Vail Valley Voices: Ski better, safer |

Vail Valley Voices: Ski better, safer

Skiing is about safety, fun and improvement. So I thought we might briefly examine those aspects of the sport in order to make yours an even more enjoyable holiday.

Safety: First and foremost, skiing and riding safely is everyone’s responsibility. From beginners enjoying their first day on the slopes to experts with years of experience, it’s the individual’s duty to ski and ride safely.

Every skier and rider has the responsibility for knowing the range of his or her own ability to negotiate any slope or trail, and to ski/ride within the limits of their ability. Additionally, when a skier or rider buys a lift ticket, they expressly accept and assume the “legal responsibility” of safe skiing or riding. So please take the time to read the Skier’s Responsibility Code.

1. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It’s your responsibility to avoid them.

3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

4. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment

6. Observe all posted signs and warming. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas

7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely

Safe skiing means being aware; be cognizant of your periphery and maintain your spacing. There is nothing inherently wrong with skiing fast when under control and with proper spacing. But high speeds and proper spacing are mutually exclusive terms on crowded runs and catwalks. Skier to skier collisions have ruined many vacations.

Fun: A ski vacation is about having fun. Far too many people get down on themselves when they feel they’re not skiing perfectly. While it’s great to strive for excellence, we mustn’t lose sight of why we’re here in the first place – to enjoy ourselves! Skiing is a matter of personal expression. So instead of focusing on what you perceive as less than perfect skiing, think about what you do right and develop your own unique style.

Skier improvement: For those who are serious about improving their skills, below are a number of suggestions that just might make your day on the slopes a bit more enjoyable:

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

2. Adjusting stance to continually remain in balance is the foundation of effective skiing. To help remain in balance, try focusing your eyes down the hill – your skis won’t change color, so there’s no need to look at them while making turns.

3. The effectiveness of our skiing movements will be positive only if we have a mental image of a rounded “C”-shaped turn path. Rounded “C”-shaped turns means control; and to assist in making those rounded “C”-shaped turns, try waiting a second (one-one thousand) longer than you normally do before initialing a new turn.

4. Any movement that doesn’t move your body downhill is counter-productive to effective skiing.

5. If there’s a common denominator to the problems of beginners to high-level intermediates, it’s skiing out of balance. Balance is the building block of effective skiing, and if I could offer just one suggestion to assist in maintaining proper balance, it would be to keep your hands in front of you and not at your sides. Your hands should approximate the same position as if you were carrying a tray of milk and cookies (or martinis and hors d’oeuvres for that matter) to a group of guests.

6. Powder skiing requires a narrow stance simulating a single platform.

7. In crud, stance can vary from narrow to wide; the choice of width is dependent upon he desired ski-snow interaction. Meanwhile, carving requires a wider stance, while pivoting (see point No. 8) requires a narrow stance.

8. When skiing bumps, a narrow stance simulates balance over a single platform and allows both skis to pass through the same spot of terrain at the same time (just don’t forget to keep your hands pointed downhill).

9. While we don’t have ice in Vail (perhaps some “firm snow” occasionally) a hip-width stance creates options for proper alignment and engaging both edges. Think of putting your feet on edge inside your boots.

This commentary is not meant as an ad for the ski school. Rather, it’s about the passion I have for this sport. Watching people enjoy themselves and improve their skills is one of my greatest pleasures; so you might want to do yourself a favor and take a minute to investigate the many products the Snowsports School has to offer. Sometimes a little bit of professional instruction can turn a good holiday into a great one.

See you on the slopes!

Butch Mazzuca is an Edwards resident and a ski instructor out of Vail Village. He can be reached at

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