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"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT":
That First Skiing Lesson
by Bill Jones, Ski Instructor
Certified Professional Ski Instructor (Registration
#110478), Level III
private ski lessons at Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, other areas
selected skiing as your sport," which is like what you often read when you first
open a newly purchased product. The next sentence may be, "Be sure to read
the instructions first". And there may even be a disclaimer telling of inherent
dangers if you use the product the wrong way.
Those are important advices to
heed before and as you start skiing the first time, too.
It is possible to learn to ski
without taking lessons, or by taking the advice of friends, or by just trying it
on your own. But because skiing uses the human body in unaccustomed ways and in
a harsh environment, lessons from a professional allow you to discover efficient and versatile ways
you would be unlikely to find on your own. And lessons may even reduce the
risk factor--not only to your own body but to those whom you might
otherwise run into and possibly injure with corresponding liability for your
action. Too, lessons will reduce the need to unlearn a movement or position
that does not work well and relearn an effective replacement. Your teacher might
say, "I can help you discover things that work."
Consider the frustration: Learning to ski is a process
that is more challenging than most people imagine. The first day of skiing is a
difficult one, often the hardest ski day one will ever experience. Even though
we may not intend to excel at the sport, just gaining competence can take great
resolve as we figure out how to get our skis do what we want them to get us to
do. If we get hooked on the sport, the frustration can continue: witness the
lament of Phil Mahre, one of America's greatest skiers ever: "I still can't make
10 perfect turns in a row...Two or three of them will be perfect, maybe five
will be OK, and two of 'em will flat suck." (Ski, Oct 2008). Yet
many beginners want results NOW.
Consider the environment.
Have clothing in layers so you can add or take
off, and with zippers for the same effect. Have head coverings available to
preserve warmth and/or to shade bright sunlight. Sun-blocking cream is always required--even
on cloudy days, for ultraviolet rays can get through clouds. Or the weather could be cold, dark, and windy. Lip salves are good. Goggles and
sunglasses should be available. Ski clothing comes with many pockets to store
and retrieve such items. Troublesome altitude effects are possible, as most ski areas
are high in the
mountains, so at first do not overexert and drink plenty of
fluids--but go easy on the caffeine and little or no alcohol.
Consider the equipment. Beginners' skis differ
from those suited for intermediate and advanced skiers--beginners use shorter
skis that are easier to turn and tip and that are softer so they bend more
easily. Too, beginners' boots do not need as much stiffness because at lower
speeds there is less force to distort their shape. You should be able to flex
your ankles while in your boots so your lower leg goes forward without hurting
your shins. Why buy gear first, because you'll need different gear after a few
sessions? And avoid using another's skis, which are unlikely to be the right
ones for you. Go to a good rental shop and take their advice. They will help you
select the right skis for you based on your height, weight, age, and skiing
style and will also adjust the ski bindings so they are more likely to release
you from the skis when needed. (You might find a better price away from your
chosen ski area, but if the rented equipment needs adjustment you will be
Consider the whole body. Have you done some conditioning before
skiing? If so, good! Even if you have, however, many find that the first time out on skis they use
their muscles and joints in new ways and are surprised when a body part hurts,
hindering its use.
Pace yourself so you can last longer. Likely you will learn faster when not
tired. It is better to take a break before you get tired so that you won't get
tired. Get adequate sleep the night before skiing. Start your first ski day
before other activities, not in the middle of or near the end of a busy day. Eat well before and
during skiing and keep an energy bar handy in your pocket. Stay hydrated. Take
rest room breaks. Use warming huts. Only when our bodies are happy will our
minds let us allow what we want our bodies to do.
Consider the legs. Most persons have legs that behave
differently. Just as we may be right-handed or left-handed, we are likely also
right-legged or left-legged. And your "legged-ness" may differ from your
"handed-ness". Find out which leg is dominant for you by doing some simple
tests--kicking a ball, standing on one leg and then the other to see which gives
you better balance, etc. Then find ways to exercise the lazier leg to make it
stronger, more responsive, and more maneuverable. (Twist and tilt the foot with
that leg, for instance, and rotate the leg outward against resistance, for
instance. Do this long enough before a ski trip to give time to improve
performance, for both legs must be used in skiing during turns and a lazy leg
can severely hinder progress.
