We have teamed up with one of our top ski school instuctors to produce guides on ski technique. The articles featured here include learning how to carve and how to conquer moguls. To ensure you get the most out of your time on the piste, check out our Ski & Snowboard School Listings and perfect your skills!
Listening to some parents teaching their children to ski the other day, one phrase that kept being repeated was “Bend your Knees!” It is a stereotypical phrase and assumed that all ski instructors use as a stock comment. However the reality is very different. I find that I spend much of my time asking skiers to stand taller.
For the children being taught by their parents, bending their knees more resulted in two effects at ski level, firstly their weight dropping back onto their heels and secondly the knees dropping together and the skis going onto their edges. Both these effects resulted in the child starting to fight their skis. If the opposite advice had been given and they were asked to stand taller the results would have been very different. They would have become more naturally balanced over the balls of their feet (or at least closer to being naturally balanced over the balls of their feet) and the skis would have rested flatter on the snow making them much easier to control and direct. The end result would have been a more natural stance and a stronger ‘connection’ with the skis and the snow.
Try this little task. Stand up naturally and balance through the ball of your feet, now let your legs flex lightly, let your knees move forwards a couple of inches (4 – 5 cm). Feel for how strong you are and how effortless it is to hold this position. Now “bend your knees” and let your legs flex more so your thighs move more towards the horizontal. Compare your feelings. How strong is this position compared to the first? How much effort does it take to hold this position compared to the first? Now relate this to your skiing. How much effort do you waste holding a lower, more ‘flexed’ stance because someone has told you to “bend your knees”. All this extra effort for no direct benefit!
Let us use this taller, more natural stance to give us:
Better balance and therefore a greater connection with our skis.
More efficient skiing, use your skeletal structure and musculature more efficiently.
More power, use your skeletal structure and musculature more effectively and powerfully.
So try this for your level of skiing:
Introductory level skiers (nursery areas & Green) Become connected to your skis:
Find a section of slope that you are confident to slide on.
Stand tall and stand through / balance through the balls of your feet.
Stay in a tall ‘natural’ position as you link some gentle curves together.
With this taller stance you will be able to work with your skis rather than feeling that you are fighting them
Developing level Skiers (Blues & easy Reds) Lets develop more accurate balance:
Find a section of slope you are confident to let your skis slide on.
Use a positive but smooth stretch as you move from one curve to the next, as you move from one turning ski to the other. A positive stretch to stand tall will help you establish better balance on the new turning foot and therefore the new turning ski.
Stay tall as you steer around the curve and allow your leg to ‘relax’ a little as your skis move through the end of the curve and start travelling more across the slope. Only use a natural range of movement to ‘settle’ onto the skis and remain balanced.
This taller stance will enable you to become better balanced over the new turning ski at the start of the curve whilst the softening at the end of the curve allows you to remain balanced through this phase.
Performing Skiers (Reds and Blacks) Lets go fast and develop more power out of the skis:
Find a section of slope you are confident to let yourself go fast on and make sure it is safe.
Stretch and stay tall as you become supported by the new turning ski, progressively tilt the skis to generate the curve.
Hold your leg ‘long and strong’ to brace against the ski, loading it with more power.
Let the ski flatten, allowing the forces of the curve to pull your centre of Mass (hips / tummy button) out of that curve and fluidly into the new curve.
Remember Long is Strong!
So the two lessons to be learnt here for all levels of skier are:
Always go to professionals for your lessons!
Article courtesy of James (Jaz) Lamb, Director, British Alpine Ski & Snowboard School Morzine
Jaz Lamb is Director of British Alpine Ski School Morzine (BASS Morzine), a school based in Morzine with a reputation for running small groups, intensive and involved teaching - and the maximum level of enjoyment! The school caters for all levels from aspiring Instructors to never having skied, young and old.
Jaz learnt to ski in the Yorkshire Dales and Scotland before starting a career teaching skiing in 1984 that has taken him to schools in Scotland, Andorra, Italy and France before becoming Director of BASS Morzine in 2000. He has worked with skiers of all levels, coaching British Champions with the Scottish Freestlye Squad and training and assessing all levels of instructors through his role on the training staff of the British Association of Snowsport Instructors. He remains passionate about skiing, balancing time in the mountains with a life by and on the water - when not skiing he can be found racing yachts and sailing dinghies on the south coast of England.
BASS Morzine is one of three schools in the Alps licensed by BASI to run Trainee Instructor and Ski Instructor Training courses on behalf of the governing body. They also run a comprehensive training programme supporting instructors through their qualifications as well as a full range of courses and private lessons for all levels and ages. If you would like to find out how we can help you achieve your skiing goals visit the BASS Morzine website
Moguls - Absorbing the Bumps
Single Compression Turns If you stood one day and looked up at a mogul field you’d usually see 20% of skiers struggling, 60% of skiers getting down ok with not too much trouble and about 20% which you look at and think ‘I wish I could do it like that’. Usually the 20% of good skiers who stand out from the rest do so because they actually absorb the moguls.
Basically when you absorb the bump your upper body remains up right in balance and your legs flex up usually to the height of the bump. Then as you're going down the backside of the bump you uncoil and push out your legs, creating a fiction that controls your speed.
