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Under instruction: how to become a better skier

You only hit the slopes once a year, so how do you improve your ski technique? We asked an instructor for some tips

Skiing is a pleasure and a passion, and those lucky enough to live near a ski resort and able to ski often, can reach an impressively high standard even without being professional. But for the rest of us, enviously skidding about the pistes on wobbly legs and unaccountably disobedient skis, life is more complicated. Just how can you improve when you only get onto the slopes once a year?

We asked Didier Collomb, a ski instructor and mountain guide from Saint Martin de Belleville in the famous Trois Vallées network of ski resorts. He has been skiing since the age of five and is passionate about teaching. Here is his advice: “Prepare the knees and legs by exercising several times a week for at least 3-4 weeks before your holiday, to avoid knee injuries.” Some gyms run special get-fit-for-skiing classes, and there are plenty of exercise DVDs available so you can prepare at home. “You don’t need to be a great athlete, but you need at least enough strength to avoid injury.”

“It’s best to hire equipment at the ski station rather than in the city, so you can swap items if necessary. If you have blisters all over your feet, you have the wrong boots!

Be honest about your skiing level – it’s better to have skis designed for a beginner and change after a few days than have the wrong equipment. Instead fo buying boots, buy your own insoles or ‘footbeds’, which fit your feet exactly and can be used in any ski boots. They can make a massive difference to the comfort of hire boots. 

“Top brands of ski clothes aren’t important, but in the mountains, summer or winter, whatever you buy, stick with three layers: a base layer next to the skin to absorb sweat and keep you dry; a mid-layer like a soft shell to provide insulation and warmth, plus an outer shell-layer to block wind and water.” New technologies mean that ski jackets are wind and water-proof whilst also letting the body breath so that sweat doesn’t condense and make inner layers damp. 

“Get an instructor to ski all day with the whole family so you learn where the best snow is, and which runs you like best. Or, especially at the beginning, take at least a few lessons, to avoid bad habits. Individual ones are a great way to advance, but group lessons (‘cours collectifs’) are also very effective.” Group lessons are cheaper and are a great way of meeting other skiers. You can sign up for as many or as few as you like and lessons can last from 1-3 hours. 

“As for technique, each country has a slightly different approach, but the videos on Youtube can help people understand how a ski works, what techniques you could try and learn. If you want to advance you have to work physically and mentally, you have to prepare and you have to understand the technique. But most people are limited by their physical capacity. Comprehension is good to have and easy, and courage comes with experience. Doing things like mountain biking is a good preparation for skiing. You have to look far ahead to plan trajectory, and the balance on a mountain bike is the same as skiing. It makes the legs work too!” 

“The more often you ski, the better. Several long weekends per season is better than just one fortnight all in one bang. One way of making that possible is joining your local ‘club de ski’, which will organise cut price ski trips.” 

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