Ski Better Faster

Learn to ski right here, right now

Image for post
Image for post
This page is www.skibetterfaster.com — please link to that.

The ski industry is small. Resort operators do everything they can to get two strong seasons of revenue out of their properties. After lift tickets and ski rentals, customers spend the next largest amount on private ski guides and instruction. Yet that money doesn’t go to instructors, who are paid poorly and rely on building relationships with their clients to maximize tips.

Equipment, lodging, and lift tickets are very expensive. The learning curve is slow and long. Snowboarding has peaked. Skiing is on a downhill slope to becoming a retro 20th-century sport for wealthy people.

I believe we can revitalize skiing by changing the way skiing is taught.

This is long — skim first to get a sense of what is here. You can go straight to the YouTube playlist and watch everything there, but all the videos are here as well.

Table of contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Problem with Ski School
  3. Equipment
  4. On the Ice
  5. Day One: Side Slip and Hockey stop
  6. Day Two: Linked Hockey Stops
  7. Day Three: Up and Down
  8. Day Four: Lift the Inside Tail
  9. Tips and Troubleshooting
  10. Specialty Clinics
  11. Fixing Ski School
  12. Is Global Warming Threatening Skiing?
  13. Summary

By day five, you should be skiing the groomed black runs and be in control anywhere on the mountain.

1. Introduction

Who am I? My name is David Siegel. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve skied about 500 days. Here are my qualifications:

I was never on ski-school staff, because I never needed the money. I’d rather ski all day and compete on weekends than teach. But I used to clinic with the Snowbird ski school, created and taught by Junior Bonous and Jerry Warren. Those two men did a lot for skiing — they taught me what I’m teaching here.

2. The Problem with Ski School

Today, ski school is more or less a babysitting service. Group lessons go at the pace of the slowest student, everyone has to be in his/her “comfort zone,” and the nicest teachers get the biggest tips. Nothing to do with skiing! The goal is to stay safe, have fun, and keep them coming back for more lessons.

I can teach a beginner (who has some experience on hockey skates) to ski all blue runs confidently in about three days. Without the skating experience, it takes a day or two longer.

If I went to a ski resort and said I could do that for their clients, they would say “No thanks, that would take away our ski-school revenue and profits.” Instructors would say “What about our relationships with rich people? Some of us consistently get $600 a day in tips alone! You want to take that away from us?”

Yeah, I kinda do. Or, at least I want people to know they have a choice. This web page will take you from beginner to expert skier in just a few days.

Today, on any mountain in the world, you can see the vast majority of people skiing down the hill leaning back:

In this video, we see a large class led by an instructor, and every single person is leaning back. Why? They learn to lean back to stop, to control speed, when things are uncertain, when it’s too steep, etc. That one habit keeps everyone in ski school and creates a cash cow for instructors and resort owners.

The other problem is the bunny hill. No one should learn to ski on the bunny hill. This is where all the bad habits are formed. It is dangerous. Here’s an instructor at an indoor ski hill actually showing how to lean back:

This is what beginner skiing looks like at any resort around the world, at any time in the last 60 years, everyone leaning back:

Val d’Isere
Copper Mountain
Deer Valley

This is the problem we are here to solve.

I sympathize with instructors who have to teach this method, mostly to avoid law suits and to “keep students safe.” But it doesn’t keep them safe. My goal is to make you ski better so you don’t need me, or any instructor, after the first four days. Here is the theory, if you’re interested:

Image for post
Image for post

3. Equipment

Get shorter skis and poles than stores and instructors recommend. Get comfortable boots. If your boots aren’t comfortable and warm, nothing I tell you here will help. This is a video of me explaining the text below with a few props — you can either watch or keep reading.

There’s a mistake in this video on pole length! See below.

Skis. Today’s skis are wide. My skis are very short — 150cm. They let me flip around backward while filming and they don’t make me tired. These days, anything between your collar bone and your nose is fine. The faster you go, the longer you want your skis. I recommend buying used skis and selling them later — that saves you from having to adjust bindings to your boots each time you rent.

Beginners should get skis that come up to about the base of their neck. Cheap skis with good bindings are a fine way to start. Don’t forget to wax the bottoms yourself (try Fast Stick) or get a professional hot wax, so you aren’t stuck on flat sections.

Skis today are very good. There isn’t a lot of difference between skis in a particular category. If you’re in the market, I recommend buying a pair of last-season’s high-end skis at half off when retailers are trying to get rid of inventory. The difference between skis that were new 1–4 years ago and new today is negligible.

Don’t save money on bindings! Your bindings should be in very good condition and less than five years old. Saving money on used bindings can be very costly. Spend money on boots and bindings, and move them to your next pair of skis as you improve.

