Friday, 24 May 2013

Why winter is not the best time to get better at skiing

Glacier training in the sun
If you are serious about getting better at skiing - for its own sake, to pass instructor exams or to do better at competitions of any sort, then doing some training over the summer period is vital. For those readers that only manage a week or two of skiing each year then I am not going to suggest that you spend those in the summer. Winter is undoubtedly the most fun time to go skiing, with the best snow conditions.

I am really speaking here to the people who live in ski resorts all winter, or who take extensive winter holidays. Working and living in a ski area is a fantastic lifestyle, lots of fun and will improve your skiing to an extent just by doing it. But ask yourself how much do you really work on your skiing in a winter? Be honest with yourself. There will be some people who are really dedicated to their skiing but most find it hard to train when there is so much else to do. Cruising around the mountains with friends, fun skiing, mountain lunches, and nights out drinking - it's easy to have a great time on the slopes. Then there is work - daytime work gets in the way of skiing and night-time work makes it hard to get up early and perform. Ski jobs (instructor, ski patrol, ski host, video-cameraman, photographer) keep you on your skis all day but you are rarely going to be pushing yourself. The only people who will make really significant improvements over a winter are those who are super motivated or those in an ongoing training programme several days per week. Perhaps a third exception is those who are beginners, or doing their first few full winters, so that they are getting far more practice time on the skis than they have ever had before.

The other problem in winter is that most resorts are not focussed on developing skiers so much as delivering a fun time to holidaymakers. This is natural as holidaymakers bring in the money but it can be frustrating for those trying to train. The spaces to set gates are limited, the pistes may be crowded and the park will be full. In the other three seasons of the year the ski areas that are open know that they are catering mainly to competitors, instructors and others who are serious about developing their performance. The main business for resorts in this period comes from training camps of various types: race camps, freestyle camps, performance courses or instructor training. Because of this, large parts of the skiable terrain are set aside for race courses and snowparks, and these areas are well maintained. There can often be the added bonus of training alongside national teams from all the Alpine nations which is pretty inspiring.

To relate my personal experience; in 2012 I spent three weeks taking instructor courses in Hintertux April/May after my resort had closed, two weeks race training in Les 2 Alpes in June, a weekend in July, six weeks  autumn race training in Tignes in November/December and a final week of Race training in Alpe D'Huez. After all that I finally passed the Eurotest, but not by much. In those twelve weeks of training, even though some of the days were quite short, I made far bigger improvements to my skiing that I could have done in several seasons of teaching every day.

It is possible to practise alpine ski racing, piste skiing, bumps and nordic skiing on glaciers in spring, summer and autumn in Europe. Off-piste skiing is harder to work on in summer, although the spring is the best time to do many descents and I have done some great ski touring in August in France such as my ascent of Mont Blanc in this post.

The other side of summer training is dryland training - gym and fitness sessions - which are essential if you want to achieve your winter potential. More on that in the next post

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