Big Picture Skiing
Big Picture Skiers work on mastering the whole mountain.
Start here to find out what you need to know first, where to begin and what to focus on to achieve success.
There are three common turn types:
and mogul turns.
Each common turn type requires a different blend of skills and timing.
Once you master these, you will be able to ski challenging terrain with a seemless mix of turn types.
Long Turns - What to work on
Understanding the outside ski
Athletic Stance drills
Early edging drills
Balance against the outside ski drills
Progressive inclination drills to manage turn forces
Upper body discipline drills
Different types of transitions: Retraction/Extension
Short Turns - What to work on
The physics of steering skis
Athletic stance drills
Turning with the lower body
Upper body discipline drills
Fore and aft balance and moving the feet
Finishing with a strong edge set/platform
Mogul Turns - What to work on
Pivot slips in moguls to control speed
Collision control through absorption
High line and speed control through absorption
Flow and going faster
How might a day of practice look?
Choose one turn type and a fundamental of that turn type to work on.
You choose to work on athletic stance in your long turns.
Hit the slopes and perform each drill for 3-5 runs.
To finish, you take several free skiing runs whilst actively replicating the feelings you get from both drills - In this case, you should feel far more solid and on your edges.
Repeat as necessary until the new skills are imprinted in your muscle memory.
Turn performances describe the interaction between the ski and the snow.
Some things to feel:
Is the ski skidding sideways?
Is the tail washing out?
Is the ski slicing the snow like a knife?
Is it a blend? E.g. Steered into carved
You need to understand the different performances to help you choose when is the best time to use them.
Your goal is to FEEL these turn types through your feet and develop this skill like a musician develops their ear for music.
A fascinating experiment performed by John Shedden - former Director of Coaching for Snowsport England -found the following:
John Hypothesised that Beginner skiers, compared to advanced skiers, were overwhelmed with information from all senses. Kinaesthetic, audio and visual.
Advanced skiers learn to filter this information and look for specific sensations, sights and sounds. To prove this he partially anaesthetised the skin of beginners and advanced skiers feet and lower limbs. He found that it made little difference to the beginners skiing, but that advanced skiers struggled as they lost their feedback loop.
Another interesting experiment studied binding mount location. World Cup ski racers and a provincial level ski racers were tested to assess how differing binding mounts would affect their balance.
The data captured - using pressure sensors under the feet of both skiers -showed the elite skiers foot pressure were almost exactly the same regardless of where the binding was placed. The less skilled skier had much bigger variation in their balance depending on where the binding was positioned.
So the better you get the more you feel and adjust to ensure the ski performance is working for you.
In a nutshell…..develop the skill of “feeling” turn performance.
What: The ski is sliding sideways on the snow with little control by the skier. (It’s important to differentiate skidding and steering as both really are the same. The main difference is steering is controlled, skidding is not.)
Often there are several causes of skidding:
The skiers balance is not centred. Usually too far forward OR inside.
The skier lacks enough edge angle to oppose the turn forces
The edges are not sharp, especially in icy conditions.
There is a boot alignment issue
When solving skidding issues go through this list:
The track left in the snow is very washed out often over 30cm wide through much of the turn. You can look at your tracks to find out. Skidding feels unstable to the skier. All sorts of issues show up like:
Upper body rotation
Arms in funny places
Leaning on the inside ski
A frame between the legs
Skier looks stiff
Your skis travel more sideways and not in the direction the tips are pointed
Think about how you look and feel when you unsuspectedly slip on a surface. You tense up and try everything to stay on your feet.
This turn performance creates a lot of friction which will slow the skier down. This can be good for control but stops flow and conservation of energy.
The most common and versatile turn type.
What: Deliberate controlled skidding and rotation of the ski to change direction. Edging must be blended with the rotation in order to redirect the skiers momentum.
How: The skier adjusts their weight to achieve this by applying subtle forward pressure on the skis. Or by being unweighted so the skis are not firmly in the snow. They can then guide the skis direction by rotating their feet to help regulate how much the ski brushes out on the snow.
The track left in the snow from the outside ski is between 10-30cm wide. This is produced via the tail taking a wider path than the tip through the turn.