I’m shocked at how little innovation we have in bindings, probably because of insurance and regulation. We used to have dozens of types of bindings, and now we have one. Is this really the optimal design? I used to ski on Burt bindings, which were a completely new idea. Yes, they fell apart, but they also gave me an entirely different range of performance and safety. Have we really exhausted all the ideas and converged on the perfect design? I doubt it.

Poles. The most important thing is to get the right length. Stand in your socks, hold the pole upside down under the basket, and your forearm should be parallel to the floor. Use a screwdriver and remove the straps — you don’t need them and they get in the way. I highly recommend these Goode adjustable poles. Using an allen key, you can adjust these poles about 5" up and down to dial in the length you want and lend them to others.

Once you are in your boots and on skis, your forearms will angle down toward your hands when you put your poles into the snow. This is correct. You want to ski with your forearms parallel to the snow, bringing your pole tips off the snow when they are straight under your hands.

Boots. Today’s boots are very very similar. They are all designed around stiff racing boots and race courses, then they are detuned for consumers. This is too bad. They are generally difficult to get in and out of (though that has improved somewhat over the past few years), and they come in different stiffnesses (from around 80 to 140) rather than offering a flex adjustment. Why? If a retailer has to stock many stiffnesses of a boot in different sizes, they won’t be able to carry many brands, so it’s a form of shelf supremacy. In fact, it’s very possible to add flex adjustment to most boot designs.

Image for post
Image for post
Today’s ski boots are almost identical. Choose whatever fits your foot best.

Almost all boots have four buckles and a top strap. If you’re racing, you might want the stiff boots and the strap. Otherwise, I recommend using a sharp bit to drill the strap out and throw it in the trash. It’s useless for most of us. Also note that there is no standardization, so one company’s 110 is another company’s 100 and yet another company’s 120. Try several different boots to see which fits your foot best.

There is so little innovation in today’s boots that it makes me wonder why. Why are they all 98 percent the same? I believe it’s because all the marketing comes from racing, and racing boots are bound to be very similar. One boot that breaks the mold today is the Apex. You leave the exoskeleton in the skis and walk and drive wearing the inner boots. I’ve them tried in the store — they are not for people who get cold feet. I expect their second generation to be much better (and include a heater).

Image for post
Image for post
Apex boots, designed by Denny Hanson. A great new direction for boots, but not for people who get cold feet.

My boots are the Salomon X Pro 100 Custom Heat. Note that I am a top skier and I’m skiing the 100-flex boots — I like a soft boot that is comfortable and warm. Anything above 120 is for competition. I’m also completely flat footed. These Salomons let me put the shells in the oven, heat them, and then stand in them as they cool, pushing the shell out to fit my foot. I wouldn’t be comfortable in a normal shell, so this is an alternative to working with a bootfitter to punch, stretch, grind, and modify the shell. In this boot, my foot does that, because the plastic is so heat moldable. If you have flat, wide, or hard-to-fit feet, watch this video:

I emailed Salomon before I Purchased. They said that their 100 boot comes with a flex adjuster that takes it to 110. I’ve tried both ways and ski it the firmer way, but I’m not sure there’s much difference. I think the numbers are confusing and don’t help consumers — boots should have flex adjustment like they used to back in the 1980s. They should also be a lot easier to put on and take off. Use a drill to remove the stupid straps from the top.

Image for post
Image for post
In the 80s I had both the orange boot and the black boot on the right, in addition to Scott boots for ballet. The Hansons were super comfortable, warm, and easy to get on/off, but they didn’t have anywhere near the edge control today’s boots have.

Here’s a current rear-entry boot from Alpina, another rare innovator:

I much prefer a heated boot, but today’s heated boots don’t last all day. They last about 4 hours, then the batteries die. This season I plan to carry my own spare battery bank in my pocket and charge my boots in the gondola and at lunch. If you love your boots but get cold feet, you can try adding heated socks.

If you are hard to fit, I recommend getting boots from either your local bootfitter or from Surefoot — they will make sure your boots fit season after season. One reason to go with Surefoot is that they have stores at many resorts, so you can get same-day attention wherever you go. You may be able to buy used or less expensive boots, but the fit in the store is rarely the fit after a day on the hill, and Surefoot will work with you to make sure your boots are comfortable season after season. I do not receive any compensation from Surefoot, and I think some of their people oversell too many expensive products, but I do trust them and highly recommend getting custom footbeds.

Ideally, you want quite thin socks with a good pair of boots. You shouldn’t need a thick wooly pair of socks. It’s the fit that keeps you warm, not the socks (unless they are heated).

A warm helmet is a good idea. It gives you a great place to mount your GoPro, so you can shoot footage and watch it at night.

