Gliding down a mountain through virgin powder with the sun glistening on surrounding snow covered peaks, all topped with a deep blue, clear sky, has got to be one of the most incredible feelings on earth...
Here are a few tips for skiers of all levels to help you enjoy the sensation as much as I do!
Gravity - This takes you from the top of the mountain to the bottom in the most direct route. This isn't always the safest or most desirable route so being able to steer and stop are key!!
Balance - snow is slippery! Trying to balance whilst sliding down a mountain isn't easy! You need a stance that is comfortable but stable on the move.
Dress Code - Stay warm! It is best to check the weather forecast every morning before you get dressed to make sure you keep warm and can see!
Protect your skin - from the sun, wind and cold! Snow reflects the suns rays which is great for tanning but you don't feel its power so pack plenty of sun cream. Some sun cream also coats your skin in a protective layer which stops wind and cold burn too...
Run/trail colour coding - All pistes are given a colour code which reflects their difficulty! Green slopes are the easiest, then blue, red and blacks are the most difficult. Ski with care and don't dive in the deep end first thing in the morning or late afternoon!
Insurance - accidents can happen. Make you sure you get travel insurance that includes winter sports cover.
Gear - I'd recommend renting your skis and boots and try to borrow the rest (see basics above) from friends and family. A lot of it is quite expensive so it's worth trying the sport and making sure you enjoy it before splashing out on the latest stuff!
Skis - All rental shops should give you skis that suit your ability, but their height is the key. Make sure they are 20-30cm shorter than your height - shorter skis are easier to turn! If you find the front of your skis keep crossing whilst you ski then don't be afraid to take them back to the rental shop and ask for some shorter ones!
Boots - Rental boots are notoriously uncomfortable so your mission is to try to find a pair that feel relatively comfortable but snug! You should be able to move your toes but your heel should NOT come up in the boots once they are done up. Likewise, your foot should not slip around from side to side in the boot. Walking to and from the slopes and around the bars is often easier if you undo you boots, but make sure they are done up when you ski!! Have them as tight as comfortable around your calf muscles but not tight across the top (dorsum) of your feet or they will restrict the blood flow to your toes and you will get cold feet! Don't tuck your trousers/salapettes into your boots, pull them over the outside to keep the snow out...
Getting involved - Strapping planks to your feet and slipping down a mountain may not sound like something worth forking out a few hundred quid for but, once you get the hang of a few basics, it really is. It's a great sport, no matter what standard you are! Skiing is a massive confidence sport though, so take your time learning and don't rush straight up to the top of the mountain, because getting out of control and stacking it at high speed can put people off...
Donning Your Skis: Before slotting your planks on, get used to the feel of your boots! Take a quick walk around in them and crouch down and stand up tall a couple of times to feel them flex. Use your poles to scrape any snow off the bottom of your boots before slotting them into the bindings on your skis. The easiest way of doing this is to slide the front of your boot into the binding first, and then line the back up and press down with your heel until the boot clicks into place. I'd recommend having a quick skate around on one ski before putting the second one on so you get an idea of the sliding sensation!
To get your skis off, push down on the back of the bindings until your heel pops up. your ski pole can help with this.
I'd recommend using your poles to push yourself around on some flat ground before joining the lift queue! Once your gear is on and you feel comfortable, it's time to learn how to stop and turn...
Learning to stand up, turn where you want and stop when necessary are all you need to be able to do to enjoy yourself on the slopes! Here is a rough guide to get you on your way...
Moving your skis - Your skis are clamped to your boots which should be on your feet. So if you turn your foot to the right then your ski will also turn to the right. Simple! Try picking one foot up at time, with your skis on, and turning them to the right and then the left, to get familiar with the feeling and which muscles to use. This principle doesn't change - you point your skis where you want to go primarily by turning your feet!
Stance - The way you stand on skis has a massive impact on the likelihood of you falling over when you start sliding. If your feet are shoulder width apart you have a better base of support than if your feet are next to each other. The most stable position when skiing is to have your feet shoulder width apart, with your toes pointing inwards and heels apart, so your skis make a triangle/V-shape (like the shape of a slice of pizza!). This position (snow plough) gives you a solid base, even on the move! Bend your ankles, knees and waist slightly, keeping your arms out wide (as if about to hug someone!) and feel your weight evenly on the balls of your feet and heels. Try this at a standstill before you start moving...
