"my skiing problem"
a private lesson....

I received this email a few days ago. It really struck a chord. I don't know how many skiers have "been there," but I do know many have. And I don't know how many skiers have solved this problem on their own. But I think I can help. Let's take a look:

"Hi Lito,
I'm probably wasting your time, but here's my problem: I'm technically an intermediate skier, but have the dreaded flaw of leaning back, or more correctly pressing back (mainly) on the inner ski when turning. I am in no doubt that the base cause is a fear of falling and the instinctive urge is to slow the turn. Although I have excellent balance and am very fit, I'm of senior age and leant to ski late in life, and am well aware that my reaction time is slowing.

Of course this technical flaw results in skidding and increases (rather than reduces) speed.… What I want to achieve is the graceful round carving turns you show in your book and videos at modest speed. My guess is that my problem is ingrained, but any advice is most welcome."

Here's the scoop. Yes, indeed, the problem is ingrained, most ski “problems” are. But therein lies the key to a solution. You see all of us, expert or intermediate, ski by habit. We never have the time or focus to “think our way” through a turn, instead we just “do it,” responding out of habit to the terrain we are on, with whatever skiing habits we have built up through long repetition. So the answer is to figure out a way to build new habits, once again through repetition. To build effective new counter-habits, so that in this case you no longer lean back and to the inside, I would first suggest carefully picking some new practice terrain.

Leaning back and to the inside is less due to any “fear of falling” than to a natural shrinking back from a feeling of sudden acceleration at the start of every turn. When skiers turn downhill, the angle of the snow beneath their skis effectively steepens, and voilà, those skis accelerate. To compensate for this inevitable acceleration in the first half of every turn (from a traverse into the fall line) one really ought to lean forward and down the hill, just to keep up with one’s skis. But that is much easier said than done.

So I suggest picking a wide-open but very low angle green or blue-green slope on which to practice and build new habits. The idea is that on a gentler pitch, you won’t notice and react to that beginning-of-the-turn acceleration. It will be there, theoretically, but it won’t be noticeable. And to keep from being bored on a too easy slope, you can always ski a bit faster.

On this kind of practice slope, concentrate on early weight shift. Getting your weight completely off the new inside ski and balancing patiently on the outside ski of the new turn. Go for large round arcs, not short turns. Take your time. Learn to feel comfortable just standing there, hanging out as it were on that outside ski while you let the ski design bring you smoothly around a big curve. Think: relaxed cruising, rather than "cranking turns."

The underlying idea is to build up a sense of comfort staying balanced over one ski, your outside ski. And you can do this, pretty easily, on a gentle well groomed slope. On steep blue runs, or worse yet, black slopes, it just won’t happen. You will feel that sudden acceleration I mentioned and shrink back from the fall line, leaning in as you do so, and thus losing the bend in your outside ski.

How much practice? Let’s say several days’ worth. I mean dozens and dozens of fast comfortable runs on easy terrain, riding solidly on the outside ski of the turn, in a situation where you are not tempted to put on the brakes. As this balancing-to-the-outside habit gets more and more established, you will find that it will be easier and easier to accomplish on progressively steeper slopes. But do this a bit at a time. Our idea is to first build a new habit, through easy repetitions, and then progressively use that new habit on new terrain. This is not a quick-fix one-shot ski tip, but a campaign that will take at least a couple of weekends on the slopes. Try it and see what you think.

And please, don't pay any attention to trendy modern ski instructors who assure you that weight shift to the outside of the turn is no longer part of skiing. The very trendy advice to stand equally on both skis and just roll them over onto their edges is not going to solve your problem of leaning back and inside. It will only reinforce it.

Good luck, and good skiing!

photo illustraitons above: relaxed cruising turns on open, low-angle slopes. A good way to tune in to balanced weight shift
photo © Linde Waidhofer


I try to answer all emails personally, as soon as I get them. But if I am traveling, it may take a couple of weeks, so please be patient.

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