Archive for the 'Skiing' Category

Jan 12 2011

Season Long Ski School

Published by under Skiing

Last year was my first year skiing seriously, 22 days, out of which 17 were at Mammoth. My first weekend at Mammoth i was doing only chair 11, bunny slope, and by my last day of season i was able to ski cornice and scotty’s, single black runs, when groomed.

I was definitely happy with my progress but i wanted to get better and more importantly ski those runs with the right technique. The best way to do that was to take the Season Long Ski Program at Mammoth and in this blog post i am going to describe my personal experience as i go through this program.

Week 1: First Day.
Week 2: Learning to be patient.
Week 3: Frustrating day of back and forth.
Week 4: Being more patient
Week 5: Rotary Skills
Week 6: Back to Basics
Week 7: Confidence in Trees
Week 8: Adhering to Basics

Week 1:

We all met at the ski school in main lodge at around 9.30 and as expected the first day would involve making groups according to everyone’s of skiing abilities/goals. To my surprise there were quite a few folks who had taken this last year and were returning this year.

I joined the group which could ski cornice, scotty’s when groomed and initially we were 5 in the group. One local and rest from LA area. We did first run on broadway and then 3 runs off chair 3. One of them the face, a bumps run west bowl and one from the back side, saddle bowl. At this point we got split into more groups and i was put together with two ladies.

On Saturday, One of the guys i was skiing with commented that i was initiating a new turn without completing my previous turn. It was immediately caught by my instructor and gave me some tips on how to improve on that. He also asked us to use our hands and poles more.

We did stump alley few more times and every time the focus was on to make those turns properly. Our Instructor asked us to apply pressure on toe to initiate the turns along with the hands and poles. I focussed on the same and could easily tell that it was all about applying and releasing the pressure.

He also gave us a lot of additional information about how skiing is mainly about 4 main things and synchronization of all the elements. Since my Elan 999 are not exactly carving skis, making short turns on my skis was going to be a problem so for the next week i would be bringing my atomics beta carves to test out the new things that i learned.

Other important suggestion was that to observe the skiers on the slopes and see what they do and what could be pick from them etc. Being more aware about our own skiing, the kind of turns etc was also emphasized.

Needless to stay it was a very satisfying first week of lessons and i look forward to more.

Week 2: Learning to be patient.

Saturday was a little frustrating for me, not because of the crowds, I used my atomics and wanted to put into practice the things i learnt in the previous week. Going down chair 9 on goldhill, i just wasn’t feeling it.

I couldn’t get into proper rhythm, wasn’t applying pressure on my feet to initiate the turns, not finishing my turns, accelerating into them and everything was out of place. It felt like i was taking a step backwards instead of forward but i had to tell myself to be patient.

I wasn’t going to be an expert skier overnight, i have to work on one thing at a time and take it step by step. I was expecting too much from myself, too soon. At this point, i didn’t think too much and my first aim was to have fun on the slopes and the rest of the things would follow once i got going. I felt much better after this introspection.

On Sunday, met up at the ski school and we had another addition to our group of three. First couple of runs were again warmup runs on broadway and chair 3. I got the same advice, to be patient and finish my turns :-)

But one of the main things our instructor told us was to hold the poles with open palms which makes it easier to plant them while initiating the turns. It was surprising to see everyone’s reaction, oh this makes so much sense and makes it lot easier. It was a universal reaction from everyone in the group.

We practiced couple of fun drills on way down to chair 10, one of them was the shuffle turns, instead of applying pressure you just hop into the turns. It was a fun drill. The best piece of advice came at the top of chair 10. You have to maintain the body position while skiing and one of the easiest way to do that was to hold the core of body tight.

Just by tightening the core, mainly the abs, it is possible to prevent the body from leaning backwards. Our instructor demonstrated that to us and it made sense immediately. We held out our arms and whenever he tried to push them down, we could feel the core tightening. So just by tightening your abs while skiing and holding your elbows in front of your rib cage, you can prevent your upper body from going backwards. It made a huge difference and was very helpful bit of information.

The final thing which i got out of the lesson was to twist my knees more so that i could finish those turns before initiating a new one. I had more control on my speed doing it that way and combined with tightening of the core it made a huge difference to my skiing.

