Good to Great: How to Make the Leap in Pow Skiing Technique
Jeff and I have this recurring disagreement we play out a few times a year.
Whether it’s climbing season, skiing season, or we’re looking forward to a surf trip, I always try to find some complementary physical training I can do in the gym or at home.
I do weighted pulling drills and wrist exercises for my climbing muscles, I do push-ups before the surf trip, or I do squats and dead lifts when it’s time to ski.
I always try to persuade Jeff to join me, or at least enthusiastically share with him some new move I’ve learned to target my hamstrings.
“This is really going to help with _____” I always say. “Don’t you think?”
“Well, maybe a little” he always responds. “But if you really want to get better at _____, you just need to go ______.” (Insert skiing, climbing or surfing in both blanks.)
I insist the transfer of skills and strength will be significant. There is usually an invitation to “just watch me”. He raises an eyebrow, and returns to his guide books and Google Earth to plan his next climb/ski/surf mission.
To be honest, mostly I’m just trying to keep up, so that I can show up with a body that’s ready to meet the challenge, and ideally, improve.
And while he enjoys teasing me about my earnest training programs, he’s really all thumbs up for the effort.
He just knows that adaptation is the only shortcut. Not that it’s fast – it’s just faster than anything else.
When I say adaptation, I mean exposing your system to all the things that the sport involves. The more we ski, the more our bodies adapt to what’s required to ski well. It happens intuitively, automatically, with relatively few outside inputs.
Given enough exposure (i.e. days on your skis or board), adaptation happens.
Climbing makes you better at climbing. It’s just not the same thing as training your lats.
And that’s what’s so cool about these outdoor sports, in my opinion: the satisfaction of coordination, of flow, of not thinking about what your legs are doing, like we might in the gym. You get to get out of your head and just feel it all happening.
Being able to ski well is more than the sum of its physical parts. The FEELING of skiing well is definitely more fun than doing dead lifts.
It’s not that typical strength training doesn’t help. Being fitter and stronger is always better.
But when it comes to the actual technique of doing the thing, it can only help so much.
So you likely see where I’m going but might soon have your hand up to object.
You can only ski so many days of the year, depending on the severity of your obsession (measured by your willingness to hop hemispheres on an annual basis).
And besides regular ski days, most of us only have the time, money and access for a limited number of true powder skiing days in a season.
So given that, what can we do to improve our pow skiing or riding? Especially during the long off-season? How do we prep to let adaptation happen as fast as it can, once winter’s back and the getting’s good?
When it comes to off-season training, Jeff and I completely agree on one valuable approach. And it’s one that’s often overlooked.
You can train balance.
Usually the difference between someone who CAN powder ski and someone who charges, with that beautiful effortless rhythm, is balance.
When balance is weak, the body has to work a hell of a lot harder. Leg muscles are burning twice as hot if you can’t stay standing over your toes. Core, back, shoulders, everything.
If you’re not balanced, it’s a game of grit, where your body fights left, right, up and down to find centre.
Instead of slow-motion floating through blower snow to the pick-up, you arrive sweaty and grimacing, straining to hold it together.
Why does Rudi rarely break a sweat, in his mid-70s, skiing 6000 metres in a day? Adaptation (investment: time) and balance (investment: year-round exposure).
Why can I keep up out there, with my improving but mediocre technique, rarely crashing or getting exhausted?
I’ve always trained my balance. It’s my secret weapon.
Good balance is basically your body’s ability to receive and react to sudden and unpredictable changes. Just like when coordination is firing, it mostly happens faster than we think about it.
We wobble, we recover, we hold steady.
But even though it feels like an unconscious ability, we can still improve it deliberately.
Doing leg strength exercises is great. But if you’re always standing on a stable or predictable surface while you do the, that’s not the same thing as building the kind of coordination strength you’ll need on your skis.
The best part is this:
You don’t need to replicate skiing or snowboarding conditions or body position to train your balance. You just need to keep doing things that involve instability.
That means indoors, outdoors, all year round, you can help your body build resilience in the face of instability.
At home, these are the games we play. They’re far from easy, but we get a LOT better with practice.
And if you’re like, meh, I’m SO not a gym person. That looks boring.
Well, you can do it in pairs like we do, and the one not walking on the dowel balance beam throws a ball at the one balancing. That makes things interesting.
It’s great for rainy days and shoulder seasons.
Or, go outside and try things like
- Stand up paddle boarding
- Any racquet sport
- Cycling or mountain biking
Find something that wobbles, or something where the environment will make you have to react quickly. Without giving a thought to ‘doing reps’ you’ll be training balance, coordination, springiness and agility.
And hey, the gains are all-around helpful, from slipping on your icy driveway to stumbling in the sand after one too many margaritas (just as an example).
But the reason that I’m sharing it, is it WILL help you in the pow.
When you have good balance to stay centered, power, stamina, cardio – everything else takes a backseat – everything except you.
For all the non-ski-days, stay wobbly, my friends.
And if you’re looking for some pow-riding advice that’s more IN season, check out these five things to keep in mind as you drop in for some deep turns.
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