Consider the psyche. Why are you trying the sport?
Did the devil make you do it? Did you see those sexy ads in the slick ski
magazines? Is apres-ski at the bar your motivation? Do you want to be able to ski with a
significant other? find a significant other? with kids? with grandkids? Do you
like the stylish clothes? Are you competitive and want to win a race on skis?
Are you bored in the winter and want a new activity? Will you be impressing--or
keeping even with--others in the office at the proverbial water cooler? Have you
been dared? Do you want to enjoy the winter mountain views? Do you want to be a ski instructor?
Consider the mind. Are you a risk-taker? If so, you might
learn faster as you try out new positions and movements. But be careful at the
same time so you don't become a statistic you don't want to be. Are you
cautious? If so, you might slow your progress into the sport's joys and
even be a hazard to yourself for not using more daring actions that would
actually allow better performance. Think as in the Nike slogan, "Just do it!" and avoid the 4-letter
word in this sentence: "I can't." Think about how you like to learn--watcher,
thinker, doer--and try to use the method that works best for you, but include
the other methods as well for fastest progress. Share your learning-style
preference with others helping you learn. Visualize movement patterns
rather than static positions: skiing is a sliding sport. Recall the adage
that "No decision is a decision", for even if you do not change your body's
position as you ski, your skis will take you somewhere. By taking action you may
influence what will happen into a desirable outcome.
Consider the lesson. Does your source of
learning--instructor, book, video--have credentials and/or experience in the profession? Do you
and he/she/it relate? Is the terrain you are on non-threatening so you can focus
on learning? Is the lesson long enough so you can learn what you should (this
varies by individual; some will need less lesson time to reach goals and others
more, depending on their physical and mental makeup plus past activities and
more). Is there enough time in the lesson to "groove in" new patterns of
Consider the joy. "Are we having fun yet?" may be a
question at first, as the first ski lesson is for most the hardest they will
ever take. A long-time ski school director had this index for his success with
"never-ever" students: He watched for teeth, revealing the beginnings of smiles, rare at first except
from nervousness. Stay with skiing long enough to give the teeth a chance to
show and know if it is a sport for you,
and you will be more likely to join the millions of others who spend their years
looking forward to their next sliding experience on snow.
Consider the future. Now that you have decided to start the sport,
and assuming you like it, where will you go with it? Pick any goal you like--to ski
the easiest green terrain, to cruise the blue groomed runs, to dive down the
black steeps, to navigate the moguls, to taste the powder, to win the races--but note that
most skiers advance their goals with time on the snow and the discovery that the
better their skills the better their enjoyment and the more they can experience
the best of the mountains. Beware: skiing is addictive.
Ski-heil! (a wish for health and happiness: it means long
life and good luck; with wholesomeness.)
Permission to Fail—there’s a certain freedom from being clueless:
by Julie Matlof Kennedy (excerpted from Stanford Magazine,
January-February 2015, p. 112)
“How many times have I let the fact that I’m not
good at something stop me from doing it? Early on, I focused on the things I
did well and made it a habit to avoid everything else. I succeeded…and was
fed a steady dose of praise. I learned to crave it. I was an approval
junkie. Doing poorly was unimaginable—even average felt not good enough. So
I stayed in safe territory, avoiding anything that might expose me as
clumsy, uncertain or incompetent…
On my 45th birthday, though, I decided I
had kept myself locked in safety long enough. My need for approval had
become paralyzing. What I really needed was to be clueless—to risk doing
something new, with no expectation that I would be any good at it. …in the
end I chose horseback riding…But I had never really ridden.
The first challenge was purely physical. My
middle-aged body wasn’t eager to embrace new exertions. I couldn’t believe
how much I hurt. Even more daunting was the mental hurdle. It’s disorienting
to start at the bottom, especially when you’ve spent your life avoiding it.
