Form: Ski Lessons for Women

Say you’re a beginning skier. Or a more seasoned one who wants to brush up on her technique. Or even a skilled hottie who eats, breathes, and sleeps skiing.

No matter where you fall in this spectrum, a ski camp has something to offer you. While such gatherings used to be mostly male affairs, rife with show-off contests and boasts of heroic spills, women’s camps are quietly stealing all that thunder. Women who would never have felt comfortable in the old environment now have their choice of ski camps that cater specifically to them. About half the resorts in the country now offer women’s ski programs.


The Second Sex No More

First, a little history. Women long struggled with skiing because our bodies were not well suited for the techniques and equipment developed and used by men. The difference between the sexes in performance on the slopes was dismissed as women’s “natural” lack of strength, skill, and courage.

When women sought to improve their skiing experience, lessons only furthered the male paradigm. To wit: Struggle into some ill-fitting (male) equipment, listen to the (male) instructor, and watch the (male) classmates burn up the slopes. No wonder many women preferred to sip hot chocolate on the sidelines.

Today we understand that physiological differences between men and women accounted for most of those female “difficulties.” The Q angle (the angle from our hips to our knees), center of mass, length of bones, foot shape and boot fit, weight, and strength are all different in men and women — and all are critical factors that impact ski performance. But until recently, manufacturers considered only men’s measurements when building equipment. That left women to flounder in ill-suited gear, all the while wondering why the simplest of turns wouldn’t turn out as the instructor barked. Today, gear designed specifically for women has brought us to a level playing field.

Attitudes regarding women’s abilities have also evolved, resulting in a more pleasurable learning experience. Today we have our own successful female athletes to serve as teachers and role models. We have equipment built specifically for our bodies. And camps that cater only to women provide a holistic approach to skiing, incorporating support and a spiritual side.


Why Separate Can Be Better

Women-only clinics might sound too precious for some, but trust me, I’m not talking teatime here. There are many benefits to the single-sex environment. Women are typically less self-conscious when men are absent. That means those women are able to focus their energy on improving their technique, without being afraid to try and fail in the process.

That’s especially important because women tend to have a different style of learning. Women generally prefer detailed instruction, support, and encouragement. (With a nod to stereotypes, men, on the other hand, often prefer less instruction and regard to technique — the “let me barrel down the mountain and figure it out” approach to learning. Many men are happy if they’re going fast, style points be damned.) Women tend to relish technique and the finer points of the sport. This makes women eager and attentive students.

When women are surrounded by other women, intimidation is replaced by support and encouragement. In this environment, it is easier to express and confront self-doubt and fear. We help each other build the confidence we need to attack the slopes.

Women are also motivated by other women. When we watch a woman rip a line at high speed, gracefully attacking the hill with perfect technique, we’re inspired. We realize our vast potential as women and cease judging ourselves unrealistically by men’s standards.

It all adds up to a more holistic approach to sports. Our well-developed gift of gab allows us to learn from each other on a variety of levels. Women open themselves up, break down barriers, and strengthen themselves by what they’ve learned.

So if you’re interested in polishing your curves, consider checking out a class or camp designed just for women. Contact the ski resort of your choice. Chances are it will have a schedule of offerings or be able to direct you to a camp in the area.

Form: Skiing as a Woman

This is not about male bashing. There are differences between the way men and women approach a learning situation, especially one that involves some risk, whether real or perceived. We are different and in women’s programs we celebrate those differences and use them to our advantage.


For example, women tend to be supportive of each other when faced with a challenge where men tend to be more competitive with each other. Neither approach is good or bad. Each has its advantages. It’s just different. We use that mutual support to enhance our teaching and to help women approach new challenges. Women have less muscle mass than men, so we find that women use skill more than strength to accomplish their goals. They have to.


Of course, most women tend to approach risk with more caution. We acknowledge this and work with it rather than try to convince women that there is no reason to worry. We build confidence in stages rather than throw ourselves over the edge. These are all generalizations, but I have found over the years that these generalizations have been formed for a reason. That’s why these women’s programs have been so successful. Many resorts have women’s programs now so they have become an accepted part of the business here in the States. They are cropping up in all kinds of sports now. We understand each other and that is why we learn from each other.