Speed control/Stopping - If you can't control your speed and stop then there is a good chance you will hurt yourself and other people. The snow plough position (described above) is perfect for both controlling speed and stopping on gentle slopes! To slow down to a stop, simply turn your toes towards each other slightly more and push your heels further apart - making the snow plough wider at the back but keeping a small gap between the tips (front) of your skis.
Useful Exercise - On a gentle slope, going straight down the hill, try making your plough/pizza slice wider at the back until you slow down, then narrower at the back to speed up and then bigger again until you stop. Your ski tips should stay the same width apart (5-10cm) throughout.
Turning - On steeper slopes the above exercise will slow you down but won't stop you! You have to defy gravity by turning your skis so they face across the hill and not down it. To turn your skis, all you have to do is turn your feet so they point in the direction you wish to travel! This is easiest if you stay in the snow plough position, as it is very stable and keeps your speed under control. So, whilst keeping your skis in the snow plough/V-shape, gently turn your feet until your skis point across the hill and come to a stop.
Top Tip - Look where you want to go! If you look at the snow in front of your skis, that's where you'll end up!
Useful Exercise - On a gentle slope, pick a marker such as a pylon or some poles and, when you get to it/them, slowly begin to turn your feet to the left or right, and keep turning them until you are facing across the hill and you come to a stop. Then try doing the same in the other direction. Remember to look ahead at where you want to go!
Once you get the hang of turning left and right, set yourself a slalom course with poles to test your control! To turn more sharply and on steeper slopes you need to move your weight from foot to foot as well as turning them. To turn to the right, put more weight on your left foot and to turn to the left, put more weight on your right foot.
Useful Exercise - Abandon your poles somewhere safe and put both your hands on the knee that is furthest down the hill... So, when you turn to the right, put both hands on your left knee and push it forwards slightly. Once your speed is under control and you are ready to turn left, stand up tall pushing on both feet, put your hands on your head and then slowly bring both hands down to your right knee and push it forwards. Continue doing this for every turn until you can feel the skis turning quickly. If you ever end up on a steep slope that intimidates you, then this is an excellent exercise to help get you down.
If you use the above exercises and get some good mileage then you should really start to enjoy yourself and be able to venture on to steep blues.
Skiing with your skis parallel at all times looks more flash and gives you more control and a tighter turning circle on steep slopes. It can feel quite unstable at first, so here are some ways of gradually bringing your skis together without losing control!
Going Parallel is easier if you get used to skiing with a smaller snow plough/V-shape first. Once you can comfortably do all the exercises in the section above, try making the V-shape of your snow plough a little smaller at the back - you will go a little faster but the following exercises will be easier.
Finishing the Turn - The key to bringing your skis parallel is ensuring you have your weight in the right place. If 90% of your weight is on your downhill/outside foot, then you will stay balanced, but also be able to slide your uphill/inside foot parallel to it.
Top Tip - If you make sure your chin is over your downhill/outside foot your weight will be in the right place.
Useful Exercise: Find a slope you feel comfortable on and stop near the top. Make a big sweeping right turn at a moderate speed in the snow plough position. Towards the end of the turn, as your skis begin to turn across the hill, make sure all your weight is on your left foot, and gently lift the back of your right ski up off the snow for a second, before putting it back down parallel to your left ski, so that both skis are roughly shoulder width apart. Keep turning both skis across the hill until you slow down and stop. Then try a sweeping turn to the left, starting with your skis in the snow plough shape and finishing with them parallel.
If you find it difficult to pick the ski up then just make sure all your weight is on the downhill/outside ski.
Once you have the hang of bringing your skis parallel to finish the turn, it's time to keep them parallel to start the turn.
Starting the Turn - The key to keeping your skis parallel as you start each turn is pushing up with both feet before moving your weight on to the new outside/downhill ski. At the end of each turn you should be balanced on your downhill ski. To start the new turn, push up with both legs, before transferring your weight; your skis will turn by themselves but turn both feet as well for better steering.
