Nordic Ski Instructor

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Ski Techniques

Survival techniques

Techniques: [ overview | basic | classic | basic XCD | inter XCD | freestyle | adv XCD | survival]

bumps and dips

Bumps and dips

Using the legs to either compress over bumps, or extend into dips, so as to maintain a steady body position whilst descending variable terrain.

Teaching terrain
Slight to moderate bumpy slope, preferably with tracks set, and easy run-out.

Teaching approaches

  • Just as a car shock absorber absorbs bumps in the road, and extends the wheel down into hollows, our legs have the same ability. To encourage this ability, place ski poles to form a tunnel over each hump, so that the skier has to duck down on the hump.
  • Suggest to students that they leave their poles behind initially, unless they are not expected to fall or are not having to duck under poles. This will ensure safety.
  • Stiffness and fear preclude safe and efficient movement through bumps. Imagery will help here - practise bouncing up and down on one's skis to flex the legs.
  • As they progressively improve, construct a set of bicycle bumps to really test their balancing prowess - don't make it too intimidating for the cautious skiers, though, otherwise they will be warned off having a lot of fun!

If natural bumps cannot be found, it is best to construct two or three small bumps, with corresponding dips. It is important to ensure that skis will not be subjected to too much flexing in the dips, and that the snow is soft enough to allow comfortable falls.

steep slope stance

Steep-slope skiing

A combination of all XCD techniques in an appropriate manner, dictated by terrain and other factors. Above all else, an element of anticipation and caution is called for.

Teaching terrain
Steep slope of moderate length, in any condition, and with safe run-out.

Teaching approaches

  • Adaptability of any technique to the snow conditions is important, but the ability to use an appropriate technique even more so.
  • Visualisation of the path chosen, and a 'dry-run' in the mind prior to skiing off works wonders with the right frame of mind. With such a variation in the possible paths to take, it can help to restrict the choice of turns, and the place to make them, either by imposing restrictions, or imagining them.
  • An exercise to develop feel for the terrain is to ski with a blindfold and feel the snow with the feet will enhance a skier's ability to react quickly. If this is too risky, encourage the students to focus their eyes on something or someone at the bottom of the slope (and thus avoiding focussing on the turn that they are wanting to perform).
  • Ski without poles for some time to develop an awareness of what the feet are trying to achieve. Try skiing with one very large pole, as they did in years gone by.
  • Another method of developing a greater sense of terrain is to follow directly behind another, faster skier - as close as possible to the bottom of the slope. The type of turning is unimportant initially, but as the skier develops her/his skill, the turns should be imitated as close as is possible.
  • Further enhancements can be developed by skiing low, skiing high, skiing angry, skiing sleepy, skiing dopey, etc. What other moods can you simulate? How do they affect your skiing?
  • For more variation, practise on a small area of some difficult snow (huge bicycle bumps, moguls, off-piste, crud, etc) - and learn to develop the skills required to cope with whatever you can find.

As the terrain becomes more challenging, the mind has to be able to keep up. Adequate preparation is essential, and part of that preparation involves judging the terrain carefully.

Good balance is not enough in itself, but rather it is good balance and the ability to react quickly that keeps a skier on his or her feet. A skier who skis in a 'tidy' manner may never be testing his/her limits, yet by learning to keep the body under control it will be easier to adapt to different conditions. A 'wild and woolly' skier, however, may be equally in control by being flexible (loose?) at all times, and thus equally able to stay upright.

It all boils down to individual style - something that instructors have been attempting to stamp out of each other for many years.

Balance is not a function of how neat and composed one looks whilst on skis, although this is considered a desirable trait (that is, looking neat and composed) in this profession. In skiing difficult terrain, any extravagant movement creates imbalance, and therefore it is essential to move the body only as required to maintain balance and momentum - and no more than that. A 'tidy' skier will be better able to ski difficult terrain because of this strength.

Naturally, as terrain gets more difficult, movements of the skier become more energetic, often with a possible compromise of balance. Energetic movements are all very well when required, but only the superhuman can jump-parallel for 100 metres and have the energy left for another 100 metres or more.


Self-arrest techniques

A method of controlling one's rate of descent, either whilst upright on skis, or during a body-slide after a fall, using ski poles.

Teaching terrain
Initially any moderate and safe slope with a run-out, but moving on to a short, steep to very steep slope, again with a safe run-out and definitely no nearby obstacles (trees, rocks, icy patches, etc).

