How to REALLY become a better skier

Most of us just want the answers on how to become a better skier, right? “Just tell me how to balance and turn my feet so I can ski better in the bumps or on the steeps. I don’t want to hear all the technical jargon of how to ski, just frickin’ tell me!”

Sometimes, it can be a very quick solution. You may find an instructor who can quickly isolate exactly what is going on with their student and provide a direct solution. In most cases, these directives are short lived, but if the student is directed to solve their own issue (through specific guidance and direction), the solution can become more imbedded and owned by the skier. A more permanent skill is adopted and sustainable improvement can continue throughout the skier’s journey.

What’s holding us back?

We don’t advance because we want the quick-fix. I’m here to tell you that’s why most of us don’t get better at something because we want to take the short cut. The people that accomplish their goals realize that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. The sad fact is most people don’t achieve their goals because they’re not willing to put in the work. OUCH! But, if we decide to become a better skier, all it takes is a decision to become better and be willing to take the proper steps in accomplishing what ever goal we’re aiming for.

So, you want to become a better skier. You want to have the ability to ski with confidence, energy, conquer the steeps, trash the bumps, carve it up, or ski powder. What ever it is you want to accomplish in your skiing, it is very possible and very doable if you are willing to follow the proper steps.

How can I improve my skiing?

It all starts in the mind

Photographer’s saying:

“The best piece of equipment you can have is 6″ behind the camera”

Andrew Elsdon

Have you ever wondered why you’re trying to achieve a goal and can’t quite reach it? Have you ever shot for a goal and come up short? Is there a mystery after putting all the resources in place from physical training, proper equipment, ski lessons, and much more and still falling short of accomplishing your goal? Well, I’m here to tell you from personal experience, the one factor that always seems to get me over the hurdle is the mental aspect of the process. Getting our minds right is the first step that we tend to rush through and overlook. Without the right mind set, we’re doomed.

I thought we were going to discuss how to be a better skier?

Fundamentals (Fun-Duh-Mental)

What does the right mindset look like? As a ski instructor for over 30 years, I have discovered the biggest stumbling block for my ski students is the mindset. Trying to improve your own skiing and starting the run off by saying: “I don’t think I can do this!” – you’ve already defeated yourself.

Self-Talk can play a huge role in developing the right mindset. Here are some of the steps involved in mental training :

  1. Mental Training for Skiing
    • Build confidence with affirmations and self-talk
    • Clear you mind with breathing and meditation
    • Maximize performance with mental snapshots – “Just picture it”
    • Learn how to relax for cool down
    • Improve your game with guided imagery
    • Use visual rehearsals to fine-tune your approach/style
    • Get psyched without losing your edge
    • See it, then Ski it – Clear Runs
    • Mental Training for Peak Performance- Steven Ungerleider, PhD

Getting our heads ‘straight’ can seem to be a minor step, but it will make the world of difference. SO, take a breath, think about your ultimate outcome and tell yourself everything is going to be ok. “You got this!”

It all starts in the off-season

How many of us have hit the slopes on the first day of the season and felt that burn in our legs near mid day? “If only I trained or stayed more fit during the off-season, this would be so much easier and less painful.” It’s simple but it’s not easy. Simply putting together an easy-to-follow plan of fitness can make the world of difference. Riding a bike, walking, hiking, roller blading, climbing stairs and much more can be the beginning to getting in better shape well ahead of time. More specific details and laid out plans to follow.

Off Season Fitness

Nutrition

This is an area that is very individual and with so many resources out there, it’s difficult to list a nutrition plan that’s right for everyone. Setting ourselves up with the proper nutritionist can begin to educate us on what and how to fuel our bodies. All I can tell you is what’s worked for me (a middle-aged male who skis a lot). It’s easy for some and very difficult for others and I am no different. I’ve never really taken it serious enough because I’ve always been fairly efficient when skiing. As a young skier, I skied hard and fast and never really tumbled. I’ve never been in a situation where I was gasping for a breath or stopping at the side of the hill because my legs hurt…. until lately. I have in the past relied on skill or talent and not physical preparedness. Oops! That caught up with me real quick.

Remember the days when we were young and we could binge drink and eat without many side effects? Remember in our college/university days where staying up late, drinking a few beers and scarfing down a pizza didn’t have any real immediate effect? (Read The Compound Effect- by Darren Hardy) Well, at the time, we don’t think it has any effect. IF we continue with our poor nutrition plan as we did in university, it eventually catches up with us. So, whether we’re 18 or 58, proper nutrition can and does play a huge role in our fitness, mental state, and overall well being. Just remember: “Garbage in – Garbage out”/ “Fuel in – Energy Out” – Our bodies will run optimally when fueled correctly.

Tips & Tricks for proper Nutrition

There are literally millions of books, blogs, vlogs, and Apps focusing on nutrition. Keeping things simple as should a ski lesson be, here are some simple guidelines we can adopt that can actually be copied and habit forming.

