As a finale to this recent investigation into the secrets of 'confidence', we can discuss the fourth element. You can find links to my previous three blogs below.
How to learn to ski with confidence 1
How to learn to ski with confidence 2
An old military adage tells us that time spent on reconnaissance is seldom if ever wasted. It is the foundation of good tactics. The same applies to the employment of sound tactics when you are skiing in order to best bolster your confidence that you will succeed in achieving your desired outcome on the next section of slope.
If you watch pretty well any of my ski coaching videos you will likely see me drumming into my pupils ad nauseam the idea of ensuring that before your skis move even one centimetre you check out all sorts of things – posture, intent, focus … and more. What has never failed to dismay me for over thirty years is what folk (for the most part) then do. They get all wound-up and set off immediately without deciding on anything specific. Why this is, I know not. It only takes a second or two.
So what kinds of things would be included in a list of skiing tactics?
“If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there”. Unfortunately, like Christopher Columbus even when you arrive you won't know where that is. “No – this is the WEST Indies dumbo!”.
Skiing tactics is a subject at which one can either be skilful or inept. Happily it does not take genius to get yourself into the first of those two classifications; all it takes is application. Anyone can do it.
Tactics are nothing more than short term plans that take current conditions into account. The best first skiing tactic is to STOP and check out a few things.
Is this a piste or mountain slope you should be on, bearing in mind your current skiing ability? If you've never been on a red run and this one's black, the answer is an obvious No. If you're skiing on your own and you don't know this section of mountain then, provided there is an escape route the answer is also No.
Check out your posture – remind yourself what constitutes an effective one. The reason that I consider this to be a tactic is that it is a fundamental element of a good short term plan, because it gets you started in the right way. Make a good start and you're already part way to success.
What else might be a tactical thing to do?
Take a good long analytical view of the slope you intend to ski. Analytical. How steep is it, and taking account of your current abilities what therefore will be the best “line” to take down it? Is it gentle enough to ski almost straight down the flow-line (see my video entitled, To Fall or to Flow) or should you take a line that takes wider sweeps, and swings either way to nearer the piste's edges?
If you choose to ski in arcs of a bigger radius, decide whether you want them to only partially finish – so that your skis are always at least to some extent heading down slope; or will you want to control your speed more than that, and so plan to hold onto each arc until your skis each time head across the slope before each change of direction.
Will it be best to execute short sharp radius arcs, or big wide sweeping ones. Remember, if the slope is very gentle, short sharp ones will probably bring you to a complete stop. And vice versa. This is all tactical stuff – it's pre-planning and if you do it you'll be more confident of bringing about the outcome you want.
Having a good tactical plan doesn't mean necessarily that you will be able to stick to it, nor that it will be a guaranteed success, but it absolutely makes it a great deal more likely. And in addition, because you had a plan, and then something happened, the comparison between the two after you have come to a stop will rapidly enhance your learning, and your self-coaching ability.
Does the slope “cant”?
Again, take a look at “To Fall or To Flow” - while the piste may head virtually straight down the hill, the slope may very well not do. A great many pistes, or sections of them, in fact have a slope to them which does not go in the direction of the piste but rather slopes off toward one side or the other. This has implications about how your arcs will develop.
Let's say the slope of the snow is down toward the right hand side of the piste. (At least we have noticed!) We will be executing both right and left hand arcs. They will be different. The right handed ones will be quicker and shorter lasting than the left hand ones because the left hand ones will effectively have more of an uphill component.
So this bit of reconnaissance will repay you in spades by giving you advance warning of what to expect. You can adapt your skiing movements much more readily that if you had not observed beforehand and just relied on reacting. Reconnaissance pays!
What is the snow quality like?
Is it soft or hard? Is it even or uneven? Can you detect anything about it from the ski tracks others before you have made? What can you glean about what you will need to DO – what movements and what kinds of movements will you need to make? So much of this can be assessed in just a few seconds, you don't have to make a meal of it. But it is so much better to do it, than not do it.
Here's a skiing tactic that all of my pupils have found really useful.
Ski slopes are seldom an even angle all the way down. Not even green slopes. They all have dips and rolls; places where they are just slightly steeper or less steep. This presents often many times on the way down what we might call “ledges”, where a flatter bit changes to slightly steeper.
Typically on these ledges or rolls, you will find groups of skiers (seldom as they ought to be, positioned at the edge of the piste but rather spread right across it) standing and weighing up the next bit. If it's reasonably steeper this gives them a great opportunity to get a bit nervous and “tighten up”. But you don't want to do that.
So the secret to this is to deliberately NOT stop at that point, but instead to train yourself to keep skiing until you are just over the “ledge” and come to a stop over to one side of the piste, and on the newly slightly steeper bit of slope. Once you have tried this a couple of times you will find it is perfectly easy.
It has numerous advantages. Firstly it enables you to feel hugely superior to the now admiring masses! Secondly it instantly establishes two things – 1) you have proved you can stop on this section again if you want to, and 2) it will invariably show you that it is nothing like as steep as you thought it might be.
There are lots of other things you can do, but the central principle is to do your reconnaissance, and plan your tactics. I know of no single case where it did not prove worthwhile. Bon chance!