Get good googles. I carry both light and dark lenses and can easily snap in a new lens. I think the future is going to be auto-darkening goggles, but I expect them to be much better and more affordable by the mid-2020s. Invest in a good pair of goggles with two lenses in the $100–200 range. Used is fine. eBay often has better prices than Amazon, but my Zionor magnetic goggles are very reasonably priced and they are very high performance.

Wear mittens. I don’t understand why people wear gloves, but my fingers get cold easily. If I really wanted gloves, I would get heated ones.

For more, see my product-porn page on winter clothing and gear.

4. On the Ice

Skating on hockey skates builds your foundation for skiing at a fairly low cost, with little driving, and no time wasted at the resort. Ideally you can skate 1–2 times a week and build up your skills to a strong intermediate level before going skiing. I highly recommend buying your own hockey skates — you can’t learn if the rental skates aren’t very good, and you’ll be coming back often to learn the basics.

Good hockey skaters make good skiers. On hockey skates, if you lean back, you’ll soon be sitting on the ice. Hockey skates don’t have toe picks — you stop by doing a hockey stop. The hockey stop is the foundation of the parallel turn on snow.

He’s not wearing hockey skates, but he’s an excellent teacher.

It doesn’t hurt to take some skating lessons. Or watch YouTube videos. You should be comfortable turning on both inside and outside edges. Ideally, you can do a deep, confident hockey stop on both sides before you go to the resort. Learning to flip around and skate backwards also helps build ski skills.

Note: Even if money is not an issue for you, starting on hockey skates will save you a lot of time and effort on the ski hill.

5. Day One: Side Slip and Hockey Stop

To control your speed on the hill, you must learn to sideslip — slip the skis against the direction you are going. Go to the steepest beginner slope you can and spend two hours learning to side slip.

For this, you want a slope that is around 20 degrees. Some day, ski resorts will redesign their bunny hills and create the perfect slope for learning to side slip. Until then, you are looking for a blue (not green) run. A friend who is a good skier can help, because the first lift ride and going all the way to the bottom can be intimidating.

This isn’t steep enough for good learning. It takes more skill to slip on a more gentle slope.

The first run will be tiring and frustrating. It’s not your fault — it’s that they design ski resorts so poorly. Look at all your resort choices and find one with a short steep blue run near the bottom where you can start.

Learning to Sideslip

You must never put your skis in a wedge position. Keep your boots together and skis parallel at all times (except when walking forward).

You must build the habit of leaning forward to turn the skis uphill and slow down. You should have a decent feel for this in two runs on a normal intermediate (blue) run with about a 20- to 25-degree slope. The bunny hill (with about a 10-degree slope) will make you very tired, as you can’t use gravity to initiate the sideslip. Stay off the bunny hill!

Why Green Runs are Dangerous

Green (beginner) runs are flat. They often run around the shoulder of the mountain. This is a perfect place to get very tired, as you have to push along with the poles and you aren’t learning anything. People often ski fast here, and there is a lot of traffic. There are times where you have to build some speed to get across a flat section — a dangerous place where it’s easy to get hurt. Many injuries occur on green runs. Avoid them.

Image for post
Image for post
This is not how it is but how it should be.

To learn to ski, you want short blue runs to start. Look at the map. Find the shortest blue run that is reasonably accessible without having to ski to it. The best beginner run may even be on top of the mountain if there’s a gondola or tram to take you up (example: Park City).

Don’t Forget Your Poles!

Some people will want you to leave your poles at the bottom, but you’re not going to do that. To manage yourself at the top of the blue runs, and to get through the flat sections, and to prevent going into a wedge position, you need to get used to using the poles early. In my videos, I had the boys do two days without poles, then I introduced the poles. If you can handle poles on the first run without being distracted, that’s even better.

Remove the straps from your poles. I have skied 50 years with no straps — you can do so too. Put your palms on top of your poles to push forward on the flats.

Remember — your poles are short. They are about 2–3" (5–8cm) shorter than what they recommend at the store or rental place. Your shoulders and head should dip down as you push off with short poles.

The Hockey Stop

A good straight hockey stop should be your goal here. You may not get it by the end of day one. You should have it by noon of day two. Don’t forget to do this in both directions. Always run straight downhill, not at an angle.

Here’s a helpful video:

The only mistake in that video is that hockey stop is the second thing students should learn; it’s not an intermediate skill.

At this point, focus on your hockey stop and keep your poles comfortably out of the way when skiing. Use the poles on the flats and to get into position, but don’t try to use the poles to turn yet. This is a longer video showing how they picked it up over a couple of runs …

If you have time between this day and the next, go back to the ice and make perfect hockey stops in both directions.

