Picking out the first pair of women's skis for the day during She Skis, 2014.
Copyright: Heather B. Fried
Skiers who fall somewhere along the intermediate—advanced—expert spectrum may be perfectly content to cruise—carve up—rip resorts of choice at their speed via their style. But those who reached that given level long ago may also be doing it all wrong.
This is not to say that your ski skills plateaued, per se; it’s just that the sport especially did not. Skiing keeps progressing with or without all those skiers along with it… even the terminology’s changed.
SHE SKIS, WHERE TECHNIQUE & TECHNOLOGY HIGH FIVE
I’ll bet even those who’ve noticed and adapted accordingly are holding onto at least some of your old-school skiing style, engrained from the day you graduated ski school. I totally was, and didn’t even know it until I watched a video of myself taking turns during She Skis: a women’s clinic held at Vail and run by OnTheSnow’s Ski Test Director, Krista Crabtree—a.k.a. the inspiring and encouraging ski buddy you wish you had.
The first time I hit the mountain with Krista, she said that good skiers are always improving something, so I immediately went to work on my ski-self-betterment. In her case, the improvement du jour was envisioning a penny in her boot where cuff meets shin. To keep that penny in place, you’ve got to flex forward throughout your turn, pinching it with even pressure. Drop the penny, and you’ve dropped the ball, slipped into the backseat and are now fighting for control.
It’s actually harder than it sounds, and if your shins are barking at the end of the day from the Lincoln head embedded there, you did it right.
Taking a look back at some foundational fixes for outdated form is enlightening and kind of funny. Getting to experience that with a group of like-minded women who came out to up their game and have fun? It’s hard to envision a better way to spend a bluebird weekend. Oh, unless you add the fact that we got to jump on as many pairs of fresh-for-'14/'15 women’s skis as we could lap from top brands like Nordica, K2, Atomic, Völkl, Dynastar, Salomon, Blizzard, Armada, etc… yeah, I wish I were there right now.
So many women's skis, so little time...
Copyright: Heather B. Fried
SKI-VOLVE, YOUR EQUIPMENT DID
First stop, Vail Sports in Lionshead or V21 to pick out skis and find out why we’re having so much more fun than women used to back when we had to muscle our long and narrow skis down the mountain. Women’s-specific skis are designed for women by manufacturers that increasingly understand there’s only one Lindsey Vonn. In other words, we’d prefer not to ski something made for men, much less a men’s ski minus a few centimeters here, plus a few flowers there—or "shrinked and pinked" to borrow from Kim Walker, founder of Outdoor Divas, Boulder's women-only sport's store.
Generally, we women need something that’s softer flexing than what the guys got because we don’t weigh as much as they do. And said weight, being more centered in the hip region, brings binding placement forward giving us more control… just to name a couple attributes.
Gender aside, advances to skis themselves are making the sport ever more enjoyable—and, let’s face it, more user friendly. If you’ve bought a pair in, oh, say, the last decade or so but haven’t also upgraded your technique, then you’re not getting out what you just invested in that technology.*
In fact, going through the same ol’ motions on a state-of-the-art ski is akin to multi-tap numeric texting on an iPhone: possible, but not ideal. If you haven’t already figured out where I’m going with this—skiing influences skis influences skiing, and round (and down) we go.
*If you haven’t bought a new pair of skis in the last decade, you’re probably missing out. During this insightful clinic, we also worked on how to demo and decipher differences between each ski to determine the best fit, but that’s a topic for another day.
Pinch that penny for perfect turns.
Copyright: Heather B. Fried
GET THE MOST OF TODAY’S TECHNOLOGY WITH TECHNIQUE TWEAKS LIKE…
1. Stance: Stacked & Spaced
Newsflash, ski waist widths are wider now than their non-shaped brethren. However, next time you’re riding the chairlift, count how many people zip by with legs locked together. Then when you see them later, ask how it feels to fight your gear all day.
Those wider waste widths that lend float and play to a powder day have also spread our stance. Turns out, keeping feet about hip width apart with a 60/40 weight distribution between outside (downhill) / inside (uphill) ski is way more stable and a much better foundation on which to build your skiing powerhouse.
Just as important as stability is efficiency. With weight flexed forward, try skiing in a stacked and springy athletic position with hips over knees over toes and watch your après come back to life without tired legs at the end of the day. Beware the temptation to stick your butt out or bend at the waist in the process—another couple fun ones to observe from above.
OK, so we’re "pinching our pennies," feeling the "breeze between the knees" and stacked athletically as we head into our first run of She Skis. No problem, right? Dare you to do all that without rolling your knees in. Thanks to our wider hips, the foundation-compromising knee roll comes especially natural to women—although you don’t need to hit the slopes to see men also doing this in ski photos everywhere.
To correct, another lesson in visualization. This time, it’s two fists between your knees, or if you prefer, your kneecaps have headlights so that the knees—and everything attached to them—stay perfectly parallel at all points through the turn.
To top off our stack, let your body be quiet and relaxed upstairs. With hands always in your peripheral, a light pole tap will do. Shoulders should face the direction of travel—a position that’s remarkably contrary to the old-school twist and counterbalance.
We even learned to tuck in formation during She Skis, 2014.
2. Turns: Smooth & Symmetrical
Unless you star in ski films for a living, watching yourself ski on video is going to be ugly. Krista’s tip: suspend judgment long enough to find something right—color coordination notwithstanding—and then let ‘er rip.
It’s not that bad, really, and nothing will tell you more about where you stand… or how you stand up too much, in my case. Recall from ski school, if you will, counting "down two three, up two three, down two three," accentuating turn, transition, turn. That one’s gotta go, too.
With all kinds of ski sidecuts that love to turn, there’s no need to throw this kind of oomph into it anymore. And as fun as it is when someone’s following too closely, snow spray should be minimized. Smooth out turns by pinching that penny, which will inevitably fall as legs straighten. If you were skiing on eggshells, would they break? Keeping your upper body from popping up periodically will also help your moguls skiing.
During our video review session, we also talked tip lead, something you probably see more skiers than not doing. We shouldn’t be looking like we’re making tele turns, one ski jutting out in front of the other. Uneven tips mean unaligned hips, putting cracks in our solid foundation. Sliding that ski back to match its partner is a slight adjustment, albeit a constant one that happens at every turn until you get the feel of edging properly to prevent tip lead in the first place.
Watching yourself ski, tip #1: suspend judgement.
Copyright: Heather B. Fried
3. Focus, then Fuggedaboutit
The biggest surprise? The amount of concentration I had been putting into keeping my knees parallel amounted to almost no visible improvement. I’d hate to see how I looked before. Rather, I can’t wait to see how I look down the line.
The subtleties of what you could be doing better with your toes, feet, knees, hips, core, arms and head will astound you. When put together, the minutia will transform your technique… but don’t let it drive you crazy in the meantime. It’s a lot to repopulate your mind with between moments of mountain-admiring awe. If you’re not allowing yourself some leeway and freedom from overthinking to simply experience skiing, then you’re missing the point.
If all this form and function doesn’t sound much different than how you were skiing way back when, then perhaps you had it all wrong before—ahead of your time, that is, in which case, please drop me a line and hook a girl up with a little preview of what’s next!