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Assessing technique essential to skiing success

This is an excerpt from Total Skiing by Chris Fellows.

Concepts of Skiing Technique

Progressing from the basic stance to precise, carved turns is a process that builds from one core-skill competency to the next. If you skip a component, you may overlook a skill, causing affectations and abnormalities that compromise your technique. However, even if you are on the path already, it’s never too late to revisit the fundamentals. In fact, skill revision is recommended.

The fundamental aspects of the neutral and engaged stances form the foundation for the rest of the technical components. No shortcut exists for mastering a good stance that provides a base of support for all skiing movements. The mechanics for turning depend on the reliability of your stance alignment and your confidence in your base. Once you learn how to turn properly, your progress takes a quantum leap, due to the increase in mileage and opportunities for exploring terrain.

Faults at this stage may take years to address. The ability to turn the legs while maintaining stability in the upper body during advanced turn technique, called dissociation or upper- and lower-body separation, is a major breakthrough. When trying to synchronize the movement of body parts while gliding on snow, this separation of the different halves of the body is a true accomplishment. Once turning with your legs has become a natural part of your skill set, you can easily learn to refine edge engagement and disengagement, pressure control, and recovery movements. As you reach the milestones of carving and managing variable snow conditions, you will experience new control and confidence that will open up a vast array of options for terrain and snow quality.

The basic goal of skiing technique is to control your descent down the mountain. Efficient technique is made up of the simple skills of edging, rotation, pressure, and balance. Your body movements affect these elements either positively or negatively depending on how precisely you apply the skills. Standing in an unbalanced position on your skis results in poor technique because you must compensate in order to apply the skills of rotation, edging, and pressure. When your stance is balanced, you can access and execute these skills more easily. These concepts are discussed in more detail as follows.


Balance is essential to all skills, playing a key role in how effectively you can apply your technique. Balance that is specific to skiing can be improved with exercises and mileage. Without balance, you cannot access other technical skills. Once you are comfortable balancing on moving skis, you can expand your skill base and can continue to challenge yourself as you move up the rungs of skiing proficiency.


This skill involves body mechanics that result in rotational action of the skis. As you improve, you isolate rotation to your lower body, keeping your upper body stable and quiet. The most effective rotation also involves pressure and edging, resulting in the ability to steer the skis through turns.


Edging can be as simple as standing in an engaged stance with your skis embedded in the snow or as complex as applying a carved turn on an icy racecourse. In both cases, you gain an awareness of the holding power of an edged ski. As you develop the skill of edging, you learn how to balance on skis while moving through an arc, both with and without skidding. Efficient skiers use the ski as an edging tool and utilize the design characteristics for precise speed and directional control.


As your skis interact with the terrain, you can directly affect how they react by making pressure adjustments. With too much pressure, skis can buck, skid out, or scoot away. However, the right blend of pressure movements allows skis to caress the snow, creating a smooth and even ride. Standing on one ski is a basic pressure move that can benefit performance tremendously at the beginning stages. As you balance and pressure the outside ski, it reacts and bends, providing stored energy that you can use to transition into the next turn. Honing and practicing the skill of applying pressure helps you effectively absorb transitions in terrain and naturally flex and extend your joints.

Blending these concepts makes technique precise and effective. As you develop your skills further, you will focus more on the whole than on the different parts of skiing. You will eventually experience a comingling of all the skills that provides a technical foundation on which you can build tactics. Of course, technique and tactics are closely tied, and you will move freely between the two areas as you move around the mountain. However, proper technique makes tactical choices easier and tactical applications more effective.

Assessments for Skiing Technique

These fundamental assessments cover the skills needed to perform the basic technical building blocks of good skiing. The screen identifies strengths or weaknesses in alignment, joint flexion, and hand positioning in the neutral and engaged stances. It also examines turning with your legs, focusing on alignment, flexion movements, edging movements, and turning impetus. It identifies details of parallel turns, including turn initiation, basic stance, edging movements, flexion movements, pole use, and continuous parallel skiing. Finally, it covers carved turns, highlighting alignment through angulation, edge-to-edge initiations, lateral flexion, and clean, arc-shaped tracks.

The biggest challenge I have faced in my career as an instructor is the subjective nature of quantifying skiing movements. However, my experience has led me to believe that if you understand the fundamental ski movements and develop an eye for recognizing good form, you can begin to assess yourself and make the changes that allow you to progress. With a little practice, you can judge movements and even score skiing maneuvers based on the sensations you experience, the appearance of your skiing track, the sound of your skis, and your results. These assessments provide a standard to shoot for as you progress. They also serve as a checklist that you can revisit after you have achieved higher levels. The integrity of this block, as in the blocks of functional movement and fitness previously mentioned, sets the parameters for what you can attain in the tactics section. When performing these assessments, your screen results will fall into level 3, level 2, or level 1.

  • Score of 3. You nailed the task. You executed all the components listed in the assessment, held the alignment necessary for dynamic balance, and carried out multiple turn sequences, adjusting your mechanics as needed for pitch, speed, and direction.
  • Score of 2. You displayed most of the components listed in the assessment, with a few exceptions. You were able to maintain proper alignment most of the time, but you showed weakness in basic skills as the terrain got steeper or the conditions got trickier.
  • Score of 1. You were unable to maintain your alignment for more than a few minutes and wobbled as you executed turns. You couldn’t own the movements or perform them as described in the assessment.


As you perform the assessments, use the summary sheet for assessing skiing technique (see figure 4.1) as a guide for the areas that need your attention. As you fill it in, you will begin to see patterns highlighting strengths and weaknesses. This summary sheet will become your road map for improving technique and accurately prescribing solutions for barriers to your progress.

Before moving on to assessments, note that these screens should not take a great deal of time. Use them to establish a baseline for further development. It is beneficial to perform these assessments as soon as you hit the snow so that the tasks set you up for good mechanics throughout the rest of the skiing day. You should understand what the end product looks like and what its components are. As you begin to identify the aspects of good skiing, the path to mastery becomes clear. Before beginning on-snow assessments, review these key points:

  • When choosing terrain for these assessments, pick a groomed, empty slope with a consistent pitch. Icy conditions, bumpy slopes, and recent snowfall can affect the outcome of the task (see chapter 5 for all-mountain skiing tests).
  • Check your equipment to ensure that your boots are buckled and that the top power strap is secure. Your skis should be waxed so they can glide freely. Their edges should be sharp to properly hold on firm snow (see chapter 6 for more information on equipment).
  • If you are using a partner, ski past the observer to provide a front, side, and back view of your performance. If you are using a video, instruct the observer to keep your image as large as possible in the frame for easy viewing later.

Read more about Total Skiing.

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