At the end we did the mogul run, redwing, and i failed horribly on that. Instead of being like a snake who slides over the rocks i was being like one of the drivers who brakes suddenly and then slams on the gas pedal and then brakes again. I know not the right analogy but it was awful.

Like previous week it was another great lesson and its surprising how much difference small pieces of advice can make. I skied cornice, scottys and ricochet at the end of day and i feel that my skiing has definitely improved in just these two lessons. I still suck on the upper parts of these runs but on the lower parts i am more confident. I am leaning forward a lot more while skiing steeper terrain.

There are still times when i don’t tend to complete my turns but the important thing is that i am aware of those times and lot more in control. Even on moguls my confidence has increased a lot and i look forward to more tips/advice next week.

Week 3: Frustrating day of back and forth.

The entire week i was battling cold and if it wasn’t for my class then i wouldn’t have driven up to mammoth. I was expecting to drug myself (over the counter medicines :p) and stay in bed all day saturday. But to my pleasant surprise the vick’s vapor rub worked wonders for me.

I woke up saturday morning feeling a lot better and ready to hit the slopes. I took it easy all day, perhaps little bit too easy, just skiing easy groomed runs and not challenging myself at all. I was just happy to be on the slopes and maybe that is the reason i wasn’t thinking too much about putting into practice the things i had learn’t in past two weeks.

Sunday morning i wasn’t feeling exactly 100% ok and for some reason i had some back pain though it wasn’t that bad. I was sure that i could handle a day of skiing and it would be ok. Met everyone at ski school and the plan was to go over to chair 9/25 area. Skiing down stump alley the focus was going to be on the same things, making sure i twisted my knees to complete my turns, stood up tall etc.

We got on to chair 10 from there headed over to Chair 9, at this point the topic of isolation of upper and lower body came up so we talked about it and at the bottom of goldhill we practiced target turns which focus on the isolation that we talked about earlier.

The goal is to keep your upper body straight while using only your lower body for turning. So we held out our poles and pointed them at a target. We were going to ski down, making wedge turns while not moving our upper body. It wasn’t easy but still achievable and we felt how different muscles come into play as we did those turns.

Another thing we were going to focus on today was our head position, keeping the chin up and looking up, so that not only we choose a line but also make sure that we ski along that line too. I literally took that advice and felt an immediate difference coming down Ricochet but i wasn’t aware of anything else around me and came close to my fellow skier which was bad.

I was glad that nothing happened but it made me realize that looking down the line doesn’t mean that you are not aware of what is going on around you and ski without any concerns. It was a lesson learn’t which i do not intend to forget.

My confidence took a beating and so did my skiing, i could tell that there was a degradation and my instructor also confirmed it. I was really glad that when we were talking about how i was going backwards in my skiing, after a while he decided to change the topic so i didn’t feel any worse.

We did couple of mogul runs and the small consolation for me was that i did better at them than last time. At the end of the lesson i felt that i didn’t learn anything at all in past 3 weeks and it wasn’t a nice feeling. I know i can do a lot better and so after lunch i just decided to ski for a while to see how it went.

I did some easy runs on chair 4 trying to get back into some sort of rhythm and it was slowly coming to me. I also came across a kid on the lift who couldn’t describe exactly where the art park was but happily lead me to it. I went through the park and it is pretty cool, did couple of small jumps too. Slowly but surely i was getting back into rhythm.

At end of day, I went over to check out chair 5 and the wind was blowing some nice snow on the run. I did few runs there and regained back all the lost confidence. I felt really good at the end of the day and as always looking forward to another lesson. :-)

Week 4: Being more patient

I didn’t pay close attention to the snow reports and i was surprised to find out that it was going to snow on sunday. I was glad to know that but was bummed that i didn’t bring my fat skis. Saturday i had fun skiing the groomers and then later in the day chair 5 had some sweet wind blown powder.

I got up ready Sunday morning and took the first chair at eagle. It wasn’t easy for me to be in complete control while making fresh tracks but i still managed to get down to main lodge from eagle without any problems.

The conditions demanded that we modify our skiing style, instead of making those hard turns you just had to glide over the snow and use the edges more subtly. The legs had to be more closer and body more straight.

As soon as we started our lesson we got one important bit of advice, the pole basket. It is something you don’t realize but our instructor suggested that we change the baskets to more wider ones so that when there is fresh powder the poles don’t just go through the snow. I have yet to implement it but it something to keep in mind.