I found myself asking my instructor again and again what to do…
Now, four years into what has become a passion I
start every ride with a list of things I want to do that day. For once, I am
not trying to achieve anything. I ride for the love of it. I ride because
it’s a pleasure to be a rookie learning from a thoughtful professional. I
ride as part of a community of kindhearted equestrians who support and cheer
for beginners. I ride because even if I’m not very good at it, it’s very
good for me.”
THE SNOW PLOW
The snow plow, often taught in a first lesson, can be the
foundation of one's ski life in a positive or negative way. Bud Heishman on
November 25, 2016 in the PSIA forum explains to ski instructors the two ways in
his article quoted below: active weight shift versus passive weight shift. The
difference matters. Be sure your instructor uses passive weight shift (i.e.,
your movements allow gravity and the forces developed by turning to put the
weight where it belongs. Not all instructors understand this, and that is where
having a certified instructor at a higher level is important.
It's that time of the year again
when we begin training new hire instructors to teach beginners. We must
seize this opportunity to ingrain the offensive movements PSIA encourages.
Wedge turns are the foundation that establish a skier's path to progress.
Wedges are the training wheels of a parallel turning and should contain the
embryonic elements of a parallel turn. Nothing should need to be unlearned
in order to progress seamlessly into parallel turning. The movement
patterns learned here determine whether the skier builds on an offensive or
defensive intent to turn. We reach an important, distinctive fork in the
road during these first wedge turns. Wedge turn initiations reveal
whether we have chosen an offensive "GO" intent or defensive braking
intent. One leads quickly to christies, and simultaneous movements of
parallel initiations while the other dead ends into defensive, braking stem
christies and sequential movements of a plateaued terminal intermediate. We
want our trainers to experience this epiphany and clearly understand these
two choices so that our new hires and staff recognize the important choices
they have in front of them and choose wisely.
The "Target" wedge turn:
sharper our focus on the target the better. The more unified and concise
our target, the better our product. Our focus in the beginner zone is the
rotary skill which requires certain priorities to facilitate effectively
guiding the skis with lower leg rotation. All too often our new and veteran
instructors abandon the rotary focus for the low hanging fruit of the "edge
and pressure" or active weight transfer route, condemning our students to
Let's look at a wedge turn through the 5 fundamentals of skiing with a focus
on the target.
Control the relationship of the center of mass to the base of support to
direct pressure along the length of the skis
want a stance which places the skier over the "sweet spot" of the ski on the
fore/aft plane. This facilitates the ability to twist the ski using lower
leg rotation. Each skier's sweet spot will be determined by the angles
created by their equipment including ramp angle (internal boot board angle),
forward lean angle (upper cuff), delta angle (external angle created by
difference in binding toe height and heel height) and by the binding mount
position on their skis. We must be aware of these variables as trainers to
understand our instructor stances. for example; an instructor on center
mounted twin tips will present a different stance than a classic mount
position. They will present a more vertical spine with hands closer to
their sides as a result because the sweet spot is moved farther aft on their
skis. or a person with a very short boot sole, mounted on a very high stand
height differential binding creating excessive lower leg angle will present
a very flexed stance with hips aft. Recognizing these skiers will not be
able to present the "target" stance without addressing these equipment
Control pressure from ski to ski and
TOWARD THE OUTSIDE SKI.
This fundamental is a key to clearly understanding our choices and the
preferred method to use. It is here that a major fork in the road occurs!
We can choose a "Passive" or "Active" weight shift. One nurtures the
toppling effect of advanced skiing causing edge release with tips moving
downhill. The other, negative movements which interrupt fluidity creating
defensive braking movements with tails moving uphill.
HOW we "direct
pressure toward the outside ski" is the key!!!
Our target should be a passive weight shift, evidenced by a simultaneous
shift of weight to the new outside ski caused by releasing pressure and edge
on the platformed, downhill ski, permitting both ski tips to seek the fall
line. There is no movement of the head or torso up hill or toward the
outside ski before the fall line. This is a key choice and focus, the
proverbial "fork in the road".