Steered turns feel fairly stable as the skier is predicting/wanting the skis to partially skid - their balance is tuned and moving with the steering motion. This would be similar to running and sliding on the tennis court. The slide is deliberate and you stay balanced on the sliding foot. The friction created by the steering helps control some speed.
In order to steer your skis well you need to be fully aware of the sensations coming through your feet. Our feet are incredible at sensing but you must first focus on the feelings in order to develop the skill of body awareness. Start paying attention to your ski tracks, the pressure through the soles of your feet and how much the skis skid or not and you will become a connoisseur of steering performance. Watch the videos below to learn how.
Allows you to make a shorter radius turn than carving
Gives control over turn size
Gives control over speed through friction
Versatility for all mountain skiing.
The most exilerating turn performance.
What: Clean lines left in the snow by the skis tail following the ski tips path.
How: The skier stands with their weight centred through their feet and can feel the skis create a solid platform to balance against as the body moves into the turn.
This turn has little friction, is fast and feels solid because the base of support is not moving sideways/skidding. The skier is redirected via the ski sidecut which allows the ski to bend into a curve. The ski bends more and more as the ski is tipped further on its side. Therefore more edge angle equals a tighter turn. If you want to turn tighter, you need to be able to tip the skis over further.
There is a misconception that more edge angle equals more grip. This is not exactly true. The ski will grip if the edge is sharp and you balance your weight in the centre of the ski. The reason you work on building bigger edge angles is to make the skis turn and deflect you from side to side. Pure carving is exhilarating because of the forces acting on your body and feelings of pressure from a turn.
You are able to get more out of each run as you are not going straight down but carrying speed across the slope extending how much time you have fun for on each run!
Feels amazing and fun!
Gives control at higher speeds
Creates a solid platform for the skier
Dynamic and faster type of skiing
Turn Performances Visual
See what skidding, steering and pure carving looks like.
Training yourself to feel steering performance.
Videos that will help your turn performance:
Steering to pure carving using the crab walk drill
Exercise to help you go from steering into pure carving to control speed
Carving and understanding torque for steering webinar
Lesson on the theory behind carving and steering
One of the most important fundamental skills to work on for your skiing.
What is the Big Picture Athletic Stance?
The Big Picture Skiing Athletic Stance is your “home” position from which you have access to move your joints and range of motion. It creates slight muscular tension you can feel in through your torso, ankle and knees. A correct athletic stance enables you to work with - not against - the forces in skiing. It is a dynamic and balanced position that helps you create all types of turns and ski in all snow conditions.
The athletic stance preloads the muscles around your joints so you can be more reactive and dynamic.
Loading the arches of the feet, not just the balls of the feet, helps the ankles, knees and hips act more like springs as well as keeping the whole ski engaged tip to tail. It is not the most energy efficient position - standing bolt upright is; but upright stance doesn’t preload the muscles and makes it harder to access movement at your joints.
A correct stance is “athletic” so you will use a little more energy, but you will save energy in the long run as you’ll be more preemptive - rather than reactive (constantly making recoveries) - to terrain and conditions.
The stance can vary
The athletic stance will change slightly depending on snow type and some turns:
POWDER: More upright at the hips in powder due to more resistance from snow and to save energy.
MOGULS: More upright chest, hips forward for mogul skiing, to help with absorption and extension.
From the home position you have room to extend and lengthen your legs.
E.g. in a long turn the outside leg will be fairly straight to better stack the Skeleton against the forces. At the same time the inside leg will be more flexed to allow your body to incline further.
The athletic stance is a position you want to always coming back to:
For example you lose your balance hitting some funky snow -> find your athletic stance.
You come out of a turn backseat -> find your athletic stance.
You are learning something new and it is not working -> find your athletic stance and then try again.
Your goal is to spend enough time feeling what the athletic stance is like so it is your first reflexive response when you lose balance.
What’s the difference between stances?
When you compare the common stance idea below to the Big Picture stance several elements are different.
The feet have even pressure balls of feet and heels vs most of the weight always on the balls of the feet.
Your ankle has less range of motion inside a plastic ski boot. Athletic stance when moving up and down keeps the shin more within the range and angles of the ski boot.
The shin contact is light on the boot cuff vs leaning the skiers body weight against the boot cuff.
There is more flexion at the hips to help bring the ribcage forward and also pretension the posterior chain muscles. The hamstrings, glutes and back muscles.
