Help me be a better (second time) skiier
February 23, 2015 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I went skiing for the first time this past weekend. I felt okay and even had some fun. I'd like to go skiing for the second this upcoming weekend, and I'd like to do better. Help me solve some specific problems as best you can?

First of all, I understand that the main answer is "take lessons." I took an hour long lesson this past Saturday and I'll be taking another hour long lesson this coming weekend. That said, I'd like to understand what I'm doing (and doing wrong) a little better before I go back. Here goes:

My lesson did not teach me to start in any kind of wedge or snowplow position, which is what I sort of expected from reading online. Instead, we started with our skis parallel and were taught to turn (as best I understood it) by turning the ski in the direction we wanted to turn on its outside edge and "standing up" on the other ski. We were taught to stop by turning perpendicular to the slope.

Problems I'm having:
1) I can only consistently turn left. By the end of the day Saturday, I could more or less do that when I wanted, following the procedure described above. Turning right usually resulted in me getting stuck hurdling straight down the hill and bailing out and turning back to the left. Is this normal? Any idea why this is happening? Is my understanding of the turning process generally right or did I miss something?

2) Even turning to the left, I frequently oversteer and wind up turned around facing up the mountain and slipping backwards. Obviously this is terrifying. Two questions: How do I stop the turning process to keep this from happening? What should I do to stop myself slipping backwards when it does happen other than dig my poles into the ground(my instructor took the poles from me to keep me from doing this) or fall down?

3) How do I slow myself down when I'm just going down the slope at an angle? A few times I was uncomfortable with my (no doubt totally fine and actually quite slow) speed, and I'd feel more comfortable if I could just move a little slower. How do I do that?
posted by Bulgaroktonos to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you right-handed? I would guess your "dominant" leg is your right, if you can only reliably turn left. (This happens in a lot of things you have to do on your feet, including skiing and skating). Get very comfortable pressing hard on your left leg and almost lifting your right off the ground. It's going to feel weird and uncomfortable until you get used to it.

If you start off by criss-crossing the slope, you'll go slower. Don't point straight down. This also means you're going to want to be on beginner or bunny slopes, which some people find a little embarrassing. Don't! You're a beginner who is learning and everybody understands. Better you slide gracefully from side to side on a beginner slope than annoy the people who want to go fast.

Never, ever stick your poles down to stop!!! You can really hurt yourself that way.
posted by xingcat at 7:22 AM on February 23, 2015

(1) just practice, and (reading your #2) probably "less is more"

(2) I tried to recreate this bug in my head, and the only way I can imagine anyone doing this is throwing your weight around while going very slowly. Parallel turning is kind of like bike-riding; it doesn't work very well below a certain speed and the movements are actually quite subtle and not abrupt or heavily muscular. You probably need to be going faster.

(3) turning or snow plowing are the two ways you brake in skiing. Don't be ashamed to snow plow if the circumstances require.

Overall, I think you probably need to be going faster on less-steep hills, which is paradoxical, but will work best for developing these skills.
posted by MattD at 7:26 AM on February 23, 2015

The two keys to turning are tilting your skis left and right and shifting your weight from one ski to the other. Practice doing this on flat or nearly flat terrain until you get the hang of it. Get going, and then just tilt your skis one way and the other, then try shifting your weight. Keep doing this until you feel more comfortable.

Remember that the front tips of your skis is where you control the direction, and you have to keep a little more of your weight there than on the back at all times. Practice this by standing still and shifting your weight from your heels to your toes and back and then centering it.
posted by Nameless at 7:45 AM on February 23, 2015

I've been skiing for years and I still turn better to the right than to the left--I plot routes on challenging mountains with this in mind. Practice is the only thing that cures this and for some of us, it never gets better. Some drills that have helped me:

* You can stand in your boots on some solid snow, bend your knees, and lean one direction than the other to help get the other position as strong as the first. Then get into your skis, turn perpendicular to the slope, face slightly downhill, then lean into your uphill leg. Keep leaning right to where you think you're going to fall over (you won't fall over). Get familiar with how that feels. That's how you should feel turning, really strong on the edges. Switch directions, try again. This really helped me because I throw my hips into the turn, which is just wrong.

