Just Ski!

by Marc Friedlander


Greywacke Arch

Santa Fe, NM


It’s pretty weird, actually.
It’s something from the past.

Skiing is an ancient activity and hasn't really changed all that much since its inception. They have found skis over 4,000 years old.
I have seen very little fundamental change in the sport since I first went to Hunter Mountain in upstate NY, in the mid 1960's.
The equipment has improved somewhat with technology, and styles and methods vary, but the basic idea hasn't changed in thousands of years.
Strap a couple of boards on to your feet, get a gush of blood + adrenaline + (gender neutral) testosterone pumping through your veins, and push off!

Now, everyone is afraid of getting sued.
They’ve taken the diving boards away from swimming pools.
They don’t want to give you a steak knife in a restaurant anymore- you could stab yourself. I’ve actually done that, come to think of it. They called me an ambulance- no shit.

But with skiing, there are no forms to fill out, waivers, instructions, warnings, or any safety gear other than release bindings and maybe a helmet.

- there’s the mountain
- try not to kill yourself
- or freeze to death
- or fall off the chairlift
- also watch out for the trees
- other skiers
- and thousand foot precipices
- and have a good time.

I'm a pretty decent skier these days, but that's not to say I don't have my OH SHIIITT!!! moments. I can get down pretty much any slope by hook or crook - although not with the speed and grace that I observe in the best skiers.

Since that first day at Hunter Mountain, I've loved skiing and have done it in the Northeast, the Colorado Rockies, and New Mexico, which is now my home. Here in NM, there are rarely any crowds, you're above 12,000 feet at the peaks, and it's wonderful.

Skiing, as pleasurable as it can be, is the rare kind of thing we do for fun, that can suddenly kill you - or cause devastating injury.
So it's not without risk.

You're skiing along in complete control - no problems at all - and the next thing you're aware of is that you've become an human projectile - flying through the air - wiped out - for any of a thousand reasons - but you've lost it.
It's happened to me many many times. I've been fortunate. I've always been able to get up and ski on. I've seen many much more serious consequences of collisions and falls.

You need to forget everything else when you're skiing. It's really hard NOT to do that - it's so demanding.

Having an analytical and technical side, I've made a mental note of things that I think improve my skiing, and my safety while skiing. You're traveling along, sometimes at speed. A small mistake can end up being disasterous. It's better to be in good positions than bad ones. It's better to have several good options than no options at all.

Another thing - like with many other activities: it's possible to ski well with bad or unorthodox form, but it's much easier to ski well with good form. So strive for good form - which is somewhat different from wanting to look good - but maybe not all that different.

I don't mean to make too much of these ideas, and I'm sure I'm not the first to make these observations. But I have nothing better to do right now than to write them down - as I went skiing in Santa Fe yesterday and decided to do so, on the lift, where my thoughts do wonder.

But here it is. First I have to explain "stronger" and "weaker" sides and turns.

Most skiers, being right or left handed, have a "stronger turn" and a "weaker turn".
If you're right handed, your stronger turn would normally be your left turn, because the opposite side of your body (from the direction of the turn) is dominant during the turn. Most skiers are aware of this but I have expanded this concept to include your position on the slope. Obviously there are many mitigating factors - snow condition, terrain, other skiers, and obstacles come to mind. But all these things being equal, if you are right handed the RIGHT side of the slope is your STRONGER side. So simply position yourself on the right or center of the slope/trail, rather than on the left. Being on the stronger side is like having something in reserve for a rainy day. You can make a left turn easier than a right, and on the right side or center, you are in a better position to make a left turn. Of course you are normally linking your turns, and sometimes making short left/right/left turns, and positioning yourself wherever you feel like. And that's fine. At a certain point in your skiing progress, your sides will nearly equal. You will not really prefer one turn over the other. But if you DO have a strong/weak turn, you can minimize the weakness as described above.

IMPORTANT NOTE - whenever crossing the slope/trail from one side to the other, it's your responsibility to not get creamed or cream other skiers!

Also, I'm not saying don't practice your weak turn. I'm talking about when you are skiing near the limits of your abilities. You want to make everything as favorable for yourself as possible.

With all that understood, the following should be observed:

Going downhill
1- Try to avoid coming to a complete stop on your "weak side" of the slope.

