Instruction

7 Pro Tips to Help you Master the Fundamentals, Once and For All

There's no right or wrong way to ski. But there is a more efficient way.

There’s not really a right or wrong way when it comes to skiing. Everyone has their own style and skiing isn’t about striving for one form of perfection, but about finding what works for you.

That said, there is a difference between skiing efficiently and inefficiently, something skiers usually figure out on their own when skiing powder and moguls. There are also a few essential skills or progressions that skiers must get the hang of before being able to tackle more advanced terrain with confidence and style.

Here, some of the best ski instructors in the business share their top tips for mastering essential skills that will help you tackle the whole mountain.

Carving

Michael Rogan practices railroad tracks drill
To carve, roll your ankles and knees to tip your skis on edge before you change directions for your turn. Photo: Bailey LaRue

“Most people who think they are carving are, in reality, performing a glorified skid down the hill,” says Michael Rogan, head coach for the PSIA Alpine Team. “A carved turn means that your skis are on edge throughout the turn and the skis’ tip and tail cut through the same point in the snow.”

If you look back at your tracks in the snow and don’t see two clean, precise tracks in the snow, you’re skidding your turns rather than carving. So how do you lay down those railroad tracks?

“If you want to carve, your goal needs to be to change edges before your skis change direction. Roll your ankles and knees while your skis are still pointing across the fall line,” Rogan advises.

Learn more with these two drills that will teach you how to carve

Powder

Tyler Peterson skis powder at Alta, Utah
Avoid getting bogged down in pow by opening up your turn shape. Instead of turning across the hill with rounded turns, adjust your turn shape to be more open and down the fall line. Speed is the trick to not getting stuck in powder. Photo: Lee Cohen

Powder skiing is supposed to be fun, not exhausting, and yet many intermediate skiers struggle to find the fun in the fluff. There are a couple of reasons for that.

“The most common mistake people make in powder is trying to make really round turns all the way across the hill,” explains professional ski instructor Ann Schorling, who’s also a member of the prestigious PSIA Alpine Demo Team. “What happens when we do that is we slow ourselves down and get bogged down in the powder.”

To avoid getting bogged down in powder, you need to learn to maintain speed through more open turn shapes down the fall line.

Learn how to stay afloat and avoid other common powder skiing mistakes in Schorling’s video tutorial

Short-Radius Turns

Watch skiers on the hill, and you’ll start to notice that most make medium- to large-radius turns down the slope. Short turns are few and far between, and you see mostly advanced skiers executing this high-tempo form of skiing. Why is that?

“All parts of the turn happen quicker in short turns, and time between turns is minimized,” explains Rogan. “This makes setting up and dialing in positions between turns tricky.”

A short-radius turn relies on the same fundamentals as any other turn, so if you want to master short turns, you need to be able to execute the fundamentals at a quick clip. The most important skill here: Keeping the upper body stable as your legs turn independently beneath you.

Read Rogan’s step-by-step guide to perfecting the short turn

Upper-Lower Body Separation

Michael Rogan practices sideslip drill
Pivot slips are a great drill for practicing upper-lower body separation. Photo: Bailey LaRue

Upper-lower body separation, or the ability to keep the upper body stable as your legs turn beneath you, is the key ingredient to carving, skiing steeps, short turns, and moguls. In other words, everything you may be struggling with.

To achieve this, you need to be able to move your spine, hips, and legs in different directions in different points of the turn, explains Rogan. “If you can keep your upper body stable, you can use it to help support and promote the turning of our lower body,” Rogan says.

Learn how to turn your legs independently of your upper body in Rogan’s  video tutorial

Pole Plants

Robin Barnes demonstrating a pole plant.
Pole plants should initiate every turn and happen before the skis begin to change direction.

Poles are more than just an accessory or tool to help you click in and out of bindings or skate along flats. Pole plants are a critical part of turning on skis. Whether you find yourself on groomers or in moguls, a pole plant should initiate every ski turn.

But in moguls especially, you need to plant your poles, and plant them early, to help you time your short turns through the bumps.

“Having an active pole swing can make bump skiing way easier,” says Robin Barnes, professional ski instructor and member of the PSIA Alpine Team. “Make sure your pole tip gets to the bump way before your feet and skis do.”

Learn where and when to plant your poles in moguls in this video tutorial

Speed Control

Intermediate skiers may know how to slow themselves down and maintain a constant speed, but advanced skiers can change their speed at the drop of a hat using different turn shapes and edge angles.

“Longer, straighter turns down the hill help you go faster. Rounder, skidded turns slow you down,” explains Rogan.

This might seem elementary, but being able to change the rhythm and shape of your turns when the terrain or snow conditions dictate it is an advanced skill. Learn how to control your speed with turn shapes and edge angles, and you’ll be able to charge down groomers or speed check on steeps like a pro.

Watch the video: Rogan breaks down how to use turn shape to control speed

Mogul Line Selection

Michael Rogan demonstrates pole plant while skiing bumps.
PSIA Alpine Demo Team Coach Michael Rogan demonstrates proactive bump skiing. Photo: Keri Bascetta

There’s only so much visualization you can do when it comes to picking your line through the mogul field. “It is really difficult to think that you can pick a line that lasts 20 to 30 turns and remember it,” says Rogan. “You’re going to get four or five at the most.”

So how do you know which line to take through the moguls? You’re going to have to improvise. “You just kind of have to figure it out and wing it. That’s the beauty of moguls. You realize you’re good enough to figure it out on the fly and still keep linking turns.”

If you’re not quite there yet, try Rogan’s “Lane-Switch” mogul drill. Practice finding your line around just three or four bumps at a time, then force yourself to committee to a new line to get in the habit of winging it and linking it.”

Watch the tutorial: Michael Rogan’s “Lane-Switch” Mogul Drill