* Stand up in your skiis on a flat and lean forward into your boot. Keep leaning. Again, you're not going to fall over, even if it feels like it. You should mostly feel your shin into your boots like this.

* Square your shoulders down the mountain, always. Your feet are parallel and turning--your shoulders are square down the mountain. Don't drop the uphill shoulder. This will help with over-steering. There's a drill where you put your poles out in front of you, holding a snow ball between them, and you make a few turns without dropping it. I've never managed this successfully, but it's helpful for keeping your shoulders square and facing downhill.

The best way to slow down, on any angle of slope, is to turn yourself perpendicular to the fall line--turning will slow you down. When your turn has gotten to the point that you're facing uphill, however, you're over-turning. You're not trusting that your turn has slowed your speed and you're afraid to pivot into turning the other direction. But your turn across the fall line has slowed you down, now turn the other way. Like MattD says: you need some speed to make this work. Like my father in law says "Trust in the turn and you will slow down"

Of course, there' no shame in hunkering your butt down and snowplowing. Sometimes you just need to do that to stop. Better to snow plow to a stop than run someone over. Don't be that guy. Get used to figuring out the slope before you start. Sometimes, the mountain slopes in more than one direction and you think you're going cross or uphill and should be slowing, but you've just switched to a different break line. When all else fails, make sure you're comfortable falling. Learn how to ditch. It's not ideal, but it can save you from a collision or a panic or worse.

The most valuable thing I ever learned on a ski slope was how to side slip (there's lots of google results for "how to side slip ski"--some of them are advanced technique videos because it's a necessary skill for moguls, but it's also invaluable for getting past a place you can't safely ski over). Basically, it's how to get down a slope you cannot ski down without having to ski down out of control (endangering yourself and others) or trudge down carrying your gear or get a ride in the rescue sled. Set yourself perpendicular to the fall line, really really dig in your edges and DO NOT LEAN into the hill. Now you're solid; you're not going anywhere. Release your edges slightly and slip gently forward down the hill, not across the fall line much at all, skis moving at the same time. Just dig that edge back in any time you want to stop. Essentially, you slip down the entire slope from your starting position.

Side slipping is--like I said--a drill for an advanced technique because it helps you keep your edges set and it really gives you excellent control (which I totally don't have) in the turns. It's how you do sharp pivot turns instead of long J turns. But it's also a really great way to get down when you're in over your head.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:49 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Edge control. If you have a safe place in your house to put on the skis try rocking left and right standing on the edges. It's a roll of the knee and ankle. Try to balance on the inside edge, right foot for a left turn, left foot for a right turn. On a steep slope or fast turn a bystander can read the bottom of the skis the angle is so dramatic but on a gentle slope the angle is almost imperceptible but it's that angle that allows the turn. In the V/pizza position the pressure on the opposite foot adds angle to cause the turn.

To stop it's basically the same thing but you need to be sliding perpendicular to the fall line of the slope and the edge angle digs into the snow.

If you get going too fast just sitting down to stop is a fine old standby.

Practicing side slipping is the best exercise. Also a real handy skill on a steep spot. I've side slipped quite a distance occasionally.
posted by sammyo at 8:11 AM on February 23, 2015

I'll just add that it is totally normal to feel like you have a dominant leg and feel like you are better at a particular skill discipline with either your left or right leg. I learned to ski in my late 20s and definitely remembered being more comfortable with some turns and not others. Now its been a dozen or so years since I learned and this isn't pronounced at all except in situations where I am fatigued in difficult, injury threatening terrain. I can definitely find myself favoring some motions versus others.

