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How to improve when skiing only once a year?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
First-time poster, hope this is the right place to discuss my dilemma. I'm a 35-yo "beginning intermediate" skier who is stuck in the rut of having a hard time learning to do proper (i.e., carved, not skidding) parallel turns b/c I'm only able to ski once (or less!) a year (last time I skied was in March 2008) mostly due to cost. I have no ambitions to ever ski moguls, deep powder, trees, double black-diamonds, etc. I'm not much of a natural athlete but love the outdoors (do lots of birding, hiking, some backpacking) so my main interest is simply getting around the mountain and enjoying the slopes...BUT I'd like to do it as well as I can. If I can simply learn how to improve my parallel turns enough to ski blue and black runs on an average ski resort comfortably and with good technique, I will be happy. The last time I skied I took an hour-long private lesson at Alpine Meadows (Lake Tahoe, CA) and my instructor spent most of the time teaching me how to carve rather than skid my turns. I felt like I was getting the hang of it but after looking at a video of me skiing the next day (taken by my wife) I saw the same bad habits (skis too far apart, skidding tails out at ends of turns, not keeping hands up). So basically, whenever I ski I'm able to get down blue runs without falling but I fear my technique is terrible, and it's something I'd like to improve upon. Trouble is, since I ski so infrequently I'm faced with the dilemma of spending my vacation day focusing on my technique (takes a lot of mental focus) vs. just "having fun" and skiing around the mountain with my wife (she's not as anal about technique as I am). I really wish we had the financial resources to ski more but with the cost of lift tickets and lodging it's really difficult for us to manage more than one trip a year (not to mention the dreaded I-80 slog up to Tahoe on weekends).

I know I'm rambling a bit, but I guess I'd like to ask if anyone has any suggestions for how I should mentally approach our upcoming trip to Badger Pass (Yosemite NP). We're only going to ski one day (snowshoeing the other) so this is it for the year, unfortunately. I'd like to take what limited time we'll have to improve my skiing, but am not sure how feasible it'll be to focus on technique and skills while having fun at the same time. My plan is to stay relaxed, perhaps stick to the lone green run for awhile to practice, then gradually progress to the blue runs. Are there any particular exercises I should focus on for keeping my skis closer together, especially during turn transitions? I also have a harder time with left turns, primarily due to my weaker left foot's inability to commit to an edge change before the fall line (I distinctly remember my instructor telling me at the end of my last lesson to work on engaging my edges earlier in my turns). Any suggestions would be much appreciated...sorry for the long-winded post! Looks like a great forum!
Edited by Paradiddle74 - 1/24/10 at 8:11pm
post #2 of 13
There are not too many things in life that you can improve on by doing only once a year.  There is no substitute for slope time, but you are still young and should see some meaningful progress even in just one day.  If you are at a ski area on a quiet weekday you can sometimes take a less expensive group lesson and get the instructor all to yourself. 
Don't be intimidated by the apparent cost of skiing.  Snoop around websites like this one, and others such as www.thesnowjunkies.com and www.liftopia.com for bargains.  I'm sure there are more focused on Bay area skiers.  If you are willing to take time off to ski during the week or very early/late season you can ski for almost free and your biggest expense will be gas.  Also look for ski swaps in the Bay area next fall to acquire a full set of used skis/boots/poles for $100-150.  They pay for themselves after about 3 uses.
post #3 of 13
First off welcome to epic. James has got this problem nailed. You cannot expect much in the way of progress with one trip a year and what you do improve on will only be baby steps. Then next year you will spent half the day remembering what you learned this year. I would say go have fun don't worry about how you look getting down the slope, as long as you are having a good time and feel safe it doesn't matter what you're technique looks like. Don't give up on such a wonderful sport just enjoy the outdoors!
post #4 of 13
Agree with the previous posts but think there are a few things you can do away from the slopes that might help-
1.  Exercise: you mentioned left turns are harder because of weaker foot...solve this problem (and increase overall strength and balance) away from the slopes and you might find your skiing to be better next time you get out.
2. Visualization: I had long stretches between infrequent water skiing trips with my cousin.  He gave me a few pointers on one trip that I visualized for 5 or 10 minutes a night periodically before the next trip a year or two later.  My skiing was so much better that he was shocked when I told him that I hadn't been water skiing since the last time out with him.  For alpine skiing, I would watch some world cup or other footage of good skiers and then picture yourself skiing the way you want to ski just before you fall asleep.  Doing this might make the technical thoughts more second nature so you can relax more and enjoy the total ski experience when you do hit the slopes.

