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Six Basic Skiing Skills

November 13th, 2009

skiing-skills.jpgThis article from my collection on skiing and snowboarding describes six basic skills that people need to develop when they first learn how to ski. Learning these skills will allow you to stop, turn, and even move uphill more effectively, thus increasing your skiing level and moving you closer to expert status.

1. The Star Turn

To change direction while standing still, practice the simple star turn. Imagine that your skis are the hands of a clock, with the tips pointing toward noon and the tails as the center of the dial. Pivot one ski by lifting the tip but not the tail and turning the tip until it’s pointing toward 2 o’clock. Place the ski firmly on the snow. Now pivot the second ski, tip up, tail down, until it’s parallel with the first. Remember to use your poles for balance.

Continue this series of small pivots until you’re facing in the opposite direction. Then, using the same sequence, reverse the order of rotating skis until you’re again facing the direction from which you started.

While you are trying to perform a star turn, there are a few things that you should avoid:

  1. Do not lift the whole ski off the snow.
  2. Do not spread the tails; only the tips.
  3. Do not put your weight on the tips, or you’ll cross the tails of your skis.

Remember that the pressure on the bottom of your feet will tell you whether you’re turning with your weight on your heels, on your toes, or on your edges.

Spend a few minutes both gliding around and making the star turn until it’s time to climb a low slope for your first downhill adventure.

2. Climbing Hills

Skiers are carried to the summit of the trails by a variety of lifts. But they also do a lot of puffing and chugging to climb small slopes with their skis on. There are two techniques for climbing: the herringbone, which the French call the montie en canard, or duck walk; and the sidestep. The herringbone is used on easier slopes, the sidestep on steeper pitches.

To start the herringbone, face uphill and make a wide V with your skis, the tips pointed out and the tails together. Place your poles behind you to help you push yourself up if you need to. Put your weight on the inside edges of the skis by bending your knees inward.

With your weight on one ski, raise the other and move it forward, then set it down at the same angle and put your weight on the inner edge. Lift the second ski and move it forward, again planting it with your weight on the inner edge. Go uphill step by herringbone step.

3. The Sidestep

For the sidestep, stand at right angles to the fall line (that is, the direction a ball will roll), with your skis parallel and your knees inclined toward the slope so that the uphill edge of each ski is pressed into the snow. This is edging. Your feet already learned how it feels to put the weight on one edge and the other. On a slope the pressure edge is always on the uphill side.

With your weight on your downhill ski, lift the uphill ski and step up. Plant the uphill ski with your weight on the upper edge and bring the downhill ski up to and parallel with the first.

In the sidestep always keep the skis at right angles to the slope. If the skis point even slightly downhill you’ll find them starting to glide downhill. If the tails point downhill you’ll suddenly find yourself gliding backward toward the base.

4. How to Fall

Had any good falls lately? You will when skiing. Everyone does, from mighty experts to skittish novices. Not to worry. Falling on snow is much like falling on a firm mattress. Snow yields. You usually won’t hurt anything except your pride.

However, as with all ski techniques, there’s only one right way to fall, and that’s to fall or sit down sideways, dropping onto the snow, not your skis. Keep your hands upward and forward to avoid spraining a wrist or fingers.

Once you’re down the problem is: how do you get back up? If the skis are tangled under you roll onto your side, or your back if it’s necessary to maneuver your legs until your skis are free of your body.

If you’re on a slope make doubly certain your skis are below you and at right angles to the fall line. Next, scrunch your butt close to your skis. Roll over onto your knees. Push yourself up with your poles and/or your hands, keeping your weight forward and on the uphill edge of the skis.

Remember: If your skis aren’t at right angles to the fall line you’ll slip or slide downhill. If your skis are too far from your body you won’t be able to stand up.

It’s comforting if a partner holds out a hand to help you back onto your skis, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you don’t know how to get up and are all alone on a great big mountain.

5. The Snowplow

Meet a new friend, the snowplow. It’s the first “moving technique” every skier must learn.

It’s basic to your first turn going downhill and to stopping before crashing a) into the padded pylons holding aloft the cables that carry skiers on swaying chairs, or b) into unsuspecting friends.

To practice (while on flat ground): With your skis parallel push their tails well apart, with their tips almost together, to form a letter V with the point of the V to the front. As you push the tails apart bend your knees toward each other. You’ll instantly feel the inner edges of the skis sloping inward.

When properly positioned the tips are not quite touching but they are close together. To visualize the position, imagine that your ski tips are on the center of the dial of a clock. The tail of your right ski is at 20 minutes past the hour, and the tail of your left ski is at 20 minutes to the hour.

Still on flat ground, practice several times going into a snowplow stance then returning your skis to the parallel position. They should be 4 to 6 inches apart, each ski under a shoulder, and pointed straight ahead.

Sidestepping, using the herringbone, or using a beginner area with a rope tow, head up a low hill. It will be easier for now if you can find one that will allow you to stop on a flat surface rather than a slope. Using the star turn, face the rail line.

Hold the grips of the poles in front of you as if grasping the handlebars of a bicycle, elbows tucked in, and start gliding down. Keep your weight balanced evenly over both skis. Don’t worry about what the ski poles are doing.

While moving gently, force your skis into the snowplow position. The tips should be close together, with your knees bent in toward each other so that the inner edges of the skis are digging into the snow and the tails are spread apart. If you’re properly positioned with your weight equally over each ski, you’ll come to an instant stop.

Bring the skis parallel to start gliding. Again go into the snowplow. Practice this glide-snowplow-glide-snowplow maneuver until you reach the bottom. Then head for the top of the hill again and ski-snowplow-ski-snowplow to the flat runoff.

If the snowplow doesn’t function properly check to make certain your tips are close together, your knees pressed toward each other, and the tails spread apart.

If your tips are too far apart or you’re not edging inward, the result is predictable: “Dammit, why don’t I stop?”

If your tips are farther apart than the tails you’ll discover the agonizing discomfort of doing the splits on skis. Practice getting up.

If your weight is more on one ski than the other you’ll start skiing in the direction in which the weighted ski is pointed or, possibly without even knowing what you’re doing, going into a snowplow turn.

Whether you learn the above mentioned techniques by yourself, with a partner, or at your first hour in ski school, smile. You’re no longer a never-ever. You can control yourself skiing down an easy slope.

6. Side-Slipping

There will be times and places on the mountain when you’ll need to side-slip to gently change your position. This requires a bit of practice. Stand at right angles to the fall line in the same stance you use for the sidestep, skis weighted to edge into the uphill side of the slope. Slowly, tilt both skis downhill at the same time until the bottoms are parallel with the snow and you’re no longer edging. At this moment the skis will start sliding down the slope. To stop side-slipping, tilt the upper edges of the skis into the snow.

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