As for your other challenges, I'll leave the mechanical descriptions to some of the excellent posters above. With that said, your turns to the right that are causing you to "hurdle" down the hill means that you need to continue your turn further to the right such that you are going across the "fall line" of the slope. Likewise for your turns to the left that cause you to go up need to turn to the right before your momentum stops you and you slide backwards. In the beginning these motions will make it appear that you are doing a slow motion zig zag across the mountain. Over time as you get more comfortable with sensation of speed on your skis and are more comfortable with turning, these zig zags will get stretched out such that you are fulling cutting across the slope for each turn. In the end this is what is referred to as "linking turns".

Some other advice that helped me on turning was to relate the body movements to ice skating with the respect to how to shift your weight in order to turn. Its not a perfect analogy but on groomed beginner slopes that have a shallow pitch it is pretty close.

Following on with the stopping discussion, the "hockey stop" of skating is directly analogous to how you'll eventually learn to stop. Turning to point your skis across or up the hill is certainly a technique that is used as well. Certainly in slow speed situations the wedge is absolutely appropriate. In areas with crowds such at the base of a mountain or on a narrow path or in lift lines it is really the only thing you can do to check your speed.

Good luck!
posted by mmascolino at 8:54 AM on February 23, 2015

I agree with xingcat that you're probably having trouble turning right because that requires using your left leg to steer and that probably isn't your dominant leg. In the past, if you were just learning to do parallel turns you would have been told to put all your weight on the ski doing the turning - your outside or downhill ski (right ski for left turns, left ski for right turns.) Apparently nowadays (now that people are using shaped skis) they recommend a closer to equal weight distribution, with about 60% of your weight on the outside ski and 40% on the other ski. But for getting the hang of turning, I wonder if it would help you to try using just your left leg to turn right. Put all your weight on that ski and guide it around the right while your right ski just follows along parallel to it but doesn't do any of the work. You can even try lifting the right ski up off the snow a bit to make sure there's no weight on it and your left leg is doing all the work. (But don't let lifting one ski become a habit.)

How do you stop the turning process so you don't end up facing uphill? Stop putting so much weight on your downhill ski. If you're turning left, you'll start out by putting more pressure on your right ski, but don't keep doing that indefinitely. Once you're facing perpendicular to the slope (if not before), it's time to put more weight on your left ski. Which sounds like it might be difficult for you right now, but you just need to keep practicing.

How do you slow down if you're going down the slope at an angle? You can change the angle so it's not so steep. In other words, aim your skis a little uphill of the way they're aiming now. Or, even better, you can turn. Any time you start feeling you're close to going too fast, that means it's time to turn. Turning is the way you keep your speed under control. What you want to learn to do eventually is to link turns - as you finish one turn you'll immediately start your next one. (Of course there will also be times when you'll just go straight for a while, but a lot of your skiing will be linked turns.)

Oh, and I'd suggest ditching the poles completely for now. When you're just learning, pretty much everything you want to do with your poles will be wrong and will make you do the wrong things with your arms and body. You'll try to use your poles to keep yourself from falling or to slow yourself down, instead of focusing on how you can balance your body to keep yourself upright and make turns. When you can consistently do a long series of parallel turns on an intermediate run, then it's time to think about learning to use poles correctly. Before then, they won't help you. If you feel like you have to have them to help push yourself along in the lift line, then when you start downhill hand them to your instructor or hold them horizontally in front of you.
posted by Redstart at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2015

The obvious answer as you said is to take lessons, but if we're going to rule that part out for a moment let's look at off-the-mountain training.

Do you Rollerblade/ice skate at all? Do you have the possibility to do so this week? The reason I bring this up is that skiing and skating have one very important aspect in common, rolling of the ankles. You control your direction not by turning but by rolling your ankles in both skiing and skating. So if you can get on some skates, practice this. Skate up with a little speed, and then gently roll your ankles in unison as you turn, much like you would like to on the mountain. Play around with it, and get comfortable with doing so and then remember the motion when you get back on the mountain.