Your idea to practice on an easier slope is a good one- much easier to get comfortable with good technique when you are not worried about surviving.  Consider "railroad track" drills (this is something you could also visualize).

As James said, look for deals.  Snowpals is a good site/club to find rides to Tahoe from the Bay Area and many ski swaps will offer a free day ticket to the first x through the door.  2 for 1s and discounts available late and early season and late season is also a good time to look on craigslist for people looking to dump extra tickets. 
post #5 of 13
I second the visualization idea.

See this thread I posted a while back citing a paper on neuropsychology of practice.  Even though it's primarily about playing musical instruments, it will apply just as much to skiing.


Another thought, try to find somethings to cross trail for skiing.  Probably the best things would be in-line skating, ice-skating, etc.  You can learn to carve short-swing turns on in-line skates using almost the same motions as skiing.  Try searching the web for some articles on in-line skating for ski training.

post #6 of 13
you can't. plan on spending at least 30 days per season to improve. practice make perfect. it's a cliche, but all cliches have some truth to them. tiger woods, bode miller, wayne gretzky have something in common: practice. plan on spending 10,000 hours to be an expert. And if you don't want to ski deep powder and moguls, you are done with this sport.
post #7 of 13
Paradiddle, my suggestion would be to start getting into skating, both inline and ice if possible. They can be done all year long at relatively no cost and the transfer of skills learned to snow skiing is tremendous.  Spend a summer on your skates and you will have a whole new perspective on skiing.  You can learn to ski on rollerblades.  Ski magazine ran a great article years ago on skate to ski learning. Also look up Harald Harb ski carvers to see another expert skiier practicing skiing on skates. I learned one footed skiing on skates and took it directly to the slopes the following year.  Good luck.
post #8 of 13
Welcome to Epic. Carving is just one technique for turning your skis. It provides a different type of control and sensation than letting your turns be slid or be 'brushed'. Good brushed turns require skills and are part of a skier's repertoire of turns.

Don't fret about making carved turns to the extent that it takes away from your short time on the slopes. Learn to carve if you want to, but don't think that you are less of a skier because you don't 'own' carved turns. For many of us the learning is as much of the fun as the using what we learned.

I agree with exercise and visualization as well as cross training. You can actually put your boots on and practice a number of moves on a slightly sloped carpeted board (~ 2' x 2' with about 1 to 2 inches of difference in height from front to back) so that when you get on the snow the movements are more comfortable and natural. It takes a little imagination, but whatever you are trying to do on snow you can simulate to a degree such that it will be beneficial. It is best to do any of this dry land training in front of a mirror so that you can watch yourself by looking ahead in a natural way rather than looking down at your legs and feet which is a habit to be avoided. Use your poles when you do dry land training, too. You can practice the movement that you would do in 'garlands' as well as simply rolling your knees from side to side. Think of the drills your instructor recommended and apply them to dry land.
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the tips, everyone. Yeah, I realize that I won't be able to improve much by only skiing once a year, I'm still at the point where I need to decide how much time and effort I want to put in to truly improving my currently limited skill set (which goes for any sport/hobby/skill you want to improve upon in life). It's good to know that cost needn't be an issue, though, thanks especially to JamesJ and MeFree330 for pointing to some useful websites (will definitely check out Snowpals).