6. Day Two: Linked Hockey Stops

By noon on day two, you should have mastered the ski lift, be comfortable with your poles, and be hockey stopping straight down the mountain. The next goal is to link your hockey stops:

My approach is to let the student work out the weight transfer. I just say “Hop forward!” and don’t give specific instructions. Better to show them a good example and let them work on it. Absolutely no stemming, don’t let the inside tip come up, and no skis apart. This is similar to learning to windsurf or ride a skateboard — just get the hang of transferring your weight (forward!) to initiate the next turn.

7. Day Three: Up and Down

This day is just hopping forward and hockey stopping all day, on different slopes. You should be comfortable getting down almost any groomed blue run now. You can even get onto a black groomed run today and see how the hill is doing most of the work for you —steep is good. Just keep your feet under you and stay forward. This is a long video with a lot of up and down — feel free to skim:

You can use the mantra “Up and down!” or “Hop forward!” all day long. Link your turns. Do not ski from one side of the hill to the other. You should get used to skiing in traffic and watching for people coming from uphill. Start looking for steeper runs. Take the most direct route down the center of each run.

If possible, grab an early dinner and head to the ice rink to practice more edge control, edge sets, and hockey stops before …

8. Day Four: Lift the Inside Tail

If someone can shoot videos of you as you ski, you’ll see you aren’t skiing as far forward as you think. You should really feel it in your shins. That’s why I’m always shouting “Boots together, forward!” You must keep the good habits you learned with hockey skates and never ski on the tails of your skis.

So I teach students to lift the inside tail. This move practically forces you to ski properly. Recently, an instructor saw me doing this and stopped me to ask if I would demonstrate it to his class.

As we move to steeper hills, I’m going to start saying “SET the edge! SET the edge!” In this move, you learn to use your ankles to really set an aggressive edge from which to hop up. Even in ski boots, your ankles do a lot of the fine adjustment of a turn, especially as it gets steeper.

Set the edge, then bend your knees like a coiling spring, then hop to the other side. That’s how you’re going to ski as the slope gets steeper.

I often use my pole tip and hit the student’s ski midway between the toe and the tip of the ski and say “This is where you turn, this is where you ski.” The only way to make a ski turn in front of your boot is to push your shins into your boots and apply pressure to the front of the ski. You will be pushing your shins forward, leaning into the tongues of your boots all day — make sure they are comfortable. Watch the videos I present here — rarely do we just stand up and ski in a fore-aft balance. Even if my back is erect and my hips are straight, I’m almost always pushing my shins forward, applying pressure to the front of the boots.

You should be heading to a groomed black slope today. If you can stay forward, keep your boots together, and set a good hard edge, you should have no fear of a steep slope. If your ski edges are sharp and not too wide, if you can stay aggressively forward, you will master even the hardest ice. As soon as you encounter any ice, you instantly react by pushing your shins even more forward.

It seems counterintuitive that you should hop on every turn. Can’t you just fake the hop and save energy? I’m 60. I really have no problem hopping on every turn all day long. It doesn’t take much effort. But of course you can smooth it out and simply stand up quickly, then go back down to set the next edge.

You can’t do a hard edge set on a 15-degree slope. You should be on 25- to 35-degree slopes by now, setting edges and hopping forward. It seems suicidal to hop forward over the tips of your skis on a very steep slope, but I assure you it’s the way to stay in control. You’ll get used to it.

I’ll show our days 6–10 so you can see the students on steeper snow:

By the end of day 4 or 5, you should be comfortable skiing the entire groomed mountain. You should notice that every time you get out of control, every time you fall, it’s almost certain that you were leaning back. Here’s Kaylin Richardson on “getting to the front of the boot” …

Here is a list of common mistakes:

9. Tips and Troubleshooting

Be sure you can do everything in both directions. Don’t favor one side. Video will help you see if you are turning right differently than you turn left.

Build rhythm. Don’t hesitate. Don’t pick and choose your turning points far ahead of time. Just turn right after the last one. I often yell “Turn, turn, turn!” to keep students from skiing off to the side.

Don’t sit back. People often think they are leaning forward when in fact they are sitting back. Just because your knees are bent doesn’t mean your shins are pushing into the tongues. Your shins may hurt after a day on the hill, but a good pair of boots will make it comfortable.

Watch out for others. In addition to your own skiing, develop the spacial awareness of people and features around you. Accidents happen even on uncrowded slopes because people aren’t watching above and below.

Don’t listen to others. People will tell you what to do. They will tell you to start carving or do the wedge or get longer poles or any number of silly things. Watch yourself on video. Remember that 90 percent of everyone on the mountain is a poor skier — don’t bring yourself to their level. I see plenty of instructors that don’t ski particularly well, they are a bit lazy with their hands or sit back a bit too much. Perhaps half of all ski instructors have good enough form for me to point them out to students as good examples.