  1. Shop 1 week ahead of time – Sunday is a good setup for the week.
  2. Prepare all meals for the week ahead of time (Breakfast, lunch dinners)
  3. Shop Online avoids impulse buying
    • Greens: (Broccoli, celery, green peas, cabbage (cheaper and just as good as kale), asparagus, romaine lettuce,
    • Protein: Chicken (boneless, skinless, chicken burgers), eggs, salmon, beans, bacon (Sorry-can’t live without bacon)
    • Fats: Yogurt and through other food sources.
    • Fruit: Bananas, Oranges, Blueberries, Raspberries, papaya, mangoes, and pineapple
    • Wine: in moderation
    • Apres-Ski jello shots? (ok, wait a minute)

Fitness

Mental Fitness

Mental fitness as mentioned early can easily be overlooked as an important aspect of becoming a better skier. One of the biggest contributors to ‘getting it right’ is visualization. We’ve all heard too often “what the mind conceives, the body achieves“. So, what’s the difference between two skiers of the same age, the same physical ability, and equal training habits? Why does one skier descend the slope with ease and poise while the other seems to struggle and attempt the slope in a mechanical awkward way? Well, there can be many factors to that, but more times that not, it’s been what starts in the head.

I’ve personally witnessed ski instructors on an exam start their teaching by saying: “No, I can’t do this!” and guess what, they were right. They stopped and backed out of the exam. I’ve heard other skiers on that same ski exam talk on the chairlift ride stating with confidence: “I don’t know how exactly, but I am going to kick this lesson in the teeth, and I am really going to help you guys improve your skiing“. WOW ! The outcomes were 90% mental and 10% physical. You’ve done the training, you’ve practiced all year, you’ve become physically fit, and you forgot to train your brain? Get yourself in the right frame of mind and the body will follow. Becoming a better skier doesn’t start with the feet, it starts at the other end (the noggin, the pre-frontal cortex, the brainage, da-thoughts, the training-of-the-brain, hippocampus)

Mental Toughness

Creating a tough mental state through visualization, reading, learning, mindfulness, mediation, and actual physical activity can result in a boost to our confidence, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Happy thoughts create motivation and a sustainable work ethic to continue growing.

A great Ted Talk: The brain changing effects of exercise – Dr. Wendy Suzuki


Physical Fitness

One thing that we have found through our own experience of ski teaching for more than 30 years is the fact that our Mental and Physical states are completely connected to one another. The mind drives the body, and the body improves the brain power. It’s a double-double espresso shot.

There have been countless studies that show physical fitness and the act of simply moving can build you a better machine, build mobility, flexibility, agility, strength, boost cardio, speed, improve reaction time and much more. On a side-effect level, physical fitness can improve digestion, build resistance and ability to handle stress, enhance our sex lives, reserve the aging process, and increase certain chemicals in the brain that help us with our mental state.

The trick is to start slowly, start early, and remain consistent for long term effect. Starting 4 days prior to ski season is a recipe for disaster. See 10 Ways to remain safe on the ski hill


Physical Exercise VS Training

Exercise and training are often confused and mentioned in conversations as synonymous. If we think of exercise as something that is building our bodies and training as skill improvement. Exercise can build a foundation for any activity. Training is very specific to build the right muscles and skills suited for skiing.

Exercise starts with mobility and a warmup. Once mobile and warmed up we can then conduct ski-specific exercises. Our aim is to develop flexibility, mobility, strength, endurance, speed, agility and more. It can begin with a moderate home-based exercises.

Here’s a sample list of our intro mobility & warm-up.

(Ski Strength – Marie-Michele Gagnon)

Mobility

  1. Ankle Mobility
  2. Hip Rockers
  3. Roller Rolls
  4. Lateral Twist

Dynamic Warmup

  1. Running Butt Kickers
  2. Squat Jacks + Lunges
  3. Downward Dog Kicks
  4. Squats
  5. Single leg side jump
  6. Sumo Squat + Outside Leg Lift
  7. Curtsy Squat 
  8. Squat Jacks & Jumpy Jacks 

Plyometrics – also known as jump training or plyos, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength).

Once mobile and warmed up, we can begin our focus on ski specific exercises.


Ski Specific Training

Ski Specific (30 seconds each X 2)

  1. Kettlebell side jump
  2. Single leg clockwise jumps (outside leg around a pillow)
  3. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift & Knee Hug
  4. Chair Pistols (2-Leg Sit, followed by single leg up)
  5. Bent knee Side Plank + Single Leg extensions + Torso Twist (Both Sides)

Ski Specific (30 seconds each X 2)

  1. Side Plank (Outer limb scissors)
  2. On Back Bicycle Ankle Touch
  3. Slow Full Sit-ups (each vertebrae)
  4. Bent Knee to Straight leg sit-ups
    1. Sitting Hip Flexor Rolls
  5. Crunches – 1 knee 90’, 1 knee extending

In order for this to “take”, always consult your doctor and/or trainer for a personal training program. One example of how to start this in the off season would be to start with a two sessions per week (2/week) building mobility and strength

Cycling uphill is another good way to build muscular endurance and can be substituted for the above.


