Start with the Fundamentals!

Ski tips from the Mahre Twins--

Taking a ski lesson is often the quickest way to improve your skiing. Unfortunately, when you sign up for ski instruction, unless you know your instructor's preferences, you could be taught two, three, or four different ways of skiing. Over the past thirty-one years, Mahre Training Centers have used the same simple basic fundamentals to teach people to ski with less effort and more enjoyment.

There are three basic fundamentals to proper skiing and they all deal with balance. Fore/Aft, Lateral, and Vertical balance. By skiing at a slower pace and concentrating on feelings and sensations, along with proper technique you will improve your skiing. Also, keep in mind that we as individuals all have different body builds and physical traits. In theory, we should all ski technically the same, but all look different while we ski. Here are four easy tips to help you improve your skiing.

Ski Tip #1: Before you Hit the Slopes

Before you hit the ski slopes mental and physical conditioning will be a great part of your learning success. In order to perform the basic fundamentals of skiing it’s key to be physically fit, with a positive mental outlook.

We felt staying active in other competitive sports during our off season was crucial in our success on the slopes, both physically and mentally. If you take six months away from your sport and then just think you can pick up where you left off, you’re kidding yourself. Skiing requires muscles that are not used on a daily basis and need to be brought back before you hit the slopes.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what are the best exercises to accomplish getting back into skiing shape, but we have always found two things to be true. 1) Sports that move you in six directions (up-down, right-left, and fore-aft), such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, handball, tennis, etc. are much more conducive to stimulating the muscles required for skiing. 2) If you’re having fun and getting a workout at the same time, you’re more apt to continue to get fit.

People often say, “I’ve been running three miles a day for the last month and my legs are still burning.” Running is great for cardiovascular strength, but doesn’t work the same muscle groups. If you were to run over uneven terrain, bounding from left to right and jumping over obstacles this would then be more appropriate for ski conditioning. Also, make mental notes or write them on a piece of paper about what you like in your skiing and what you’re thinking about, then when you go out the next time you can start concentrating on those areas from the get go.

Remember, before you start any exercise program it’s a good idea to consult a physician. Have a great season and we hope to see you on the slopes.


Ski Tip #2: Fore/Aft Balance

The first and most important basic to proper skiing is Fore/Aft balance. By taking the time on your first run of the day to find out where you are balancing on your feet, you’ll set the tone for the rest of your ski day.

Divide the bottom of your feet into three separate sections: ball, arch and heel. On gentle terrain or in a traverse, skiing at a slow pace, feel where your weight is distributed on the bottom of your feet. To be athletic, in all sports we must be balanced on the balls of our feet, skiing is no different. If you feel the weight on your heels, you’re sitting back. If your thighs burn or tire easily, chances are you fall into the sitting back category.

To correct the problem, stand taller and move your hips forward. If you feel the weight on your arches or balls of your feet, you’re most likely in fairly good balance. Once you find your fore/aft balanced position, it’s important that you ski in this position whether traversing the hill or in the fall line. For example, when you are traversing the hill, it is a flat surface just tilted, but when you’re in the fall line it is steep. If you are perpendicular to your skis on a flat surface, you must be perpendicular to them on a steep surface.

Too often we don’t move forward at the start of the turn, so as we move through the middle (fall line) of the turn we are now sitting back. As you’re starting a turn, try to feel the weight shift to the balls of your feet; this will put you in a great position as you move through the middle of the turn. Yes, we would all rather fall on our behinds versus our faces, but to ski properly we need to be forward, and besides it’s next to impossible to fall over forward because our skis, ski boots and bindings won’t let us.


Ski Tip #3: Lateral Balance

The second basic to proper skiing is lateral balance. This is your side-to-side balance and deals with weight shifts from one foot to the other.

It's no different than when you’re walking. For example, we could have you freeze in mid-stride and you could balance on that foot, because you’ve made a definite weight transfer. The same theory applies in skiing. To ski properly, you must transfer weight from foot to foot each and every turn. Once you’ve mastered the first basic, fore/aft balance, it makes it much easier to transfer weight laterally.

At a slow pace on gentle terrain while traversing, practice picking up the uphill ski. (Make sure to check uphill for skiing traffic before you start your traverse) Are you able to balance on one foot easier? We all have a strong side. Go one step further, traverse picking up the downhill ski. If the tip of the lifted ski is up or down, this generally means you’re either sitting back or leaning forward.

Tip #2 Fore/Aft balance comes back into play. Look back at the track the edge of your ski has left in the snow. Is it crisp or kind of a wide smear? Keep adjusting your fore/aft balance until you can leave a crisp edge track in the snow while traversing either on the uphill or downhill ski.

Now add a turn into the mix. Traverse on the downhill ski, transfer weight to the uphill ski (the new turning ski) then lift the downhill ski and turn. Remember to move forward as you transfer your weight to your uphill ski before you start your turn. This creates the habit of an early weight transfer with proper balance, which helps you prepare for the new turn.

Slow everything down. Make your turns the shape of a C not a Z. Think of an edge change and then a direction change. Too often we make a direction change then the edge change.


Ski Tip #4: Vertical Balance

The third basic to proper skiing is vertical balance; it's the one that most skiers lack. This is also called extension and flexion.

This movement pattern should be natural. If we were to ask you to go straight down the hill you would start off fairly tall and relaxed, but as the speed increased you would start to spread your feet apart and lower your body position for stability.

When you enter a turn your speed increases as you turn into the fall line, therefore it should be a natural reaction to lower your body position by sinking. By standing up or extending, to use a bigger term for the same thing, at the start of a turn accomplishes three things.

1) It completes or ends your previous turn and helps you transfer weight from the old turning ski to the new turning ski.

2) It unweights your skis and allows you to move into the new turn.

3) It gives your muscles a chance to take a break and rest.

By sinking or flexing as you move through the turn you’re able to create edge angle and monitor the pressure on the ski as it builds. As you stand up or sink it’s important to use your ankle, knee and hip joints to stay in a balanced fore/aft position. If you don’t use all three joints you’ll move either forward or backwards out of balance.

Skiing at a slow pace, make several turns just standing tall. This should make it easy to start the turn, yet not so easy to complete the turn. Now make several turns in a low position (Gremlin turns) never standing up. This should 1) make you tired, and 2) make it more difficult to start the turn, yet easier to complete the turn.

Now take the time to make some turns standing tall to start the turn and gradually lower your body position by sinking as you go through the turn. Ski in a circle not a box. Make your movements fluid, not quick.