This article first ran on the Liftopia blog, and was just reprinted on Business Insider. It got more comments than anything else I’d written, mostly because Evan was honest/cheeky enough to say the T-word. Tips. It keeps service industry staff alive.
When I taught skiing, the most common question I’d hear from clients, no matter what their level of proficiency, was: “So, what am I doing wrong?”
Well, that would be the first thing you’re doing wrong.
1. Worrying about what you’re doing wrong.
The brutally honest answer to that question is: You don’t want to know. It will suck up all the fun, make your head explode, and torpedo your morale.
The brain doesn’t operate constructively by focusing on the negative. If I say to you, “What you’re doing wrong is thinking about pink elephants. When you ski this next run, just don’t think about pink elephants. Think about hugging a bear,” I’ve basically offered you a recipe to have a mind-messed-up run thinking about elephants doing horrible things with pink bears while hating yourself and deciding you can’t do anything right. Fun-O-Meter? Zero.)
It’s better to start with a clear positive foundation… as in: Here’s something you’re doing right. Now here’s something to focus on doing to improve your experience.
But don’t believe me when there are actual experts around.
I reached out again to my on-call brain-trust, the pros who work in Whistler Blackcomb’s Snow School on the MAX4 program, and asked them to share the most common mistakes skiers make.
2. You’re buckling your boots the wrong way.
Friends, you’re buckling your boots the wrong way.
Ralph says that you’ve got to fasten that wide, Velcro power strap that wraps around the top of your boot, first, before you even snap a buckle closed.
“Make sure your long johns or base layer and socks are smooth and wrinkle-free and that the tongue of the boot is snug around your shin and calf. Then, with the buckles still undone, fasten the power strap nice and tight. Next, fasten the buckle that is second from the top. Stand up, flex the boot a few times and fasten the top buckle to ‘lock in’ your heel. Now fasten the third and fourth buckles from the top. Fastening your boots this way will make them feel ‘squishier’, and you’ll ski with more control and confidence.”
SkiTipDuJour shares a video on how to properly put on your ski boots.
3. You’re so afraid to suck that you’re stuck in a rut.
Caroline Perrin is too professional to come out loud and say that you’re boring. Instead, the 16-year veteran pro explains it thus:
“Skiing is an open-skilled sport.”
That means, it’s not like swimming or gymnastics or shooting hoops, where the environment is predictable, and you can do the exact same movement the same way and expect the exact same outcome. Those activities are essentially quests for perfection.
In skiing, there is no perfect move or position.
“There is so much variation from one day to another and one run to another that it is impossible for a recreational skier to do the right thing all the time. Seek ways to make it easier, safer and more fun. Expand your toolbox. Someone invented sliding down a snowy slope on planks of wood for a reason, so give up on perfection and instead find ways to make life on the slopes a constant adventure. That’s the fun of it.”
4. You’re clenching your jaw.
Glen Irvine is a professional musician, teacher, and long time WB ski instructor who spends his off-season cycling around Europe and guiding hunting trips in the Yukon. His advice, passed down to him from his favorite yoga instructor, applies equally to playing jazz, taking down a moose, or skiing: “Tension is easy. Relaxation is hard.”
Glen says that human beings, as a species, tend to have difficulty relaxing. “With skiers, this emotional tension translates into unnecessary muscular tension which makes it very difficult to execute, technically or tactically. It certainly makes it difficult to create fluidity while skiing.
“Certain muscles must fire during the turn, but just as many muscles should be allowed to relax. Next time you’re skiing on an easy run, try scanning the body to determine which muscles are retaining unnecessary tension—You might be surprised. Focus on the muscles that relax in a turn, rather than those that fire.
“Here’s a fun little technique that a past student of mine once suggested. She was an Olympic level equestrian coach who, when confronted with an excessively tense rider, encouraged him to breathe deeply and fluidly and ride with a relaxed face and jaw. Try this when you’re skiing. You’ll be amazed at how much unneeded tension flows out of the body. Your skiing will become more relaxed, more fluid, calmer and you’ll have a greater sense of well being.”
5. You’re looking at the obstacles you’d rather avoid.
Dave Hobson oversees the MAX4 alpine crew and has been teaching skiing since he was in high school. More recently, he trains a crew of top-level instructors, has introduced them to myofascial stretching, and spearheaded a series of ski skill-boosting sessions for ski patrollers.
He says, “Skiers have a tendency to look at the hazard. They focus on the trees, rather than the opening. That is just a recipe for skiing into a tree.
“You’ve got to focus on the spaces between the trees. Look ahead. Look at the line you wish to follow.”
6. You’re not tipping your instructor enough. (If at all.)
The delicate art of tipping is not often spoken of – for some, it’s a little too gauche. But Evan Taylor, nail-banger, Race Director of IRONMAN Canada, and aspiring Level 4 pro, is willing to brave it.
“As an Australian, the whole tipping scene is a foreign concept but having spent the majority of the last 14 years in North America, I’m slowly warming up to it.
“There’s not one ski instructor in the Whistler Alpine Pod who doesn’t give all they have during a lesson, no matter what the climate or snow conditions. For the Alpine crew, giving all we have means not only being a ski instructor but a personal psychologist, restaurant critic, accommodation specialist, tour guide, marriage counselor, child care specialist, boot-fitter and maitre’d at the Roundhouse. (My advice to apprehensive clients when standing on the top of double black diamond runs is simply ‘If you think this is hard, wait until we try and find a table for lunch at Roundhouse’.)
I love the line in The Matrix Reloaded when Seraph tells Neo “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.” The same goes for skiing. You don’t truly know someone until you have them ski a run that’s well out of their comfort zone.
“No matter what their confidence, personality, profession, education or social status, when you take complete strangers to the top of a run that they would not have otherwise gone to, their eyes, movements, speech or lack thereof, give away their true identity.
“Our clients come for ski lessons but if I’ve done all I can, they go away with more than ski tips. They go away learning more about themselves than they would have ever imagined.”