Thrive in Intermediate Ski Terrain with These Tips
Mental advice and skiing drills that will give you confidence on longer, steeper, and more challenging runs
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You can blast the bunny hill, cruise the catwalk, and glide down groomers.
Congratulations! You’re ready to graduate from beginner terrain to the steeper and longer slopes at your favorite ski resort.
Entry to intermediate skiing brings a handful of physical and psychological challenges. Leg-burning blue runs often have moguls, steeper pitches, and sections of ungroomed snow. And simply looking down one of these runs can torpedo a skier’s confidence.
But don’t worry. We reached out to Francis Do, a veteran ski instructor at Colorado’s Vail Ski Resort for some tips on how to guide your body—and your mind—down an intermediate ski run. With Do’s advice and a few easy drills, you’ll be busting the blue runs in no time.
Adjust Your Perspective
Some of the longest runs at Vail are intermediate trails. Do says that new skiers are often intimated looking at the entire run from top to bottom. When this happens, Do recommends mentally breaking up the run into sections so you see it as a series of segments to navigate. Taking on smaller challenges builds confidence.
“Don’t take the 10,000-foot view, take the ten-foot view,” Do says. “Look at the first target in front of you. Get there. Then look at the next target and just work your way down.”
Every run has some specific feature or attribute to mark as a way station—it could be a fence, a tree, or a flat section. Use those landmarks to break up the course.
Do likens this practice to driving on the freeway. We look at the on-ramp, the lane we’re in, or whatever else is directly in front of us and not at what’s miles in the distance.
Assume the Position
When we begin descending a steep ski slope, it can feel natural to want to lean back, away from the momentum carrying us downhill. But this position causes problems, as it removes weight from the front edges of your skis, something that’s necessary to control speed and steer.
A common refrain you may hear from ski instructors is to “stay out of the back seat,” which is a helpful reminder to stop leaning back.
There are a couple small things to remember when assuming a proper ski position. You want to be leaning slightly forward, with your weight heading downhill. Stand up straight, and press your shins into the front of your boots—which are stiff because they’re designed to support this position. Lean forward from your ankles, not from your waist, and keep your chest and hips facing down the mountain.
Once you have sufficient pressure on the front of your boots, it will be easier to engage a turn from the tips of your skis, which will help you steer and control on a steeper slope.
“You will feel that grip on the tips of your skis if you have your mass facing forward, versus when you’re too far back and feeling your weight on the tails,” Do says.
Let your legs and feet do all of the work. Trying to turn your skis with your torso or upper body is the wrong approach.
Practice Makes Perfect
There are multiple drills you can practice on easy groomers that will help you thrive on steeper and more challenging terrain. We recommend starting off with one called the pivot slip: While sliding down the hill with your hips and chest facing forward, pivot your skis 90 degrees to the left and then 90 degrees to the right without digging the edges into the snow, so that your skis are perpendicular to the slope. The key is to slide directly down the fall line while pivoting your skis from one side to the other. This drill teaches you how to rotate your legs in your hip sockets while maintaining a stable upper body and an aggressive, downward-facing stance.
Building off of that, you can then perform a series of exercises to get your legs accustomed to driving your edges into the snow, which is how you carve through a turn. For the first drill, called a garland drill, choose a gentle groomed run and ski perpendicular across the fall line, from one side of the run to the other. Practice tipping your feet in your boots uphill in a motion that drives the ski edges into the snow. After you’ve perfected tipping your feet, try bending and then pointing your knees uphill as well. This motion will further drive the ski edges into the snow.
The final drill is the hockey stop, and it combines elements of the pivot slip and the garland. Think of yourself as a hockey player, zooming down the ice and then squaring off your skates so you come to a rapid stop. Point your skis down the slope, then initiate a slide slip to one direction. Instead of switching to slip in the other direction, roll your feet and knees toward the hill and drive your weight into the ski edges. Your motion should bring your body to a stop and, if you’re moving fast enough, shoot a plume of snow into the air in front of you.
Repeat this motion again and again. Then start linking together these hockey stops by allowing yourself to maintain some momentum between them, turning them into turns.
These three drills will help you build the skills and confidence to take on intermediate terrain.
Waltz Your Way Down
We’re all familiar with the one-two-three rhythm of a waltz, right? When Do is teaching beginner and intermediate skiers, he uses the classical dance to get them to follow a sequence of body movements when turning down the hill. Each turn should consist of this same series of movements: planting your pole in front is the one count, moving the tips of the skis through the turn is the two count, and slowing down your speed and exiting the turn is the three count.
One, two, three—one, two, three—one, two, three—stop! Attaching a rhythm to these repetitive motions over time will help your brain and body coordinate them without thinking.
“I’m a numbers and rhythm guy, so having a cadence and a sequence allow me to get comfortable,” Do says. “You can look at a run and count the number of sequences you’re going to do to the next stop as a way to get confidence.”
Be the Skis
Do works with all levels of skiers, and he often asks them to visualize their pathway down the mountain from the perspective of the skis. Rather than think about what your knees or your feet may be doing, instead think of where your skis are headed.
“When you’re driving, you don’t think about what your hands are doing,” Do says. “You think about where your car is in the lane and your spacing to other cars. Try to do the same with your skis.”
Intermediate trails often see a lot of traffic, so be mindful of those who are around you. Try to stay within your own lane of skiing on a busy hill. And remember, improvement comes from repetition. So if at first that blue run feels intimidating, just remember that eventually it will come to feel just as comfortable as the catwalk or bunny hill.