/ learning to ski
where would be the best place to learn to ski parallel, The snowdome or the dry ski slope???
My aim is to do a weeks skiing in December in Chamonix followed by another 2 weeks downhill skiing/ski touring/climbing in March. Is this achievable or over ambitious?
Any tips or advice would be appreciated.
Get some ski lessons and then decide if it's realistic.
The key to skiing properly is, as you seem to have gathered, the parallel turn. The best way to learn to parallel is one-on-one with a friend who already can. Both friend and yourself will need a bit of patience at the start--but if you can already snowplough, you're past the hardest bit of learning to ski.
So I'd say, pick the right friend (to whom you've explained that you're looking for help and patience, and who is in a position to give you both) and head for Chamonix. No reason why your aim shouldn't be achievable.
I'd also say--try and get some more time in at the Snowdome or wherever. Like any other motor skill, you just need to give it time to develop.
On a typical day's downhill skiing on pistes in decent nick, the only uses for a pair of poles are (a) to pick up dropped gloves (b) to assert yourself in unruly lift queues (c) to be held out in front of you across the way, as an exercise to improve your balance and upper-body orientation.
Buy this book
Then at least you will be trying to do the right things.
> Buy this book
> Then at least you will be trying to do the right things.
+1, this book is brilliant, I keep coming back to it as I progressed over the years. I found dry slopes to be very good for learning; they are often less forgiving/more demanding, less crowded, longer and cheaper than fridge snowdomes and in the fresh air too. A good instructor with regular sessions interspersed with practice will make a massive difference when getting on real snow
1) Become a ski bum
2) Get a one to one lesson with a qualified ski instructor
3) Get the first lift up inthe morning and last down at night (and don't stop for lunch)
4) comfortable ski boots and sharp edges are equally important
5) Have no fear
That's about it
Three weeks from beginner to tourer? Depends how quickly you pick it up but it could be done. In some conditions touring can be as easy as piste skiing in others in can be maddeningly near impossible. Of course knowing how to pick the easy conditions is the trick.
Is it? I've learned far more from my mates than from any ski instructor. And my mates are free :-)
Out of interest, with this approach are you a good skier?
As said other places in the alps can be much cheaper/less busy than chamonix. I've been going to the alps every year for the last 17 years and only skied in france once or twice.
Parallel turns (or more correctly carved turns) are in principle quite simple
Basically use the inside edge of the outside ski (right ski when turning left). The radius of the ski makes you turn. All you have to do is get that to grip the snow and you'll turn. The hard part is getting the body position correct. All of the pressure should go through the shin and big toes
Use you poles by planting them when you want to initiate the turn. Then stand up a little to unweight the skis, you then transfer the weight to the correct skis to start the turn. Then bend down again and compress in to the snow to get the pressure
One big mistake people make on skis (and snowboards) is standing up too much and not leaning forward enough. To get good speed and pressure through the skis you need to really bend the knees and get forward
For the holiday if you can snowplough and have some confidence you'll be fine on all blue runs, and should be OK on red runs. They are just a bit steeper - just keep in control by turning and traversing the slope. Slowly you'll point more downhill and get smoother / faster
Skiing with better people always helps too
In the meantime, get in as many trips to snowdome/dry slope as you can afford. The former is obviously more realistic, but the advantage of a dry slope is that it is like skiing on really nasty icy snow, which you may well encounter in Dec. And if you don't, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier (and less tiring) skiing on real snow is.
If you do end up in Chamonix - not a great choice for a beginner - you might find Les Houches is a good place to start
I think that's quite a good step-by-step breakdown of why getting a mate to teach you to parallel might not be the best idea.
> Relying on a mate who can ski a bit is a sure fired way to learn bad habits.
> Is it? I've learned far more from my mates than from any ski instructor. And my mates are free :-)
It depends on what background your mates have in instructing, how good your proprioception is and how good you are at learning a skill like skiing.
Your comment is also dependent on a whole host of factors that we don't know about you, your skiing ability and your access and experience of instructors.
