Control of Speed and Direction

Imagine that you are in a car and the only practice you have had is driving slowly in a small country town, you can manoeuvre start and stop - but then along come wide open roads, speed, city traffic and motorways.

It's like that for most skiers too, all of a sudden they feel they have lost control and don't know what to do.

The most frequent request ski instructors get is:

"I want to learn control on red and blues runs so I can feel confident enough to ski over most of the mountain. I want to learn to slow down when I want and go where I want."

It's called the intermediate breakthrough, and effective ski instruction makes the breakthrough easy.

Skis and snowboards don't have brakes!  It's no good just keeping them pointed downhill, but you can't slow down and slide freely at the same time.

To slow down skis must be turned across where they are going, but then many people turn them a bit and then do what? - They edge them...

When asked what makes their skis slow down, most skiers reply "the edges" - wrong!

If you only turn the skis a bit and then increase the amount of edge they grip so efficiently that they accelerate. Try it for yourself!

To brake efficiently your skis need to be turned right across the direction you are going - like a hockey stop on ice skates, then have the edges engaged.

The trick to keeping a constant speed is to have fairly flat skis and to turn the skis (or board for that matter) so that they skid and scrub the speed off.

If you just linked hockey stops it would be really hard work, so the trick is to add some direction so that the skis are traveling forwards in skidded arcs, this way the speed stays more or less constant. Then you need only break hard when necessary. It's much less tiring.

Remember speed is often your friend, it is not so tiring as breaking all the time, in a car for example you keep a steady speed until you brake deliberately.

Both skis and snowboards are designed to travel forwards in an arc (look at the shape), so it makes sense that the easiest direction to travel is forwards left or right in an arc. For speed control you can then decide how much skid you have in the turn. (Dead straight also works really well but you have to slow down or turn somewhere!)

In a car, roads give you no choice about where you travel - you have to follow the bends. On the other hand mountains, even machined trails, give you lots of choice and lots of decisions to make, humps and bumps, ice and powder, and seemingly no highway code for other skiers!

So you have to use your common sense.

Try to look ahead and plan a nice smooth, curving route that at misses all stationary obstacles;  this is why you will see group ski lessons, private ski lessons and lots of family groups skiing in nice rounded arcs, they are following the natural path of their skis - secure, but at the same time athletic. -  It forms a habit that makes for effortless skiing.

There are obviously things like cliffs, trees, cable-car stations or other skiers, but the habit of steering like this includes areas of snow that are difficult to ski on.

Try to avoid areas of ice or slush, or bumps that will throw you off balance, the trick is to look for the line of least resistance, so that if things go wrong you have a chance to recover or brake. You can look ahead for open areas of softer snow so that you can plan where to slow down turn or recover.

Other skiers will get in the way too, but try not to be too defensive.  You are often better off making a turn a bit longer and a bit faster to get a potential problem behind you,  rather than making life really difficult for yourself by braking too hard and edging and adding to the confusion.

Experience and experimenting help you decide.  Just like driving a car really, sometimes you have to trust other drivers to miss you.  Try to work out what the best tactics are at that moment in time, that's where ski lessons help. Your ski instructor can help you learn what to look out for.

Perhaps the most important point to remember is, that just like driving a car, you can't ski and stop at the same time, and as well, niether skis nor cars will turn sharp left or right all at once.   A well-planned curved path is the easiest, safest and least tiring.

Try it out...