harder slopes with the same skills. The idea is to develop skills on terrain where fear and fatigue are not issues. Then adapt these same skills to steeper slopes. That’s effective ski training.
I even use the flat crossovers to train certain skills like edging and pole planting to really get into the habit of using them all the time when I ski. I seldom just casually ski straight to chairlifts just because these are easy areas to ski on. I want to maximize the use of all terrain for my ski development.
Even if you travel outside Ontario to the bigger slopes of Quebec, Vermont or the Rockies, remember that a long blue slope could develop certain skills more effectively than a double black diamond one.
Free Ski Alone Or With Other Compatible Skiers
Although it’s best to free ski (outside of ski lessons) with others of similar skiing ability, sometimes it’s good to ski with people who are a bit better than you since you might pick up some good habits in technique especially if they also take ski lessons regularly. But skiing with those who are too fast and/or venture onto slopes too difficult for you will not only stress you out, but can be dangerous if you go on terrain that you are not ready for.
Don’t let others pressure you onto slopes that are too challenging for you unless it’s under the supervision of a ski instructor. I sometimes take ski students on slopes that are slightly above the level of what they normally ski on just to help them adapt skills to steeper terrain but will never take them on slopes which will be way too hard for them. I would always take them on runs that I know they will be able to get down safely with direct coaching.
Other recreational skiers may not be able to make that type of judgement with you. If your friends are too advanced for you, just ski alone or seek out others who ski at more your level.
Also, be careful who you get feedback from too. Other recreational skiers, even high end ones, do not necessarily know how to assess and teach other skiers. Only certified ski instructors are totally qualified to do this since they have been put through training courses on how to do this.
At many big resorts especially out west, there are ski hosts or ‘ski friends’ as they are sometimes known as. These are uniformed volunteers who take you for a free guided ski tour around the mountain on slopes suitable for your skiing level.
Many recreational skiers often do not go skiing because they have nobody to ski with. Well, if you really want to improve in your skiing, you do not need anyone else to ski with outside of ski lessons. Again, actively work on specific skills on each ski run and this does not require others to keep you company while you are training.
Taking ski lessons by the way is a great way to meet other skiers of similar ability to you. Many new and compatible ski friends meet through lessons.
I like to ski with others, especially with other ski instructors also actively training to become better skiers and instructors. I also like to ski alone. Both have benefits. When skiing with others, it becomes social. But when skiing solo, one can focus better on training as I don’t have to wait for anyone and can get on the chairlifts faster via the singles line.
Get Video Analysis Of Your Skiing
One of the most effective training tools for many sports is video analysis. Get video shot of your skiing and have a certified ski instructor analyse your technique. The fact is that you cannot see yourself ski and even if you do via a video, you might not necessarily know what to look for.
When a ski instructor gives you certain feedback just verbally, it might not sink in right away. But when you can see what the instructor sees, then certain things in your ski technique will be much more obvious to you. It may help motivate you to work harder on those certain skills.
Many issues common with recreational skiers like sitting back too far and no separation of upper and lower body, are really made aware when they can actually see how they ski on video. Of course, video analysis is also used to watch for what ski students are doing well in their technique. One can therefore track his or her own progress over time with video.
I offer video analysis for my Intermediate and above ski students as part of their ski lessons with me and they love it. We would analyse their ski technique as part of the apre ski inside the chalet to wind down our ski day.
Get Proper Ski Equipment And Properly Maintain Them
Most Beginner skiers rent gear for the first season. But if one wants to seriously improve, one should invest in his or her own equipment. Getting the right gear will result in proper fit, especially for ski boots. And don’t skimp on gear by choosing the cheapest that you can find. Like many other things in life, the better items are higher priced but they work better. Buy the skis and boots suitable for your level and perhaps the next level up so you can develop into. Just be aware that ski gear for higher levels will be priced higher than Beginner level gear.
I’m often asked whether one should buy new or used gear. Another reality is that ski gear do have lifespans as their performance ability decreases with age. This becomes more important at Intermediate levels and up. If any gear is more than a few seasons old, I personally would not recommend purchasing it for Intermediates or higher.
Remember, good ski gear is like an investment. Yes it’s a relatively high upfront cost but if you spread it over a few seasons, the price per season isn’t bad. And having your own gear sure beats renting all the time.
Another important point related to ski equipment is that improper maintenance (and no maintenance) will hamper your skiing performance. Get your skis properly tuned and waxed.
Why You Should Become A Better Skier
Now, some of you might be thinking at this point, why should you even bother to try becoming a better skier in the first place? You might already be able to ski down all blue runs and the easier black diamond slopes at this point. So is there a reason to keep training?
I think so. As you improve as a skier, you will be able to ski more of a mountain as more slopes are within your ski ability. This is helpful when you travel to the bigger mountains. Better skiers will be able to ski more slopes of the big places like Whistler and Banff.
Also, better skiers will be able to ski all types of snow conditions. Having better ski technique allows you to ski deep snow, messy bumpy snow (crud) and icy slopes with more confidence than average recreational skiers who will suddenly run into all sorts of trouble on such conditions. I don’t drastically change my skiing technique all that much when slopes become icy. Good ski technique prepares you for the ski days when conditions are not that great. Training to become a better skier will make ice less of a factor in your own skiing.
I should point out that some skills like separation between upper and lower body as well as skiing mogul bumps (or skating on skis and hockey stops for beginners) are not easy to perfect. While some skills are relatively quick to learn, some can be long term development. There will be ski days when you don’t think you are improving and on really bad snow condition days, you might even feel that you are skiing worse then before! This is part of normal ski development.
Recreational skiers who don’t care about ski improvement (and therefore do not take lessons) don’t know any better. They either accept that the steep slopes are way beyond their abilities or blame poor skiing performance on icy conditions. They don’t think about improving their skills so their skiing never changes from year to year. This is the same for snowboarders too.
Don’t give up if you reach a hurdle in your skiing since ski improvement is never a smooth upwards progression. Milestones can come in little and unpredictable moments in your skiing journey. It might take many ski days working on certain skills and then suddenly, things will click for you. This is what happens to my skiing all the time as I could ski days feeling the same and then suddenly, wow, I finally got it for a particular skill.
So there you have it — my main points on how to become a better skier as I shared these with total honesty since these are the same points I personally subscribe to for my own skiing. I hope these are helpful for you on the aki slopes.
Clint Cora, CSIA Level 2 Ski Instructor
Ski Sports Fitness/GTA Free Spirits Meetup Groups