We asked Cardrona ski instructor & resident beautiful skiing guru Russ Kauff how on earth ski instructors make skiing look so effortless… this is what he had to say.
Sliding effortlessly through high alpine meadows, looking fabulously stylish as they make their way to snow-covered chalets for aprés, our snow sports role models from a bygone era of black-and-white films made our sports look so good! Even with the number of days I spend skiing each year, I just can’t imagine Spencer Tracy or Audrey Hepburn straining as they pry open the plastic shells of their boots or fiddle with numerous clunky layers on a cold, wet day. They made it all look just so effortless.
Still, even in our modern resorts, the romantic image survives & we can connect the joys of our sliding around Cardrona to that distant, golden age (insert emotive music here). After all, even among snow sports professionals, describing someone as a “beautiful” skier or rider is the highest possible praise.
What do we mean by looking good when we’re skiing?
When we instructors greet our guests – whether it’s for the first time or the fiftieth – we ask about their goals for that lesson, that day, the season, or in general. A very common response when we ask, is that our guests just want to look good on their skis. Sometimes, what they really mean is that they don’t want to look awkward or clumsy; but mostly they really do just want to look good, & want to feel good doing it.
In our coaches’ minds, thinking ahead to the learning we’ll do together, we have to translate the idea of good-looking skiing & riding into something specific about how we’re moving. My friend & colleague Steve Trout puts it best: if we ask our guests to describe what they mean by a beautiful or an elegant skier or rider, they typically zero in on efficiency. ‘Elegant’ skiing & riding means not working too hard, not expending too much energy or moving more than necessary, while still being in control all over the mountain. ‘Graceful’ skiing & riding means fluid, strong & balanced, but somehow not muscular or mechanical in appearance.
Start with your balance
Achieving elegance on skis & snowboards need not be a difficult task, & it doesn’t require changing who we are as people. There is no mystical pill to swallow; nor do we need a week-long rigorous boot-camp of static old-fashioned drills to achieve our ambitions. Like everything, looking good on the mountain is grounded in sound fundamentals.
Balancing on skis is a classic example of a simple idea that can be made unnecessarily complex! Though there are subtle differences between how we balance on skis & how we balance on a pitch or in a gym, there are common techniques that mean we can understand skiing from what we already know in other sports. Stand well in your boots, use them as a tool & not like a plaster cast, & you’ll be positioned well enough to steer your skis with your feet & legs confidently.
Trust your equipment
Skis, boards & boots are beautiful devices, often hand-made in old-world factories by highly skilled craftspeople, & they respond to every subtle movement when we use them well. We know a great turn when we feel it through our skis or snowboard – our job as an instructor is to help our guests feel & understand how to use their equipment to do what they’re designed to do. It’s when you feel sensations of elegance on a simple run moving at a relaxed pace, & keep feeling them on more difficult runs, when skiing & snowboarding feel truly beautiful.
Don’t stop learning!
To be perfectly blunt, complacency is the enemy of looking good on the mountain. The resistance of intermediate & advanced skiers & riders towards taking lessons is a vexing problem for those of us who teach skiing & riding. Learning can actually be fun, & it’s one of my deeply held beliefs that being in learning mode changes how we think about our skiing & riding for the better.
We’re in the business of making our guests look & feel good on their skis & boards, we’re very good at it, & it’s one heck of a lot of fun for all of us. Finish up your day on the slopes with a glass of local pinot noir as the sun sets over the alpine lakes of Otago, & life really will imitate art in the best way possible.
I’ll never be as debonair Spencer Tracy, but & at the end of a great ski day, with the healthy glow of a day well-spent among friends in the mountains, I do know how he felt.
July 21, 2018