It’s happened to everyone. For the first time since you stepped on snow, you’ve reached the limit of your skiing knowledge and just can’t seem to get better. It happens to beginners and experts and everyone in between: the plateau.
Good to know this is Ski Country and progress is the name of the game. Summit County is a hotbed for professional instructors and coaches who have helped hundreds of other skiers correct bad habits and reach the next level, whatever that is. For some it’s powder, for others it’s just keeping up with the kids. No matter what, pros at every level recommend one thing: find someone — preferably a certified someone — who knows what they’re talking about.
“Try to have one mentor, whether it’s an instructor or you read about them or watch them on a YouTube video or anything else,” said Jonathan Lawson, ski and ride school supervisor at Copper Mountain. “You can even find a pro here, someone who is a certified instructor, someone who is a very skilled skier and knows how to bring that information to your ability level. It’s so you don’t run into the roadblocks: You can progress without having to unlearn old moves before you get to new ones.”
For everyone except for true never-evers, the biggest roadblocks to moving higher and higher are bad habits. We talked with local instructors and coaches for tips on how to break the worst.
BAD HABIT: SITTING IN THE BACKSEAT
It’s one of the first and most difficult lessons for any skier: lean downhill, not uphill.
“This is the trick to being efficient,” said Doug Pierini, vice president of skier services at Breck and a ski instructor with more than 15 years of teaching under his belt. “When you’re back in the boots you’re using big muscles just to stand up. You need to move with the mountain and move downhill, following with your center of mass.”
It’s also one of the most frightening sensations for beginners, especially when you move from flat terrain to steeper terrain with obstacles like bumps, trees and more. But if you aren’t centered it’s nearly impossible to initiate turns quickly, effectively and with minimal effort. In other words, it’s the first skill you need to master.
Pierini has a simple trick to remedy the backseat: pretend you have a few $100 bills tucked between your shins and your boot tongues. This keeps you in the proper position to initiate turns with your legs and feet instead of your arms and shoulders.
BAD HABIT: OVERCORRECTING FOR THE BACKSEAT
For every old and remedied bad habit, there’s at least one way to form an entirely new one.
“Usually the quick fix for the backseat is to get forward, but what you’re really looking for is to be centered over the arch of your foot,” said Jeff Lifgren, director of the Keystone Ski and Ride School and another instructor vet with 15-plus years of experience. “If you lean too far forward it can almost be as detrimental as being in the back seat.”
The trick, he says, is to feel your entire foot on the base of your boot: on your toes is too far forward, on your heels is too far back, centered over your arches is just right. Take a few runs on slow, mellow greens and pay close attention to your feet and how it affects body position. Once you find the balance point, remember what it feels like and check in with your feet every few runs. Soon enough it’ll be second nature, aka a new, good habit.
Moral of the story: Be careful to avoid overcorrecting. Again, working with a pro even once gives you a second set of eyes to spot these issues.
BAD HABIT: LIFTING SKIS TO START A TURN
Proper form is all about efficiency, but proper form isn’t easy. At Copper, Lawson sometimes sees intermediate skiers lift and pull their skis off the snow to start a hard turn. It can work and usually does, at least on groomers. But when you move to powder and other advanced terrain it sets you up for failure.
Why? Because your balance is compromised. Lawson (known as Johnny Law around Copper) calls it a “gross movement,” meaning you’re using major muscle groups to perform a demanding — and inefficient — movement.
To remedy, head to easy and comfortable terrain for fine-tuned movements. Make, deliberate turns, Lawson says, beginning the turn with your foot and ankle before engaging the leg muscles. When you feel comfortable taking turns at low and high speeds move to more difficult terrain.
BAD HABIT: WACKY, WAVING, FLAILING ARMS AND UPPER BODY
You’ve mastered the basics. Your body is centered and your skis are parallel. You can even maintain that form on steep terrain and mellow bumps. But, once things get real steep and it’s time for snap-quick movements, you begin to flail. Your arms are doing all the work and your legs are struggling to catch up.
It’s something even ski racers struggle with, which is one of the major reason Team Summit athletes train in the gym and on the hill. Core exercises two or three times per week can maintain your strength and help prevent strains, coaches said.