2- Especially avoid coming to a stop on the weak side of the slope, with your skis pointing away from the slope - in other words, pointing into the woods.
Avoid this by making one final right turn before you come to a complete stop, if on the left side.

The reason for 1 and 2 is that, when starting down the slope again, you are in your weakest position on the bad side of the slope, pointed into the woods, needing to execute your weaker turn in order to continue.
However, I do often find myself in position 2, after a stretch of skiing where I almost-but-not-quite, lose it and wipe out. The reason should be clear from my discussion above - when you're on the verge of loosing it, you're going to need to make strong turns to regain control, and then you'll find yourself in position 2. And that is perfectly fine because you needed to not fall. But now you're going to have to start off again from a weak position, so take a little extra time and very carefully plan your line for at least 2 turns before you start off again.

Chair lift
3- NEVER have your poles strapped to your wrists when getting on/off the lift. Hold them in one hand and grab the front of the seat with the other as it arrives/departs. This is to avoid the problem of having your arm torn off by the chair. They tell you this but I've been tempted to avoid the hassle of strapping and unstrapping. All I need to do is imagine the pole getting tangled up in something, strapped to my wrist, to make me resist this temptation.

4- If you enter a mogul field, and your mogul skiing is not that strong, go into a firm wedge position (snowplow) and just hold it. Navigate a slow descent between the moguls instead of trying to go over them or parallel ski through them. Hold the wedge firm and don't lose your nerve. The moguls can help you if you're going slow enough. Just stay between them. It is now that planning your line ahead is critical. Once you decide on a line it's best not to change your mind. Do it if you have to, but that's the first step to losing it.

The Steeps
5. There's usually a flat right before a steep section and I assume you're stopped there, because proceeding seems like suicide. Now take a deep breath and listen to me. You want to traverse.
(Important note - this does NOT WORK in moguls. When in moguls, see tip 4. Traversing over a mogul field is similar to doing the same thing over a mine field).
Reminding you of the necessity of being aware there are other skiers and FAST snowboarders using the slope and you need to avoid them:
Ski from one side of the slope to the other, in a direction as perpendicular to the fall line as possible. Turning slightly uphill as you traverse will slow you down too. If necessary, stop at the edge of the slope or trail, do a standing 180 degree turn so you're pointing back to the slope, and repeat. I didn't say this was easy or guaranteed. If all else fails, sit down on your right or left ass cheek with your skis below you (as they should always be anyway except in aerial maneuvers) and just slide down on your ass. Remember that every foot you descend, even if in a traversing direction, is a foot closer to the base. And the parking lot, if you so desire.


Steep AND Moguls

6. You're screwed. What can I say? You got yourself into this, now you want me to tell you how to get yourself out. The solution is a combination of 4 and 5. Snowplow and traverse, with the last resort of sliding down on one or the other ass cheeks - always keeping your skis BELOW you, using them to slow your descent, keeping them as perpendicular to the fall line as you can.

I suppose taking your skis off and walking down is always another option - not that I've ever been even tempted to do so. Walking in ski boots even on flat ground is rediculously difficult, much less a steep and possibly icy incline. I don't know. Get down and don't go up there again until you're a much better skier. Find the blues and greens, stay off the blacks. It's that simple.


In a fall
(your poles are a wildcard here - I've often thought about not strapping them to my wrists, but as of now I still do)

7. There are three kinds of falls. Those you don't ski away from at all (the worst, obviously), those you ski away from fine, and those you ski away from but you're hurting. I've always been able to ski away, and never suffered real, lasting injury, but I've been hurt. The bad falls are always the ones that your skis are behind you or above you. Your head is primary to protect so you need to throw the rest of yourself out in front of it, with your feet and skis leading the way, ideally.
It's ok to slide down on your back, but if your skis are above your head you have no chance of regaining control. I'm assuming here your bindings have not released. But you're in much better control if you can keep your head above your feet in any case.
8. I have found that it's better to ball up my hands and hold them to my chest, rather than extending my arms to try to break a fall. My first reaction is to do just that, but I found out the hard way, doing so causes injuries to my wrists, which hurt like hell for a long time and I'm a guitarist. So I want to protect my hands.
9. Oh yeah, wearing a helmet (only started last year) has saved my head from being bashed open at least once, which is enough to always wear a helmet. A head impact is the most likely way to sustain a serious injury, end your skiing, and your life.

Now that you know what to do up there in any situation, ski.
Just ski.