How to be a better skier: 10 Ways To Improve Your Skiing
Who doesn’t want to be abetter skier? Well we thought we’d ask Emma Cairns, one of our most experienced and knowledgable ski trainers, to list 10 ways that the average person can use to improve their skiing this winter. Emma learnt to ski before she could walk and has been training our trainee instructors in Verbier, Saas Fee and Argentina over the past few years…….so there’s nobody more qualified to give you advice how to be a better skier and learn how to ski better.
1) Buy the correct gear
Feeling comfortable and wearing enough layers is essential if you want to enjoy your skiing. Always find out what the weather is doing for the following day the night before you go skiing.
With such a huge variety of skis on the market today it can be ‘mind boggling’ to know what skis to look for. Before you buy skis, work out where you want to ski on the mountain! Whether you’re focusing on skiing pisted runs, skiing in the backcountry, or hitting kickers in the park (or a mixture of all three); it’s crucial to get the right skis for the terrain you want to ski.
Most skiers love to carve up the piste and rip up the off piste too … if you fall into this category you should be looking for a ski that has a good side cut for carving but is a little wider underfoot, so it floats easily. For skis its very important you don’t have too stiff a ski, as they can be very difficult to turn, bend and have fun on! The same can be said for boots, if you have boots that are too stiff you will be unable to flex or bend your ankle and will therefore be in the ‘backseat’ the whole time and consequently feel a bit out of control.
2) Get fit and increase your strength
Not only does skiing use specific muscle groups that you seldom use, but you when skiing you will also have to deal with altitude and low temperatures. It is therefore very important to keep a good level of fitness and to do specific fitness training that will help you get ‘ski fit’. You will not only enjoy and improve more in your skiing but also help to prevent muscle and ligament injuries.
The main areas to work on in the gym are increasing your core strength, staying supple and flexible, becoming more agile, increasing your power to weight ratio, and increasing your leg strength.
The best ski-specific training you can do is ‘plyometrics’ which will make you stronger, more powerful and explosive, which are key qualities to being an efficient skier. An example of this type of training is demonstrated by the World Champion Didier Cuche in the following video:
Not only do you get to see one of the greatest ski racers in action but you also see all of the hard work in the gym that prepares him for winning gold medals. A lot of the gym work will be on unstable surfaces such as balance boards and Swiss balls while lifting weights.
Balance is crucial for skiing. One of the main areas of your body to train to develop balance is your core! The stronger your core the more performance you will be able to achieve from the skis. For some inspiration on core work watch this.
3) Watch the Pros
Over the last couple of decades ski technique has evolved hugely, along with the design of skis. Carving skis have made it much easier to ski and rip-up the pistes, while fat skis have made hammering down the off piste a lot more fun.
Lots of skiers on the mountains ski in lots of different ways and styles, some have kept up with the development in technique through having lessons and others not so much. The best inspiration and picture to have in your head as you’re cruising down the pistes is of a world cup skier, equally for freeriding watching awesome ski movies of legends like Candide Thovex ripping it up. You can learn a lot from watching ski racers in gates and free skiing, the way they hold their posture, balance on their skis, constantly move in and out of turns and creating big impressive angles. A great video to watch is of Kalle Pallander, a Finnish World Cup skier:
4) Video yourself
It can be a real revelation seeing yourself on video! Usually skiers can’t believe that they ski like they do……whether for the right reasons or wrong reasons they are usually surprised.
Nevertheless, it is actually very helpful to see yourself ski and can give you a much stronger understanding of your performance. For some reason skiers are never doing as much as they think they are, with regards to movements. Skiing is a sport which requires participants to do something at 150% and over-emphasise whatever movement, position or angle they are aiming to achieve. Whether you get the opportunity to watch footage in a lesson with an instructor, or you have to go out and film yourself with some friends; video analysis is a great learning tool for scrutinising you own performance and developing your skiing skills.
5) Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and ski with better skiers
Testing yourself and pushing boundaries every so often is very important for your development as a skier. It is important however that you are feeling confident, strong, well rested and hydrated when you do this. One way to become a stronger skier is to follow and watch other skiers who are better than you. They will most likely ski harder and faster than you, and it is great training to try and keep up with them and follow them everywhere they go. For example if you are not too confident in keeping a direct line in bumps it is great to follow someone and stick to the same line. Or if you love to ski off piste, but struggle in tricky/deeper snow, following someone and having your line being dictated to you can make skiing in powder much easier. You’ll be ripping up the deep stuff in no time!
6) Take a lesson
No matter how much skiing and training you have done you can always learn something new and improve your skiing. Even World Cup and X-Games skiers have coaches training them every day trying to make them better! Whether you go for a short private lesson, a group lesson or join a 10-week instructor course you will be shocked at how much you can improve, and that you can achieve the goals you’ve set yourself, whether it’s a steep colouir or a big rut-line which has always intimidated you.
7) Visualise the basic good sportsman’s position
Visualising movements and positions is a very important skill to have, as well as being aware of what your body is doing and how it is moving. After watching some pros on youtube (eg Didier Cuche, Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn) you will be able to see that one thing they all have in common is strong posture. A good skier will have a well-balanced and strong postural position, which they learn as a first time beginner. However, as skiers get better at cruising around the mountain most become comfortable and forget this good sportsman’s position.
The ideal way to stand on your skis is with your feet hip width apart, using all of your ski joints (ankles, knees and hips) flexing and extending to remain balanced over your feet. Hold your hands forward and away from your body at around hip level, and have a horizontal eye line to help balance. If you can tune into this basic position and keep that as you ski down different gradients of terrain you will manage to tackle more challenging pistes. The most common problem is skiers forget to flex their ankles and as a result are in the ‘back seat ‘ position, which makes it very difficult to steer the skis. The basic ‘sportmans’ position allows you to be in charge of your skis and drive them around the mountain.
8) Be realistic with your goals
It is great to have a goal each week you ski, whether it is a particular piste you would love to ski, a trick in the park, or a hardcore off piste couloir you want to tackle. Try and be realistic, choose goals that you can achieve but will have to push yourself and train to achieve them. Each week you will get stronger, ski harder and get a huge sense of achievement.
9) Après Ski……drink water!
Every skier loves Après Ski after a day on the slopes. Listening to live music, drinking a beer, and reminiscing about the awesome day you’ve just had up the mountain with your friends is one of the reasons we all love going on ski holidays. Nevertheless it is very important to drink lots of water and keep hydrated throughout your ski trip, otherwise you will not be able to perform to the best of your ability and you are more likely do injure yourself. We’re not saying “don’t go out” but if your time in the mountains is limited and you’re serious about improving your skiing, limit the number of nights you hit the Après Ski hard and always ensure you rehydrate at the end of the night. By making sure you are properly hydrated you will decrease your risk of injury considerably, and most likely ski a lot better!
10) Enjoy it!
The most important part of skiing is to have fun up the mountains, enjoy the scenery and enjoy ripping up the mountain with your friends. It can be frustrating when your level of skiing plateaus but remember this happens to the best of us.
It only takes a small break-through in your technique or a day of skiing in waste-deep powder to stop that frustration in its tracks and put a smile back on your face!