I think it is reasonable to say that in general the most efficient method of improving your skiing, certainly at beginner/ low intermediate level, is to have lessons.
At the stage the OP is at I would suggest getting mileage under his belt as well, with the proviso that repeated practice of the wrong thing is likely to be counter productive, hence the reason for ensuring you are doing the right thing.
> Use you poles by planting them when you want to initiate the turn. Then stand up a little to unweight the skis, you then transfer the weight to the correct skis to start the turn. Then bend down again and compress in to the snow to get the pressure
This is actually the direct opposite of what I was taught/do. Pressing (standing) applies pressure to the skis and weights them. Flexing/bending down, unweights the skis.
Or am I misunderstanding you?
Think of the standing up is a little like deadpointing when you're climbing... initially you'll push into the ground, but then create a short moment of weightlessness as you reach the top of the curve where the skis will turn easily.
If you want to get good quickly, there really is no substitute for lessons. I'd do a week's learn to ski course in december with the UCPA if possible (they have a centre in Argentiere) and ask your instructor at the end of it if they thought you were ready to do their off-piste course in the first week of your March trip (I'm guessing they'd be reluctant to take you on that if you say you've only done a week's skiing, but if you're a fast learner they're quite good at taking a previous instructor's recommendation into account).
Ballpointing is my favourite. That's where you imagine you have climbed the route.
To get the best value out of your day, you should take the first lift up and the morning and the very last lift *up* to the highest point on the resort at the end of the day. Then one can take a leisurely 1/2 hour or more coming the whole way back to base.
If you're planning to ski tour with an instructor by all means go for it, otherwise please don't go ski touring with just a friend, it's highly dangerous, it's not just the skiing, it's reading terrain, snow.
Sad to say I have lost some friends who were great skiiers but didn't know how to read different situations and it cost them their lives.
Skiing is only 20% of being safe in the back country.
My first couple of trips were fun, but also frustrating. But they gave me the motivation to keep piste skiing which I don't really enjoy (this was Scotland, with Scottish pistes, crowds, weather etc)
> I found dry slopes to be very good for learning; they are often less forgiving/more demanding, less crowded, longer and cheaper than fridge snowdomes and in the fresh air too
I was going to say this too, but then I (like you, I think) learnt to ski before carving skis. We did all that bend zee knees and unweight the back the ski stuff*, which isn't how people are taught to carve these days (although it's still very useful when the going gets ugly). I have no idea how modern carving skis work on dry slopes.
Actually, I was taught in Austria and the style is so characteristic that a Kiwi guide in Utah once correctly identified where I had been taught. He then told me to stop it immediately!
I would advise getting as much time at a dry slope as you can. The surface is harder to learn on but is worth it when you go back to snow you'll find it much easier.
Also most dry slopes are the base for local race teams so you should be able to get good advise and instruction for a cheaper price than in the snowdomes.
I only learnt to ski in the winter of 2005/06 (in my late 40s but relatively fit). Carving skis work surprisingly well on dry slopes and are a very good, if demanding way to learn to use your edges. Practice is the most important thing; building in the natural stance, balance and reflexes (in much the same way as we learn to climb) with regular 1:1 lessons to keep you on track. The afore mentioned book is very useful to understand all this. The argument of indoor fridge vs outdoor plastic is less important than putting in practice time. This is a lot cheaper on plastic than in a fridge. This way I was comfortable skiing reds in my first week on real snow.
The progression to off-piste relies on putting the time in. I bought my off piste/touring gear after around 8 weeks skiing over 3 years, and booked an off-piste course (I don't think I would have handled this so wel without the time on piste). I've continued to progress (average 3 weeks per year) and now feel happy skiing most off piste (according to SCGB advanced/purple level) and able to ski with a sack full of climbing gear.
There are no short cuts and most people would need at least as much time on snow to reach a similar level. Skiing demands time and/or money, usually you can get one or the other but not both at once!
Chris, you are in your early 20's and time is probably easier to get than money? Get as much time as you can on plastic, then get a winter season gap year type job and as much time as possible on snow. Enjoy!