Longer Skis. You should have been skiing on skis that come up to about your collar bone. Now you should go up to skis that come up to about your chin. You don’t have to! Short skis are fine. You only really want longer skis for going faster.

Hands Up. We often say that your hands are carrying two glasses of water — don’t spill a drop. Your hands should be up in your periphery, shoulder-width apart. They should not drop or swing back when planting a pole. They should be in line with your shoulders not out to the side.

Short pole plants. A pole plant goes in near the shovel of the ski like a quick stab. Then you ski right past it, keeping your hand in position, so your pole naturally pivots at the wrist and the tip comes up out of the snow. Your elbow does not go back. Your hand goes down and comes right back up. The pole tip stays in the snow only for a brief second before your hand naturally pulls it out and swings it back into position for the next pole plant. Head up; strong hands; forearms parallel to the snow; loose shoulders.

Boots together. This is controversial. Many people say a wider stance is better, more stable, etc. No one says my skiing looks unstable! I ski with my boots touching. I teach people to ski with their boots touching. It’s clearly a matter of aesthetics, because you can easily ski the entire mountain with your feet touching (see next video). Try different widths and see what you prefer.

Ski Right Under the Chair. I usually take the line near or under the chair — it’s steepest. You want to link your turns, be aggressive, set your edges, and keep your head nice and still.

The body is a piston, the eyes don’t move. Watch Biloudeau’s eyes:

I’m not a fan of this kind of competition, but watch the eyes. See how still they are? The body works like a piston to keep the eyes on track. Notice how forward he is. Here is Jennifer Heil, watch her eyes …

Anticipate the terrain. Too many people get stuck on the flats. I have my students meet above the flat sections and make a plan, so we don’t stop on the flats where we have to walk out. If I can, I always try to push snowboarders on the flats (give them warning and push their hips), because they are like upside down turtles on the flats.

10. Specialty Clinics

Now that you’re comfortable skiing the groomed part of any mountain, it’s time to improve your skills. I think ski schools could offer these 1–2-day certifications the way we pick up badges in scuba diving. They should be short and include video feedback. You should be able to take these in any order.

High-Speed Sliding

I like to teach this both on ice and on snow — ski fast and just twist your skis out of the direction of travel while sliding as fast as you can. (If the ice is hard and smooth, you can slide across the ice going pretty fast with your skates pointed off to the side — but beware there can be a sudden ending to that trick.) This is a very helpful skill for negotiating long roads or narrow trails. As on the ice, you can just lean and set the edge hard to begin a turn any time, or just keep cruising and spreading snow like butter.

(I can’t find a good video of this, will have to make one.)

Cruising: Motorcycle Turns

Now we can learn to carve. Carving is advanced; you don’t need to carve to ski the mountain, stay in control, and look good. You can set your edge and hop all day long. But carving is fun and gives you good control while maximizing your speed. I call them motorcycle turns, because I want you to lean in as hard as you can, and the skis practically turn themselves. Ted Ligety didn’t invent carving, but he sure has perfected it. Look how low his hips are to the snow:

In a carved turn, you’re on the inside edge of both skis (but mostly on the outside ski). Much of the control is in the ankle. You don’t steer to turn. You lean. This is similar to the way you turn a bicycle or a motorcycle at high speed — it has almost nothing to do with turning the handlebars and everything to do with leaning in. Here’s your carving clinic (note how close his butt is to the snow):

Straight and fast.

Sometimes, when the conditions are right, you just want to bomb down the hill. As resorts get more crowded, this is less common, but there are times when you just want the fast line. This is a skill. It’s especially important to judge your chances of getting hurt or hurting someone else. But it’s also a lot of fun when you can get away with it, especially if there is a bit of high-speed air involved.

Bumps

You can learn to ski bumps proficiently in a single day. The technique is the same: set the edge and hop or roll your weight to the other side. Always set the edge at the very apex of the mogul and slide down the front face. Never ski between the bumps, regardless of what you may see on TV or in competitions. The steeper it is, the more forward you must pitch yourself over the top of the mogul. Ski on the tops, not in the troughs. Go from one mogul top to the next as you work your way straight down the hill, without traversing across. Keep your shoulders facing downhill and just work the lower body.

I’m not happy with the bump skiing videos I’ve seen, so you’ll have to wait until I can make my own.

Racing

People still enjoy racing. This is a group of clinics people will enjoy across the disciplines: slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and downhill. Once people are fearless skiers, some will want racing camps. Today at many resorts, there are pay-to-ski race courses. I find it a bit annoying that once you’ve paid your $180 to ski a day at Vail you have to pay even more to run a race course. I think it’s worth exploring some options here to give people a sense of what racing is like. More people should have that opportunity.

