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"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT": a skiing web manual
That First Skiing Lesson" and "The Snowplow--offensive or defensive" 
by Bill Jones, Ski Instructor

Certified Professional Ski Instructor (Registration #110478), Level III
How To Reserve Private Ski Lessons with Bill Jones


"Congratulations--you have selected skiing as your sport," which is like what you often read when you first open a newly purchased product. The next sentence may be, "Be sure to read the instructions first". And there may even be a disclaimer telling of inherent dangers if you use the product the wrong way.

Those are important advices to heed before and as you start skiing the first time, too.

It is possible to learn to ski without taking lessons, or by taking the advice of friends, or by just trying it on your own. But because skiing uses the human body in unaccustomed ways and in a harsh environment, lessons from a professional allow you to discover efficient and versatile ways you would be unlikely to find on your own. And lessons may even reduce the risk factor--not only to  your own body but to those whom you might otherwise run into and possibly injure with corresponding liability for your action. Too, lessons will reduce the need to unlearn a movement or position that does not work well and relearn an effective replacement. Your teacher might say, "I can help you discover things that work."

Consider the frustration: Learning to ski is a process that is more challenging than most people imagine. The first day of skiing is a difficult one, often the hardest ski day one will ever experience. Even though we may not intend to excel at the sport, just gaining competence can take great resolve as we figure out how to get our skis do what we want them to get us to do. If we get hooked on the sport, the frustration can continue: witness the lament of Phil Mahre, one of America's greatest skiers ever: "I still can't make 10 perfect turns in a row...Two or three of them will be perfect, maybe five will be OK, and two of 'em will flat suck." (Ski, Oct 2008). Yet many beginners want results NOW.

Consider the environment. Have clothing in layers so you can add or take off, and with zippers for the same effect. Have head coverings available to preserve warmth and/or to shade bright sunlight. Sun-blocking cream is always required--even on cloudy days, for ultraviolet rays can get through clouds. Or the weather could be cold, dark, and windy. Lip salves are good. Goggles and sunglasses should be available. Ski clothing comes with many pockets to store and retrieve such items. Troublesome altitude effects are possible, as most ski areas are high in the mountains, so at first do not overexert and drink plenty of fluids--but go easy on the caffeine and little or no alcohol.

Consider the equipment. Beginners' skis differ from those suited for intermediate and advanced skiers--beginners use shorter skis that are easier to turn and tip and that are softer so they bend more easily. Too, beginners' boots do not need as much stiffness because at lower speeds there is less force to distort their shape. You should be able to flex your ankles while in your boots so your lower leg goes forward without hurting your shins. Why buy gear first, because you'll need different gear after a few sessions? And avoid using another's skis, which are unlikely to be the right ones for you. Go to a good rental shop and take their advice. They will help you select the right skis for you based on your height, weight, age, and skiing style and will also adjust the ski bindings so they are more likely to release you from the skis when needed. (You might find a better price away from your chosen ski area, but if the rented equipment needs adjustment you will be inconvenienced.

Consider the whole body. Have you done some conditioning before skiing? If so, good! Even if you have, however, many find that the first time out on skis they use their muscles and joints in new ways and are surprised when a body part hurts, hindering its use. Pace yourself so you can last longer. Likely you will learn faster when not tired. It is better to take a break before you get tired so that you won't get tired. Get adequate sleep the night before skiing. Start your first ski day before other activities, not in the middle of or near the end of a busy day. Eat well before and during skiing and keep an energy bar handy in your pocket. Stay hydrated. Take rest room breaks. Use warming huts. Only when our bodies are happy will our minds let us allow what we want our bodies to do.

Consider the legs. Most persons have legs that behave differently. Just as we may be right-handed or left-handed, we are likely also right-legged or left-legged. And your "legged-ness" may differ from your "handed-ness". Find out which leg is dominant for you by doing some simple tests--kicking a ball, standing on one leg and then the other to see which gives you better balance, etc. Then find ways to exercise the lazier leg to make it stronger, more responsive, and more maneuverable. (Twist and tilt the foot with that leg, for instance, and rotate the leg outward against resistance, for instance. Do this long enough before a ski trip to give time to improve performance, for both legs must be used in skiing during turns and a lazy leg can severely hinder progress.

