Kill the Snow Plough

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Chapter 1 –  To kill the snow plough!!

The first thing you learn in ski school is how to put  your skis on and start to ski , I have never seen a ski school start in the class room with a basic lecture of how things work and what you will be learning.

The standard progression on your first day is first walking around with one ski, then two, then side stepping up the hill a little and then doing the 'schuss' (skiing straight), then adding some exercises – touching your toes , lifting one foot etc. Once this is mastered you then learn how to stop with the dreaded snow plough stop and then the snow plough turn, put simply you point your skis in a knocked kneed fashion and slide down the hill, if you lean right your turn left (hurr?) and if you lean left you turn right (err?) and this is where it all starts to go wrong. This instantly gives you some speed control, plus basic turns, and you think you've made it, whoopee I can ski!!

The problem with the snow plough is that it gives a false sense of security, a bit like driving a four wheel drive Jeep on ice. It should work but in reality it doesn't. It's OK on a green bunny slope but useless on a blue, red or black. What are your ambitions – Green or Black?

I have taught literally hundreds of people how to ski and I agree that this method on average works, and I know why it is taught. Put simply it gets the average holiday maker going quickly so that they can enjoy their holiday. If that;s your goal then by all means go down this path, it works. But if you are reading this book then I guess you aren't Mr. or Mrs. average? So I have an alternative plan that takes a little longer at the beginning but will see you on a fast track to becoming an expert skier.

With my plan you will learn first how these very expensive pieces of equipment (skis) actually work. Once you start to really ski the theory of the snow plough quickly falls down. With the plough you lean right to turn left and lean left to turn right, it seems totally unnatural, when you look at an expert skier they seem to lean left when they turn left, a bit like a motorbike going round a corner, or stay central, not moving much at all. So why the difference. Well I’ll tell you, this is by far the quickest way to start skiing, when I say skiing I really mean moving on snow. But it has one huge flaw it creates muscle memory that is hard to shake off later. I have taught so many people that have been snow ploughing for so long they just can’t shake it, so much so that they even rely on it as a comfort position when the going gets tough. Just the wrong thing at the wrong time ‘The dreaded plough’.

There are two ways to learn to ski and two graphs to illustrate your progress:

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Graph showing the speed of progression with the two different learning methods

With the plough technique it all starts fine but each year you progress less than the previous year until you hit that intermediate rut, and stay there. This intermediate rut is so common that people have written books and made videos of how to get over it, but I’ve not seen any that teach you how to avoid it in the first place.

If you follow my alternative start it will be slower after the first few days but each day you will improve and learn the craft of skiing until after a couple of years you will be cursing past your old plough rivals with your eyes closed. It doesn’t stop there when the snow gets tough, icy, heavy, steep, deep, you won’t be phased and drop back into that old plough position and twist a knee or strain you lower back but shriek with joy as these can become the best days to ski!

To start with we don't need ski poles as these only add to the confusion and ruin you balance, more on these later!

OK you say so how do I start?

We start with learning how to stop, some will say, are but we learned how to stop with our snow plough. True but the snow plough stop is very weak and almost useless, I only use it as an emergency technique (one you don’t really need to learn), its only good if it’s to narrow for you to do a proper stop (like skiing to the bar through a crowed flat slope).

So what kind of stop are we talking about, well we call it the hockey stop. This is the kind of stop you see the ski racers do at the end of the race, controlled and efficient. We will start our first lesson by finding an smooth easy green slope, maybe a little steeper than our plough rivals as our stop is so powerful you won’t be able to get going if it’s to shallow. Look for one where snowboarders are learning and that should be about right.

Put your skis on at the bottom (forget poles at this stage) and side step up the hill about twenty feet, note we already have our skis in the right position, across he hill just like the boarders. Once in position we need to adjust our body into the right position. We do this by crouching down and touching our ankles.

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Touch your ankles then slowly stand up

This is what I call 100%, totally compressed, we need to stand up with the weight over both skis to about 20% keeping the same body position and weight across our whole feet.

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Body Straight in the neutral position 

This is what I call your neutral position, and from this neutral position we need to rotate our upper body to face down the hill, arms, shoulders, belly button etc.

