I have been training ski instructors, coaches and world class athletes for over 3 decades. The common thread between everyone is the desire to improve. Why is it that some people develop faster than others? There are a multitude of answers to my question, however, I want to tackle one aspect that I have seen over the years and that is “how” skiers train to develop their skiing.
Far too often I see skiers, who are seemingly training, repeatedly skiing final form on a groomed blue run thinking about what their trainer told them. They ski the same speed, radius and ski performance every turn expecting to change their skiing. There are many factors why someone will not change their skiing. There is the potential they do not have a clear idea of what their trainer told them, they have been given poor advice or they physically cannot make the new movement. For the sake of this article, let’s assume our skier has been given the proper feedback, they understand what to do, where to do it, how to do it and what the desired outcome is. Now they simply need to train, but how? Skiers are a funny bunch, we are participating in a recreational sport, yet expect to ski like world class athletes when we train. One of the most frustrating things for me as a trainer is the traditional instructors’ course daily schedule. Most certification courses I have taught follow the same pattern; 2.5 hours on snow, 1 hour lunch, 2.5 hours on snow. The drawback to a schedule like this is it doesn’t allow enough time in the morning to activate, introduce a new skill, develop and perform that skill before we shut down for an hour. Sadly, the hour lunch fills our bellies with food, we mentally and physically shut down from the morning and it is impossible to get back to the activation and readiness to learn that we had prior to the lunch break.
I design my personal training days and those of my learners in 5 stages; physical warm up, skiing warm up, skill acquisition, skill performance and a cool down/debrief. This session can be up to 3.5 hours, so we always have water and snacks with us or stashed at the top/bottom of the lift. Obviously on very cold days, short warm up breaks are essential and added to achieve success.
Stage 1 - Physical Warm Up:
Depending on weather and space, this can be done indoor or outdoor. Have the appropriate layers on based on your environment. The goal of the physical warm up is to engage the muscles we will need to recruit when we get on snow. There are some great videos on YouTube for this type of warm up. I try to vary mine, but always ensure my calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes and core are activated prior to putting on my ski boots.
Stage 2 - Skiing Warm Up:
I always start on easy terrain, I skid some arcs, I carve some and vary the size of the turns as well. Throughout this part of my warm up, I will exaggerate things like twisting the ski on the surface of the snow, staying low, staying tall, countering to the outside ski, rotating away from the outside ski, etc. I will try to lift my inside ski to ensure I can balance 100% on my outside ski. The idea is to find all ranges that you may experience in a day of skiing.
Stage 3 - Skill Acquisition:
In order to change your skiing, you must be adding something you don’t currently have. This may be a specific movement that you do not currently have, a movement you have, but in a different part of the arc, or a movement you have, but the degree and rate are new. Regardless, in order to acquire the new movement, timing or coordination, you must approach your training the same way you would teach someone a new skill.
Questions to ask yourself:
Can I repeat, isolate or exaggerate this new movement?
In a perfect world, you would design a task that includes all 3.
Do I know what the new movement may or may not feel like physically to me?
Everyone “feels” differently, however, does the new movement create a new feeling such as shin contact, weight on one ski more than the other, etc.
Do I know the desired outcome as a result of this new move?
If you know what the outcome should be, it doesn’t matter whether you achieve it or not on your first try. Not achieving your desired outcome, yet recognizing that you haven’t is more powerful than attaining the desired outcome yet not knowing if you did or not.
Is this outcome measurable and observable?
Measurable outcomes are things like more or less grip, increasing or decreasing speed, and smaller or larger turn shape.
Observable outcomes would result in someone watching and seeing a difference in your movements and outcome.
Do I understand contribution and effect?
Contribution and effect is a series of if/then scenarios such as:
if I make this movement at a slower rate, then my arc draws out down the falline more (Rate of movement),
if I perform this movement more, then I notice a more carved arc (Degree of movement).
All of the above are required to design tasks that will clearly add something new to your skiing. Lesser terrain and appropriate snow conditions are key to success. I don’t necessarily always slow the speed too much depending on the level of ski performance. For example, intermediate speeds will not promote expert movements, however expert speeds on lesser terrain will enable you to acquire a new movement.
Vary your tasks so that contribution and effect becomes evident. As soon as I understand the if/then scenarios, I am ready to perform. Far too often I find learners only reflect on their positive results and not the “oh no” moments when things don’t go as planned. As mentioned, these moments are often more valuable than when everything goes right but we don’t know why.
Stage 4 - Performance:
Even if I haven’t fully consolidated this new movement, I end every day with taking what I have learned and apply it to different situations such as bumps, steeps, crud and powder (if there is any left). This will add depth and breadth to my understanding of contribution and effect, but most importantly it takes me away from thinking of the new movement and puts me into performance mode. In performance mode, I try to negotiate the terrain, my turn shape and manage my speed. These are all objectives that are a result of performing my new movement. Every day, you need to get out of your head and ski externally. Without performing, even when your new movements are not perfected, you will never change your skiing, you will be stuck refining what you already have as opposed to adding something new.
Stage 5 - Cool down/debrief:
I rarely ski after this training day. I usually head home, have a bite to eat, spin on my bike, stretch and record my results from the day.
I write down what went well, my ah-ha and oh-no moments. I list any contribution and effect that I realized throughout the last portion of the day and lastly, I write down my plan for the next training day.
Here is a quick video outlining my training day.
The benefit to training this way is you get yourself physically and mentally engaged in your day, you systematically add something to your skiing and perform it when you are fully activated and ready to learn. Don’t be afraid to cut a training day short if you are simply not feeling it that day. Developing your skiing is a long journey, yet a rewarding one.
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Good luck and have a great season!
Warren Jobbitt Snowsports Academy
Photo credits Aydin Odyakmaz
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