Following steps toward expert skiing
January 3, 2006
The steps from intermediate to expert alpine skiing may be easier than you think.
I have spent much of my ski-teaching career helping intermediate and advanced students make the leap to higher levels of skiing mastery. The road to improvement isn’t always immediate with marked changes in one’s skiing form. Real change may take a combination of equipment customizing, improved fitness and a change in technique and tactics.
Changes in technique can produce dramatic results for the intermediate skier if they can practice the correct movements. Expert skiers can ski a wider variety of terrain and conditions that require dynamic and varied movement combinations.
When watching theses movements it appears that the upper and lower bodies are working independently of each other. The athletic image of a strong core powering down the slope with fast, active legs underneath can be practiced and learned, and can lead to expert skiing skills.
One characteristic of advanced technique is skiing while keeping the torso facing downhill, while the legs turn the skis across the slope and back in the other direction. In ski instructor terms, this is called upper-lower body separation.
The second telltale characteristic of expert technique is having the ability to keep hands and arms disciplined and balanced.
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Lower level skiers often display wild arm movements, or, just the opposite: Dead arms that hang down to the side. Like a tightrope walker, hands should be positioned for optimum balance ” usually level with the bottom of the sternum and slightly wider than shoulder width.
The third sign of higher levels of technique are level shoulders. Think of yourself standing downhill of an on coming skier. If the skier’s shoulders tip in toward the hill on every turn, it can usually signal a glitch in technique. If it looks as if a tray of glasses could balance across the skier’s hands, he or she has mastered the skills needed to keep level shoulders.
There are three classic drills that if practiced can bring the intermediate skier closer to expert skiing relatively quickly.
The first exercise is the No Pole Drill. This will require you to ditch your poles for the day and ski with your hands in a ready position, like the one demonstrated in photo No. 1. This practice will prepare you to have disciplined arms and hands, as well as a strong core. Practice this drill on different slopes and in different conditions. If you find powder or bumps, try it there for some added excitement. This is an excellent way to ingrain good form for the steep and deep.
The Cross Arm Drill will challenge you to keep the upper body facing downhill. In this drill, keep the arms crossed at all times as you actively turn the legs and skis under the hips. If you have wild arms, this is a good way to quiet those movements and turn the focus to the turning of the legs. By giving yourself a bear hug you isolate the torso and any unnecessary arm or shoulder movements. This drill makes inefficient arm movements very obvious.
The third and final exercise of this series should be practice after the other two have been mastered. This drill is called Moving Through The Door. It will require holding your poles mid shaft, extending your arms out in front of you and imagining the poles are the frame of a door you are moving through. Having a specific target to move toward will help you remember to move the upper body downhill. This drill combines all the elements of disciplined arms, strong core and level shoulders in one exercise.
Expert skiing doesn’t come from a magic bullet or a quick fix. However, carefully practiced technique drills can get you on your way. Skiing with a knowledgeable coach will help ingrain proper movements the first time and will provide prescriptions for the future.
Chris Fellows and his wife Jenny are the directors of Truckee’s North American Ski Training Center (NASTC) and Chris is a member of the PSIA National Demonstration Team. Chris will be writing a weekly column all winter. He can be reached at ski@skiNASTC.com or 582-4772.