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Upper body rotated to face down the hill

IImagine a beginner snowboarder facing down the hill with their board across the hill just like our skis, but because our boots are fastened at a different angle we have to rotate to get in the same position.

In skiing and snowboarding we generally go (ski) in the direction that we are facing, so it makes sense that if we want to go straight down the hill we should face down the hill. From this position we are totally in control, if we want to slide sideways down the hill we just need to relax our edges a little until we start moving. The idea is to slide in a straight line down the hill and stop.

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Bob5LR02

       Edge 'On' - Stop                                                                    Edge ' Off' - Slide

At this point a common mistake is to relax the body rotation and not face down the hill if you do this you will start to go across the hill.

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 You ski where you are facing, if you look across the slope you will ski across the slope!

If this happens just dig you edges in and you should stop, if not because you have lost control just sit down on your bum. If you are going to fall this is the best way, both of your skis are pointing in the same direction with no strain on you knees, and you just simply sit down. Compare this with our plough friends, because their plough is a week position they can pick up speed really quickly, cross their skis and fall forwards, this is how you get a knee injury!

But hopefully you have started to slide roughly straight, some people call this side slipping, I like to call it edge controlled stopping. So we slide a little way and then progressively dig our edges in to start to stop. Simple.

To refine this and add a little more control we need to know a little about how the ski works. In skiing we balance with our hands and ski with our feet, most average skiers ski with their shoulders and balance with their upper body. This is totally wrong and in order to qualify this we need to know how the ski works a little.

Take your skis off and look at the shape from underneath, what they call an hour glass shape. If you lay your ski on a flat bit of snow on it’s edge you will be able to see daylight under the middle, if you now apply pressure to the middle pushing your ski into the snow the ski will bend.

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Daylight under the middle of the ski                                       Pressure the middle and it will bend

This is called adverse camber and is controlled by three factors, Edge, Pressure, and Weight Distribution.

Most people forget the weight distribution factor which is probably the most important element in turning the ski, so this is what we will learn first.

We will come back to ski mechanics later but for now ‘weight distribution’.

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Where is 'Bob's weight?

Weight distribution is the balance of weight across the length of the ski, it is controlled by the hands (not the body!).

Try standing on the flat in your skis in our neutral 20% position, your weight should be totally central, and your ankles will be quite bent, knees will be bent a little and your back should be almost straight (see 'Bobs' position above). Your arms should be bent as if you are a goal keeper.

If we want to move our weight forward we simply move our hands forward a little. This in turn puts a little more pressure on the front of our boots and in turn on the fronts of the skis.

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Hands forward – weight forward

If we want to move our weight backwards move the hands back a little and you should feel some pressure on the backs of the boots, and then back to the centre.

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Bob11LR

Hands back – weight back

Practice this a lot, even at home before you go, this is a very advanced move and one most people never discover, imagine never learning 33% of how to turn a ski?

Now side step up the hill again but this time if you feel you are going off centre whilst sliding move your hands in the opposite direction to bring you weight back to the middle. If you think about what this is going on between the snow and ski, when you put more weight on the front of the ski it causes it to break away a little faster so the fronts of the skis start to go down the hill and the same for the tails. Using this technique you can butterfly down the slope a little forwards and a little backwards just like a snow boarder on their first lesson with one added advantage. You wont fall as often as you can balance on two skis instead of one edge, great! Remember keep your upper body facing down the hill if you want to go straight.

Just a little note on skis and boots, for a normal beginner it is usual to recommend a soft comfortable boot and a short soft ski. This again is all geared towards the snow plough, this position is so unnatural that it can make even the most comfortable boot seem like torture. As we are not going in to this contorted position and are learning to ski by feel and control I would recommend starting with a more advanced boot. After all this is what we are training for. More advanced intermediate boots are stiffer and often fit better, these will allow you to feel what your skis are doing and allow you to make the changes necessary for your balance. As for skis at this stage they are far less important than boots (the opposite to what you would think) go for a newer carving ski for a beginner, quite soft and about three quarters of your height. For even more fun try some snow blades, these are really short skis that are great to start on as you can almost skate around on them due to their short length. For more on equipment see the equipment section.

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