You know the feeling. You’ve been looking forward to your ski holiday all year, you get to the resort, the snow’s perfect, the sky is blue. And then you just can’t do it. In your head and your heart you’re carving perfect tracks on piste, or skimming through powder, but in reality your legs are exhausted by 2pm and you’re falling over six times a day. Or simply shying away from more challenging runs because you’re afraid you’ll fall over. After all that anticipation, what a downer.
You could have lessons of course – and naturally they’ll help – but there is another way. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, these insider tips are the savvy skier or snowboarder’s way to give skills a boost and enjoy every minute of slope time, without booking a week with an instructor. Though we do confess that some of them may just have been recommended by the instructors themselves.
1. Choose the right resort
If you’re most at home cruising along on blue pistes, don’t pick a famously tough resort known for its black runs. St Anton, Verbierand Chamonix may have great reputations among the off-piste ski-eratti, but swanning around Courchevel’s beautifully groomed slopes will make you look SO much better.
2. Identify your core
Those underworked muscles in the stomach area are not only useful for keeping a lunchtime lake of cheese fondue under control. Work on activating them as you ski or snowboard and they’ll help prevent undignified flopping forward at the waist in moguls or at that awful moment when snow texture changes from light fluff to solid glue.
3. Get into the compression zone
Baselayers and socks with targeted compression zones increase blood flow around the body, transporting oxygen to where it’s most needed – the muscles that are working hard to make the perfect turns you know you could do, if only your legs weren’t so dang tired. Pioneered by the brand Skins, there’s now lots of choice in various guises, from a mild squeeze for gentle support to an intense grip that should really up your game. Bonus – they also protect muscles from injury and help them recover from exercise more quickly.
4. Eat right
We know what you want. Fresh croissants and jam for breakfast, big cheesy lunch, hot chocolate with lashings of cream and maybe a dash of schnapps in the afternoon. And cake at afternoon tea. But for the sake of having more energy to jump turn for longer, porridge for breakfast folks. The slow-burning carbs will keep energy levels higher for longer than a sugar rush. The good news is that chocolate milk is now widely considered a recovery drink. But (sorry) if all you’ve done is slide in a straight line down an easy green run to to the nearest mountain restaurant, you don’t need to recover.
5. Drink right
It’s all about tactics. If you don’t want to be cowering under a duvet with the hangover from hell when the ultimate ski morning dawns – freshly fallen overnight snow glitteringly set off by blue sky and sunshine – play smart. Start après ski as soon as the slopes close (anyone intent on looking like a pro is banned from starting earlier) and end it at a reasonable hour. Have a stomach-lining dinner, drink plenty of water and go to bed no more than mildly squiffy. You know it makes sense. Now, where’s the Jäger?
6. Choose the right kit
Marching into a ski shop and demanding the most expensive of everything is not (thankfully) the way to become more skilled on the slopes. Choosing comfortable boots, and skis or snowboard that match your level, are. It does however mean you can no longer blame your tools. What’s more, trading up to extra wide and long powder-orientated kit on a powder day will go a long way to making you feel – and look – like a god. Especially in the lift queue.
7. Stay low
The standard advice for making sure there’s snow on your pistes is holiday in a high-altitude resort. But there is a downside. No matter how solid your skills, if you’ve just arrived at a ski resort perched at a lofty 2,925m like Breckenridge in Colorado, you’re likely to have to stop halfway down your first run (which started about 900m higher) puffing like an amateur, because there’s less oxygen up in them there hills. Do yourself a favour and try a lower altitude resort. Insider tip – lesser-known resorts whose slopes get less traffic than big ones may hold their snow well even though they’re lower.
8. Get some new knees
Lost your mojo thanks to years of asking your knees to bounce down lumpy snow fields? Happily, you can buy it back for a mere £450. Ski-Mojo is a robo-like shock-absorbing contraption that attaches to the back of ski boots and straps to the legs. It basically helps users do more while working muscles less. Result better skiing (it works with some snowboard boots too), improved fitness and less muscle pain too. Wear under baggy ski pants so no one can tell you’re cheating. Hesitating? Well it’s good enough for four-time British Winter Olympian Chemmy Alcott, Ski-Mojo’s latest UK ambassador.
9. Plan ahead
Visualisation is a buzz word among professional athletes, but don’t let that put you off – it’s just as useful for the average holidaymaker. Instead of shying away from a challenging run, look down it, take a few deep breaths and imagine your perfect descent. Then just do it.
10. And relax
Tensing up with fear as you approach a tricky section will not make getting down it any easier. Fool your body into feeling confident and help turns flow in an outwardly carefree manner by sing a happy tune. “Row, row, row your boat” works better than head-banging techno in our view. NB Avoid the temptation to use alcohol as a relaxant. This tends to backfire after the fifth shot.
13. Pimp your boots
Uncomfortable boots lead to technical slip ups. Replacing the insoles with specialist footbeds designed to mould to the feet, support them and help keep the body in optimum alignment is not only helpful for easing foot pain but also for getting the best out of skis or board. Customised comprehensive footbed fitting, including full biomechanical assessment, costs £170 with fitting experts Profeet. For entry-level customisation, off the peg trim-to-fit ski/snowboard footbeds, such as Superfeet Orange for men and Berry for women, cost less.
14. Look sharp
Of course looking the part helps you perform well, that’s a given. But wearing jacket, pants and baselayers that are designed for getting active in cold and possibly wet conditions, and with features like zipped vents to open when it’s warmer, and that allow freedom for skiing movements, is more important in the long run. Where sharpness is a real help however, is on your feet. Get those skis and boards tuned and ice will hold no fears. Almost none.