Me wanna go swoosh!

Dav on skisThis year has had really quite a nice number of opportunities for me to work on my skiing skills, or lack thereof. A bit of an expensive hobby? sport? to start getting interested in, but what the hell, it’s fun dammit.

It started with a trip with work to XScape over at Castleford, an indoor snow ski slope for those unfamiliar with the brand. It isn’t as good as, say, the Swiss Alps but 30 minutes drive is great compared with getting to the nearest snow covered mountain. After that I had a fantastic week’s holiday in Grimentz with a good group of friends, which highlighted some pretty unhelpful muscle memory from Tai’Chi but was a cracking education and also an excuse to eat substantially more than no Raclette.

I’ve just been on the last of another three trips to XScape with work and am thoroughly hooked on skiing. It was only 6 hours spread over 7 weeks but boy has it made a difference to my skiing style and confidence. I started in October thinking “hmm, well I’ll just get off the lift half way and practice my snowplough to make sure I remember how these ski things work again” and finished last night wondering why people bothered with poles as they only got in the way whilst parallel turning with apparent ease and enjoyment.

I had the theory of how turning was supposed to work from my expert tuition in Switzerland but wasn’t able to make it work for more than 3 minutes at a time, or without my skis wandering off in unhelpful directions. The video of me ‘accidentally’ jumping is not a pretty sight, although I’m told it’s quite amusing.

The secret to my overnight success? 6 months of just thinking about it and the application of 3 pieces of sage advice from a couple of friends:

  1. Really press forward in your boots
  2. Bend your bloody knees
  3. Always lean downhill

I already knew all this conceptually, I call the pressing forward in your boots part ‘activating the skis’. With your weight aiming towards the balls of your feet all the time, the skis have much more ability to move in response to your weight shifting. Don’t think about rotating your feet, that way leads to landing on your nose (DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS!), just move your hips in the direction you wish to turn and, eventually, you will.

To turn more quickly, why nothing could be easier. Just bend your knees a lot so that your thighs are at least 45 degrees to your torso, turn with your hips as usual and use your knees to push away from the turn, all the while not forgetting point 1, otherwise one of your skis won’t turn and it’s back to picking the snow out of your nose.

Leaning downhill (or toward the fall line, if you’re thinking of the physics) is one of the ways of controlling speed, if you think of skiing icons the person is typically perpendicular to the angle of the slope, which seems leaning an awfully long way forward when you’re on the slope and a bit timid round the edges. However, this principle lends itself to all sorts of fun tricks, like traversing (leaning a bit uphill), skiing sideways (skis sideways, lean downhill, and hope your skiis don’t dig in to the snow too much, otherwise it’s back to the nose-snow interface again) and doing 360s.

Doing 360s is a fun trick, but you do need skis that don’t object to going backwards. A couple of friends were on snow blades last night, which look great fun – I’m going to have to try some of those soon. Essentially you do a normal turn, but keep going round until you’re skiing backwards, then turn again in the same direction. Imagine standing still, then smoothly leaning round in a full circle. This is easier on blades because a) the skis are dead short so are much harder to get crossed, b) they’re slower than skis so you don’t get carried away, c) they tend to be rounded on both ends (if you’ve ever done any kayaking, think Rotabat) so will still turn when going backwards. I tried this on the 160cm rental skis I use at XScape and had, err, technical issues with recovering from going backwards.

I still have a very long way to go with working on my skiing ability. For the moment, it boils down to three key areas

  • keeping my skis parallel and close together
  • turning posture
  • courage in the face of speed

Once I have enough practice to truly trust that my skis will do what I want them to, then I suspect I’ll be much happier travelling at what normal people call average speeds. For now, I’m happy in my cozy thinking that going straight from the top to the bottom at Xscape is enjoyably fast. Compared to doing that somewhere like, ooh, coming down the blue run from Panorama on Roc d’Orzival at Grimentz?

Eeek! Snowplough!