Hey! You’re doing it wrong — four common skier mistakes
December 26, 2014
The holiday season brings crowds to the High Country to enjoy the kind of festive atmosphere and winter scenery that postcards are made of.
But every season also brings skiers who might not get on the slopes more than once or twice a year. That can be a cause for concern, not just for the less-experienced skier but anyone caught in their wake. For one family member of mine — an experienced skier herself — it meant ACL surgery after another skier ran into her while she was standing still on a slope.
No one wants to end the holiday season in a slopeside clinic. With that in mind, we thought we'd take a look at some common mistakes and cautionary tales to try to keep the slopes a safer place this holiday week. Because whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned pro, there's always room to refine your skills.
The backseat driver: This is one of the more common ski mistakes out there, and it can potentially be the most dangerous to the skier doing it — the infamous backseat stance. Any skier looking more like he or she is about to sit down in a La-Z-Boy than ski down a hill falls into this category. The stance makes a skier especially susceptible to knee injury in the event of a fall. And with a body position that is begging for gravity to do its thing, the skier is all the more likely to do just that. The stance also takes away from a person's ability to control his or her skis. Simply put, skis work better when you're on top of them, not behind them.
You don’t look at the gas pedal when driving a car, so why would you look at your skis while skiing? And yet so many beginner-to-intermediate skiers tend to do that while going downhill.
The fix: Maybe easier said than done, the simple fix is to stand up straighter. Obvious enough, sure, but sometimes it takes a conscious effort to think about body position. And more than just standing straight, the skier should have an athletic stance — over the skis with the knees slightly flexed — similar to a basketball player on defense. We'll address this again with the Frankenstein stance.
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Lookout below: You don't look at the gas pedal when driving a car, so why would you look at your skis while skiing? And yet so many beginner-to-intermediate skiers tend to do that while going downhill. While not as dangerous as texting and driving, on a ski slope it's up there. This can be especially dangerous on crowded holiday slopes.
The fix: Skis will do what the body tells them to. The big challenge is getting over that mental barrier and, just like thinking about the proper stance, making a conscious effort to do so. A lot of skiers don't even realize they do this one. A good way to work on this is to pick a place farther down the slope to focus on — this will also help with the next tip. Paying attention and feeling your body doing the motions rather than looking at how the skis respond is key. It's also a good idea to keep an eye out for other skiers and remember there is scenery that is far more interesting than any ski tip.
The truck driver and the 'Frankenskier': No matter how much some people might think it will help, moving one's hands as if they are on a steering wheel will not turn one's skis. Proper turning technique goes from the waist down. Shoulders also have nothing to do with it. Too many beginner and lower intermediate skiers look like they're either trying to turn with their upper body first or are so ridged that their upper and lower bodies move as if their hips didn't exist, thus the Frankenstein look.
The fix: The goal in skiing is to keep the upper body "quiet" and facing downhill. Turning motion should be in the hips, legs and ankles. Properly using the edges of the skis is also a frequently underdeveloped skill. When you watch a Lindsey Vonn or a Ted Ligety ski down a slope they are almost never sitting flat on their skis. Instead they are up on their edges. Properly engaging the edge — or sides — of one's skis is the real secret to carving. It's accomplished by rolling the ankles sideways not twisting them.
Keeping an athletic stance and remembering that the hips exist are also important.
The snowplow speed racer/missile: Call it a snowplow, a pizza, a triangle or a wedge, they are four words that all mean the same thing. Common with children, but also surprisingly prevalent among adults, it's the skiers who look like they're in a downhill race but still have their skis locked in the wedge, only turning ever so slightly.
It's a great start for beginners, but if you're doing it at more than 10 miles an hour, you're doing something wrong. Inexperience and momentum can be two of the most dangerous things in skiing. And the worst part is the skier may think he or she is in complete control.
The fix: Turning is easily one of the most essential skills in the sport, as is selecting terrain that is appropriate for a skier's skill level. Too often skiers tend to dive into terrain that is above their ability level. When that happens, the skills they might have grasped on less aggressive slopes go out the window. There's no shame in staying on a green slope. Any skier still using a wedge turn should focus on trying to straighten the skis after turning, and also make complete turns all the way across the slope. Many who struggle with turning also don't shift their weight properly. It's counterintuitive at first but you want to shift your weight onto your downhill, or outside, ski while turning. With practice, straightening your skis after turning eventually turns into a full parallel turn.
While the above suggestions provide a start, the best fix to correcting any skier flaw might just be taking a lesson — and not one taught by a friend or family member. Self-taught skiers are often the most dangerous on the hill. As in any sport, teaching oneself to ski can lead more to bad habits than to improvement. Even an intermediate to advanced skier can gain from having a second set of eyes assessing his or her ability.
Prior to working at the Summit Daily, sports and outdoor editor Sebastian Foltz spent five winters as a certified ski instructor.
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