Steeper, Narrower Steeps!
As the slopes get steeper and narrower you need to learn how to move your body more effectively and steer to a greater degree to keep speed control and stay in balance.
Skiing Steeps - Steering
You need a greater range of steering simply to slow momentum and keep a moderate speed. Ideally you should be able to steer your skis 180 degrees from the extremity of one turn and then back to the other. If you have this skill it will give you 100% control on the steeper slopes.
The real skill, however, is to learn to steer the legs and skis across without having to rotate your hips as well. That is the true meaning of a good range of steering movement. Most skiers can steer to a certain degree but if you ask them to steer to the extremities, they usually rotate their hip also to help. Unfortunately, rotating the hips, especially on the steeps, will cause the whole of the upper body to rotate and in turn the skis to flatten. This usually results in you falling over and eating snow.
To learn to increase your steering, practice steering your legs across the hill. Progressively build the range. Eventually you will be able to steer the legs in repeated 180 degrees motions without having to use your hips. Spend a good amount of time practicing this in an environment that you are comfortable with, and then progressively steeper terrain. It’s always easier to do this on hard pack snow. Avoid powder or heavy snow.
This new increased range of steering ability will enable you to attack a steeper slope and remain in control because the skis can always come to a definite halt if needed.
Skiing Steeps - Positive Extension
To become more dynamic on the Steeps, you will need to develop a positive extension up and forwards down the hill as you initiate the turn. You may find the skis even leaving the ground slightly.
The amount of energy required in getting the skis to turn at that degree of steepness requires learning how to initiate positively and dynamically to make the next turn. For this a strong pole plant is required to help the initiation.
As you make the turn, allow the pole plant to connect positively into the snow and at this point project your hips and shoulders forwards and down the hill. You project by pushing up from the balls of your feet. The skis will become very light and much easier to manoeuvre on the steeper terrain.
Develop the projection to a greater degree and eventually the skis will leave the snow momentarily. Having the ability to do this will really help you when the going get tough and when the snow isn’t perfectly groomed.
Skiing Steeps - Narrower
As the terrain starts getting steeper but also narrower you should again work outside of the demanding gradient. Try to think about making your turns inside a narrow corridor to simulate the type of narrow steep areas your aiming to ski.
Imagine a corridor about 2 metres of width across the slope that you can use, as opposed to your normal 4 to 6 metres across the slope. Have a go at steering inside of this area. What most people would do at this point would be to jump into short radius edge checked turn.
However, if you made those type of turns in a new or difficult environment you would probably be accelerating and losing control. What we need to do is think as before about a strategy to get down first, with control, and then we can build the dynamics in later.
To start, try getting down your corridor with turns that don’t have a great deal of edge. See if you can use your new improved steering power and range to pivot your skis around slowly. This would get you ready for the narrower steep with confidence and the all important predictable speed control. When you want to bring the dynamics into it you can focus on using your positive extension up, forwards and down the hill to help blast from one edge set to another for the really narrow and steep. Practice the short swing turns on a normal gradient of terrain first.
Again use the pole plant to initiate and extend up and forwards to release the skis edges. Steer the skis through as you normally would and land them softly absorbing the shock with the legs, good to recap here on the strong middle body. As you get a feel for a few turns try to feel or count a rhythm or tempo. When you feel comfortable slowly try it on the steeps. Eventually you’ll get a feel for it and become comfortable on the steep and narrows.
Discuss Ski Technique with Warren Smith
If you would like to ask Warren any questions about the ski techniques or exercises described above, or otherwise discuss them, please write in to our Ski Technique Forum.