Useful Exercise - On a steepish section of a blue run stop with your skis pointing across the hill. Adopt the position you would be in at the end of the turn - weight on the downhill ski, ankles, knees and waist bent, edges gripping the snow. Slowly push up with your legs, straightening your ankles, knees and waist. Your skis will flatten on the snow and will naturally start to turn down the hill. Don't panic, just shift your weight on to your other ski and steer both skis (keeping them parallel) round to finish the turn. Stop, and try the same in the other direction. Do this a couple of times until your skis remain parallel throughout the exercise.
A lot of people can keep their skis roughly parallel but what's the point if you make it hard work, slide around out of control and don't get the performance from your skis that they were built for? Here's how to improve your parallel skiing technique so that you ski safer, can tackle steeper slopes and enjoy yourself more...
Weight - Don't sit back! You can't turn as sharply, grip the snow as well or stop as quickly as you can if you keep your weight forward. Every time you start a turn, re-centre your weight and attack the turn by leaning down the hill! Make sure you put all your weight on to your downhill/outside ski. This actually creates a much more stable platform than having weight on both skis (I kid you not, shall I go on about centrifugal forces...)!
Useful Exercise - Pick a groomed slope that you feel comfortable on and ski down lifting your uphill/inside foot up off the snow as you turn. Once you finish a turn, put the airborne ski back on the snow, transfer your weight on to it, and pick up the other foot (which should then be the inside/uphill foot).
Top Tip - The tip and tail of the ski you pick up should be roughly the same height above the snow. If the tip is higher than the tail then you are leaning back - move your weight forward!
Movement - A lot of parallel skiers are very static - there isn't enough bobbing down the hill for my liking! For more dynamic skiing, push up from both feet at the start of the turn to straighten/extend your legs and then gradually flex/bend your legs as you finish the turn. Skiing is a fluid motion, you should always be moving gently up and down using your ankles, knees and waist.
Useful Exercise - On a nice blue cruiser, make some medium sized turns counting aloud. Start in a fully flexed position as you would be at the end of a turn (with your ankles, knees and waist slightly bent). Call this position "1". As you begin your first turn, push down with both feet and slowly extend your legs, saying "2" out loud, until you are standing fully upright (you should be facing down the hill at this point) in position "3". As you then turn your skis across the hill and flex down, call out "2" and then "3" as you go through the positions. Ski the whole slope calling out "1", "2", "3", "2", "1", "2, "3" as you flex down and then extend up. Get used to the sensation of constantly flexing and extending your legs!
Top Tip - To make short turns, flex and extend quickly. To make longer, sweeping turns, flex and extend more slowly but keep it fluid! Try to avoid static spots where you aren't flexing or extending your legs.*
Edging A lot of people slide through their turns to control their speed. This is like pulling off a handbrake turn every time you go round a corner in a car. It may sound like fun to some but it doesn't give you much control and makes for a bumpy ride! The parabolic skis that most people use these days were designed to bend when you put them on edge; which makes turning much easier. So do yourself a favour and use your edges - you get far more control and turning is easier and sharper! To use your edges, simply roll your ankles and knees uphill as you flex down towards the end of the turn. This should roll your skis on to edge, giving you more grip and helping you to cut through any mounds of loose/cut up snow. As you extend your legs to start the next turn the skis will flatten on the snow; move your weight on to the other ski and flex down, rolling your ankles and knees to put your skis on to their other edge.
Upper Body - To be able to roll your ankles and knees (as mentioned above) and keep your weight on your downhill foot, you need to dip your downhill shoulder. Your downhill shoulder should always be lower than your uphill shoulder, as uncomfortable as it may sound! The steeper the slope, the lower your downhill shoulder should be relative to the uphill one (your shoulders should in fact be parallel with the slope)!
Useful Exercise - Hold your poles out like a sword and drag them along the snow either side of you as you ski. Make sure the downhill pole in particular stays in contact with the snow and keep them by your side, not behind you. You should be able to feel your downhill shoulder being lower than your uphill one...
Top Tip - Move your feet to turn your skis not your shoulders. Skis are fixed to your feet not arms so swinging your shoulders won't turn your skis any faster!