The hips are slightly behind the feet because the skier is not getting forward at the ankles excessively but is projecting the ribcage forward. Opposed to hips over the feet causing even more ankle flexion and boot crushing.
The skier is flexed roughly a third of the way through their “squat range of motion” vs upright in their upper body and flex coming mostly from ankles.
The elbows are flexed and to the side of the skier vs reaching out in front or just hanging with no tension.
The shin angle roughly intersects the skiers head vs shin angle shoots way in front of the head.
The mogul stance is more upright in general and keeps you balanced slightly forward compared to the carving athletic stance. The reason is this posture facilitates easier absorption which becomes more critical as you ski bigger moguls and go faster.
Great skiers have great balance. Your goal is to improve your balance by developing your body awareness whilst practicing drills/exercises that enhance balance.
Fore and aft balance
Fore and aft balance describes movements made by the skier forwards or backwards. Skiers need to adjust fore and aft balance for several reasons.:
To help enable easier steering of a ski balance is shifted forward to engage the tips of the skis at the start of the turn.
To stop a ski skidding or “washing out” at the end of a turn a skier needs to shift their balance backward to engage the tails.
To stay balanced on increasingly steeper - or flatter - slopes the skier must lean their body forward or backward to match to march the relative angle of the slope.
To compensate for powder snow a skier needs to move slightly aft to help balance out the resistance powder snow creates (Depending on how dry the powder is)
In bumpy terrain there are a lot of fore and aft micro adjustments needed to make the skis connect with the snow.
Many skiers do not spend enough time training their range of fore/aft movement, as well as using it to manipulate the performance of their skis. You should aim to learn about how you can be more in control by watching the videos in the Fore and Aft Category
Lateral balance describes how the skier balances on their edges from during a turn. Balancing on a flat ski is not difficult but balancing on your edges is. The aim is to balance under load against the outside ski, whilst also maintaining control of your inside ski:
Outside ski balance is the most important aspect of lateral balance. Feeling balanced on the outside ski edge means your body will be directed and moved by how this ski engages with the snow. If you are not balanced on the outside ski during a turn, then the ski will lack performance.
Inside ski balance is also a very important skill to master. Inside ski balance is a skill that shows the skier can edge and control the inside skis interaction with the snow, with relatively far less pressure than the outside ski. Inside ski balance is a skill that will help you create higher edge angles, save you in moments where you lose control, and make you a more versatile skier in all conditions like powder and off piste snow.
In order to develop your lateral balance you need to have sound control of pronation and supination of the feet. Spend time challenging your ability to ski on just the outside ski or mostly on it. Spend time challenging your ability to ski only on the inside ski or mostly on it. There are great drills like the stork turn, javelin turn, outside ski drill, one-ski skiing, white pass turns and inside ski turns to guide you with this.
Lateral sliding balance
When you are steering a ski or deliberately making it slide sideways you need a different sense of balance. This abIlity to balance on a skidding/steering ski is one you want to master. It is similar to the balance needed by park skiers when they ride rails and boxes. There will be moments when you will need to drift and slide sideways - like in the moguls or even the steeps - to help control your speed and line. If you can manage to stay balanced on your outside ski as you do this then creating more grip and deflection after sliding will be much smoother and precise.
Good exercises for lateral sliding balance
Pivot slips in bumps
Examples of situations to use this skill:
When you encounter a big mogul with a long drop off. You can travel laterally on a sliding ski to keep speed under control.
When an off piste run gets narrow.
In the trees to help keep
momentum flowing but at a more manageable speed.
The terrain park sliding boxes and rails.
Drifting the top of a pure carved turn on steeper terrain.
The Virtual Bump
Once you understand how making turns on a slope changes your relative slope angle, you will understand why you need to be so dynamic with your balance. Watch the video to find out more.
Turning on a curve, in any sport, requires that you realign your centre of mass to balance against not only gravity but also turning forces like centripetal force.
Picture this. You are driving in your car at 50mph and you approach a sharp turn in the road. As you steer your front wheels around the corner and your tyres grip you feel the sensation of being thrown to the outside of the corner. Instinctively you lean your body towards the inside of the curve to help keep you in your seat. You don’t need to know about this force but you feel it and react to it. What you have done here is balance your centre of mass more closely to the new forces that come from moving around a curve.
