Lots mental, some innate athleticism, and LOTS "transfer"--similar movements and sensations learned in other sports or activities. Hockey players, for example, are athletes to some degree already, probably at least reasonably fit, and confident in their athletic skills. Beyond that, they have learned to balance on slippery, gliding feet. They are familiar with both the movements and the sensations of using their edges. And they are aware of their feet--in particular, they are accustomed to controlling the direction their feet point, and to the idea that they MUST control this direction, constantly, in every movement they make. Hockey players, almost always, pick up skiing very, very quickly.
The mental side, of course, is very important too. Everyone knows that children tend to learn skiing with very little effort. I can't count how many times I've heard adults lament that "I should have learned when I was a kid." But think about it--as adults, they surely have FAR more strength and coordination than any 5-year-old. They have more experiences, athletic and otherwise, to draw from. Adults SHOULD learn much more quickly than children.
And many of them do. Those who do, though, are the ones who can remember to learn like children learn--to become fascinated with the discovery and learning process, to revel in "new" sensations. As children, most of us loved experiencing new things. As adults, most of us have learned to FEAR new things, to become comfortable only with the familiar.
A few years back, while waiting for my student to show up, I watched a couple 3-year-old twin girls the first time they ever clipped into a pair of skis on snow. Their skis slipped around, as usual, and they made the usual gross, awkward movements to avoid falling down. And they fell once or twice. But unlike most adults, they laughed about it! You could see in their eyes how much these new sensations fascinated them--they took pleasure in them! On their own, they tried new things, gingerly at first, then with increasing confidence, to CAUSE the skis to do "strange" new things, to explore these new sensations. Their skis started sliding backwards down a gentle incline. Rather than driving in their poles and freezing up (like many adults) trying to "force" the skis to behave, they just kept moving around until, probably by "accident," their skis turned sideways on the hill and stopped moving. They looked up and smiled with joy, having just discovered a wonderful new toy!
If only more adults could learn like that! All we have to do as adults to learn with the effortlessness of children is to become fascinated with the learning process itself. But we tend to focused only on the results, instead. We want to BE "good"--NOW--we HATE being "beginners." We fight new sensations. trying to force our skis to behave like normal feet, rather than allowing them to act like skis.
Adults who are willing to "play," willing to explore new things without fear of their newness, willing to "let go" and enjoy being beginners again, will learn the simple movements and tactics of skiing very quickly. Come on--admit it--you know you aren't really very likely to get injured when you fall down on the bunny slope! It's fear of embarrasment, fear of the unknown, or fear of being a beginner--not really fear of getting hurt--that interferes with most adults' learning to ski. We may SAY we're afraid of getting hurt--and we must admit that it is ALWAYS a possibility, whether skiing or not. But we really know better. It's more complicated than that!
And no--kids are NOT "fearless" either. That's another excuse many adults make, but it isn't true. Kids aren't usually afraid to learn, or to be beginners. But they have their fears. Ask any kids' instructor--fear of strangers, separation anxiety from their parents, fear of going too fast, and fear of purple monsters hiding in the snow, can all be real fears of children. So there goes that excuse, too, all you adults who are afraid that it's "too late"!
Learning on skis is NOT difficult! Mastering them is--no one has ever done it! Anyone fixated on becoming an "expert," rather than on the learning process itself, is destined to fail. For one thing, I know NO experts who are actually satisfied with their skiing! Proud of it, yes, and rightly so. But never satisfied. Part of the "expert's attitude" is, ironically, a perpetual "beginner's attitude." Show me a skier who has lost his passion for learning, and I'll show you a skier who has lost his love of skiing!
So the secret to learning to ski is to adopt this "expert's attitude"--the love of learning. For those considering starting skiing, think about this. And get yourself in shape. Try a little ice-skating or roller-blading, if you get a chance. But most of all, look forward to being a beginner again! How long has it been since you've had that opportunity--or that pleasure?