Absorbing the bump if you think of it holistically is a pretty difficult thing to do and the success rate isn’t very high. There is always so much to think about in moguls and trying to make new technical manoeuvres as well as all the rest is hard. What you need to do is break down the turns a bit. Firstly, if you can’t do it take it out side of the difficult terrain.
Find a comfortable piste and practice making a single compression turn. Its almost opposite to the type of turn you normally make on piste. On piste there’s usually an extension of the legs to initiate. Here you actually flex and pull your feet up underneath you as you start the turn. Progressively pulling them up until the halfway point of the turn when you start to extend them back out again.
Sometimes a great way to help yourself feel it is by using some of the mountains natural terrain. You can just simply ski towards the hump or hip on the slope and go through the same process. As with the moguls try to keep your upper body travelling on the same level and let your legs flex up to absorb. Eventually with practice on these little humps to should be able to have a good enough range of movement to keep the upper body at the same level and soak up the whole height of the hump.
Move on to linking your compression turns together on piste. Make sure that the absorbing movement your making is that of the heel of the feet tucking up behind you and not your backside just sitting back. It essential you get this right at this stage as when you take it into a mogul field you’ll need to be in centre balance and ready the next 30 turns, not just getting pushed back and accelerating out after one. Once you can feel it right and feel your maintaining balance with the hips over the ball of the feet, progressively increase the range of your absorbing movement.
Compression turns are a great practice and skill development exercise to give you first a better understanding of actually how to absorb and secondly allow you to build up skill and confidence before hitting the bumps.
Steeps - Dealing with Steeper Gradients in Verbier
As you begin to ski steeper terrains, you’ll need to learn how to modify your turn initiation so as to cope with the angle of the slope your on and to make sure your definitely going to make the turn successfully. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where were not quite sure if were definitely going to get the skis to turn. The steeper it get usually the heavier your skis feel and the harder it is to get over into the next turn. To avoid this happening introduce dynamics to your skiing focusing on a positive extension up and forwards down the hill as you initiate the turn. The degree of energy it takes and sometimes difficulty in getting the skis to turn at that degree of steepness warrants you learning how to initiate positively and dynamically.
To begin with practice the dynamic projection on a not so steep slope. Something like a blue run would be perfect. As you make the turn allow the pole plant to connect positively into the snow and at this point project your hips and shoulders forwards, up and down the hill. You project by pushing up from the balls of your feet. It’s a bit like diving into the water at the edge of a swimming pool. It has to be forwards and up, not just up. The skis will become very light and much easier to manoeuvre on the steeper terrain. Develop the projection to a greater degree and eventually the skis will leave the snow momentarily. Steer the skis across the hill as you come to land on the snow as much as you need to for control on the gradient of terrain your skiing.
Once you feel you’ve got the hang of the dynamic projection, try it out on a steeper gradient slope and enjoy the new found confidence and strength. Having the ability to do this will really help you when the going get tough and when the gradients increase.
Freeride & Powder Skiing
When skiing powder or freeskiing off piste terrains its important to realise, especially if you haven’t had too much experience in this type of environment, that certain things you may do on piste naturally might not work so well here.
Shoulders A common problem for many skiers moving from piste to off piste is there upper body management, directly relating to their shoulders. When you ski on piste and are trying to make dynamic turns you tend to stand with rounded shoulders. This usually aids a dynamic stance.
If your shoulders are rounded like so in powder or off piste terrains you may find them putting you out of balance. The main reason for this is that when your freeskiing you tend to find yourself trying to absorb large pressure shocks from the ever-changing terrain. If your shoulders are forwards when you’re in the process of trying to take the absorption you’ll find that no matter how much you try to take the shock by absorbing with the legs the shoulders will cause the whole body to be hurled forwards with a huge break at the waist. This almost always results in eating snow.
Try to think about managing your shoulders for a while. Again, at first on piste, then when you feel you’ve got the hang of it try it in the off piste environment. A little bit of modification here can save a whole lot of time putting your skis back on in the powder just after that front flip that you didn’t want to do.
Wind Effected Snow There’s a major difference between light powder snow and new snow that’s been affected by high winds. When snow falls with high winds it gets compacted together and rather than having a soft forgiving feel to it, it actually becomes quite firm and not so easy to absorb into. When the fresh snow gets like this you need to take a different approach to skiing through it. The firmness of the snow means that you’ve got to work a lot harder to ski it. You need to adopt a way of skiing where your ‘powering’ through you your turns.
Power Turning Power Turning can be achieved by really forcing your legs out underneath you and keeping a constant pressure against and into the snow. As you start your turn allow yourself to rise above the snow as it will be difficult to turn in. As you come above the snow get prepared to start driving your skis back in it again to round your turn off. The amount of power needed to push the skis back in the firm surface of the snow is twice as much as you would normally need. It’s a bit like going in the gym and stacking up a couple of extra blocks for your leg extensions. If your working your legs with this degree of power you’ll find yourself powering through the firmly packed wind blow snow and actually enjoying what would have been a nightmare run.