Pole plants - Planting your pole in the snow at the start of every time helps you to develop some rhythm to your skiing and gets your weight in the right place. As you extend your legs at the start of the turn and transfer your weight, reach down the hill and touch the end of your pole into the snow just in front of you. Then do the same with the other pole as you make the next turn. On steep slopes really try to reach right down the hill to plant your pole as it helps get your weight in the right place to change edges.
Carving up a freshly groomed piste for your first morning run is a great way to start any day. Parabolic skis were designed for carving so here are a few pointers on how to get the best performance from them...
Stance - You need to get your skis on edge, and keep them on edge, to carve a nice turn. This isn't possible if your feet are glued together and your upper body is twisted to point down the hill at all times. To carve a nice turn, keep your feet shoulder width apart and your shoulders pointing in the same direction as your knees. This allows you to roll your skis on to edge much easier (see below)!
Starting the turn - To carve the perfect turn, you need to get your skis on edge as early in the turn as possible. This means changing your weight from ski to ski early and then inclining your body to put your skis on edge. Once you are balanced on your outside ski, extend your legs our from under your body so that your body is inclined down the hill - ensure your body is straight, not bent in the waist.
Useful Exercise - A strange one that seems to go against every principle you have ever been taught, but it works! It's very simple - pick up your OUTSIDE ski for the first half of the turn and incline your body (straight as an arrow!). Put it back on the snow and balance on it for the second half of the turn as normal, before lifting up the other ski...
Finishing the turn - Once your skis are on edge, you need to work to keep them there throughout the turn. Do this by keeping your feet shoulder width apart and by rolling your ankles, knees and waist in an uphill direction. Keep this fluid - gradually flex your ankles, knees and waist down as you go through the second half of the turn, driving your legs back under your body, ready to push them out to start the next turn.
Useful Exercise - Take a cruise down a gentle, wide run (that isn't busy!) in a tuck rolling your ankles to put the skis on edge. Feel the sensation of your skis turning by simply putting them on edge using your ankles. Then do the same again, but get your knees involved as well. Make long, gradual turns, rolling your ankles and then your knees to put your skis on edge as soon as you have transferred your weight from one to the other.
Top Tip - Keep your movements gradual to start off with - if you try to jump from edge to edge quickly, they won't grip very well. Roll your ankles first, then your knees and the finally your waist, before gently extending them to start the next turn.
Mogul fields always stand out on the mountain - they look artificial in an otherwise natural landscape, are usually the least busy runs and often have a fair number of casualties. The sight of them brings up different emotions in different people: terror, foreboding, pain, fatigue, adrenalin, a sense of achievement or pure excitement. I get the last one - I love mogul skiing. There is no better way to warm yourself up on a cold day, burn off your lunch or escape the crowds. It takes a lot of practice and a fair few falls to get the hang of the bumps but it's well worth it - they really are a lot of fun. Here are a couple of mogul skiing tips to have you bouncing down the mountain in no time at all...
Love the bumps - The bumps are your friends, they just don't look like it at first! Skiing is a confidence sport and most people simply lose their bottle looking at mogul fields. The bumps actually help you control your speed and so can make steeper slopes easier to tackle. Lesson 1 is to look at the bumps and smile - befriend them and they help you, fear them and they will send you skywards!
Weight - If you lean back you will stack it. It really is that simple! Mogul fields aren't very forgiving - if you start to lean back you will pick up more and more speed and end up on your back with your skis half way down the hill. Stay on top of your skis and try to push your weight forward at the start of every turn.
Top Tip - At the start of each turn, reach down the hill to plant your pole in the mogul your are about to turn around.
Absorb the bumps - Use your legs to absorb each mogul in turn and you will feel more stable on your skis. As you ski over the back of each bump flex your legs up by bending in your ankles, knees and waist. Then extend your legs to push your skis into the troughs between each mogul. Your head shouldn't bob up and down as you ski through the bumps but stay at the same height. If you feel yourself getting thrown up and down each time you go over/round a bump then work your legs harder - more flexion and extension!
Useful Exercise - Starting at one side of a mogul field, ski across it to the other side in a straight line, practicing the flexion and extension to absorb each bump, before stopping. Turn around and do the same going in the opposite direction until you feel comfortable with the absorption technique and its sensations.