I wasn’t sure that my skis would plow through the tracked snow and it was affecting my skiing. slowly but surely i started to get more confident as we progressed through the lesson but still it wasn’t 100% perfect.

My main problem is that i am not standing up tall enough and then my hands position is also all over the place, not to mention i tend to drop my shoulders. I was trying hard to do everything right but then once i got all that going i wasn’t looking straight ahead. grrr, so many things to get right, why does skiing has to be so technical :-)

The entire time was spent focusing on these basics and sometimes i would get them all right and then at times only some things would fall into place. Later in the day as well after the lesson as i tried to focus on all these things it was hard.

I was worried that if i didn’t look down on the snow with all the tracked snow i would run into crud and fall so i had to keep track of where i was going. But the few times when all of the things fell into place, i could feel a huge difference in my skiing.

The goal moving forward is to keep on concentrating on these basics as I get bombarded with lot more things during this course.

Week 5: Rotary Skills

Saturday was one of the best days on the mountain for me. It was a brief 10 sec moment which made my day i would say. It was crazy windy (50-70 mph gusts) and i was loving the wind blowing against you while coming down cornice or scotty’s.

As i started to come down cornice the wind was so strong that i wasn’t going down the hill, for a good 10 secs i just stood there trying to ski down. It was surreal feeling, very hard to describe in words but i shall try :) . You are on this slope trying to go down with nothing holding you back and then the wind is blowing so hard that you just stand there on an incline in a state of limbo, just awesome.

Sunday morning took the long traverse from chair 9 to main. Our instructor announced that the focus for today’s lesson would be rotary skills which meant we would work on upper and lower body isolation. We started off going to chair 3 and skiing down coyote we practiced sliding down the slope. It was a warmup exercise for something which we were going to practice next, it was sliding turns.

The whole idea of this exercise was to keep our upper body straight while making turns. It was a really helpful exercise for me and it made a huge difference to my skiing. Instead of twisting my knees to complete my turns if i concentrated on this exercise and achieved rotation using my hips i was able to complete my turns before initiating a new one.

Another thing that i had realized that as i held my arms out, i was holding them in such a position that it was difficult for me to do the pole plant. So i had to work on that as well and was holding the poles in such a way that i could reach out and plant them.

We also shot some video footage so that for the next class we could review it and see how we were skiing, i am really looking forward to see it and learn from it.

At the end of class we did couple of mogul runs and nevertheless to say my performance was abysmal. I don’t know what happens as soon as i start on it, all the basics fall out of place. I am not standing up, not looking straight ahead and arms are all over the place.

I definitely have to work on rectifying this and make sure that i ski those mogul runs properly. Today’s lesson definitely helped me a lot and later on while skiing i realized that now my hands get into proper position as soon as i start making turns.

I have started to feel uncomfortable if i make turns with my hands just being straight, i have to bring them up. The muscle memory has definitely kicked in and it feels really good.

Week 6: Back to Basics

As mentioned last time i realized that my hands were coming back up by instinct but still they weren’t in the right position, i was dragging my poles and at times letting my hands drop. I have to work more on maintaining my hands position. As usual Saturday i had blast skiing wind blown powder on chair 5, it was really good.

On Sunday, i got to main lodge for class and after video review we talked about maintaining the hip position while initiating the turn with the pole plant. We practiced the position we should all be in while turning and then headed off to our usual path of going to eagle lodge area.

While going down quicksilver over to chair 9, we observed each other while skiing and tried to figure what we would want to take learn from each others skiing. We decided to come Ricochet from chair 9 and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

All of us got into defensive mode of skiing so to say because of the variable snow conditions, crowds and trying to put into practice what we have been learning. It was an interesting exercise where one of the things we learnt is how to adapt your skiing style depending on the various factors like above.

We then decided to end the day doing the mogul run, acts, we skied it couple of times and to everyone’s surprise we all were doing lot better on moguls. I also managed to get few proper turns in and did way better.

One of the things that helped me was instead of taking a straight line, my instructor recommended that i take a line more at 4 or 5 clock and that made a big difference.

I met up with another friend who is taking the same program but her class is on wednesdays and we decided to do mogul runs. Going down acts, i fell and went sliding down it. It is not fun sliding down moguls but thats what helmets are for :). Repeated the same run couple of more times and did lot better. Same was the case on Red wing which is mogul run off chair 8.