But Tom's point about avalanche danger and ski touring is very important. In some ways a bad skier who knows a lot about avalanches from winter climbing may well be safer than a great skier who knows nothing about the risk when it comes to touring.
Sorry to be a naysayer but i think this is overly ambitious for you in particular, and indeed most people in general. You have had a day's worth of lessons and haven't reached parallel skiing yet. I don't mean to suggest that is slow progress but it isn't FAST progress which suggests you'll have to work a bit at it, hence take a bit more time. After a weeks skiing you will probably be pretty good on piste depending on how brave you are (you are on a climbing forum so I assume you will fare pretty well in this department). The big stopping factor will be off piste skiing which is a totally alien concept compared to piste skiing. You'll be back to square one when you start that.
If you get a lot more mileage in between now and March including a lot of time off piste/ungroomed, you might just make it.
I normally hang around taking photos (because often the light is the best of the whole day) and by the time I have done that the bulk of skiers have headed down.
> To get the best value out of your day, you should take the first lift up and the morning and the very last lift *up* to the highest point on the resort at the end of the day. Then one can take a leisurely 1/2 hour or more coming the whole way back to base.
Just make sure you end up in the correct resort at the end because ski busses are really quite expensive and taxis in ski resort are just extaution.
Back to the OP I say have a few lessons at the snow dome with a session on your own in between to practice what you learn in the lessons.
Reading other peoples descriptions of how to make a parallel turn and then trying to work out how I would explain it more clearly easily brought me to this conclusion as anyone who is really good enough to be giving advice probably can't remember how exactly they learned, it was about 20 years ago in my case.
I'm not sure if I'd be aiming for off piste skiing in your first season, definitely not without a guide at first. Off piste you really want to be confident that you can ski out of virtually anything as the consequences otherwise are bad. Even just falling in soft deep snow can be a nightmare when you try and find your skis and get them back on your feet.
> I'm not sure if I'd be aiming for off piste skiing in your first season, definitely not without a guide at first.
This is a perfectly reasonable aim given suitable progress as there are plenty of easy off piste routes in most resorts. Also, if you have the mountain skills there's no reason why you should need a guide.
All the usual caveats apply of course.
I've taken the time to read the whole of this thread and it's interesting to note the number of people suggesting your plan is over ambitious.
Everyone posts from their own experience of course, as I'm about to...
My experience is that if you are a competent mountaineer you can bypass a lot of the piste to off-piste learning curve.
Skills like understanding the snow pack, navigation, crevasse rescue, ropework and use of axe and crampons are black arts to most piste skiers and the reason why touring and off piste are sometimes mystified and held to be more difficult or dangerous than they actually are.
If you've got these skills, then once you have a basic competence in skiing there's no reason why you shouldn't take (cautious) steps out of bounds on appropriate terrain. You're not going to win any style points but you'll be out there doing it and learning all the time.
Depending of course on how you progress I think it is completely realistic to do some easy touring during your 2 weeks in March.
The conundrum here is: exactly what do you mean by a "basic competence in skiing"? There is a vast difference between competence on and off-piste, and the piste skiing is now so groomed that it can flatter one into believing one is much more competent than one really is. The Catch-22 is how can one gain basic off-piste competence without a lot of experience off-piste?
> The Catch-22 is how can one gain basic off-piste competence without a lot of experience off-piste?
Just go and do it is how. Be careful but don't build it up into something it isn't, the basic skills are the same on and off-piste. You can acheive quite a lot with snow plough and stem turn if your goal is mountain travel rather than pretty skiing.
> piste skiing is now so groomed that it can flatter one into believing one is much more competent than one really is.
That's certainly true. I think I learnt more in one weekend spent throwing myself down steep, rough, wooded slopes with a bunch of nutters in Norway than in many years of taking little short cuts and kidding myself I was off piste. And mostly what I learnt was that I needed to be much fitter if I was going to do much of this.
In some resorts the off piste gets tracked out so quickly that it might as well be pisted.