Other than that, the other tip that I use with beginners is to make sure that you feel your ski boot against your shin. If you cannot feel the gentle press of the boot on your shin, it means you are leaning too far back and will have less control. It's like trying to turn a car/bike while doing a wheelie.
posted by wile e at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2015

If I were you I would shell out for a private lesson. It seems like you're very close to being able to ski so a private instructor will able to get to your goal faster.
posted by bleep at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2015

When I see people who've just learned to ski, they often are making their s'es too large. Just leaning a little left and right is plenty for when there's little slope. No need to traverse the entire width of the slope. I sometimes have issues turning right, what helps me is to raise my left foot up while making the turn. Make sure to always be leaning forward.
posted by Trifling at 11:13 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to be a ski instructor. Much like a doctor, I won't diagnose you over the internet!

What I will say is that skiing is a physical skill, not like maths where understanding something can be enough. Nobody is expected to be great at turning after an hour's lesson. I used to teach a fairly accelerated progression and even then, you would not be turning reliably until hour 3 (of lessons, not of dinking around on your own).

It will help if you have some patience with yourself, and don't expect suggestions that go in your ears to come straight out of your feet. Things take time and practice and constant feedback from someone who can see you.
posted by emilyw at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I sometimes have issues turning right, what helps me is to raise my left foot up while making the turn.

Did you mistype, Trifling? Raising your left foot while turning right is the opposite of what you should be doing. I'm afraid the OP might read that and get all confused.
posted by Redstart at 2:20 PM on February 23, 2015

It's very odd that your lessons teacher didn't teach you to snowplow at all. Nthing those above -- unless you've got a bit of speed up, snowplowing is really the only way you can turn/stop, a.k.a. control yourself. Learn the's easy! (It's also a great way to start learning parallel turns. Start in a snowplow, then pull your inside ski parallel.)
posted by nosila at 3:16 PM on February 23, 2015

You're right about lessons. Watching video of yourself is also very helpful. To turn a modern ski you really stomp on the inside edge. It sounds to me like you might benefit from finding the flattest run on the hill and trying that out.

Bend your knees, ten dollars please. Watch some Rob Butler ski tip videos, like this one.
posted by Alex Voyd at 3:36 PM on February 23, 2015

Stick with it. You have to find your "aha!" moment.

Two things that helped me become a skier:

1. Speed is your friend. The movements are easier when you have some momentum. You don't have to be flying, but you do need to go faster than most beginners' instincts want them to.

2. You have to keep your weight forward. It was mentioned upthread that you want to feel your shins against the front of your boots. That helps. The best way to picture the proper stance is that you want your body to be perpendicular to the slope. That will feel like you are leaning waaaay forward at the start, but it will soon become normal. That, IMO, is the biggest hurdle.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:01 PM on February 23, 2015

The trick with turning is not so much in turning the ski, it's putting your weight in the right place. Lean forward, knees slightly bent, & put your weight on the ski on the outside of your turn.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:43 PM on February 24, 2015

Way late to the party; posting in case others get this thread in a search.

IAASIBIANYSI (I Am A Ski Instructor But...)

There is a lot of advice in this thread. Some is good. Some is horrible. Most is earnest but misguided. Without working with you, watching your movement patterns, and checking your understanding it is difficult to solve any skiing problem. In the words of those great ski-instruction sages, The Waitresses, "One size does NOT fit all."

That said, don't feel like your body has to work symmetrically. Nobody's does. I have been skiing for 35 years, and I still have more trouble making a left turn than a right turn. Persistent, guided practice will help correct your issue, so make your instructor tell you how to deal with your specific movement quirks.

Always remember, too, that there is no law telling you that your skis have to be glued to the slope. If you want to turn a foot, and it isn't turning, pick it up and turn it. No, this is not to the PSIA standard, but it will deal with the issue promptly and somewhat effectively until you can get a teacher to figure out something that works better for you.

So, yeah, a lesson or two with a good instructor should get you over the hump. In theory, you will progress faster with a private lesson, but it all depends on how good an instructor you get. Raise hell if you don't get a good instructor (if they let you leave the lesson feeling frustrated, you did not get a good one.) Whatever you do, ask a lot of questions and be demanding in your lesson so that you can get the most out of it.

