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How can you shake up your skiing performance and improve when you feel stuck with boredom? What activities can you practice to improve your skiing?
We are all creatures of habit. Repeatedly doing a simple task, such as a blue run that we find easy, gives us a sense of security because we won’t experience unknown challenges and we are skilled enough to handle the task on autopilot. The downside to always skiing blue runs is boredom. By nature, humans need to keep searching out new limits and achievements until they find their personal level of satisfaction. This is best demonstrated in sport, where, year-on-year, records are broken as sportsmen strive to smash the previous high scores.
Once you have achieved a certain level of skiing it can be difficult to know how to move on to new and exciting challenges. However, with a small amount of application and practice, you will be able to practice exercises, some of which are addressed at specific improvements and others, which are more widely aimed. Most exercises are a combination of applying a new psychological approach along with practical, physical actions.
1. Try Something Different
People are very different in their psychological make-up. At the extremes, some people prefer a risk-free life of routines and security. These people will be trading off their security against the boredom they are bound to experience. At the other extreme, some people enjoy taking lots of risks, and the insecurity of not knowing what’s around the next corner. These people find this lifestyle exciting and spontaneous. However, their trade-off is experiencing accidents and unexpected events, as they don’t plan for the future.
Most people fall within these two extremes, there is no right, or wrong, people simply fall into the lifestyle choices that suit their personality. However, for all types of personalities, one of the best ways to try something different in skiing is to adopt an action plan of taking small steps.
You might decide blue runs are no longer for you and that you need a challenge. It might be tempting to take on that black run you’ve seen and prove to yourself just what you can achieve. However, if you take on too much, too soon there is a likelihood you will fall flat on your face, both mentally and physically.
Recovering from a bad fall takes time, so it’s much better to advance in small steps. From the blue run move on to an easy red, and from there onto a medium red and finally a difficult red. You will be learning ability and technique gradually throughout all these stages rather than trying to cram everything into one short experience.
Whenever we are exposed to a situation, we are unsure of, we all naturally experience anxiety. Anxiety is the body’s reaction to a sense of danger, threat, or the unknown. It is a useful emotion as it prepares the body to either stay and fight the threat or to run away. Unfortunately, anxiety sometimes gets the upper hand, and you find yourself in a situation, terrified and unable to move. When the anxiety response is too strong it can be counterproductive. Often this extreme level of anxiety is caused by shallow breathing.
The rate and depth at which you breathe have been shown to directly correlate with anxiety. So, the saying, ‘Take a deep breath’ holds a lot of truth. By regulating your breathing to be deep and long you will re-establish your calmness and composure.
By challenging yourself with new skiing situations you will naturally feel uncomfortable and anxious. However, by making these new changes in small steps you can more easily acclimatize to the difference, conquer your fears, and up your game in skiing.
2. Train For Balance
When we’re skiing, balance is something we take for granted until an unknown encounter makes us lose it. When you compare the height of the skier to the surface area of his feet in contact with the ground keeping good balance is an incredible achievement.
In skiing, the terrain is often uneven and sloped, while the density of the snow can change how much support it can give. With all these uncertainties developing a strong sense of balance is going to equip the skier to be able to cope with any number of conditions. If you watch a skier negotiating powder through a forest you will see him making constant adjustments not only to corner and control the speed but also to maintain balance, as different unforeseen obstacles must be negotiated.
To actively train for balance find some flat snow and while standing still just lift one ski off the ground, so that your entire weight is transferred to the other ski. Hold this for 30 seconds and notice the minute changes the muscles in your leg make you continually keep you balanced.
Transfer to the other leg and repeat the exercise five times. Then move to a shallow groomed run and repeat the same exercise but this time lift the inside ski as you make a turn, so that the entire body weight is controlled through that one outside ski. Ensure the upper part of your body is facing down the fall line. Repeat with the other leg until your balance feels natural and the corners you are making are clean.
You should be able to experience how the brain makes constant readjustments with the muscles in the arms and legs to maintain a good sense of balance. Normally this process is completely automatic, and we are hardly even aware of it.
3. Turns With One Ski
When you turn in a corner you will be pushing your entire body weight down through the leg of the outer ski, and into the snow surface. With practice, you will probably find your inner ski tends to lift slightly, demonstrating that all the turning power is being initiated by the outside ski.
Using the same technique as the previous exercise, practice turns with all the weight on the outer ski and notice how by angling the edge of the ski the corner will sharpen or become wider. The weight transferring down through the outside leg into the ski should feel centered and balanced at the same time.
4. Experience Your Weight As It Goes Down Through Your Boots Into The Skis
You can keep your weight centered over your boots as your weight travels down into your skis. The distribution of this weight will change as you transition from corner to corner. Some skiers prefer to have a mental picture of their feet inside their boots, with their body weight being transferred downwards.
The aim is to always have a sense of where your weight is centered above the skis so that you are better able to react to any unforeseen situations you might come across.
5. Keep To The Rhythm
It can be infuriating sometimes when you watch a skier, who has a natural sense of rhythm. Their simplest moves are stylish and effortless. At first, it’s easy to imagine they are just showing off, but in reality, they have practiced enough to feel relaxed and comfortable, so that they ski almost automatically with a natural sense of rhythm.
Car drivers experience the same sensation. Sometimes you can drive a complicated route to a destination and arrive with no conscious memory of the journey. This doesn’t mean you have driven badly, just that your mind has been on autopilot.
Finding rhythm like this isn’t easy, however, there are exercises that will help you to start to develop your own natural beat. Find a wide, open groomed run and start to make sweeping turns left and right. Then make the turns narrower and experience the rhythm of moving from left to right. Experience the different changes in your legs and hips as you transition between the turns.