Form: Turns

Skiing is a beautiful sport to watch. Smooth, elegant turns comprise much of a skier’s journey down the mountain, making a graceful and quick descent. All skiers, regardless of ability, can benefit from working on their turns. In this feature, we’re going to discuss the most popular and essential turns skiers can make: the Snowplough turn, the parallel turn, and the carve turn. First-time skiers will be most familiar with the Snowplough, which—despite its rudimentary appearance—can be made smooth and graceful with just a bit of confidence. See below for our descriptions and directions.


The Snowplough—The Snowplough, also known as the wedge turn or the pizza slice, is a beginner turning technique. To make this turn, the front ski tips are close together, and the tails are wide apart. The knees roll inwards slightly, creating a triangle. Speed is reduced by applying pressure against the snow with the inside edges of the skis. To turn, weight is shifted from the downhill (outside of the turn) ski to the uphill (inside of the turn) ski. Slight pressure is enough to make the skis change direction, and the stability afforded by the triangle shape creates maximum control.


Parallel Turn—The parallel turn is a method of turning in which the skis roll to one edge, allowing the edge to travel in an arc. This is the most fluid turning method, as it requires very little movement to form a graceful curve. Parallel turns occur when the skier is traveling downhill with both tips pointed in the same direction. Parallel turns generate less friction than others and are perfect for maintaining speed and minimizing effort. This style is often taught to novice skiers as a way to introduce the idea of weighting and unweighting skis, which is useful in a variety of advanced and expert techniques.


Carved Turn—Similar to parallel turns, a carved turn requires slightly more effort on the part of the skier. In this turn, the ski shifts to one side or the other, using the edge to carve into the snow. This turn occurs when both skis are parallel and pointed downhill. The skier places pressure on the uphill ski, rolling slightly onto the edges of both skis. This pressure is the only action necessary to create the turn, as the ski will naturally follow the arc shape to produce a turning motion. This type of turn is very efficient, allowing skiers to maintain speed without sacrificing stability.


Form: Ski Stance

Beginners and experts alike can benefit from analyzing and adjusting their ski stance. Your stance provides the movement and flexibility necessary to perform all skiing-related actions—from turns and tricks to simply starting and stopping. As a result, elements of the skiing stance can be applied to any number of maneuvers, thus improving your overall form.


First and foremost: the ski stance is not a static position. Skiing necessitates movement, so your stance must adapt to the action you are performing. Therefore, the stance is variable, shifting as you change direction, speed, and slope angle. A good stance should be able to absorb bumps through the legs and allow the body to flex, meaning the knees and other joints must be bend. Your stance should also allow your skis to assume the correct position. You should be able to both conserve energy and remain comfortable while in the stance for extended periods of time.


The straight stance occurs when your skis are angled downhill and you are looking ahead, traveling straight down the slope. The skis should be parallel, hip width apart, and your knees should bend to absorb bumps. The body should lean slightly forward, putting most of the weight over the middle of the skis. The arms should be out to your sides, slightly in front and with elbows slightly bent. As the gradient of the slope increases and decreases, you will need to lean forward or backward to retain your center of gravity.


A traversing stance occurs when you are going across the slope. Your body will lean into the mountain to combat gravity. In this position, the uphill leg is bent more to compensate for the angle of the slope. The upper body should twist slightly toward the fall line, or the imaginary line in the steepest direction of the slope. Both knees should bend to absorb bumps.


The leaning stance is very similar to the traversing stance; the same principles apply, but the situation changes. While the traversing stance is used to travel across the mountain, the leaning stance is necessary when making tight, slalom-like turns while heading down the mountain. It combines elements of the straight and traversing stance; the upper body and hips are placed over the middle of the skis, but the body shifts to the left and right. The center of gravity moves away from the force created by turns. The body twists slightly to the side, allowing the skier to retain balance.