Consider the psyche. Why are you trying the sport? Did the devil make you do it? Did you see those sexy ads in the slick ski magazines? Is apres-ski at the bar your motivation? Do you want to be able to ski with a significant other? find a significant other? with kids? with grandkids? Do you like the stylish clothes? Are you competitive and want to win a race on skis? Are you bored in the winter and want a new activity? Will you be impressing--or keeping even with--others in the office at the proverbial water cooler? Have you been dared? Do you want to enjoy the winter mountain views? Do you want to be a ski instructor?

Consider the mind. Are you a risk-taker? If so, you might learn faster as you try out new positions and movements. But be careful at the same time so you don't become a statistic you don't want to be. Are you cautious? If so, you might  slow your progress into the sport's joys and even be a hazard to yourself for not using more daring actions that would actually allow better performance.  Think as in the Nike slogan, "Just do it!" and avoid the 4-letter word in this sentence: "I can't." Think about how you like to learn--watcher, thinker, doer--and try to use the method that works best for you, but include the other methods as well for fastest progress. Share your learning-style preference with others helping you learn. Visualize movement patterns rather than static positions: skiing is a sliding sport. Recall the adage that "No decision is a decision", for even if you do not change your body's position as you ski, your skis will take you somewhere. By taking action you may influence what will happen into a desirable outcome.

Consider the lesson. Does your source of learning--instructor, book, video--have credentials and/or experience in the profession? Do you and he/she/it relate? Is the terrain you are on non-threatening so you can focus on learning? Is the lesson long enough so you can learn what you should (this varies by individual; some will need less lesson time to reach goals and others more, depending on their physical and mental makeup plus past activities and more). Is there enough time in the lesson to "groove in" new patterns of actions.

Consider the joy. "Are we having fun yet?" may be a question at first, as the first ski lesson is for most the hardest they will ever take. A long-time ski school director had this index for his success with "never-ever" students: He watched for teeth, revealing the beginnings of smiles, rare at first except from nervousness. Stay with skiing long enough to give the teeth a chance to show and know if it is a sport for you, and you will be more likely to join the millions of others who spend their years looking forward to their next sliding experience on snow.

Consider the future. Now that you have decided to start the sport, and assuming you like it, where will you go with it? Pick any goal you like--to ski the easiest green terrain, to cruise the blue groomed runs, to dive down the  black steeps, to navigate the moguls, to taste the powder, to win the races--but note that most skiers advance their goals with time on the snow and the discovery that the better their skills the better their enjoyment and the more they can experience the best of the mountains. Beware: skiing is addictive.

Ski-heil! (a wish for health and happiness: it means long life and good luck; with wholesomeness.)

Permission to Fail—there’s a certain freedom from being clueless:
by Julie Matlof Kennedy (excerpted from Stanford Magazine, January-February 2015, p. 112)

“How many times have I let the fact that I’m not good at something stop me from doing it? Early on, I focused on the things I did well and made it a habit to avoid everything else. I succeeded…and was fed a steady dose of praise. I learned to crave it. I was an approval junkie. Doing poorly was unimaginable—even average felt not good enough. So I stayed in safe territory, avoiding anything that might expose me as clumsy, uncertain or incompetent…

On my 45th birthday, though, I decided I had kept myself locked in safety long enough. My need for approval had become paralyzing. What I really needed was to be clueless—to risk doing something new, with no expectation that I would be any good at it. …in the end I chose horseback riding…But I had never really ridden.

The first challenge was purely physical. My middle-aged body wasn’t eager to embrace new exertions. I couldn’t believe how much I hurt. Even more daunting was the mental hurdle. It’s disorienting to start at the bottom, especially when you’ve spent your life avoiding it. I found myself asking my instructor again and again what to do…

Now, four years into what has become a passion I start every ride with a list of things I want to do that day. For once, I am not trying to achieve anything. I ride for the love of it. I ride because it’s a pleasure to be a rookie learning from a thoughtful professional. I ride as part of a community of kindhearted equestrians who support and cheer for beginners. I ride because even if I’m not very good at it, it’s very good for me.”

THE SNOW PLOW--Offensive or Defensive

The snow plow, often taught in a first lesson, can be the foundation of one's ski life in a positive or negative way. Bud Heishman on November 25, 2016 in the PSIA forum explains to ski instructors the two ways in his article quoted below: active weight shift versus passive weight shift. The difference matters. Be sure your instructor uses passive weight shift (i.e., your movements allow gravity and the forces developed by turning to put the weight where it belongs. Not all instructors understand this, and that is where having a certified instructor at a higher level could be important. This article will help you understand which track you are being started on, or have been started on. If started on active weight shift (defensive) a time will come when yuu will need to retool your skiing skills to be an offensive skier in order to continue advancing.