Skiing at the beginner level is not that hard when you get everything right, and it is reasonable to expect that your instructor will give you the tools to get to basic stopping and turning within a couple of lessons. If, like me, you are a huge klutz, you might not get there DURING the lessons, but the teacher should be able to give you something to practice and build on regardless.

Your lesson followed a "Direct to Parallel" methodology (these are a bit unorthodox, and wax and wane in fashion.) Since they didn't teach you a wedge, they probably taught you what Georges Joubert, the great guru of ski instruction, called a "natural stop," a kind of hockey stop. I'm not going to argue with Joubert; whether or not I like the idea of D-T-P, there is nothing wrong with teaching the natural stop early.

But, for beginners, the natural stop works best on very gentle terrain, while the snowplow will remain effective on somewhat steeper terrain. So, for the sake of safety, I don't think that it's unreasonable to demand that you be taught a braking wedge, especially if you are the sort of person eager to explore beyond the extremely gentle terrain most D-T-P methods employ in the early lessons. Make them teach it to you, even if it isn't part of their regular progression.

Sidetrack: Let's talk about what a "turn" is, in skiing. A turn is a continuous change of direction. A turn will stop you eventually, as it will eventually take you uphill. This is a fine use of a turn, and experience will tell you how far to turn before you start going backwards. And a good teacher will teach you how to keep your balance centered, so that you don't end up skidding your heels out in your turns (and going backwards because of that.)

Hopefully this starts to answer your second question. If you are turning and skidding out (and thus not able to stop your turn) the first thing I would look at is whether your weight is too far back, and if you are pushing your heels out to start your turn. But there could be other things going on. Again, don't let your instructor blow this off; make them address this issue.

Now, this is really important: THE NATURAL STOP/HOCKEY STOP IS NOT A "TURN" IN THE SKIING SENSE OF THE WORD. This is a huge source of confusion for many skiers, even instructors, and for some of the people posting in this thread. The natural stop does not stop you because you turn; it stops you because you skid. Traversing across the hill will not slow you appreciably unless you make a skid happen, because skis like to slide on snow. I am not sure whether you were taught to skid (probably) or turn uphill (less likely) for your first stop, but these are two very different things. Most skiers use a combination of the two in every turn.

One of the first parallel turns you should be taught is a skidded parallel turn, which involves sideslipping as you turn. As long as you are turning, and sideslipping, you will bleed energy, even if you are not going uphill. But as soon as you stop turning/slipping, you will speed up even if you are pointing the slightest bit downhill.

And this explains your third issue: How do you slow down when going down the hill at an angle? Well, you don't, unless you find a way to skid. Snowplowing is a way of skidding bilaterally, and a lot of skiers rely purely on skidding for speed control way too long (IMO, any time past the first lesson is too long.) The real answer is, of course, that you shouldn't be going down the hill at an (unchanging) angle unless you have no alternative.

This is the big secret of skiing that most skiers, and some instructors, never get: You should always be turning one way or the other to control your speed, through some combination of sideslipping and going more uphill, all the time. Most people who ski don't do this, because it was never explained to them correctly. But it is neither an advanced concept nor does it involve advanced technique, and good instructors are teaching it from the first lesson. Learn to employ turn SHAPE for speed control, rather than angle to the hill, and this will allow you to ski at any speed you like.

This is it, all of skiing save for some technical details: Turn uphill to slow down. When you start going too slow, start a new turn downhill to speed up (and slow down again as the turn crosses the fall line and progresses uphill again.) That's it. Develop that habit, and you will be ahead of 80% of the people on the mountain. Just so you know, the five-year-olds I teach get it within an hour or two. I think you will probably understand it in about 15 seconds, and feel it about 10 minutes after your turns figured out.
posted by Opposite George at 10:08 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

And yeah, lock up your poles until how to use your feet to do everything. Relying on poles will not help you improve, and can jeopardize your safety.
posted by Opposite George at 10:17 AM on March 23, 2015

« Older Books and audiobooks with creole?   |   A very expensive, very mediocre car. There's got... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.