It’s harder to bluff your way through actually skiing than it is to bluff your way knowing the theory behind how to ski, according to The Bluffer’s Guide to Skiing. This will ensure that you can talk a good bit about skiing – despite the fact that you spend conspicuously more time on your back than on your skis.
The theory of how to ski
The basic theory of skiing technique is that once you have conquered your fear of the ‘fall line’ (the steepest, and therefore quickest, way down the slope) you have essentially cracked the secret of how to ski. After that it is just a matter of refining your technique
– i.e., ‘looking good’. Looking good is the whole point of technique, although purists will tell you that ‘control’ is what it’s all about.
How to ski: The snowplough
This is not a heavy-duty farm implement but a method of controlling your rate of descent by forming your skis into a V-shaped wedge, with the tips forming a narrow head and the tails as wide apart as you can get them. The wider apart the tails, the slower you go – in theory.
Bluffer’s Guide to Ski Terrain
- SLOPES Called slopes or ‘runs’ or ‘pistes’ in Europe, ‘trails’ in the USA, and whatever anybody feels like calling them in Australia and New Zealand.
- MOGULS Big bumps in the snow. In the USA they are called, with admirable inventiveness, bumps. If you hit one of these piles at speed, you will soar about 20 feet into the air before landing on your back with your ski in your ear. It is difficult to pretend you did this on purpose.
- PATHS Paths are strewn liberally with rocks and black ice. On one side they have jagged cliff walls which invite your close attention; on the other side they have vertiginous drops through more rocks and splintered conifers. The splintering was caused by skiers.
- PISTE MAP Nobody has yet invented a piste map that returns to its original folds. In the USA they are called ‘trail maps’ and have up to 148 folds. These are the most advanced types and were allegedly invented by Rubik.
- VERTICAL DROPS An arresting feature of mountainous terrain, the term ‘vertical drop’ actually describes two different things: what will happen if you fail to stop at the edge of a sheer cliff face; or the distance in height between the top ski ‘station’ and the bottom (usually the resort).
How to ski: Schussing
A ‘schuss’ is popular with those skiers with a ‘let’s-melt-mountain’ mentality. It involves keeping the skis together, aiming the tips down and hoping for the best.
There is a special position to adopt in the schuss. It’s a sort of crouch called a ‘tuck’ or an ‘egg’, where you bend down over the skis with your bottom in the air, your poles tucked into your armpits. It looks absurd and it causes a peculiarly painful sensation in the thigh muscles.
How to ski: Edging
‘Edging’ is the term given to the practice of pressing the metal edges of your skis into the snow. If you don’t want to go straight down, you can stand at right angles to it with both your skis across the slope and their ‘uphill’ edges ‘biting’ into it. If they don’t bite properly you will find yourself embarked on another method – ‘side slipping’ (see below). If they do bite properly, you will remain stationary – even (one is assured) on near-vertical slopes.
How to ski: Turning
Turning is fundamental to skiing, although many skiers – notably blood-wagon bearers, pigs-on-planks and novices – disagree. A normal descent, unless it is a schuss, is a series of ‘linked’ turns. Or should be. Note that you never simply turn; you always ‘carve’ a turn. Carving a turn takes many different forms:
The snowplough turn
The idea is that you put more weight on one ski than the other in the snowplough position and, miraculously, you turn in the opposite direction to the weighted ski.
The stem turn
This is a snowplough turn that starts and finishes with the skis together in a normal traverse position. You just have to remember to open or ‘stem’ them at the right moment, otherwise you might skip a lesson or two and do a ‘parallel’ turn by mistake. If you do manage to do a parallel turn by mistake, try to remember how you did it.
The parallel turn
‘Skiing parallel’ used to describe the practice of keeping your skis glued together throughout the entire turn. The few who managed to achieve this unlikely feat after years of determined endeavour are now told that the skis should be hips’-width apart instead of stuck together. This is conclusive proof of a worldwide conspiracy among ski instructors to redefine technique whenever they feel like it, thus ensuring a constant supply of work.
The jet turn
The ‘jet’ turn sounds terrific and looks terrific. In essence it’s a parallel turn with the skier sitting back – which is exactly what you are not supposed to do. It involves ‘checking’, ‘anticipating’, ‘sinking’, ‘unweighting’, ‘braking’ and ‘carving’. All you have to remember is to do all these things in the space of about one-hundredth of a second. Simple, really.
The compression turn
Another name for colliding with a mogul and discovering that your knees have been relocated two feet above your head. The technique necessitates appropriate ‘absorption’ of the bump. It was invented by the French, who insist on calling it an avalement turn. Avalement means ‘swallow’, which is what you may do with your knees while attempting to execute this manoeuvre.
The wedel turn
The art of linking short parallel turns in a rhythmic up-down bouncing motion. The concept is that one turn flows directly into another in a rapid ‘wagging’ motion, with the upper body facing downhill all the time. ‘Wedeling’ comes from the German word wedeln (to wag) and has nothing to do with ski journalists wheedling free meals.
The jump turn
One that comes in handy on very steep slopes and in deep, heavy snow. Often initiated from a stationary position, it requires both skis to turn in mid-air and face the opposite direction. If the tips cross in mid-execution, you may well engage in interesting acrobatics for the remainder of your descent.
The carving turn
Turns on carving skis require a different technique, but no one (least of all instructors) can agree what it is. Thus you will hear lots of conflicting advice about ‘rolling your ankles’, ‘even-weighting’ and ‘following your shoulders’. Ignore it all. Carving skis make whatever turn they like.
Perhaps the most effective technique of all for dealing with the fall line, especially for those who prefer not to schuss or turn. It involves a mixture of edging and ‘flattening’ the skis. When both skis are flattened together, they will slide sideways downhill until the edges are ‘reset’. For some unaccountable reason, when you reach the bottom in safety, friends gather around and chant ‘chicken’. This is most unfair and confers a completely undeserved stigma on a perfectly valid means of descent.
How to ski: Stopping
This is an oft-neglected technique that can involve a great deal of buttock-contact with the mountainside. There are other ways of executing a stop manoeuvre, like braking with your edges and pointing your ski-tips uphill.
DO SAY that your skis have ‘blunt edges’. This is a valid excuse for most forms of skiing ineptitude.
DON’T SAY ’I’ve never had a lesson in my life.’ This is ill-advised, not least because it will lay you open to the entirely legitimate retort: ‘Yes, it shows.’