We’re at the tail end of the ski season here. I skied yesterday – in conditions that were less than exciting – and next weekend is probably the last time of the year, assuming the weather is worth it.
Over the past 7 years or so, my wife and I have taken a set of ski lessons (all at the excellent Olympic Ski School, teaching at Stevens Pass). We started because our daughter was going to be in real lessons, and we needed a reason (explanation) for why we weren’t going to watch her during lessons. (for the young parents who haven’t figured this out yet, having mom/dad hang around is a pretty good way to compromise your child’s improvement).
Those lessons have taken me from a pretty good intermediate skier, skiing all the blues and groomed blacks well and surviving ungroomed blacks to skiing pretty much everything in good snow conditions (though I’m not great in the bumps). Which puts me somewhere in the advanced/expert region.
Normally, when a new season rolls around, I forget the things I worked so hard to learn the last year and spend a few weeks skiing below where I want to ski. Which is why they are “Eric’s ski tips” – they’re for me, so I can read them next October. But I’ll try to phrase them generally…
Stand tall. While it’s okay to be compressed a bit, you need to compress at the knees, not bend at the waist.
Hands in front. This is about feeling the front of your boot, and not getting your shoulders rotated.
Block, then poll plant. This is probably my biggest insight of the year. I tend to be a fast skier (I topped out at 45MPH on a recent day according to my GPS), which is a lot of fun on groomed stuff, but not what you want on fresh or chopped up stuff. And I’ve often had trouble controlling my speed in those situations. This year, we were doing some pole plant exercises, and they weren’t working for me at all. My instructor had me borrow his (shorter) poles, and what do you know, my poles (which were sized using the “old school” approach of a 90 degree angle at the elbow) are too long for the kind of skiing I do. I went two sizes smaller (a full 10cm), and saw a major improvement. They don’t get in my way and they make it easier for me to reach downhill. So, now that I have the new poles, I can adjust my timing to block (a bit like what you do with a hocket stop) at the end of the turn, pole plant while in the block, and then release in the new turn.
Feet apart. This is mostly about getting angulation – if your feet are next to each other, it’s hard to get any curve (aka angulation) into your lower body – all you can do is bank. That’s fun on groomers, but will prevent you from doing short turns, and if your ski loses an edge, you fall down.
Look downhill. I usually don’t have trouble with this.
Balanced weight. On the groomed, when making big turns, you end up with the vast majority of your weight on the downhill ski. In shorter turns and especially in ungroomed snow, you need to have a balanced weight between the two – somewhere in the 60-40 to 70-30 range. This does a few things. First, it keeps your downhill ski closer to the surface of the snow (you’re using more surface area). That puts you in the lighter snow, and it also means that the weight transfer from turn to turn is less, so you can do it more easily and quickly.
Inside knee. Another big insight for me this year. Getting the proper angulation through the turn is controlled by what you do with your inside knee rather than your outside knee. If you get it to the inside, your outside leg has to follow.
Here hoping these help out next season…
Oh, one bonus tip.
My long-suffering Volkl vertigos had reached the point where they couldn’t be tuned, so I ponied up for new skis, and boots. The Soloman X-10s are wonderful – more floaty than the volkls, but still stable at speed. The soloman boots are also very nice – they have a softer flex than my old nordicas and also have more space in the angle box to allow some angulation in the angles. Finish that up with some nice custom footbeds, and that’s a setup that are very comfy and don’t have to be tight to perform well. If you’re an intermediate skier, the benefit to be had from good boots, custom footbeds, and higher-end skis (in that order) is well worth the investment.
Oh, and woo-hoo! No cracked ribs this year!