Physical Training VS Exercise

Training can take on the form of both strength and ski-specific exercises, but more importantly, ski-specific training can be done on the slopes once the physical foundation has be built up. Exercise can be performed through regular sessions to develop mobility, strength, and power, but ski-specific exercises tailor your fitness to actual training for the sport.

After the strength building phase, it is time to convert that strength into sport-specific approach over a 4-6 week period of two-to-three workouts per week (2-3/week). This portion involve doing several ski mimicking exercises for many dozens of, and up to a few hundred repetitions. Training can be done for physical development but also skill-based development as well. Training can be done in the gym and more specifically, on the slope. Advanced skiers of either backcountry or downhill skiing, looking to move to a new level of skiing performance, should combine the two above mentioned approaches. Alternating a week of the endurance training with a week of strength and muscular endurance training will avoid boredom and get you out of the gym.

Just imagine, you’ll be in the best shape of your life for the coming ski season.


Tactical

Tactical training is more about the environment and the approach to training. Think of setting up the right environment and terrain to match our outcomes. All the exercises and training in the world can fall short if they’re not applied to the right approach or method to obtain the results. Again, this starts in the off-season with a consistent and deliberate fitness outline designed by your trainer or a training program. In order to avoid frustration and low interest, the program should build gradually and consistently. Setup up an environment that makes it easy to train at home, at the gym or on the slopes. Once on the slopes, build a pattern of training that simulates how you actually want to ski. Imagining skiing bumps on the steeps may take a progressive approach by starting in smaller bumps. Build up a step-by-step approach for the bumps that builds confidence and speed. The tactical approach can focus on speed, turn shape, and terrain choice. Control these variables and you can build a progressive learning pattern.

Choices: Speed, Turn Shape, Terrain

Recap The Tactical Approach

  1. Planned Out to reach optimal results
  2. Off Season Consistency
  3. Gradually build to avoid frustration or lack of interest
  4. Train on the right terrain
  5. Choose the appropriate turn shape, Speed, and pitch
  6. Train deliberately
  7. Train on snow with consistency
  8. Train in the right environment
  9. Control variables: Speed, Turn Shape, Terrain pitch
  10. Choose your learning approach(es)
    1. Watch me (from above, and from below)
    1. Follow me
    2. Try this right away
    3. Practice this

Technical

Most of us want the technical questions answered right away. “Don’t jargon me to death… just tell me how to improve!” We find if we start with the first step first (Mental Training), we’ll increase our chance for success exponentially. The technical aspect of skiing usually refers to “where in the body” and “where in the turn”. It’s what and when we have to move our bodies in order to make a direction change…

Once you get your mindset established, here are the technical fundamentals of skiing that we all need to improve on.

  • Use all joints to maintain balance and manage forces
  • Turning lead with the lower body and ski design
  • Create Separation and angulation to provide grip (Fig.1 & Fig. 2)
  • Link coordinated movement patterns
Fig.1 – Turn with lower body creating separation between upper & lower body.
Fig.2 – Maintain separation and angulation for grip.

Equipment

  1. Suitable Equipment (Type & Size)
    1. Keep it simple. If you’re not on the right equipment, you’ll struggle. Check with your local ski shop for all your equipment needs. Boot fitting, ski length, ski turn radius, ski sharpness/edge angles, pole length and much more. “You wouldn’t parachute with the wrong equipment would you? Same with skiing.
  2. Properly tuned equipment
    1. Is it a 1-degree bottom bevel on the bottom and a 2-degree side bevel? What does it all mean… What is sharp and how often do I need to sharpen them? Depending on the snow conditions and the purpose of the skier, skis can dull quickly and lose their performance. Dull skis don’t give you the grip or direction change we need. Hard packed surfaces require regular sharpening (every 4-5 uses); powder skis – not as much; Race skis – every race. Keep ’em sharp !
Sharp Skis make all the difference

I remember the day when a young (10 years of age) beginner male skier came out of the rental shop with a painful look on his face. As I approached him to see how the start of his day was going, I asked: “How are you?” With a painful wince in his face, he said: “My running shoes are killing me”. huh ? “Your running shoes??”, I replied “Ya, the laces on my running shoes are killing me!” Needless to say, I helped him walk back to the rental shop with his size 12 boots and got him sorted out…. Equipment can make you or break you.

Instructor

In summary, keep it simple. Start with the right mindset and continue to work on our physical, tactical and technical fundamentals. Happy Trails.

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