Ski on pure powder with these tips
Choose your skis carefully
The snow is piling up. The lifts are spinning. The Colorado ski season is underway and it’s time to turn our attention to soft, floaty turns. So after years upon years of ski vacations in Colorado, how can you ski like those spinning, speedy kids in the movies? You want to carve like Lindsey, float like Sage and spin like Torin?
Apparently, it really helps to be born with parents who are ski patrollers. But for the other 99.99 percent of skiers who chase snow and dream of excellence, where is the path to that flowing carve that the best make look so simple?
Talk to a surly local and she’ll give you the key: Move to a ski town and ski all day, every day. That might work for a 20-something with few responsibilities and limitless reserves of energy. But what if you missed your ski-bum window? What if you have a job? A family. A mortgage. Are you doomed to ski blues for the rest of your days?
While there is no magic pill that will elevate your turns from blue to black in a blink, there is a fast-track to becoming a better skier. It involves hitching your wagon to those skiers who have paid their dues. Listen to the people who have dedicated their lives to skiing and harvest their hard-earned wisdom. Chase them around the hill. Put their tactics on snow and follow their lead.
I spent the summer working with Wagner Skis tracking down the experts. I asked them — a surprising number of them were scions of ski patrollers — to share their secrets. What can we do to break out and move up, to elevate our turns and find that seemingly effortless style utilized by the best?
Here’s what I heard from some of those experts. You can hear it too on the Next Level podcast, available where ever you get your podcasts.
Angel Collinson is probably the strongest woman on the big-mountain scene. She’s got the pedigree, bred into skiing as a daughter of a ski patroller. But she’s more than a highly competitive technical wizard. Angel has a mental game like no other. She’s got a quiver of thoughtful tools that keep her on-point in scenarios that blend avalanche risk, exposure, unknown terrain and movie-making cameras. She manages her fear, tames it into something that makes her more focused on success. She sees that success; visualizes herself carving clean lines down steep faces. She practices “positive self talk” so she can summon her best at a moment’s notice. Angel meditates, practicing “a state of intimacy” with her mind. And she’s got a breathing technique for finding that inner calm — four-count inhale, seven-count hold, eight-count exhale. On top of it all, Angel is well prepared and confident. She affirms her readiness with a mantra. A simple phrase that gets her in the zone for turns that would melt most skiers. “You got this,” she says.
Utah badass Jake Hutchinson is a battle-tested Marine who trains Special Forces soldiers, search-and-rescue teams and ski patrollers with specialized techniques for maintaining power, strength and balance in all conditions. The son of a ski patroller, he’s also a veteran avalanche safety instructor who instills skills that can help skiers reduce their risk in the backcountry. If anyone has the road map to take our turns up a notch, it’s Jake.
Start with strengthening your butt and hamstrings. The butt is easy, the hamstring, not so much. So bust out explosive squats and train with light weights and plenty of reps. Build up endurance to maintain strength when lactic acid is telling you to quit.
Jake also has some good advice for learning to fall right. Fighting a fall is a good way to get injured, so learning the hip-check fall is key for skiers exploring their limits. Today’s skis — with wide, soft shovels and aggressive sidecuts — can make us better without the labor of days’ past, but don’t rely too much on technology, Jake says. Make sure you can roll your body through all variety of movements without pain or fatigue. Now do that a lot to develop the strength and endurance to be a better skier.
Jake asks his trainees to really think about every movement they make. Study it and make certain it has a purpose. Once you whittle down extraneous movement while skiing — especially in the upper body — your limited cache of energy can be focused on body parts doing the heavy lifting.
Dr. Tom Hackett was a ski patroller living in his truck in Jackson Hole when he decided he wanted to step it up. Thirty years later, he’s one of the country’s most revered orthopedic surgeons, repairing the superstars of snow. But he never settled to simply fix damage. He has spent his career studying the body mechanics of skiers and snowboarders to find ways that athletes at the top of the sports can adjust their performances to help limit the risk of injury. “I’m kind of an in-the-trenches guy in terms of just loving to do surgery, but at the same time all these questions keep coming up about how to make our surgeries better or how to prevent ever having to do a surgery,” says the longtime team doctor for the U.S. Snowboarding Team.