It's that time of the year again when we begin training new hire instructors to teach beginners.  We must seize this opportunity to ingrain the offensive movements PSIA encourages.


Wedge turns are the foundation that establish a skier's path to progress.  Wedges are the training wheels of a parallel turning and should contain the embryonic elements of a parallel turn.  Nothing should need to be unlearned in order to progress seamlessly into parallel turning.   The movement patterns learned here determine whether the skier builds on an offensive or defensive intent to turn.  We reach an important, distinctive fork in the road during these first wedge turns.  Wedge turn initiations reveal whether we have chosen an offensive "GO" intent or defensive braking intent.  One leads quickly to christies, and simultaneous movements of parallel initiations while the other dead ends into defensive, braking stem christies and sequential movements of a plateaued terminal intermediate.  We want our trainers to experience this epiphany and clearly understand these two choices so that our new hires and staff recognize the important choices they have in front of them and choose wisely.


The "Target" wedge turn:

The sharper our focus on the target the better.  The more unified and concise our target,  the better our product.  Our focus in the beginner zone is the rotary skill which requires certain priorities to facilitate effectively guiding the skis with lower leg rotation.  All too often our new and veteran instructors abandon the rotary focus for the low hanging fruit of the "edge and pressure" or active weight transfer route, condemning our students to defensive skiing.

Let's look at a wedge turn through the 5 fundamentals of skiing with a focus on the target.


Control the relationship of the center of mass to the base of  support to direct pressure along the length of the skis

We want a stance which places the skier over the "sweet spot" of the ski on the fore/aft plane.  This facilitates the ability to twist the ski using lower leg rotation.  Each skier's sweet spot will be determined by the angles created by their equipment including ramp angle (internal boot board angle), forward lean angle (upper cuff), delta angle (external angle created by difference in binding toe height and heel height) and by the binding mount position on their skis.  We must be aware of these variables as trainers to understand our instructor stances.  for example; an instructor on center mounted twin tips will present a different stance than a classic mount position.  They will present a more vertical spine with hands closer to their sides as a result because the sweet spot is moved farther aft on their skis. or a person with a very short boot sole, mounted on a very high stand height differential binding creating excessive lower leg angle will present a very flexed stance with hips aft.  Recognizing these skiers will not be able to present the "target" stance without addressing these equipment issues.


▪  Control pressure from ski to ski and DIRECT PRESSURE TOWARD THE OUTSIDE SKI.

This fundamental is a key to clearly understanding our choices and the preferred method to use.  It is here that a major fork in the road occurs!  We can choose a "Passive" or "Active" weight shift.  One nurtures the toppling effect of advanced skiing causing edge release with tips moving downhill. The other, negative movements which interrupt fluidity creating defensive braking movements with tails moving uphill.  


HOW we "direct pressure toward the outside ski" is the key!!! Our target should be a passive weight shift, evidenced by a simultaneous shift of weight to the new outside ski caused by releasing pressure and edge on the platformed, downhill ski, permitting both ski tips to seek the fall line.  There is no movement of the head or torso up hill or toward the outside ski before the fall line.  This is a key choice and focus, the proverbial "fork in the road".   


The active weight shift can be done statically while the active [did Bud mean passive here?] shift can NOT, without losing balance, as it requires movement and the presences of turning forces, created by this movement, to work.  We can demonstrate this on the flats in boots only or inside on the floor.  Simply stand with feet hip width apart and gradually move all your weight to one foot.  You will notice the default movement is to tip the head and torso to one side actively transferring the weight to one ski.  Now, try lifting one foot slowly without any lateral movement of the head and torso in the opposite direction.  At first, we resist, then when we do the drill we find it causes an imbalance and we topple toward that side.  Now imagine doing this gliding down the hill in a wedge position.... This passive weight shift of lifting or "releasing" pressure, and consequently edge angle, causes a turning initiation and instantaneously accomplishes the weight shift toward the outside ski.