Soft snow

Soft and broken snow is challenging for many skiers in their first year on the slopes. Remember: do not lean back when the snow is soft. Stay forward. You ski on the front of the ski, knees ahead of your toes.

Ski width makes the biggest difference in soft snow. A ski that is 8–10cm underfoot is far easier to ski through broken and soft snow than a narrower ski. A short fat ski will have you leaning forward and looking for soft snow to play in. Get into the trees on a short fat ski and have fun without getting too tired. Leaning forward on a short ski will not cause you to fall forward. Let the tip submerge under the snow and keep your boots together!

Powder

There are several different types of powder skis on the market now. Many of them are remarkably heavy. And for good reason — a wide, heavy ski plows through heavier snow like a Mack truck. If you plan on skiing powder, you definitely want a specialty ski for those days. A more all-around ski is less fearless in the steep and deep.

Personally, I would love to try the ultra-lightweight Goode Rahu skis in powder and see how I like them. If I were heli-skiing again, I’d like to try the Kachinas.

Powder skiing is one of the true joys of skiing. I have so many steep and deep memories I can’t count the number of fat powder days. Lean forward! Develop a rhythm. Never sit back. Learn to read the terrain. Make sure you have the right lenses. Understand the conditions that are ripe for avalanches. Keep your hands forward, your head up, and have a great time. This is a decent tutorial:

I also find no reason to wear straps on my poles in powder. Other people prefer straps. I would teach people to throw their straps in the trash and ski the entire mountain without them.

Big-Mountain Skiing

This is the dream for so many good skiers, just try not to watch:

Unfortunately, the people who can afford heli-skiing are often exactly the people you don’t want to be skiing with. But a week of 100,000+ vertical feet of steep and deep with good friends and good skiers is unbeatable.

Ice

I’ve mentioned it before, but the key on ice is a well made ski with a 70–80mm waist and sharp edges. You can sideslip and set edges down an icy slope and stay completely in control, or you can carve. What you can’t do is lean back. Ever. This is a skill anyone can learn. I can’t find a good video on this, sorry.

Jumping

You can uncork a helicopter on most runs if you have the skills. A good skier can fly from the top of one mogul and land on the backside of the next. Rocks and cliffs present delicious problems to solve by negative vertical transfer.

A good landing is steep. I am always surprised how many people are happy to jump onto a flat landing. A steep landing is a softer, safer landing. A flat landing is where you get hurt. Jumping isn’t hard — it’s knowing when and where to jump (and not jump) that takes years of experience.

Aerials

Learning to do tricks in the air is a great addition to skiing. Many resorts have foam pit and ramp classes that teach you to safely execute flips and other big-air maneuvers. Note that almost all flips are backflips. Landing a front flip on skis is far more technical, because you can’t see the landing before you land — you’re essentially landing blind. And front flips don’t let you go around as many times — you can do three backflips in the space it would take to do a double front flip. Anyone who can do a solid single front flip layout and land it straight up is one of the best aerialists in any state. But almost no one does that any more. Everyone backflips, so they can spot the landing way ahead of time. Watch the back-flippers — they can easily bend at the waist and adjust their landings. This is what the judges are looking for — the skill to time the jump properly, so you don’t bend at the waist at the last minute. Here’s a perfect one:

Here are two gold-medal jumps. The landing on the first one is terrible —he bends at the waist, his weight is back, and if you watch carefully his ass almost hits his tails on the landing. The second landing is better.

Why is this a gold-medal run? Because of the number of flips and twists. Judges reward more flips and twists and don’t care that much about landings. All competitors try for the most features, so the one who stands up the biggest trick wins. It’s as much luck as skill. Forget about the fact that the audience has no idea how many flips, let alone twists, are in the jumps. No one flips forward, ever — it’s too technical.

Here’s a good landing by the same guy:

Just to show he’s one of the best jumpers in the world, here is Rory Bushfield executing an almost perfect switch double back:

I say almost perfect, because he doesn’t lay it out much, it’s pretty compact. But watch that landing a few times — only a few people in the world can land backwards that well consistently.

Park

Terrain parks are ubiquitous now, and most ski schools have park instruction. It seems people enjoy it. I don’t have anything to add about park instruction except to note that many of the landings are flat. Too flat.

Trick Skiing

I was part of the formative years of freestyle skiing, and my specialty was ballet. In 1976, I took third place in the state of Utah in ballet. That says quite a bit, as Utah was one of the top states for ballet competitions. Now, there’s no more trick skiing, but adding a few basic tricks can be fun in a normal run. Just for nostalgia’s sake, here is Hermann Reitberger over-the-topping it:

This is the kind of event I was at every weekend for about three years (note the snow is very soft, making it much harder):

Avalanche Awareness

All good skiers should have a day of avalanche training, the kind you get when you go heli-skiing. It’s another badge to add to the quiver and could save a life some day. I’ve seen airbag backpacks for $700, and those may be good for certain professionals. But I believe the key is awareness and good judgment. I’ve been in single-file traverses where we went one at a time and watched for signs of danger — people who know the mountain can tell you what to watch for and where. Still, very skilled people get caught in avalanches and die, so take back-country skiing in the spring very seriously.

