Ski right, ski safer
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in 2015-16 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine, a product of the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action. The magazine is available now on newsstands throughout the greater Reno-Truckee-Tahoe region.
No one wants to end his or her ski or snowboard season early in a slopeside clinic. But let’s face it — it’s skiing, and accidents happen.
There are plenty of reasons, but the reality is that a lot of injuries can be avoided with proper form and good decision making. With those concepts in mind, we thought we’d take a look at four common mistakes to try to keep the slopes a safer place this winter.
Because whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned pro, there’s always room to refine your skills.
1. The backseat driver
This is one of the more common ski mistakes out there, and it can potentially be the most dangerous to the skier doing it — the infamous backseat stance. Any skier looking more like he or she is about to sit down in a La-Z-Boy than ski down a hill falls into this category. The big danger is that the stance makes a skier especially susceptible to serious knee injury in the event of a fall. And with a body position that is begging for gravity to do its thing, the skier is all the more likely to do just that. The poor body position also takes away from a person’s ability to control his or her skis. Simply put, skis work better when you’re on top of them, not behind them.
The fix: Maybe easier said than done, the simple fix is to stand up straighter. The skier should be able to look down and see his or her toes. Obvious enough, sure, but sometimes it takes a conscious effort to think about body position. And more than just standing straight, the skier should have an athletic stance — over the skis with the knees slightly flexed — similar to a basketball player on defense. We’ll address this again with the Frankenstein stance.
2. Look out below
You don’t look at the gas pedal when driving a car, so why would you look at your skis while skiing? And yet so many beginner-to-intermediate skiers tend to do just that while going downhill. It may not be as dangerous as texting and driving, but on a ski slope, it’s up there. This can be especially dangerous on crowded slopes during holiday weekends. Looking down creates a sort of tunnel vision that could lead to a collision or unknowingly heading toward an obstacle.
The fix: Skis will do what the body tells them to. Watching them won’t change that. The big challenge is getting over that mental barrier and, just like thinking about the proper stance, making a conscious effort to do so. A lot of skiers don’t even realize they do this one. A good way to work on this is to pick a place farther down the slope to focus on — this will also help with the next tip. Paying attention and feeling your body doing the motions rather than looking at how the skis respond is key. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye out for other skiers and remember there is scenery that is far more interesting than any ski tip.
3. The truck driver and the “Frankenskier”:
No matter how much some people might think it will help, moving one’s hands and arms as if they are on a steering wheel will not turn those skis. Proper turning technique goes from the waist down. Shoulders also have nothing to do with it. Too many beginner and lower intermediate skiers look like they’re either trying to turn with their upper body first or are so ridged that their upper and lower bodies move as if their hips didn’t exist, thus the Frankenstein look.
The fix: The goal in skiing is to keep the upper body “quiet” and facing downhill. Turning motion should be in the hips, legs and ankles. Properly using the edges of the skis is also a frequently underdeveloped skill. When you watch a Julia Mancuso or a Travis Ganong ski down a slope they are almost never sitting flat on their skis. Instead they are up on their edges. If you were downhill from them, you would be able to read the logo on the bottom of their skis. Properly engaging the edge — or sides — of one’s skis is the real secret to carving. It’s accomplished by rolling the ankles sideways not twisting them. Keeping an athletic stance and remembering that the hips exist are also important. Practicing on easier — nearly flat — terrain is always a good idea. Even the best skiers practice on beginner terrain.
4. The snowplow speed racer/missile
Call it a snowplow, a pizza, a triangle or a wedge, they are four words that all mean the same thing. Common with children, but also surprisingly prevalent among adults, the snowplow speed racer applies to the skiers who look like they’re in a downhill race but still have their skis locked in the wedge, only turning ever so slightly. Skiers who have selected terrain above their ability also often resort to the wedge. While it’s a great start for beginners, if you’re doing it at more than 10 mph, you’re doing something wrong. There’s also a good chance your on a slope above your ability level. Inexperience and momentum can be two of the most dangerous things in skiing. And the worst part is the skier may think he or she is in complete control.
The fix: Turning is easily one of the most essential skills in the sport, as is selecting terrain that is appropriate for a skier’s skill level. Too often skiers tend to dive into terrain that is above their ability level. When that happens, the skills they might have grasped on less-aggressive slopes go out the window. There’s no shame in staying on a green slope. Any skier still using a wedge turn should focus on trying to straighten the skis after turning, and also make complete turns all the way across the slope. Many who struggle with turning don’t shift their weight properly. It’s counterintuitive at first but you want to shift your weight onto your downhill, or outside, ski while turning — almost to a point where you can lift your inside ski. With practice, straightening your skis after turning and incorporating the edges of the skis eventually turns into a full parallel turn.