The active weight shift can be done statically while the active [did Bud
mean passive here?] shift can NOT, without losing balance, as it requires
movement and the presences of turning forces, created by this movement, to
work. We can demonstrate this on the flats in boots only or inside on the
floor. Simply stand with feet hip width apart and gradually move all your
weight to one foot. You will notice the default movement is to tip the head
and torso to one side actively transferring the weight to one ski. Now, try
lifting one foot slowly without any lateral movement of the head and torso
in the opposite direction. At first, we resist, then when we do the drill
we find it causes an imbalance and we topple toward that side. Now imagine
doing this gliding down the hill in a wedge position.... This passive weight
shift of lifting or "releasing" pressure, and consequently edge angle,
causes a turning initiation and instantaneously accomplishes the weight
shift toward the outside ski.
Our trainers must understand the difference. The passive weight shift is an
immediate result of releasing the downhill edge and pressure, (the turn
initiation causes the weight shift). While in the active weight shift
the skier transfers weight to the new outside ski to initiate a turn (the
weight shift causes the turn). The choice we make here determines our path
to parallel. The passive weight shifts are the mechanics of parallel turns,
the active weight shift leads to defensive, stem christie initiations and
the intermediate plateau.
▪ Control edge angles through a combination of inclination and
Edge angles in a wedge turn are largely a result of the wedge position and
the slope angle with slight inclination developed to balance against the
slight turning forces created. While slight knee angulation will develop
through lower leg turning efforts, it is not something to draw focus, rather
a resultant of turning efforts of lower legs. At the turn initiation much
of the releasing of the downhill ski's edge grip is do to a release of this
turning effort and weight shift from one turn into the next.
▪ Control the skis rotation (turning, pivoting, steering) with leg
rotation, separate from the upper body
First, the wedge size needs to be wide enough to offer enough lateral
stability for the beginner movements from side to side yet narrow enough to
keep edge angles low, facilitating rotary movements of the lower legs.
Lower leg rotation is an alien movement to most beginner skiers because it
isn't used in any other facet of life or sport and must be learned. A
concerted effort by our training staff needs to create as many ways to teach
this skill as possible rather than quickly brush over this important skill.
A list of drills and exercises to this goal should be developed and share
freely amongst all!
target wedge turn mechanics focus on this skill yet have historically been
compromised too quickly, succumbing to the edge and pressure focus of the
active weight shift thus heading down the other fork in the road.
▪ Regulate the magnitude of pressure created through ski/snow
In a wedge turn this fundamental is of little consequence though the
rudimentary movement of releasing the pressure from the down hill ski to
cause the turn initiation and weight shift is the embryonic stage of this
fundamental. The flexion extension in a wedge turn should largely focus
more on a lateral flexion or long leg/short leg movement rather than a
vertical flexion extension where the hips move closer and farther from the
base of support. The reason for this is we see students who are taught to
flex and extend vertically using equal ankle, knee, hip flexion develop the
bad habit of hip rotation, squaring or even advance rotation of the hips.
Focusing on lower leg rotation develops a strong inside half or countered
position. This results in a longer downhill leg and a shorter uphill leg or
lateral flexion used simply to balance against the turning forces. Vertical
flexion is learned later when the skier finds the need to absorb greater
forces and manage pressure build up more effectively.
end of article
"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT"--a skiing web
manual: Skiing Web Manual Contents Why
Read this Skiing Web Manual THAT
FIRST SKIING LESSON A
Little Skiing History Motion
Conventional Skiing Wisdoms
Skier Excuses Fear
in Skiing Conditioning
for Skiing Equipment
to Develop Balance on Skis
A Skiing Turn
Simplified The Final Skiing Skill:
pressure management Tactics for Terrains and Snow
Textures and Racing
Skiing Tips and Tales--a potpourii
Exercises for Developing Skiing Skills
Children and Skiing
Age and Skiing
Gender & Skiing
Culture & Skiing
Skiing Ethics and Slope Survival
Slope Safety Skiing
Videos and Apps
SkiMyBest Website Contents
This "That First Skiing Lesson" page last modified 01/20/2018 06:26:40 PM. Did you come here from a link on another website?
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Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. William R Jones.