As an instructor I know that few people appreciate the sheer joy of skiing like a beginner. At its fundamental level skiing is strapping wooden sticks to our feet and sliding down a snow-covered hill. Pretty darn great! However, as we hone our skills we develop a different relationship to the sport. Was I angulating or inclining on that last turn? Did my left arm drop to the inside again? We begin to critique ourselves. That is why I love teaching the first lesson.
I find that people approach snow in many ways. Some feel a nostalgic comfort and others step into the icy world as if it was located somewhere between Mars and Pluto. I always introduce new skiers to the “tools” first – the skis, boots, bindings. Boots always seem to be the biggest hurdle. Once the initial gear talk is over I have people snap into one ski. This is where I introduce the beloved scooter analogy. It is essential to get the sensation of sliding with one ski first. Then put the ski on the other foot and repeat. Slip, slide, crash, get up, slide, slip. Once people are comfortable with sliding they gain an understanding that for all intents and purposes the ski is an extension of their body. I then find flat terrain and have individuals practice moving on two skis. The tendency is to over talk and over teach, but in reality most people just need a little time for trial and error.
For any beginner the two core principles are the “duck walk” and the “wedge”. With a basic understanding of these two concepts a beginner can navigate a slope. We are all too familiar with the YouTube video of the flying six year old with his frantic dad yelling “pizza!!!”
Plain and simple, do not go take anyone up a hill they are not both physically and mentally prepared for. I always start duck walking and sidestepping up a low incline, then sliding back down. This develops balance and gets people confident in motion. Skiing is about building confidence and rushing will discourage most beginners. A beginning understanding of edges also helps beginners understand how to more effectively duck walk and sidestep with less slip. Leave poles out of the equation until you have developed balance independently.
Next it is time to talk about the wedge. “Pizza’s are round, you are talking about volcanoes”, five-year-old Moxie corrected me mid-lesson. Yes, very true. And since this five-year-old epiphany I have been introducing the “volcano”. The key is to get people to understand, and more importantly feel, the relationship between tip and tail. As the individual keeps the tips close together they need to feel the backs of their skis pushing apart to form a volcano. Keep practicing this concept on super mellow terrain, and build up to steeper incline. In the beginning stages it is essential to take baby steps. Skiing is largely muscle memory and with repetition will come ease.
5 simple steps to begin:
- Check out your gear. Ask questions. Find out how the ski works and all about the “tools’” that skiing involves. (Take poles out of the equation until you are well balanced. If they are introduced too soon they become a crutch).
- Find flat terrain and put ski on one foot. Practice getting in and out of the ski. Then practice sliding on the ski. Act as if you were on a scooter. Practice picking the ski up as well as sliding.
- Repeat #2 on the other foot.
- On the tiniest of slopes practice a “duck walk” and “sidestep”. Sidestep down slope and also let yourself practice sliding back down.
- Once you have gained your ski legs practice the wedge while standing. Then take this concept onto a very mellow slope.
You are now a skier! ( and will now most likely be hooked for life)
Speed will come later. The beginning is about developing a foundation and building skill. Remember to smile and make a snow angel when you fall down. This sport is all about fun. And although it may feel like an alien planet at first; once you nail the basics, things will come together shockingly fast.