9 Ways to Improve Your Skiing, Now
I am not a ski instructor. Nor am I a coach. But I have been an editor for ski magazines for more than 20 years, which means countless instruction features are at least partially responsible for the crow’s feet crinkling my eyes.
But perhaps the thing that gives me the most ski-teaching cachet is not on my resumé at all—I’m a mom to a daughter who defiantly proclaimed herself “not outdoorsy” as soon as she could talk. (She’s since come around.)
So hear me now and thank me later, these are some of the best instruction tips out there—curated through years of experience (read: hot tears fogging up goggles, poles angrily thrown into the woods, and dramatic proclamations—“Just leave me here to die”—made atop many a mogul). Getting better, my daughter says, makes this sport so much more fun. (I told her so.)
Stabilize your upper body
Yes, you’ll feel like a total goon doing this at your home hill. But when you feel your edges guide you into your first clean carve, you’ll finally become the sexy beast you knew you were inside. Hold your poles horizontally with both hands across your chest, with your elbows straight. Keep your feet in a parallel stance. As you start to turn (choose a mellow groomer), tip your ankles into the hill and keep your poles horizontal. Do not let them rotate or dip. This will teach you to engage the turn while keeping your shoulders and hips level and facing down the hill, ultimately keeping you in in the fall line.
Racers, and ex-racers, are great people to watch. Here Katy Kilpatrick turns her legs under a strong and stable upper body.
Keep your hands up
I still yell this to my daughter at least three times every day we’re on the hill (eliciting eye rolls I can see from 100 yards away). This is especially important when learning how to ski bumps, because the second you let a hand down or leave your pole planted too long, you’ll end up rotating your upper body and getting out of the fall line. Keep your hands in front of you like you’re holding a steering wheel—your pole plant should be a brief stab—so you can see them at all times.
Tip your ankles
Even though your ankles seem like they’re not moving in your ski boot, they’re the first thing you need to think about when you’re learning how to carve. I used to stand my daughter on the hill sideways and just have her practice standing still on her edges. Try this, and practice releasing your edges and sliding down, then digging in again. Think of it as tipping only your ankles—not your knees or hips—into the snow. This will teach you how to drive your full edge into the snow in a carve.
Here you can see Wagner's Herb Manning tipping his ankles up the hill as he carves across the pitch.
It’s amazing what an important role your upper body plays when taking your skiing to the next level. Think of your arms and shoulders as your steering mechanism—your lower body always follows. To that end, imagine you have two flashlights duct-taped on top of your shoulders, and you always want them to shine straight downhill. That will keep your body in the fall line, and you’ll go from skiing across the hill to linking turns down it.
Shin to boot
Having an aggressive power stance—forward lean, legs bent, muscles engaged—is key. To get there, actively press your shins into your boots (you should feel the boot flexing with you in your shin bone). Also, your weight should be in the balls of your feet. This will keep you leaning forward.
A great image showing how much flexion you can get in your ankles, even in ski boots.
Think of your pole plant as a metronome—it’s what defines your rhythm. It’s small in terms of how much your arm should move, yet it’s enormous in terms of importance. You should aim to plant your pole near the tip of your ski just before the turn, right when you’re in the transition from the last one (your skis should be flat, or not yet on edge, and traveling straight down the fall line). Reaching forward will force you to lean forward and stay in that aggressive stance.
I do this drill all the time (my daughter doesn’t have this issue). When carving, ideally you should have parallel shins and your skis should be on edge at the same angle. Often times I get lazy on the groomers and let my inside (or uphill) knee drift inward. This is called an A-frame (where you’re knock-kneed). It’s bad form because it causes you not to get as much power from the inside edge, which is not engaged to its full potential. To combat this, I think about skiing with a beach ball between my knees, and actively push that inside knee out (or uphill).
Cindy Smith, one of Telluride's top ski instructors, shows perfectly parallel legs as she skis the bumps.
Look at the spaces
This might seem super basic, but it’s amazing how many people get hung up in the trees because they’re looking at the damn things. (I suppose our instinct makes us want to watch the things we’re afraid of, but it works better with a hungry lion than a tree.) Your eyes determine your path, so always look at where you want to go instead of what you want to avoid.
Yes, of course you know how to breathe. But when people get scared or nervous, they tend to hold their breath or just take short little sips of air without even realizing it. If you’re pushing yourself in new terrain, take a moment on top of your line and take three deep breaths. It’ll calm your nerves and flood your body with oxygen that you’ll need to fire your muscles. If you’re skiing bumps, make a conscious effort to exhale all the way with each one.
Hopefully these tips help you the next time you’re out on the hill. If not, well, there’s always après. (I’m an expert at that, too.) Cheers to you.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.