Hackett’s advice is to spend time on strengthening hip flexors and adductors to build a stronger, more resilient core. He’s also got some practical advice: dial back the DIN on your skis. “I almost never see someone who comes into see me because their skis released too soon,” he says. Also, his statistics show that the risk of injury goes up six times when skiers and snowboarders leave the ground. Those studies also show that the severity of injuries increase with an area’s lack of snow. Low-tide crashes tend to push skiers to surgery versus falls when the snow is deep. So back off the accelerator when it’s thin. But still go out there. Dr. Hackett’s favorite piece of advice for improving his skiing came from a baker back in Jackson, who told him there was something to learn every day on the hill, regardless of conditions.
Aspen’s own Chris Davenport is the teacher every skier needs. The father of three rippers and husband to a ski patroller — of course — Davenport has evolved from racer, to big-mountain competitor to renowned ski mountaineer. And on every step he has corralled more into the sport with an infectious passion for skiing.Never stop learning, he says. Look, listen, feel, taste and even smell the mountains, he says. They are always teaching us. We just need to tune in, says Dav.
Spending his seasons chasing snow with clients eager to hone their skills, Dav has developed a deep toolbox for helping skiers find their best turns. While each student has their own specific needs, it’s critical to nail down the basic mechanics of skiing — sharpened through repetition and drills — before stepping up into those movie-worthy lines. “We are teaching people to grab the bull by the horns, get in the front of their ski boots, get on the balls of the feet, driving into the ski,” he says. “We are getting people to angulate the hips.” Davenport is big on goals. “Without planning, all these things are just wishes,” he says.
Tommy Moe, is, yeah you guessed it, the son of a ski patroller. So it’s not surprising that he found himself on the U.S. Ski Team at 16 and racing World Cup at 17. His answer to how we can find our best turns: Chase people who are much better skiers. In Tommy’s case, that was the imitable duo of Phil and Steve Mahre. Oh, you don’t have the country’s top skiers as mentors? Good luck becoming the second American to ever win the downhill, like Moe. But there is an army of guides and ski instructors out there eager to take on the role of mentor. Your ski buddies can help too. Pick them well, Moe says.
You can’t get better if you are uncomfortable or scared, Moe says. So push yourself, but not so hard that discomfort or fear eclipses everything else. Moe is one of the owners of Alaska’s Tordillo Mountain Lodge, where thousands of skiers have expanded their skiing world with helicopters. His team uses video to help skiers overcome bad habits and develop new skills in Alaska’s steep and deep. “That really gets to the nuts and bolts of technique,” he says.
No one has had a better seat for the evolution of skiing than Klaus Obermeyer. He started skiing in Austria by nailing his shoes to boards pried from an orange crate. Today, at 98, he still skis regularly at his home’s Aspen Mountain and captains the progression of skiing outerwear at his Sport Obermeyer office. He was there when skis got metal edges and ski boots were made with plastic. His ingenuity fueled the development of skiing’s essentials, like goggles, Gore Tex and quilted down parkas.
Since he arrived in Aspen in 1947, he’s helped skiers step up their game. Few have played such a large role in the sport’s evolution and even fewer can boast such longevity on skis. His advice for skiers in the 1950s, when he was an instructor, isn’t that different from today. Learn how to sideslip, so you can get yourself out of sticky spots. Don’t get in over your head. “A secret of my teaching was to never do something that would scare them,” he says. And get the good gear so you are comfortable. No one learns anything when they are wet and cold. As for longevity, Obermeyer’s tactics are simple. Don’t eat more than you burn. Work out daily so your body is used to the pressures of skiing. Obermeyer swims and works on his gym’s weight machines every day. “If you don’t nurture things, you don’t need them anymore,” he says.
If you ski, you’ve heard this one before: Go visit a bootfitter and your life will change. You are about to hear it again: Go. Visit. A. Bootfitter. All of skiing starts where ski meets foot, inside that plastic clamp that has probably done more to deter people from skiing than any one thing. Boots simply do not work off the shelf. They need a pro — like Aspen’s Jim Lindsay — to make them work. For more than 30 years, Lindsay has saved skiing one foot at a time. A couple hours with a bootfitter like Lindsay can dial your boots into your stance, your skis and your style. Lindsay will put you through an array of tests and scans, measuring your range of motion, ankle flexion, knee extension and more. From there, a boot can be dialed to your exact needs. It’s science, but Lindsay is an artist. An artist who can change your skiing forever.