Ski Safety

This should also be a one-day course. There are too many accidents on today’s ski slopes. You should learn about the most common injuries and how to avoid them. How to maintain and watch for problems in your equipment. Understand how to interact with others on the mountain. Don’t come into any unknown situation with too much speed.

11. Fixing Ski School

This section is only for people who would like this industry to start producing decent skiers. It’s in several short sections.

Collaborate with Ice Rinks

The absolute best place to learn to ski isn’t the first day on the slopes when you are at the resort. It’s back at the ice rink, learning to skate on hockey skates. The ski industry could collaborate with ice rinks to put together a learn-to-ski program that consists of:

A skating curriculum designed around hockey stops and four-edge mastery. This can be done in groups as well as privates, and I can imagine plenty of YouTube videos to help people teach themselves. For this I recommend regular old hockey skates.

A ski simulator at the ice rink would involve the local ice rink in teaching people to ski right in their facility. Here they could have an artificial slope (or rolling mat) and videos and instructions by ski teachers. The ice rink can work with the local ski shop to have rental equipment available, so people get the hang of putting on the equipment, using poles, getting into position at the top, running downhill, and hockey-stopping at the bottom of the slope. All of this costs a fraction of doing it at the resort.

A certificate from the ice rink should give students access to the ski-school program.

Replace the bunny hills with 20- and 25-degree slopes

This is going to hurt, because it both costs money and reduces income for ski school. That little 10-degree bunny hill is a gold mine for resort owners! But if you want people to learn to ski the mountain in four days, you must convert the bunny hill into a 20-degree slope and teach side slipping on day one. This will lead to better, more confident skiers, more fun, more word of mouth, and more time on the mountain.

Resort owners will need to build up a mound that is as high as the hill that’s there now but far shorter. This hill might be only 150 yards long and 60 feet higher at the top than at the bottom (for an angle of 21 degrees). It would be a bit steeper on one side and a bit less on the other. It would have a way out for people who freak out and just want to come down (traverse to the side). It would be groomed for sideslipping. It’s not a trivial construction effort — we need to do some research on costs, capacity, lifts, and various tradeoffs to find a good solution.

All indoor ski slopes now have mostly ten-degree slopes, a disaster for beginners:

Image for post
Image for post
Gentle indoor slopes and traditional teaching give students bad habits and create dangerous skiers in crowded conditions. They should be much steeper to be safer.

I would be interested to help draft the initial specifications to give resort owners guidelines for building these new hills. We will need to look at what’s working already, build some test hills, survey resorts, make some financial projections, and educate resort owners. We will need to show results and then convince the industry to adopt the plan. It could be a competitive advantage for a group like Vail Resorts.

I know insurance companies won’t like this, but we have to educate them as well. I believe this method will result in far fewer injuries and people understanding their risks better. Lower insurance premiums should interest resort owners.

Create a Four-Day Program

Make it so people can design their vacations around the four-day program and a one-day refresher course. The program should include the rental skis (see below). You can offer a two-weekend version and a continuous four-day version for holidays.

I would be happy to work with the PSIA on the white paper for this program. I don’t say I have the final answer — everything I present here can certainly be improved. A few pilot projects for a few years would give us good data to understand the problem and solution space better. The funny thing is that they know exactly what to do — this is how they would teach their own children.

Different people will have different amounts of experience on ice. You’ll want to collaborate with ice rinks to get people their first lessons on hockey skates. I am in favor of requiring the skating, so people who don’t have the certificate aren’t eligible for ski school. However, some resorts may be far from a rink, so we will need flexibility.

Not everyone learns the same way. I have only taught a few people this way. We will need to do research to see how people learn best, both on ice and on skis. People do like to earn points and psychological rewards, so it makes sense to create a progression with levels. Could reward them with discounted tickets.

Use video feedback. While you’re redesigning the bunny hill, figure out how to get everyone on video and run the videos down in the restaurant continuously. Use the person’s ski pass to trigger the playing of the video. This is where half of the learning takes place — when people can see themselves and understand what they need to do next time. Their pass should give them access to the day’s videos, so they can review in later seasons. This helps make the pass “sticky” and gives people more reasons to return.

An App would help. Students should be able to track their progress on the ice rink and on the snow. They should be able to access their own videos from the day, so they can review them later or even ask others for comments. New tools could look at the video and tell them when they are sitting back, or help them understand why they fell, etc. The app would help them get back up to speed before the next season by showing them everything they accomplished last season.

