Vail sking feature: Tips and tricks to push past the skier’s plateau
Find the terrain
Every ski area in Summit County has greens, blues, blacks and expert terrain. But the colors don’t always match up with beginner, intermediate and advanced. Local ski instructors recommended a few of their favorite runs for anyone who wants to keep improving.
Beginner: West Village area, home to most of Copper’s green runs, a magic carpet and a two-chair leading to a terrain-based learning area with manicured features. Try Vein Glory, Easy Feelin and Scooter for short greens, Soliloquy for a long run to Roundabout.
Intermediate: Center Village area. Try nearly anything under the American Flyer lift, including Coppertone and Care Free for long greens. After your warm-up take American Eagle to Bouncer, Bittersweet and Main Vein for long blues.
Advanced: The eastern trails and bowls accessible from Super Bee. This leads to resolution lift for access to Resolution Bowl, Spaulding Bowl and gladed trees around blacks like Cabin Chute, Saw Tooth and Highline.
Beginner: Anywhere on Peak 9, home to multiple surface lifts and roads like Lower Sawmill and Lower Lehman leading to the six-person Quicksilver SuperChair., two long blues connected to Lower American, a favorite green.
Intermediate: Peak 7 and upper Peak 9. Take Beaver Run SuperChair to Bonanza and Columbia, two groomed blues with bumps to the side. Take Mercury SuperChair for Upper Lehman, Briar Rose, Cashier and kid zone C.J.’s Cabin, found on Upper Lehman.
Advanced: Peak 6. To skier’s left and right of Kensho SuperChair are wide-open bowls (hike-to and not) that funnel into blues Déjà Vu, Euphoria and Delirium. Every run is lined with tree for exploring. They’re wide up top and get tighter near the lift base, so have an exit plan.
Beginner: Mountain House base area. Like West Village it’s home to a surface lift and beginner-only terrain features. It’s also self-contained (no upper blues or blacks). Ranger Chair at the top of the gondola is longer and can eventually connect to Schoolmarm, the 3.5-mile top-to-bottom run.
Intermediate: The entire frontside, says ski and ride school director Jeff Lifgren. Spring Dipper and Santa Fe are long blues with alternately steep and mellow pitches. Progress from there to Paymaster, Wild Irishman, Frenchman and Dutchman, most named for long-gone mining claims from the area.
Advanced: North Peak and the Outback. Both are home to all of the mountains blacks and bowl access, along with cat-serviced bowls and hike-to glades. Try Outback Express for The Grizz and Badger with a mix of bumps and trees.
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series on building skills and breaking bad habits.
It’s happened to everyone. For the first time since you stepped on snow, you’ve reached the limit of your skiing knowledge and just can’t seem to get better. It happens to beginners and experts and everyone between: the plateau.
It’s good to know that this is Ski Country and progress is the name of the game. Professional instructors and coaches help skiers correct bad habits and reach the next level, whatever that is. For some, it’s powder; for others, it’s just keeping up with the kids. No matter what, pros at every level recommend one thing: Find someone — preferably a certified someone — who knows what they’re talking about.
“Try to have one mentor, whether it’s an instructor or you read about them or watch them on a YouTube video or anything else,” said Jonathan Lawson, ski and ride school supervisor at Copper Mountain. “You can even find a pro here, someone who is a certified instructor, someone who is a very skilled skier and knows how to bring that information to your ability level. It’s so you don’t run into the roadblocks: You can progress without having to unlearn old moves before you get to new ones.”
For everyone except for true never-evers, the biggest roadblocks to moving higher and higher are bad habits. We talked with instructors and coaches for tips on how to break the worst.
Bad habit: Sitting in the backseat
It’s one of the first and most difficult lessons for any skier: lean downhill, not uphill.
“This is the trick to being efficient,” said Doug Pierini, vice president of skier services at Breckenridge and an instructor with more than 15 years under his belt. “When you’re back in the boots, you’re using big muscles just to stand up. You need to move with the mountain and move downhill, following with your center of mass.”
It’s also one of the most frightening sensations for beginners, especially when you move from flat terrain to steeper terrain with obstacles such as bumps, trees and more. But if you aren’t centered, it’s nearly impossible to initiate turns quickly, effectively and with minimal effort. In other words, it’s the first skill you need to master.
Pierini has a simple trick to remedy the backseat: Pretend you have a few $100 bills tucked between your shins and your boot tongues. This keeps you in the proper position to initiate turns with your legs and feet, instead of your arms and shoulders.
Bad habit: Overcorrecting for the backseat
For every old and remedied bad habit, there’s at least one way to form an entirely new one.
“Usually the quick fix for the backseat is to get forward, but what you’re really looking for is to be centered over the arch of your foot,” said Jeff Lifgren, director of the Keystone Ski and Ride School and another instructor vet with 15-plus years of experience. “If you lean too far forward, it can almost be as detrimental as being in the back seat.”
The trick, he said, is to feel your entire foot on the base of your boot: On your toes is too far forward, on your heels is too far back, centered over your arches is just right. Take a few runs on slow, mellow greens and pay close attention to your feet and how they affect body position. Once you find the balance point, remember what it feels like and check in with your feet every few runs. Soon enough, it’ll be second nature, aka a new, good habit.
Moral of the story: Be careful to avoid overcorrecting. Again, working with a pro even once gives you a second set of eyes to spot these issues.
Bad habit: Lifting skis to start a turn
Proper form is all about efficiency, but proper form isn’t easy. At Copper, Lawson sometimes sees intermediate skiers lift and pull their skis off the snow to start a hard turn. It can work and usually does, at least on groomers. But when you move to powder and other advanced terrain, it sets you up for failure.
Why? Because your balance is compromised. Lawson (known as “Johnny Law” around Copper) calls it a “gross movement,” meaning you’re using major muscle groups to perform a demanding — and inefficient — movement.
To remedy, head to easy and comfortable terrain for fine-tuned movements. Make deliberate turns, Lawson said, beginning the turn with your foot and ankle before engaging the leg muscles. When you feel comfortable taking turns at low and high speeds, move to more difficult terrain.
Bad habit: Wacky, waving, flailing arms and upper body
You’ve mastered the basics. Your body is centered and your skis are parallel. You can even maintain that form on steep terrain and mellow bumps. But once things get really steep and it’s time for snap-quick movements, you begin to flail. Your arms are doing all the work, and your legs are struggling to catch up.
It’s something even ski racers struggle with, which is one of the major reasons Team Summit athletes train in the gym and on the hill.
“It’s really about discipline through the core, tightening the core to keep the body from twisting abnormally,” said Greg Needell, the club’s alpine director. “We spend our entire offseason trying to handle the forces we’ll encounter in racing. Once the season starts, we have a maintenance program where they’re getting strength and weight training at least once a week, plus another core session with that.”
It’s good advice for skiers of any level. Core exercises two or three times per week can help maintain your strength and help prevent strains, Needell said.