Teaching approaches

  • A number of techniques are possible here - all of them work best if the skier skis with her/his hands out of the pole straps when skiing on steeper terrain.
  • The easiest way of slowing a descent, and used especially on narrow trails in Europe, is to grasp both poles together, with one hand near the grips and the other near the baskets, and drag them on the snow (like a witch's broom) between one's legs. By pushing both hands out in front, and crouching down, it is possible to be quite stable, and ready to fall comfortably if required. This method works best on straight descents, but it is also easy to snowplough glide, brake or turn in this position, making it rather more versatile than other techniques.
  • A variation of these technique is to hold one pole in each hand, with the tips dragging in the snow near the feet. By holding the poles vertical, and near the baskets, in the palm of each hand, whilst resting the pole shaft behind each armpit, it is possible to exert pressure through each pole into the snow, and thus slow down. It is also possible to snowplough glide, brake, and turn in this position (see picture).
  • Another method is to grasp the poles in the same way, but to drag them to one side, and out in front of the body. This works best when traversing a slope (which side is the best to drag on?), and is often used on steeper terrain in combination with some side-slipping where required. An added advantage with this technique is that if a fall occurs it is easy to move to the next technique.
  • When all else fails, and you have forgotten to remain upright on steep terrain, the poles can be used in a similar fashion to an ice-axe to slow the rate of descent. This involves using one or both poles, at either the tip or the grip - whichever comes to hand first, as quickly as possible by dragging them in the snow. Once the poles begin to bite, it is important to draw them in towards the body and therefore be able to apply further and more constant pressure by getting the shoulders over the top of them, keeping the skis up off the snow until you come to a stop.

It is important to test these procedures out on a wide variety of terrain before having to use them in anger. If a fall does occur on steep terrain, it is generally best to keep the skis off the snow to prevent them from catching on the surface and throwing you completely off-balance. It is equally important, for obvious reasons, to keep one's head above one's skis - falling head-first down any slope is a serious cause for concern.

Skis should be securely fastened, except in avalanche-prone terrain, to prevent the hazard of a ski plummeting to the bottom of the slope out of sight. Safety straps work well, and should be used in any situation where a lost ski will be a potential hazard to the user or others. It must be stressed that there is no fool-proof method of slowing down on steep slopes: none of these techniques will guarantee a way of stopping before plunging off a precipice, and should only be used when all else fails. Falling on steep terrain is unforgiving at the best of times - it is best to avoid falling altogether, and to be aware of the inherent dangers. Serious extreme skiers rarely have the opportunity to check their speed in a fall, even if they carry an ice-axe in one hand and a ski pole in the other.



A method of negotiating larger bumps on a descent, by absorbing the bump, or if too large to absorb, by jumping and landing in a safe manner.

Teaching terrain
A small jump (< 0.75 m), with a much longer, steeper, and clear run-out than run-in (short and limited run-in), on soft snow, with markers to indicate the lip of the jump.

Teaching approaches

  • Begin by reviewing methods of absorbing the bump, to ensure confidence in skiing the terrain. Ensure that poles are left behind for safety. The run-in to the jump should be relatively short initially, for safety.
  • Move away from the jump altogether and demonstrate jumping on flat ground, by crouching in a low tuck and then springing upwards whilst swinging the hands forward and out to the side to maintain balance. Traditionally, ski-jumpers hold their hands behind their back until take-off, for aerodynamic reasons, and to assist in the jump up itself. The arms can then swing forward to provide inertia.
  • Upon landing the legs flex to absorb the shock, and one foot is pushed out in front to provide fore and aft stability (to prevent falling flat on one's face), moving to a telemark position. The arms play a significant part in balance at this stage.
  • Note that it is not essential to jump forwards, nor hit the snow-surface in a telemark position. Jumping forwards will only succeed in throwing the skier off-balance. Landing in a parallel position and then moving to a telemark position assures the skier of landing smoothly, as the skier's mass is more easily pushed back or forward to compensate.
  • Gradually increase the run-in to maximum, whilst at the same time ensuring that the skier takes off and lands on the balls of her/his feet.
  • If a student is not able to land upright, focus on smaller jumps, with less of a run-in and less of a spring off. The force of the spring-off should be even in application, and the legs should extend smoothly to full extension in preparation for compression on landing. Falls at landing-time are often due to a locking up of skier's legs to prevent absorption of the landing itself - seen in most backwards falls.

Safety is the single most important factor here. The size of the jump and available run-in to the jump should decrease the further one is away from possible emergency evacuation. The run-out from the jump should be free of all obstructions - either seen or unseen (below the snow surface), and the landing area should be soft and if possible, slightly steeper than the run-in. Have a shovel on standby to fill in the holes that will be created. Clearly mark the jump itself with poles, as well as the intended run-in track. If you are skillful in construction of the jump, the run-in will be physically (geographically) limited to a particular length, to prevent skiers from attempting to out-jump Eddie the Eagle.

Techniques: [ overview | basic | classic | basic XCD | inter XCD | freestyle | adv XCD | survival ]

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