Turning - The exaggerated flexion and extension you need to use in amongst the bumps can help you turn. Just as you should extend your legs to stand up tall at the start of a turn on the piste and then flex down as you finish the turn, so you extend your legs into the trough between bumps at the start of the turn and then flex them to absorb the next bump at the end of the turn. You then extend your legs to push your ski around the bump and flex down to absorb the following one. This up and down motion works the legs but there is no shame in stopping for regular breathers on the way down!
Useful Exercise - Take the bumps on one at a time! Set yourself up so that you are stationary on the back of a mogul, with your skis pointing across the hill. Stand with your skis shoulder width apart, ankles, knees and waist slightly bent. Slowly extend/straighten your legs and lean down the hill, planting your pole in the bump you are on. As your skis start to slide off the bump, steer them around the bump and slide them into the back of the next bump, flexing/bending your legs slightly to absorb the impact. Ensure your skis are turned across the slope and you should come to a stop. Then try doing the same again in the opposite direction, stopping as you hit the following bump. Then try linking 2 turns, using the first bump to slow you down but not stop, and then stopping after the second bump. Keep doing this down the hill until you feel comfortable linking more and more turns.
Top Tip - Don't let the bumps tell you where to turn - turn when and where you want to! Each bump is a different size and shape so turn where you want to and just flex more to absorb bigger bumps and extend quickly to make sharper turns.
The challenge in the bumps is staying over the top of your skis and not leaning back. Force your body over your skis as you start each turn and then drive both skis through the turn so they point across the hill at the end.
Gliding through fresh powder is undoubtedly the finest feeling on skis if you know what you're doing! If you haven't mastered the art of cruising through the 'deep stuff', then a powder day can be your worst nightmare - exhausting, cold and wet! The following powder tips turned me from a fine weather skier into a powder hound - I hope they do the same for you...
Weight Distribution - I was told to lean back and ski normally in my first powder lesson - absolute rubbish! Admittedly you don't lean forward, but leaning back makes turning pretty tricky... Try to keep your weight nicely central and more evenly distributed on both skis. There is more resistance in powder, so you have to steer both skis through it - putting all your weight on the downhill ski (as you should on the piste!) gives your uphill ski the chance to trip you up in powder!
Steering - The deeper the powder, the harder it is to turn your skis. Apart from gritting your teeth and straining every muscle in your legs, you can solve this with lots of flexion and extension. As you finish the turn, sink down, bending your ankles, knees and waist, to help steer BOTH skis. Then extend your legs to start the next turn (If you do this quickly, you will jump through the turn).
Turn Shape - Powder slows your skis down so you won't get as much speed up on steeper slopes. This means you can ski a much more aggressive line while, at the same time, keeping your speed under control. This is part of the beauty of powder skiing - you don't have to rush to finish your turns, you can float through them gently...
Before hitting the slopes it is important that you have all the important things in place to have a great trip Make sure you get....
Travel Insurance - make sure you get covered and never hit the slopes without insurance, airlifts can be very expensive! If you already have travel insurance make sure it covers you for winter sports etc as some may not.
Ski Rental - if you don't own your own equipment make sure you have booked your ski rental well in advance. Firstly this can save you money with many ski rental shops giving good discounts online compared to resport prices. Secondly, you are then guaranteed that you have the right size equipment when you arrive and the equipment you want. Resorts can run low of kit in high season which may mean you get older kitso book early for the best chance to get the best gear. Thirdly and most importantly it means you have more time on the slopes with less phaffing around. Ski rental can be booked online via companies such as Ski Set and Snowrental for pick up at your resort.
Ski Clothing - the mountains are magical and beautiful places to be but can be inhospitable in bad weather. Make sure you prepare in advance and get the right kit. Depending on your level and where you will be skiing you may need more or less kit, but almost everyone will need the essentials such as hat, decent gloves, thermals, ski jacket, sunglasses etc. There are many online retailers such as Surfdome and Snow + Rock that have a full range of ski equipment and more advice on what you will need so stay warm and safe. Good kit can make the difference between an amazing holiday and a very chilly one! Buying in resorts again can be pricey so preparing in advance will certainly save you cash that can be spent on some well deserved apres ski refreshment!