One thing that my instructor told me that it would be beneficial for me to get new skis. My current skis are too long for me and i would enjoy the class more if i had shorter skis and would learn lot easily than on the longer skis.

I am 170cm and my current skis, Atomics Beta C:18 carvers are the same length. I was suggested to buy good all mountain skis which would have a turning radius of less than 16, length between 163-165 cm and a rounded tail. I don’t mind buying a used pair of skis which fits this criteria and if you of any good ones then do let me know.

Currently i am looking at K2 Apache Interceptors and Fisher Progressors.

Week 7: Confidence in Trees

This weekend because of the big storm brewing i decided to drive up early friday morning and get half day in on friday. Most of the lifts were closed but made the best of what the mountain had to offer. In particular coming down to canyon from roller coaster was a sweet run.

Saturday morning was full of surprise, instead of stormy weather it was a clear blue bird day and it got crowded pretty soon. The lines as soon as the lifts opened were huge but it was all worth it. Not to mention that got an email from our instructor asking to bring the fattest skis that we had, along with getting powder leashes and powder baskets. I knew he had something fun planned for us :)

Sunday was another blue bird day and i was excited to see what was there in store for us. Got to main lodge and we decided to head to the backside and do some tree runs there. I have been wary of doing tree runs because i am not at all confident that while going at fast speeds i will be able to make quick enough turns to avoid collisions.

We went over to chair 12 and the went down to chair 13 through the trees and we were explained how you should pay attention to the exit points and always have multiple exits if possible. After doing couple of runs there we went to chair 14 for some longer tree runs but it got crowded after one run and we got back to 13.

We also talked about pressure control and balance in powder so while making the turns some additional pressure than usual is required on the uphill ski. I was really enjoying this class and so was everyone else in the group.

At the end we decided to head over to Dave’s run. I hadn’t skied the main part of the run but i was up for it. Our Instructor wanted to see which line we all took while dropping in and it turned out that most of us took the steepest section of the run and managed to get down without any problems as such. It was another big confidence booster.

I would have loved to do dave’s few more times but then the line at mccoy was long and it was time for lunch :). Spent rest of the day skiing scotty’s which was chopped up but i wanted to push myself but wasn’t as successful as i had hoped to be.

Week 8: Adhering to Basics

After falling few times last week my legs were hurting little so i decided to take it easy this weekend didn’t want to push myself too much. I have been looking for new skis but haven’t found the right combination of skis and the price.

Saturday i stayed mainly on the groomers, not that i spend entire days off piste :) , and on sunday morning as i got to the slopes i kind of wished that i had my fat skies with me. The top wasn’t open and it was whiteout conditions on most of the mountain.

We headed down to mill and took gold rush and went to chair 25 area in hopes of finding some good tree runs which we did. But unfortunately 25 wasn’t open so we had to ski all the way down to 15. I wasn’t doing that good on my other skis but it wasn’t as bad as i thought.

I am still leaning backwards as soon as i start gaining some speed on these skis, one way to remedy was to open my arms little more so the core muscles would tighten up and prevent me from leaning back. As it is i need to work on my hand position while skiing, i have started to drop them and not holding them in front always.

We then headed over to chair 21 and we spent most of our day trying to find tree runs over that area. I wasn’t doing that good and i was asked to turn using the tip of my skis instead of tails. In order to do that i had to lean more forward and i our instructor was like “duh” skiing 101, after 7 weeks of lessons i finally get it.

I tried to use the tip of my skis to initiate the turns but wasn’t highly successful at it, sometimes they would just cross and it wasn’t fun. I figure once i get shorter skis it will make it easier for me. For the final run we decided to drop into the steep section of Goldrush and again my skis took me for a ride.

We skied down acts and it seems like i am just crouching myself when faced with instability instead of standing up tall and face it. I need to work on it for sure, it was the same case when i hit the crud section on stump alley. At fast speed i was crouching too low to be stable instead of trying to standup tall and make some turns.

At end of day one of my friend’s friend took some video of me while skiing and i could easily see that i was making quick turns with the tails of my skis instead of using the tips to initiate the turn. I would love to post that video, it would be a great reference for me to improve on my mistakes. :)

I finally bought a new pair of 2011 K2 photons which i am excited to try out on the slopes and work on all these things will see how it goes.

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