Experiment with making the turns faster and slower to experience the increased rhythm and sensation of movement. If this exercise is difficult at the start use your ski poles to define the beginning of the next turn. If you are completing a right-hand turn, reach out with your left hand and plant your ski pole to mark the transition to a left-hand turn.
6. Practise Side Slipping
Side slipping is a very useful exercise to practice control, balance, and use of edges. It is simple to practice and can be applied to any number of snow surfaces to build confidence and ability. Start simply on a quiet, steeper section of a blue run and stand perpendicular to the fall line, so you are across the run.
Practice with your stronger side first, so if you are right-handed have your right ski on the outside downhill. With legs slightly bent, angle the inner edges so that they release at the same time, allowing the skis to slide downhill in unison.
At first, you will probably find one ski release before the other but keep practicing until you can get both skis to release at the same time. Once they are released and you are sliding downhill gently engage the same edges to bring the slide to a stop. Repeat the exercise for the other leg. It’s good to practice this exercise on different types of terrain to gain confidence.
If you have a particular fear of ice or hardpack snow, try the exercise on a safe section to experience the sensation of the surface in a safer environment. Side slipping is a useful technique to get you out of difficulties in all sorts of situations. So, practicing it on different snows surfaces will equip you with the skills and confidence to handle many different situations.
7. Ski With Your Edges
The edges of your skis determine the curve of the corners that you make. As you initiate a turn you roll the skis onto their edges so that the metal edge starts to bite into the snow surface.
The in-cut or middle section of the ski rises away from the snow briefly, but the weight of the skier soon pushes this middle section into the snow completing an arc shape, which defines the curve of the turn. Using the edges well is fundamental to good skiing, where they help you to keep control and find a route through difficult conditions.
When practicing using your edges it can often feel like diminishing returns. You can feel like you’re really driving your edges into the snow but there seems to be no improvement in the turn. Often this can be down to the shape of the ankle, which is limiting the roll of the ski.
Instead of concentrating on making the edge bite into the snow imagine lifting the outside of your foot slightly. This small movement is enough to reconfigure the shape of the ankle so the edge can bite harder into the snow.
8. Keep Your Eyes On The Apex
Creating a good flow and style as you ski means you have more freedom to look ahead and keep an eye on where you’re going. You can practice this by looking where the apex of the next turn is but then, as you approach the apex, shift your vision to where the next apex will be.
You will find your body will naturally steer to where you are looking. This technique works well on groomed runs but is also invaluable on moguls and in the backcountry.
9. Stand Over The Ball Of Your Foot
We have already talked about the importance of centering your weight over the soles of your feet to achieve good control and balance. However, it is also possible to achieve finer control by using the ball of the foot as a lever.
It is difficult to naturally apply pressure from the ball of the foot. However, using a clever bit of reverse engineering, if you lift your big toe and scrape your big toenail over the upper part of your boot you will, in fact, be creating pressure down through the boot with the ball of your foot.
By applying pressure through the ball of your foot you can apply pressure to the tip of the ski. Ask a buddy to help you by kneeling in front of your skis and lifting the tips slightly off the snow.
This gives a simulation of how your skis bend when weighted and on edge. Then adjust your weight forward to force the toes of your boots down onto the snow. This exercise should demonstrate where your weight needs to be during a faster turn and give better stability.
10. Lean Forward
It’s an easy habit to fall into especially when you’re having a bad day but skiing leaning too far back will use a lot of unnecessary energy, make your thighs burn, and give you dismal control on the runs.
If you fall into the trap or think you have, check whether your shins are pressed firmly against the front inside of your ski boots. Your shins should be in contact with the front of your ski boot all time. So, lean forward, bend your legs slightly, and feel the weight of your body traveling down through your legs into your boots and transferring to the skis via the balls of your feet.
This stance will enable you to initiate easy stable turns, while your upper body is facing down the fall line. You will have a much better sense of control and ability when your weight is focused right over the skis.
11. A Piece Of String Between The Knees
To carry through smooth, coordinated turns your knees need to follow in unison. If you imagine there is a piece of string attached to the inside of each knee, as you start a turn, the outer ski will dictate the turn. However, you may find the inside ski is lazy and doesn’t fall into line. So, imagine the piece of string pulling the two knees together and creating good unison between the legs.
12. Master The Moguls
Love them or hate them – everyone has an opinion about moguls. However, if you struggle with moguls try this mental exercise to visualize your legs as shock absorbers. If you watch any Olympic skier taking on moguls, you will notice how their legs pump, as they absorb the constantly changing terrain.
You don’t have to master Olympic moguls yet, but you can practice this simple exercise to understand the technique. Find a small, quiet area of moguls where you can practice. Just concentrate on how your legs retract and extend as you go over the moguls. Start slowly and build up speed to give your legs can practice.
Eventually, your head should stay at the same height, whether your legs are extended or retracted. Get a buddy to video you and see if it’s working.
13. When You Need To Ski Over Chopped Powder or Crud – Slice Don’t Surf
After numerous skiers have used an ungroomed run, the surface will quickly become lumpy and uneven. Instead of carrying on trying to surf over the chopped powder or crud, change to using your edges instead, and simply slice through the surface. You will make much better progress and probably damage the tips of your skis less than trying to barge through lumps of heavy snow.
14. Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
As with any activity if you surround yourself with people who are honest and want to improve then those qualities should help you as well. We all ski as individuals but we constantly watch what other skiers are doing and we are quick to judge whether it’s good or bad.
So, use this natural critical ability and find some friends that also want to improve. Practice exercises in groups to get the best benefit. Those in the group that aren’t exercising in the right way will soon stand out and can be helped by the rest of the group to improve their game.
For skiing, exercises try videoing each other. Any problems will become clear on playback so that changes can be suggested.