When we ski we must also make this adjustment to stay in balance. We must have our mass towards the inside of the curve. How far in we adjust our mass depends on two factors plus one major important element. Grip. The two factors that give you more turning forces you balance inward against.
The faster we go. The faster we go the bigger the force that will try and push us out of turning on a curve.
The shorter the radius or sharper the curve. Just like a sharp corner in a car helps us play corners with our brothers and sisters in the back of the car.
One very important point here. You need grip! The above turning forces you feel in a car are only possible if the tyres grip. If the tyres slip we do not go around the corner. When we ski we do not have the same type of grip as a car we must tilt our skis and make the edges bite the snow in order to have grip to push us around the curve. Many skiers problems come from the fact that they do not have grip against the snow. They lean and turn and see other skiers doing the same but it is not in response to turning forces. So you must remember that in order to feel forces that push you around a curve you need grip.
The key point here is to realise that there must be an alignment of your centre of mass to the inside of a curve in order to balance out turning forces. And in order to feel turning forces act upon you there must be grip from the skis on the snow.
Getting better at prediction
Our brains are wired to predict things. In general we don’t like things we cant predict. The tricky thing in skiing is taking the time to practice learning how to predict what certain speeds and certain turn shapes will produce in terms if turning forces. When an elite skier makes a turn they can already get a very accurate sense of how much they need to incline/lean their mass inside or extend their feet away to help put their mass in balance with the upcoming forces. Let’s say that again. The upcoming forces. That’s the prediction part that comes with time and practice and whats scary is that to ski well you must commit your self inside the curve ahead of the forces in order to be balanced against them when they arrive.
When learning to walk we are learning to predict that we can catch ourself. At first this doesn’t happen but with practice we can predict that we can take a risk and it pays of with us moving forward. In skiing don’t be afraid to take the same approach of learning to walk. Except the balance and falling sensation is more to the side than it is forwards. Don’t worry about having too much weight on the inside ski. Be aware of it when it happens but realise you moved in too much for the forces to hold you up. Use that information to let yourself know either:
You didn’t have enough grip from tip to tail on the ski. Maybe too far forward on your feet.
You weren’t going fast enough. Perhaps you skied onto a flatter section and didn’t take that into account.
You didn’t keep tightening the ski radius. You were static in the lateral plane of movement.
Once you can predict what caused the issue you can fix it! And be proactive before the turn takes place. Be a child again and experiment with your balance laterally to help you refine and predict how to align against the turning forces.
Being Brave like Sam and Accurate Like Jim
Lets use two examples where skiers could use the forces better.
Meet Sam. Sam is stuck at the intermediate plateau. He skis at the same medium level speed everywhere. As soon as he gets going a little faster he reacts by skidding the skis creating friction that brings the speed back to his predictable level. The level where he is used to a certain ammount of pressure on his skis and body. The problem here is Sam is not willing to feel for greater forces being created. Perhaps he thinks good skiing is about keeping the pressure smooth and constant the whole time. If Sam went faster and took the risk of being spat out of a turn or rebounded he would learn that it is fun and a good outcome. An outcome that he just needs to work recovering from and being better at predicting how much he needs to move his mass inside the arc of the turn to better resist the forces. Overall Sam would benefit from trying to feel a lot more pressure coming through his ski turns by going faster and not trying to dissipate the forces.
Meet Jim. Jim skis fast everywhere. But his turn shape is very straight and direct down the hill. He can’t make a turn without first picking up a lot of speed. He doesn’t like slow drills as he cant balance well. What would help Jim is to learn to feel how working on shortening the radius of the turn would help him feel forces that help his balance in a turn. he should be aiming to try and feel acceleration around a curve not just acceleration down the hill. He would find he gets more enjoyment from every run as he keeps his speed up but is converting it to across the hill or around the curve speed. He would also find he can build bigger forces if he combines the speed with shortening the radius of his turns. And that he can enjoy the feeling of really leaning into a turn and brushing his knuckles on the snow.
Remember you get greater turn forces to incline and balance against with a shorter radius or with higher speeds. And as always we must have the ski gripping the snow.
Some reccomended videos to get you started.