By Ron Kubicki, Director of Holiday Valley Snowsports School
We all know we have five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – and we use all of them in our skiing experience. Granted we use some more than others, but still, skiing is visceral and experiential.
Sight – maybe the most obvious – “I see a tree!”
Hearing – very important – The sound your skis make on the snow is an accurate way to determine what conditions are like and how your skis are behaving.
Touch/Feel – highly useful – all parts of your body feel the temperature of the air, but also your feet feel how things are going with your skis on the snow.
Taste – well not so much – Maybe the lingering taste of your lip balm. I do not suggest you taste the chair lift by sticking your tongue on it or you could end up like the kid in “A Christmas Story” with his tongue frozen to the metal flag pole.
Smell – more perfunctory than critical, but useful in determining when you should change your ski socks!
My point being: we sometimes we do not pay attention to these senses when, in many cases, they can enhance and improve our performance and experience.
As creatures of habit, we ski using “muscle memory” and this often deadens the feedback from our senses. But let’s explore these natural gifts.
Sight – I talk to you often about looking where you are going, not at your skis or at the snow right in front of you. Good drivers look ahead when driving to the resort. When you make a turn, do you look at your hood ornament or do you look where you are going? It’s the same with your skiing. Looking ahead lets you know what the terrain and skier traffic is like. Plus, it gives you a sense of speed and movement in space.
Hearing –The sound of your skis is a big tip as to what the snow is like underfoot. If you hear a scraping or grinding noise, you know it is hard. You hear this and you are prepared to engage your edges with care and pay attention to turn shape and speed. If it is quiet and swishes, then you are in soft snow with a lot of edge purchase and you can relax and enjoy it.
Touch/Feel – This is very important and perhaps the one people are aware of the least. Our sense of touch/feel is highlighted in our feet. We tend to lose that sense through ill-fitting boots – either too tight or too loose – or maybe our feet are cold, or maybe we do not typically focus on feedback from our feet. But the feet provide critical feedback.
The back of the boot – do you feel the back of your leg pressing against the back of your boot? This should be your “Check Engine” light. Sure you can lean against the back of your boots and go down the hill, but you are not skiing because you are not balanced. You’re “propped up” by artificial means. Instead, you want to feel the tongue of the boot on the front of your leg/ankle.
Ball of the foot – this takes a bit of attention, but like in most athletic endeavors, we move on the arch and ball of the foot. We do not run, jump or ski on our heels.
Inside/outside – in our turns, there are inside and outside skis/feet. In almost all conditions, you should be aware that most of your pressure/weight is on the outside ski/foot. This is the ski that determines turn shape and size. You can adjust the pressure on the inside and outside according to conditions and terrain, but you only can do that if you are tuned into your feet.
Big toe/little toe – a lot of people focus on the sides of their feet. Your outside dominant ski is edged on the “big toe” side and your inside is focused on the “little toe” side.
All this gives you a vast array of sensory feedback for your skiing, so it becomes more natural and adaptable.
Next time you get off the chair lift, take a moment to slide ten feet with your eyes closed and coast to a stop. Do some side-slips and listen to the snow – is it scratchy or quiet? Pick up one foot, then the other. Do you feel the change on your feet? Close your eyes, shuffle your feet, stop and then open your eyes – you are probably in an upright, balanced stance, without any “props.”
Then go ski and make it a sensory experience. Stop and smell the pine, see the grand view up the valley, listen to the people around you, taste the cold air and “feel” the new sense of awareness you have!
Take a personal coaching session with a PSIA/AASI trained professional to try these and other tips.
Learn- Turn – Smile – Repeat!
See you on the slopes!