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How to improve your skiing

Lots of people ask “how can I get better at skiing?” We have two simple answers for you.

The simple answers:

  • Hire an instructor for some lessons
  • Use the Waterfall Method

If you were happy with the first answer and want to hire one of our instructors then click here.We use the Waterfall Method when we teach.

Alternatively, let’s dive into the Waterfall*. This is our one size fits all answer - to get some specifics for your ability level you’ll have to do a little more reading, but this should be a good start.

If you have never skied before and I said to you that we’ll be off skiing the hardest runs by this afternoon you’d be quite right in thinking that there’s more to it than that.... To get from absolute beginner via competent skier to pro’ there is a series of learning steps which go something like this:

  1. Put boots and skis on, learn to walk around a bit while wearing skis
  2. Walk up short nursery slope and slide down keeping your skis parallel to each other
  3. Snowplough in a straight line down short nursery slope
  4. Snowplough turn
  5. Plough parallel turn (i.e. snowplough part way, parallel skis part way)
  6. Parallel turn – the holy grail for most recreational skiers
  7. Advanced techniques such as racing, moguls, powder, freestyle, difficult terrain, steep terrain skiing

Even if you don’t know the name of this progression (we call it the Central Theme), you’ll probably already have a fair idea of where you are and where you’d like to get to next.

So the question remains - how can I improve my skiing and advance through the steps? You already know it’s called the Waterfall Method... but what is it?

I’m going to introduce a pattern that can be used at all stages of the Central Theme. (If you’re an instructor and haven’t heard of the Waterfall Method that’s fine – the technique itself well established and you might even be using it without knowing the name). We use it to help structure our lessons.

I have an image in my head of what a good skier should look like, and I’m sure you can imagine one too. My imaginary skier has good balance, they rotate their skis the right amount for any slope (more on steep terrain, less on the race course), they use the edges of their skis effectively, and they always put their weight on the correct ski at the right time. When I look at video of myself my skiing doesn’t live up to this perfect example: There are so many things I could improve, where do I start? The Waterfall Method answers this.

The Waterfall Method

Start at the top of the waterfall and flow down. If things get a bit rocky go back to the top and start again.

In a nutshell, you should always work on improving balance first, then rotation, followed by edging, and finally pressure. It’s not quite as simple as this though – what happens if I start with good balance, practice my rotation, and in doing so mess up my balance? The answer is simple – we start over at the top. Whatever stage we’re at we do some work, then start over at balance, then rotation, then edging, then pressure.

Again: Improve balance, when the balance is good, move on to rotation, when rotation is good, re-check balance, when balance and rotation are ok, move on to edge, when edging is ok, re-check balance and then rotation and so on.

What do we mean by each of these? What is Balance? What is Rotation? What is Edge? What is Pressure? We could talk about each of these for pages and pages, and you cannot turn effectively without the right blend of all of them together. So this is a quick summary:

  • Balance - When we’re talking about balance you could be too far forward on the ski, too far back, you could be better balanced on one turn than the other, you could be balanced too much on your uphill or downhill ski. We have two types of balance exercises; front/back balance, and left/right balance. Elsewhere on the website we’ll explain them more fully.
  • Rotation – This can cause confusion because in some places the instructors call it pivoting. The word we use is not as important as the movement we make, so try this: Stand on your left leg. With your right leg point your toes to the left then to the right. You don’t have to move your leg very far, but this is a simple rotation movement. It’s this rotation movement which allows you to snowplough (the feet are rotated so that the toes on each foot point towards each other). A greater or lesser amount of rotation movement will influence how tightly you turn. Some turns require more rotation than others – rotation needs to be varied depending on the slope, on the conditions, or on the speed or line that you want to take down the hill. An important point to note is that this rotational movement is in the lower part of your body only (legs) - we don’t mean you should be rotating your upper body (torso). Your ability to do something different with your legs to what you are doing with the rest of your body fits somewhere between rotation and balance (and we call this body separation). You can improve your ability to control your rotation with some exercises.
  • Edging – this is how much of an edge the ski is placed on. It’s the angle between the bottom of the ski and the surface of the snow. The more edge, the more the ski will grip. Imagine if you were to ski down a slope in a straight line with your skis parallel without turning – the skis would be flat i.e. you would not be doing any edging. Now think about climbing a slope while wearing your skis – you would turn sideward and dig the edges into the hill to give you some grip – this would be an extreme form of edging. All turns have some degree of edging – the question is how much of an edge to use, and when to switch the side you are edging on. There are lots of exercises you can use to improve your edging.
  • Pressure – I’m not entirely comfortable using the word pressure for reasons best explained elsewhere, but in a nutshell pressure is the weight you put on the ski which bends it in the middle as you are turning. 9 times out of 10 you’ll get the most improvement higher up the waterfall… so we’ll leave the detailed explanation of pressure to another article. Again, you can improve in this area with some targeted exercises.

You’ll need to know which exercise/drill to use as you flow down the waterfall and it’s our aim on this site to give you a handy reference guide. Some exercises are good for multiple areas at the same time whilst others are targeted at a single waterfall stage. Whenever we add a new exercise to the site we’ll tag it with a Waterfall Method stage so you can find the ones that are best for you.

We’d love to be the people to help you to improve your skiing – you can book lessons with our ski school, or if you just have a question or two you can email us.

A final thought:

* We would never dive into a real waterfall. We don’t know where the rocks might be.