Ease on Skis: Method

Ease on Skis applies principles of the Alexander Technique to learning how to ski. Its aim is to build confidence and ease into every action of skiing, progressing step by step through:

  • ~carrying and putting on ski equipment~
  • ~trying out movements in warmth and safety indoors~
  • ~exploring ski movements on level snow~
  • ~using gravity instead of fighting it when skiing downhill~

Unlike conventional ski instruction, which focuses mainly on what to do with your legs and feet, Ease on Skis focuses mainly on how you balance on skis in response to moving downhill. Security is found in the dynamic stability of the back as it follows the head and senses, not in fixed leg positions such as snowplow. Pressure and focus lighten up off your legs, and this helps them move more freely.  Panic and stiffness gradually subside, and you learn instead how to stay calm and mobile on your way down mountain slopes.  Any skier from novice to expert can use this process to find more grace and ease and control. This dynamic ease that is learned often carries over into everyday life.

Security Before Challenge

Learning requires balance. Between the extremes of fear and boredom, there is a sweet spot where a students feel supported and willing to explore. The Ease on Skis method makes sure students feel secure first, and then moves them step by step toward greater challenge. Each core skiing movement is introduced indoors first, then outdoors on flat snow, and finally outdoors on a slope. The goal is for students to be familiar with movements they will need before they actually ski downhill. This lets them attend more fully to their reactions to sliding downhill. Working with these reactions is a key to improving their skiing skill.

9 Core Movements

Ease on Skis uses new vocabulary to describe the movements needed to ski. Each new word describes a core movement, a movement that is not done one body part at a time but rather by the entire person doing it, often by shifting one’s center of gravity. Here are the words, listed in a sequence they can be taught in:

1.   Toppling means falling forward, often head first.
2.   Stepping means shifting weight from one foot to the other.
3.   Unwinding means releasing a twist through the torso.
4.   Banking means leaning to the inside of a curve.
5.   Carving means counter-leaning to the outside of a curve to gain traction.
6.   Rising means standing or jumping up from a semi-squat.
7.   Dropping means folding into a semi-squat.
8.   Reaching engages our hands to pull us forward toward our goals.
9.   Breathing paces our life, and can pace and invigorate how we ski.
10. Smiling widens us and can liberate our movement.

What is the Alexander Technique?

F.M. formal portrait

              Frederick Matthias Alexander

The Alexander Technique teaches how to move with more coordination and ease. It does so by helping you experience choice in how you respond to circumstances, generally by guiding you manually toward more freedom in action. Alexander invented his own language to describe his method.

Here are some of his concepts and how they can apply to skiing:

  • Use:    This term refers to how a person handles themselves in response to what they encounter.  Most skiers stiffen or pull their heads back in response to sliding downhill.  Skiing with good use involves staying flexible and curious enough about where you are going not to do this.
  • Direction:   Activity moves us in various directions, and waste of effort often involves trying to move in conflicting directions at the same time.  Most skiers are both trying to go downhill and fighting against that.  Clear direction in skiing requires deciding which way to go and sticking with that decision.
  • Inhibition:  In order to learn new patterns of movement, you have to stop rehearsing your old patterns.  Alexander called this ability to stop “inhibition”.  You can always be improve your movement by inhibiting unnecessary effort. Most skiers exhaust themselves doing things that gravity will take care of anyway if they just settle down and let it.
  • End-gaining:   This term means striving for results without heeding the process of getting there. Skiers often strive at all costs to stay upright. This stiffens them and makes them more prone to fall, not less.  Real stability on skis is a dynamic process of letting yourself lean or fall just the right amount,  first this way, then that, like a pendulum. The process yields the desired result.

Skiing Principles:

  • Allow your head to balance freely on your spine.
  • Don’t pull on your neck; let yourself breathe.
  • Let your head and senses lead the way.
  • Open your focus wide.
  • Let your center of gravity keep falling ahead of your feet as you ski.
  • Leave room for your elbows to move.
  • Reach your hands ahead of your feet, just as you would in crawling.
  • Let your pelvis hang quietly and be independent of your legs.
  • Let your hip joints flex before your back does.
  • Don’t brace your knees; let them release to fold and unfold.
  • Allow your heels to rest on your skis.
  • Let your feet soften and spread.
  • Let gravity do the main work of skiing while you just steer.
  • Breathe. Take your time. Use your space.

