Reading Your Ski Tracks

I have taught skiing for a long time and when discussing the many ways to ski I like to break skiing down into the art of skidding or the art of carving. I do not think of one being superior over the other but I have found most skiers are stronger in one of these areas but rarely both. If the person has the need for speed, they tend to like carving and when someone has the need to control speed, they tend to like smearing their turns. Carving and skidding are very different from each other just like the color black is different from the color white. Think of carving as working with black paint and skidding as working with white paint. So if you do what the average skier does, you mix these skills together to leave some shade of gray. As we have all noticed, skis leave tracks in the snow and if you sideslip down the hill your tracks are very wide (white or light gray) but if you carve down the hill you tracks are curved and pencil thin grooves in the snow.

I call this the “dark side” when your tracks are curved

grooves in the snow. What kind of tracks do you leave?

A versatile skier can paint many shades of gray but let me now generalize about how to match these colors to your mood or the conditions. I have found that skiing moguls requires skills leaning towards the white zone and groomed terrain allows us to explore our dark side if we are in the mood for speed. Another generalization I have found is that if I skid my skis a lot, I need to find a way to leave my upper body facing down the hill more than when I carve. This has to do with the need to counter what the skis are doing, which I explain by asking you what do you do when you are driving your car on snow covered roads and you feel the back end of the car start to slide. Well, if you are an experienced winter driver you steer the front wheels towards the slide and that is what I call a counter move. It gives you a chance to control the unexpected skid. Next time you are skiing, experiment with two different ways to skid. On a smooth gentle hill, start straight down the hill then pivot your skis into a skid and allow your shoulders to follow your ski tips.

This is what I call staying square to your skis. Now do the same but touch your pole before the pivot and leave your shoulders pointing down the hill as your skis turn across the hill. Use a pole touches because it is a necessary move towards the skill of leaving your shoulders pointing down the hill while your skis pivot into this controlled skid. I bet you felt more control doing the later and this is why you hear so many people advising skiers to leave their shoulders facing down hill while skiing. Now back to the black zone (carving) what should you do with your shoulders?

Well, I would say stay square to your skis for most of the turn except near the end, where you want to ski into a little counter. Skiing into counter is hard to explain but what I feel is my legs turning the skis up the hill while my shoulders do not follow. This gets me into a ready position for releasing the turn. If I give up both edges at this time the skis will naturally and gently travel into being the same way as my shoulders and the ability to start another carved turn is enhanced. On the other hand if I finished my turn with a large difference between my shoulders direction and my skis direction, at the time I released my edges the skis would suddenly try to point the direction of my shoulders and I would have little chance to carve my next turn. Engineers would call this stored energy (torque). So when linking skidded turns have lots of stored energy before you release the turn and when carving have a subtle amount.

Another generalization that I find works for these different set of skills is how wide to have your skis apart. I find a narrow stance works well while in the white zone and a wide stance is best for the black zone. A narrow stance naturally inhibits the ability to get your skis on high edge angles and encourages your weight to stay equal which are both good qualities for mogul and tree skiing. This explains why you see the best mogul skiers skiing with their feet close while the World Cup racers you see on TV have a much wider stance.

Hopefully this clears up some of the generalizations you hear in skiing and remember skiing is about playing in the snow so try to be versatile and learn how to paint different shades of gray. If you can do this, there will rarely be a snow condition that you will not enjoy.

By: Chip Dwyer, Ski Instructor for over 30 years at Killington Resort.