Paul Hammett

Paul Hammett

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SHOULD I TAKE A SKI LESSON IN BAD WEATHER?

Hell yeah! Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? But there’s real good reasons I think you should learn to ski well in bad weather, and it’s not just because I think you should book more Summit lessons.

Prepare yourself before you head up the mountain.

Sometimes, it’s cold, wet and windy: Yes, we can get serious weather here in Zermatt. Temperatures below -25c and winds upwards of 100mph are not that unusual on the upper slopes here. We don’t get much rain but that snow falling on our ski wear doesn’t always stay frozen. The thin layer of snow we sit on as we take a chairlift will soon be a puddle. Getting cold could mean heading to the nearest restaurant to wait for the feeling to come back into our fingers and toes. Worse, getting wet probably means the end of your skiing day.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” is a slightly arrogant and largely true statement. As well as wearing (good) enough clothing, you should consider accessorising with extra warming items like (Summit) neckwarmers, glove liners, battery heated socks / boots to keep you warm and keep you skiing.

Why does it always seem harder to ski in bad weather?

The main reason is the visibility. If it’s snowing heavily or you’re in the midst of thick cloud, you can’t see far. Even if you can see some distance, the dreaded ‘flat light’ under heavy cloud cover makes it hard to make out definition in the terrain and can leave us unsure what’s up or down! To avoid the nauseating feelings associated with ‘skiing blind’ there are a few tricks and tips.

First of all, get the goggles that are right for you. We wear goggles in all conditions now. The lens that blocks out bright sunlight won’t help at all in low light. Experiment with different coloured lenses to see which works for you. I don’t know why but there’s no single lens colour that works for everyone. Orange, yellow, blue, pink, clear are all favourites with one or other of our instructors. It seems our eyes all react differently and you need to find what works best for you.

Secondly, head for the trees. The extra contrast and slight shadows that trees cast improve visibility and give reference points for your brain to interpret and make you feel normal again.

Thirdly, follow someone. Staying in someone’s tracks with your eyes on their turns will give you both a reference point in the terrain as well as some prewarning of terrain changes (when the person you’re following drops into a hole or bends double to absorb a bump). A ski instructor (who will be able to deal with terrain changes blind) is a great person to follow on days like this. But that’s not the only reason to book a lesson in bad weather.

Choose your terrain wisely.

Choosing the best terrain is really important in bad weather. You want to find easier, quieter, tree lined slopes. An instructor will make the best decisions for you so you can think about how (not where) you’re skiing. And if the weather really does push you off the slopes, your instructor will know where to grab the best coffee. When we teach skiing, we will always look at an individual, assess their technique, decide what area might most need improving and then try to decide how best to make changes in that area. That initial assessment is actually much easier to do if the skier’s weaker areas are highlighted. Bad weather will do that to you, so our ability to focus in on the areas that need the most work is even greater in bad weather.

Then there's your technique.

Where we stand on our skis is absolutely vital to how we turn. I’m talking fore and aft here. Ideally, we want our centre of mass to be directly above our feet (not leaning forwards or, god forbid, backwards). We all have a natural defensive reaction when we can’t see completely clearly and this can manifest itself in moving our centre of mass back on our skis. This will stop the skis working as they’re meant to, make each turn less smooth and limit speed control, which can make you even more defensive. This becomes a downward spiral of confidence and ability!

An instructor will see what you’re doing and where you’re going wrong. They can give you drills and exercises to help keep centred as well as tips and tricks to boost confidence. That downward spiral can quickly reverse and you’ll actually find yourself working with, rather than fighting against, the slopes. Combating the downward spiral during bad weather and learning the skills to keep yourself centred on your skis will give you confidence to ski whatever the weather. But it’s even better than that, the same skills will also give you the ability to stay positive (and centred) when you come under pressure in other situations like skiing on busy runs, over icy slopes, in steeper terrain or at higher speeds.

So, yes, you should take a lessons in bad weather!

How about that? Taking a lesson in bad weather will actually help you ski faster and on harder runs when the sun comes out! So, the next time the forecast looks bad, don’t resign yourself to a day by the pool or propping up a bar, put on your Summit neckwarmer, book a lesson and enjoy the slopes while everyone hides away in town.

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