Our trainers must understand the difference.  The passive weight shift is an immediate result of releasing the downhill edge and pressure, (the turn initiation causes the weight shift).  While in the active weight shift the skier transfers weight to the new outside ski to initiate a turn (the weight shift causes the turn).  The choice we make here determines our path to parallel.  The passive weight shifts are the mechanics of parallel turns, the active weight shift leads to defensive, stem christie initiations and the intermediate plateau.


 ▪ Control edge angles through a combination of inclination and angulation

Edge angles in a wedge turn are largely a result of the wedge position and the slope angle with slight inclination developed to balance against the slight turning forces created.  While slight knee angulation will develop through lower leg turning efforts, it is not something to draw focus, rather a resultant of turning efforts of lower legs.  At the turn initiation much of the releasing of the downhill ski's edge grip is do to a release of this turning effort and weight shift from one turn into the next. 


 ▪ Control the skis' rotation (turning, pivoting, steering) with leg rotation, separate from the upper body

First, the wedge size needs to be wide enough to offer enough lateral stability for the beginner movements from side to side yet narrow enough to keep edge angles low, facilitating rotary movements of the lower legs.  Lower leg rotation is an alien movement to most beginner skiers because it isn't used in any other facet of life or sport and must be learned.  A concerted effort by our training staff needs to create as many ways to teach this skill as possible rather than quickly brush over this important skill.  A list of drills and exercises to this goal should be developed and share freely amongst all!

Our target wedge turn mechanics focus on this skill yet have historically been compromised too quickly, succumbing to the edge and pressure focus of the active weight shift thus heading down the other fork in the road.


 ▪ Regulate the magnitude of pressure created through ski/snow interaction

In a wedge turn this fundamental is of little consequence though the rudimentary movement of releasing the pressure from the down hill ski to cause the turn initiation and weight shift is the embryonic stage of this fundamental.  The flexion extension in a wedge turn should largely focus more on a lateral flexion or long leg/short leg movement rather than a vertical flexion extension where the hips move closer and farther from the base of support.  The reason for this is we see students who are taught to flex and extend vertically using equal ankle, knee, hip flexion develop the bad habit of hip rotation, squaring or even advance rotation of the hips.  Focusing on lower leg rotation develops a strong inside half or countered position.  This results in a longer downhill leg and a shorter uphill leg or lateral flexion used simply to balance against the turning forces.  Vertical flexion is learned later when the skier finds the need to absorb greater forces and manage pressure build up more effectively.


Another approach to understandinng offensive vs. defensive skiing

Offensive vs. defensive skiing

Is skiing not a downhill sport? Yet this skier seems more eager to stay uphill, leaning away from the descent, hips back, and with downhill ski tipped against the snow and angled into a half-snowplow, with the uphill ski flatter on the snow. To turn downhill the skier will most likely extend the upper leg and swing the hip on that side forward and around, creating a lunge or sort of step to go around the ski on the downhill side that is stuck in the snow. The skier is defensive,.

The altrnative, once the mind is set correctly, is to be an offensive skier: flatten the down hill ski by tipping the foot--or tipping the the whole body--so the skier becomes oriented perpendicular to the snow surface and begins to slide around an arc to initate and complete the turn by using gravity. Once learned, skiing is easier and more fun, yet most skiers first learn to ski defensively and then never do experience the most they could.


Failing to apply a more defensive skiing style can remain a problem for skiers as they advance, so should be dealt with at the earliest--even first--stages.







"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT"--a skiing web manual:   Skiing Web Manual Contents    Why Read this Skiing Web Manual  THAT FIRST SKIING LESSON   A Little Skiing History  Motion in Skiing  Conventional Skiing Wisdoms  Skier Excuses   Fear in Skiing  Conditioning for Skiing  Equipment and Technique  Skiing Equipment  How Skis Work  How to Develop Balance on Skis  A Skiing Turn Simplified  The Final Skiing Skill: pressure management  Tactics for Terrains and Snow Textures and Racing  Skiing Tips and Tales--a potpourii    Exercises for Developing Skiing Skills  Children and Skiing  Age and Skiing   Gender & Skiing  Culture & Skiing  Skiing Ethics and Slope Survival  Slope Safety  Skiing Environment   Glossary  Videos and Apps  Acknowledgements SkiMyBest Website Contents  
This "That First Skiing Lesson" page last modified  December 27, 2022. Did you come here from a link on another website? For latest version of this page, copy to your browser: http://www.SkiMyBest.com/skifirst.htm Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. William R Jones.