I would have thought that if you are still at the snowplow and stem turn phase you are scarcely competent for easy piste skiing, let alone off piste.
> I would have thought that if you are still at the snowplow and stem turn phase you are scarcely competent for easy piste skiing, let alone off piste.
I didn't mean to suggest that this should be the whole of your repertoire. Snowplough and stem turns are excellent tools and there are plenty of places where even the best skiers can use them, especially touring.
Like I said, it depends on what you want to do. If your goal is mountain travel then you can acheive a lot safely and in perfect control using those techniques to fill in where you can't link carving turns.
snowplough, stem turns and carving are all about treating, and weighting skis separately and usually keeping them apart. This can sort of work off piste if tracked out or solid. The biggest change in learning to ski off piste in soft and variable snow is to treat the two skis much more as one, keep them much closer together and weight them evenly. It takes time to unlearn piste skills in this way. (of course they are still essential for icy and narrow forest tracks etc)
Dave I think you have hit the nail on the head re expectations, and previous experience. if the aim of going ski touring is to get somewhere to climb, of travel through some easy terrain then it might be possible. The big BUT is that conditions can make an easy slope very difficult for someone new to going off piste and so until the time there almost isn't any point in discussing it.
To reply to the original questions.
1. parallel turns - go snowdome if you can, it will help you get towards parallel much more easily. Get a lesson to help you do this. It will make it so much easier and better.
2. Chamonix in December. Yes head to Les Houches to start with and see how you like skiing around the mountain before making too many plans about ski touring in march. I would say that you need to be completely confident skiing a fairly steep black run (and also off the side of it) in crappy icy slushy lumpy and everything else in between conditions before you start thinking about touring, at least in the Alps anyway. It doesn't need to be stylish, but you need to be able to do it safely. As a general rule I wouldn't take anyone touring if they only had a couple weeks ski experience, however fast they have picked it up.
(I am a ski instructor in the Alps, and have taught people touring for the first time aswell so have experience of this!)
Enjoy skiing a mountain in December, it really is a brilliant sport!!!
I was at a very similar point as you when I went for a week of skiing nearly 10 years ago with some friends to Alpe D'Huez - we took no lessons and learned how to parallel turn ourselves, with a bit of help from the only one from the group that knew how to ski.
Towards the end of the week we did La Sarenne amongst others, one of the longest black runs (admittedly not super hard). I also came back with skier's thumb from the holiday and needed ligament reconstruction.
I am still a rubbish skier - I can go down the mountain, sure, but with horrendous technique.
Point being what you want to do is definitely realistic. You will end up learning 'parallel turns' one way or another and if you find yourself at the top of a massive mountain you'll more likely find your way down in one piece. You will also have developed bad technique that will probably stay with you. So I guess the question is to find the right balance between short term fun and long term enjoyment.
One thing's for sure though: don't learn to parallel turn on the dry slope! :-)
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting you do crazy difficult runs nor am I implying that one can't hurt themselves skiing, quite the opposite. My wife in fact broke her pelvis on a very easy bit of the mountain - all it takes is a slip and a bad fall. That was not fun, nor cheap so make sure you have insurance!
If you are having lessons, try to keep with the same instructor, you will get better value for money because they will know where you are at and what your issues are without having to waste part of the lesson working out what they should be teaching you.
Don't take any notice of people saying you can't learn to parallel on a dry slope, of course you can. What is harder is learning how to carve, because that needs more space. You will learn to make basic, skidded parallels before you learn to carve, you need to know how to make short turns and long turns, because you won't always have a nice wide piste to make beautiful carved arcs on!
Ditching the poles is great advice, we don't give them to people until after they have mastered a basic parallel.
The only experience I have of ski touring is my husband going on the UCPA tour someone else mentioned, after at least 15 weeks on snow (although not much tuition...) and being sent back to base at the end of day 1 for not being good enough.
Chamonix would not be my resort of choice for your first time on snow, but if that's where you are going you ought to head for La Tour or Les Houches, or head round the corner to St Gervais or Les Contamines (last 2 on a different lift pass though).
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