Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Tips to improve your skiing |

Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Tips to improve your skiing

Most ski instructors have a bag of tricks, simple but effective exercises to improve a person’s skiing.

I used many such tricks when I taught skiing and decided to share a few of them here. But before getting into specifics, allow me to address the two most important aspects of skiing and riding – safety and awareness.

The first step toward being safe and aware is adhering to the skier’s responsibility code.

While each of the code’s precepts is important, two in particular stand out:

– Staying in control, which means being able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

– Recognizing that people ahead of you have the right of way, making it your responsibility to avoid them.

With the above in mind, if you want to be safer and ski more effectively, try incorporating the following into your skiing:

1. The only article of clothing in your boot should be one thin ski sock. Long underwear, foot liners, a second sock, powder cuffs or stretch pants, etc., tucked in below the top of your boots are counter productive to effective skiing.

2. Proper balance is perhaps the most critical aspect of effective skiing. A prime culprit in failing to remain in balance is flailing hands. To remedy this, focus on keeping your hands approximately waist high, three feet apart and 18 inches in front of your belly button all the time, even on catwalks. Develop this habit and you will significantly improve your skiing.

On an easy run, turn your ski poles upside down and try skiing with your hands under the baskets of your poles. It may feel a bit awkward, but I promise you’ll get immediate feedback on your hand position.

While cruising down a run, try focusing your eyes on an object downhill. Why? Because it’s difficult to remain in balance when you’re too busy looking at your skis!

Practice balance on catwalks (assuming you have proper hand position, of course) by lifting one ski about two or three inches off the snow, paying attention to how long you can hold it level. Try this with the right ski, then the left. One side will likely be easier than or the other, but by increasing the time you can hold a ski level even by increments of a second or two, you will improve your balance tremendously.

3. Speaking of catwalks, here’s a safety tip. Draw an imaginary line down the center of the catwalk, and then stay on one side or the other. You’re far less likely to get hit from behind when your line is predicable. Maintaining a predictable line is even more important while skiing down actual runs.

4. Keeping your upper body “quiet” is another essential to effective skiing. On an easy run, try skiing with your palms down and your poles across the backs of your fingers (of course, all while keeping your hands waist high, three feet apart and 18 inches in front of your belly button). You’ll be amazed at the results.

5. Do you want more stability and cleaner turns? Try drawing your inside ski back two to three inches with every turn. When turning left, pull your left ski back. When turning right, pull back your right ski.

6. Mix your turns. As you’re skiing down a run, try making two short turns, followed by a long turn. Do this for a few hundred yards, then switch and make two long turns followed by a short one. Accomplished skiers make a number of different shaped turns. Experiment!

7. On flat-light days, ski closer to the trees on the side of the run. Not only is the visibility better, but also you’ll usually find softer snow.

8. When stopping during a run, do so behind an obstacle. Ski patrol baffles and trail signs are great for this. Putting an obstacle between you and uphill skiers is always a wise tactic on the mountain.

9. Screaming into a lift line at high speed doesn’t impress anyone. It’s dangerous and immature. Meet your friends outside the lift line instead of creating a bottleneck before getting on the chair.

10. Keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration causes fatigue, and fatigue results in accidents.

11. Unless he’s a certified ski instructor or patroller, it’s not always wise to let your husband or boyfriend teach you how to ski. Ski instructors spend hours un-teaching what a well-meaning husband or boyfriend taught his significant other the day before.

Enjoy the slopes.

Quote of the day: “The best place in the world to ski is where you’re skiing that day.” Warren Miller

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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