We Need New Equipment

Skis have to be shorter to start and get longer each day. I can imagine designing skis for these four days that have much shorter backs and easy-entry bindings. They could also beep at you if you lean back. There are a lot of possibilities we’re not considering today.

New kinds of boots— they must be more comfortable, warmer, and easier to get on and off. Apex boots are more user friendly and provide a wider range of comfort. But we can do even better. Boots know when you’re leaning back — why don’t they tell you? Boots are still too hard to put on. They are too cold. We had a Cambrian explosion of boots in the 1980s. I hope we see a new round of innovation to create boots around comfort and fun, not racing. If boots look the same in ten years as they do today, something is very wrong.

Poles have to be shorter. The poles we have are great. They are just too long. We should start recommending shorter poles.

Today’s bindings are pretty good, but people still struggle to get in and out of them. Why are there no new ideas in bindings? What the heck happened to Spademans? Why can’t we just tell our bindings to let us out?

Skis today are very good. There are so many choices. I believe we should have special skis for learning, but after four days, people should take advantage of the tremendous variety of skis in the market today. Yes, they are expensive, but today’s skis are excellent.

Use Technology Better

In my view, we aren’t teaching students who want to learn, and we aren’t using technology very effectively. Why can’t we talk to the mountain the way we talk to Siri? Using earbuds, you could call for help, ask where lines are shortest, ask which restaurant is least congested, etc. Using data from your boots and your lift pass, your phone should be your primary instructor. It could use data from your boots and talk to your earbuds. Your helmet should be able to help you avoid collisions with others. Everyone should be alerted if someone uphill is going too fast. People could get an alert at 9pm and pay extra for access to powder at 7am the next morning.

Here’s the first product in this category, Carv

I hope there are more such tools, and they get more and more integrated with our gear.

12: Is Global Warming Threatening Skiing?

There is some press about global warming making it so “kids won’t even know what snow is.” Here is a headline from 2003:

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Did it happen? Here are max, min, and average temperatures for Kitzbuhel for the past ten years:

Image for post
Image for post

Even though CO2 continues to rise, do you see the corresponding rise in temperatures? I don’t. I have done more than 2,000 hours of research on this. In my view, CO2 is not responsible for raising temperatures and we will not see accelerated warming this century. This is great news for the ski industry, but for some reason most people in the industry don’t speak up. Does anyone remember skis breaking from the extreme cold at the South Korean winter olympics? Or record cold in Colorado in October, 2019? The continental US just had its coldest-ever October since recordkeeping began.

In 2008, Mark Williams, a snow researcher in Boulder, Colorado, predicted:

Image for post
Image for post

How has that worked out? Matt Makens, a Colorado meteorologist, has done a careful examination of the snowpack/temperature record. There might be a trend in snowpack, but at this point any “trend” would be well within the noise range. It’s impossible to have any confidence in reading any trend other than “business as usual,” though we will know more as we get more data.

Image for post
Image for post

This is 80 years of snowfall, during which CO2 increased in a continued upward curve. Do you see the global warming now?

Here’s the US Historical Climatology Network raw temperature data for Montrose Colorado going back to 1906:

Image for post
Image for post

Where’s the global warming? If you see an upward trend lately, look at the 1930s — a decade of extreme temperatures with no man-made CO2. Let’s look at the history of alpine glaciers:

If you want to learn about climate and why the model predictions are wrong, start on my page, Global Warming for Dummies. Watch my video playlist. Read some scientific papers. We should put together a team to help combat bad science, bad journalism, and doom-and-gloom messaging about shorter and shorter ski seasons. Ski resorts can look forward to more or less the same seasonal temperature variations we’ve seen for the past hundred years.

13: Summary

As a business, skiing is too expensive, too inaccessible, and almost everyone is a low-level intermediate skier. Can raising the level of skiing ability make a difference? I think it can. I think it benefits the industry by helping customers get the most out of the sport, preventing frustration drop-outs, reducing the expenses, and increasing mastery, even if it reduces revenues for ski school.

I advocate for some changes to the ski industry, but I believe it will be stronger in the long run. Good instructors will always add value to the experience, but we probably won’t need nearly as many as we have today.

I would be very happy to speak with resort owners, ski teachers, and journalists about these concepts.

Image for post
Image for post

I’m David Siegel, and this is solely my opinion. I am responsible for any errors, but I am not responsible for your safety. If you see something I should fix, if you want me to remove a video that isn’t mine, or if you want to hire me to ski behind you all day shouting “Boots together, forward!” just get in touch.

Written by

Provocateur, professional heretic, slayer of myths, speaker of truthiness to powerfulness, and defender of the Oxford comma.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store