Tips on Learning How to Ski:

  • Take it easy at the beginning of a ski day.
  • Enjoy what you already know.
  • Always give yourself time to stop and think.
  • Don’t concentrate.
  • Lighten up.  Look around.
  • Face what frightens you and move toward it.
  • Don’t hurry.  Don’t hesitate.
  • Play with gravity instead of fighting it.
  • Love the shape of the land.
  • Let your skis and poles connect you to the snow.
  • Don’t hold your breath.  Don’t frown.  Don’t squint.
  • Take it easy at the end of a ski day.

Ski Safety

What makes alpine skiing safe (besides good safety equipment) is the skier’s ability to respond to sliding downhill, often unpredictably, without going rigid.  This ability is the core skill taught by the Ease on Skis method.  Its mastery reduces the chances of accidents while teaching tools for recovery from accidents that have already happened.  Skiers are taught how to use gravity rather than fight it, how to fall safely and get up easily, and how to accept and handle their natural fears.  The staff of Ease on Skis cannot guarantee that students will learn what is taught or that accidents won’t happen, but they can offer one of the safest ways to learn. Ease on Skis programs teach and abide by an extended version of the safety rules of the International Skiing Federation.

helping a student get back up on his skis

Ski Safety Rules & Guidelines

The International Ski Federation’s Rules of Conduct:

  1. Respect
    1. Do not endanger others.
  2. Control
    1. Adapt the speed and technique of your skiing to your ability, and to the terrain, weather, snow conditions, and traffic density.
  3. Choice of route
    1. The skiers in front of you take priority. Choose a route that leaves space for them.
  4. Passing
    1. When passing a slower skier, leave them room enough to make any move.
  5. Entering and starting
    1. Look up and down the mountain each time before starting or entering a marked run.
  6. Stopping
    1. Only stop where you can easily be seen. If you fall where the trail is narrow or where you are out of view, move clear of it as quickly as possible.
  7. Climbing or descending on foot
    1. When climbing up or down, always keep to the edge of the slope.
  8. Signs
    1. Obey all signs and posted markings. They are there for your safety.
  9. Assistance
    1. In case of accidents, provide help and alert the rescue service.
  10. Identification
    1. All those present at an accident must offer personal identification and contact information.

Further Safety Reminders:

Skiing off marked trails:
Areas outside of marked trails are not patrolled or groomed. Do not enter them alone or without a guide who knows the terrain.

Avalanches:
Obey all avalanche warnings. Avalanches can be deadly. Most avalanche accidents are started by a person entering an unstable snow field. Do not go near such fields without at least carrying a rescue beacon, and if you have to cross suspect slopes, do so one person at a time.

Snow grooming machines:
Steer clear of all snow grooming machines.  They can’t move out of your way.

Safety on lifts:
Learn how to use ski lifts safely.  Always practice these safety skills when using lifts.

Preventing runaway equipment:
Make sure your skis have working ski brakes to prevent them from sliding away out of control by themselves.  A loose ski can be very
dangerous.

Litter:
Dispose of all trash properly.

Respecting nature:
Do not ski where you will disturb young trees or wildlife.

Alcohol and drugs:
Do not ski while intoxicated.

What to do at an accident site:

  1. Protect the accident site
    with crossed skis (or a snowboard) planted in the snow far enough above the injured person for oncoming skiers to see in time.
  2. Tend to the injured person:
    1. Check the injured person’s breathing and pulse.
    2. Cover any wound and apply pressure to slow bleeding.
    3. Provide warmth.
    4. Do not give food or drink.
  3. Alert the rescue service.
  4. Establish the facts of the accident.
    Gather names and contact information from witnesses and those involved.  Report to police.
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