Re: visualization, I've already been doing that lately while falling asleep so it's good to know it can actually be productive from a mental standpoint. Now I just have to convince my wife that all this time perusing websites and YouTube ski videos isn't a sign that I'm going crazy or over-obsessing. ;-)
post #10 of 13
Only one day a year to improve?   I would make plans to do at least 4 days per season. One is just not much at all. But in answer to your question, I would say to keep your stance narrow. That will give you more command. Making sure your skis are close together gives immediate improvement. I’d also say to pull your inside ski back. Those two changes can do wonders for you.
post #11 of 13
P-diddle you have only so much time so maybe some of your time could be spent learning using some video to maintain a good focus you can build on . I would like you to PM Rick and investigate his excellent  teaching tools. He has two basic videos covering balance and basic edging where you can learn to use skidding to a point it spontaneously turns into carving . I use his stuff and use it teaching and have had impressive results . we played with the skidding into narrow track skidding just but learning from our skid tracks and showed very nice top of turn tracks with no skidding just by working through the stuff to get a feel of it. That impressed me very much as we were only trying to shape our turns, finish them as we wished and  were just trying to leave very narrow skid tracks and carving resulted by this focus.
You could focus on your balance and edging to make the most of your time and improve at a faster rate or at least be an excellent path to lasting progress . Nothing beats mileage but you can only do what you have the time and resources to try.

Good luck. I wouldn't promote another person's products unless I was impressed and understood the value  of them by using them myself in my skiing and my teaching.

All the best to you and welcome to Epic
Edited by GarryZ - 1/25/10 at 10:34pm
post #12 of 13

Don't hold your self to such high standards with the limited time you have available.  It isn't technique that is holding you back, it is lack of training of your body so it makes the needed movements automatically.  We often call this muscle memory.

Learn the few basic essentials.  Balance fore & aft over the balls of your feet.  Balance over the ski on the outside of the turn, actually over the ball of that foot.  Hold your stance width as far apart as the heads of your femurs, narrow if knock kneed, wider if bowlegged (and not aligned).  Keep your belt buckle (if you had one) aimed at the toes on your outside foot.  Keep your shoulders at the same angle as the slope.  Keep your arms very quiet and pole plant with a twitch of the wrist.  Stand mainly upright, flexing as the turn progresses.  Have fun.  Spend money on another ski day rather than a lesson.
post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 
Just returned from my trip...we skied one day at Badger Pass in Yosemite NP, CA this past Friday (2/5). I had quite a bit of difficulty due to less-than-ideal conditions (very wet and heavy snow that was falling throughout the day on ungroomed trails), but still managed to have a bit of fun. It's just frustrating that the moments where I felt confident and that I was actually "skiing" (i.e., making rounded turns) were somewhat fleeting and some of my bad habits (sitting in back seat, unnecessary pole/arm movements, fear of the fall line) kept rearing their ugly head. AND...that was probably the last time I'll ski in awhile. Basically, this trip confirmed that I know what good skiing looks like, I know what my body *should* be doing to ski well (i.e., from reading tips on here and elsewhere and watching videos), but I still don't know what it feels like to ski well. I know that comes with more time on the slopes and instructor feedback...I just need to figure out how to get up to the mountains more often (might be difficult in the next few years though due to a hopeful addition to the family).

A few more words/questions about conditions...the ski area was defining the surface conditions as "powder" but can powder consist of wet and heavy snow as well as dry and "fluffy" (which is what I assumed "powder" referred to)? All I know is that it was damn hard for me and my wife to ski...especially when moving into 3-4 inches of fresh "powder" from the more packed snow created by other skiers/snowboarders. It was difficult to see the differences in snow type even with goggles on due to the continuous falling snow and overcast/foggy skies (one other skier I talked to said the same). My last run was actually kind of a bummer b/c I ran into such conditions near the bottom of the hill (i.e., skis sank into the snow and essentially came to a stop) and fell after trying to turn. My balance got all out of whack, my skis moved far apart (due to lack of said balance and edge control, I'm guessing), and I simply had to ski straight down the last part of the hill to get down. Is heavy/wet snow enjoyable for expert skiers, or is it considered miserable by everyone? I know a lot of Californians love skiing "Sierra cement," which I guess is similar to the conditions we encountered but even more heavy, according to a local I talked to on the slopes.
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