By Dan Egan
Dan Egan encourages skiers to learn to adapt to changing terrain, conditions, and speed. PHOTO BY JEN BENNETT
With the new season upon us, it is a good time to review the golden rule of skiing which is “Ski the mountain, don’t let the mountain ski you.” To become a master of the mountain, learn to adapt to changing terrain, conditions, and speed. Always remember that you are the boss. Changes in terrain, conditions, and speed will expose flaws in a skier’s technique. Skiing is a constant realignment of balance. Teach yourself to constantly deal with changing terrain and to trust your current ability to progress.
Free skiing the mountain is no different. Find a pace that feels comfortable to you and begin and end your ski run at the same speed. Always make your first and last turns the best. The first turn will set up your confidence and rhythm for that set of turns. Making your last turn the best is an insurance policy against injury and laziness. Using this as a rule, you’ll find it easier to ski at a constant speed with more control.
Once you can ski at a constant speed, start to ski changing terrain. Ski directly into a trail without stopping on top. If you need to stop, pick a spot 15 to 20 yards into the trail. This will provide an excellent opportunity for learning to adapt speed and technique to changing terrain. Discover the magic of entering a trail without stopping, turning and absorbing a knoll. Ski into and through an intersection in complete control heads will turn as you fly away on a wide-open slope.
Make skiing fun by challenging yourself. For example, get off the lift ready to ski, boots buckled, poles straps on and head right off the lift and down to your favorite trail. See how many turns you can make in a certain section or try making 50 turns with the same radius and speed. Use the terrain and mix up slalom and giant slalom turns. Remind yourself that it’s your mountain, you rule the school, and anything goes if you so deem it!
Try this “Wedge to Race” drill to ignite your early season. The goal is to illustrate the similarities between a snowplow turn and a race turn. Find a gentle slope and start in a snowplow turn and progress to a race turn.
As you attempt this drill, remember to feel your downhill ski carve through every turn. Start skiing and turning in a wedge. Use knee angulation and make a few turns to warm up. Keep your upper body still and exert pressure at the front of your boot. As you progress to the third and fourth turn, make your wedge smaller each time by unweighting your uphill ski bringing your skis closer together.
Continue making turns, with your skis parallel. Now you have completed the transition from a wedge turn to a race turn. Practice doing this with grace and fluidity. You can now see how easy it is to make a good race carved turn and how each step is related.
This drill shows how knee angulation, edge pressure, and independent leg action are used in all types of turns. With each turn you’ll gain the confidence and the skills to ski the mountain with ease, grace, and control. The more fluid you become, the easier it is to go from wedge to race. On the path to fluidity, you are getting closer to the Zone of Excellence.
Once you have a flow going, start to ski top to bottom non-stop. Doing this a few times daily gets my adrenaline pumping. Skiing over changing terrain and adapting while in motion is the best way to train your mind and body. Nothing can replace the experience of recovering your balance without stopping or making two sweeping turns around a corner and skiing the fall line through bumps non-stop. Mountains will become less intimidating, and skiers will begin to understand the fall lines and conditions that cover the trail. Small trouble spots will pass by without a second thought and, more importantly, confidence improves with ability.
Skiers who adapt to changing terrain, conditions, and speed and remember the golden rule of skiing which is “Ski the mountain, don’t let the mountain ski you,” will enjoy more of what the mountain has to offer and ski terrain they never thought possible.
Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His 2022 steeps camps at Big Sky Resort run Feb. 24-26, March 10-12 and March 17-19. His newest book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze” was released in March 2021 and is available at www.White-Haze.com.
This article was originally published in Explore Big Sky