December 2000   
     Understanding expert skiing 1
The skis’ role

Expert skiing is a dance: the skier dancing with the mountain, and sometimes, it seems, the mountain too, dancing with the skier. But between skier and mountain, between you and the snow, are a pair of faithful intermediaries. In our effort to make friends with the mountain, to shake off the intermediate blues, to become true expert skiers, we have a formidable ally, a secret weapon or two. Of course, I’m talking about our skis.

When expert skiers fly down a slope, their skis are doing most of the work! This is the core principle of modern expert skiing. It has influenced and shaped my own skiing and my ski teaching for many years, so I’d like to start this series of articles on understanding expert skiing by focusing on this crucial idea. In expert skiing, our skis do most of the work. Average intermediate skiers, on the contrary, tend to put an enormous amount of physical effort into their skiing.

Skiing down a mountainside involves only two kinds of motion: turning and going straight. Going straight is a given. Point your skis down and gravity will do the rest, pulling you, more-or-less quickly, down the hill. Turning is something else. Turning equals control. Turning - twisting, curving, varying the path of your descent - not only lets you avoid obstacles like trees and other skiers, turning slows you down when you want to slow down; turning adds an element of choice, of aesthetics and creativity to your descent, puts you, not gravity, back in charge. So in a very real sense, ski technique is mostly about turning. The good news is this: you don’t turn your skis, your skis turn you. Perhaps you’ve noticed - good modern skis are rather expensive. But they’re much more than inert, lifeless sticks underfoot; the reason they cost so much is because they have been designed, engineered and built to turn for you.

In my teaching, in my videos and articles and books, I wind up saying this again and again, in many different ways. My long-term goal as a ski pro is to put my students in touch with their skis, introduce them to the simple movement patterns used by expert skiers to coax the very best turning performance out of these exquisite tools.

For now I can promise you this: the better a skier you become, the more you will let your skis do the work. Expert skiers often feel as if they were passengers, lucky passengers, riding well-trained skis down the mountain. Skis that only need a subtle suggestion to bite into the snow and create a graceful, arcing, turning path down the hill. This is the heart of modern ski technique. Exploring how we can use our skis - and not our muscular strength - to get the job done, to ski efficiently, easily, beautifully. Keep this one notion in the forefront of your skier's consciousness - I don't turn my skis, my skis turn me - and you will be halfway to expert skiing.

Of course, there are more factors involved in developing expert skiing skills than just our skis. Modern ski boots communicate subtle messages from foot to ski, and back from ski to foot. Modern ski areas use remarkable snow grooming technology to offer learning skiers smooth, friendly, almost perfect practice slopes. But our skis, and the way they interact with the snow to produce a curved path, a carved round turn, are the crux of the matter. The skis' own built-in turning action defines high-level modern skiing.

In future instalments of this Understanding Expert Skiing series, I'll explore the intricacies of ski design, how and why modern skis turn so well, how skis carve different sized turns, the skier's stance and the skiers role in this whole game. But I believe this one insight is worth its weight in perfect turns.

Expert skiers don't turn their skis - their skis turn them.



    December 2000  
photo above:
© Linde Waidhofer
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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.