By Simon Grove, 2007.

Skiing’s X-Factor

“You must think of skiing as an activity that begins in the snow, reacts through your skis and is understood through the soles of your feet.” Everard and Witherell, 1993, ‘The Athletic Skier.’

Snow touch: the finesse, the lightness of foot, agility and deftness that allow some skiers to revel in any snow conditions and terrain while the rest of us look on in wonder. How can someone ski so effortlessly while others labour? The answer lies in a combination of how the skier has learned, what age they started learning and the time spent on skis training and having fun.

The art of skiing is to stay in balance whilst travelling at speed down a slope despite obstacles and variations in snow conditions and terrain. When we add in emotional factors, such as fear, the challenge to stay balanced is even greater.

Those skiers who have what is termed ‘snow touch’ may have learnt as children. Their mileage on skis will be great and they may have also benefited from some good coaching, but primarily children learn by watching and imitating. Through experimentation they find out what works best for them and they improve. Adults on the other hand tend to intellectualise their learning and so stifle their sense of the body’s movements. Most try to learn by memorizing a series of actions that create a whole movement.

As instructors, we cannot influence when someone first starts to ski or the amount they ski. However we can offer some tools to fast track our student’s path to gaining feel for the snow through their skis and into their feet. We teach movements in order to manipulate the ski for the desired effect and stay in balance whilst doing so. We use visual, aural, and kinesthetic demonstrations and cues to lead our students to their goal. We also need to leave students with a tangible awareness so that they know they are performing a whole movement rather than a series of individual actions.

To this end we need to focus more on the senses rather than the ‘correct way’ of skiing. Focusing the senses can be likened to concentrating the power of the suns energy through a magnifying lens. The awareness of our senses and our innate ability to respond is sharpened through a clear and focused mind. We can then begin to learn through experience rather than intellectual processes. A student that is afraid of falling, or worried about losing their child or concerned that they will look silly will have trouble focusing on what their body’s sensory system is telling them.

Opening the mind of our students can be as simple as asking them to focus on the amount their skis are edged against the snow. For example, give the student a range of numbers between 0 and 5 and relate this to the degree the ski is edged. Allow the student to then experiment with sidesteps or turning to feel the effects of differing edge angles against the snow. It is important to emphasise that there is no right or wrong, rather it is simply of a matter of feeling what you are doing and finding out what works best.

“It is more important to feel where your skis are than know where they should be.” Gallwey and Kriegel, 1977, ‘Inner Skiing.’

To try to remember something means that you do not really know it, but when your awareness is tuned into an experience you learn at a level much deeper than that of your conceptual mind. By telling a child that a fire is hot and will hurt if it gets too close means that the child is being taught fear of fire without experiencing it. Show another child that the fire is hot by allowing them to move closer and experience its heat then this child will know the danger of fire. One child’s mind will be closed and fearful; the other will be open and respectful. Equally, telling someone to stand on their outside ski is as useful as telling a child the fire is hot. Allowing someone to feel balance on their ski by, for example, experimenting with changing edge angle against the snow, is much more experiential. It gives the student confidence to explore their movements and feel the effects of the ski on the snow.

This is a natural learning process of discovery by experience. A skier that is focused on attaining results will have far more difficulty in feeling that which is actually being achieved. This then interferes with the correction process and slows the ability to develop the touch we are searching for. Developing ‘snow touch’ in our students is fundamentally easier with children than with adults because the adult mind has learned to fear, self-criticise and accept judgments from others. We lack trust in our ability to discover for ourselves. For adults, developing through experience and mindful learning will help. This may be the way towards developing ‘snow touch’ but so too will be the adoption of a childlike mind.

“Awareness is experiencing something directly; thinking is conceptualising about what we are experiencing. They are two critically different processes; as thinking increases, awareness decreases.” Gallwey and Kriegel, 1977, ‘Inner Skiing.’


  • The Athletic Skier by Warren Witherall and David Everard, 1993.
  • Inner Skiing by W. Timothy Gallwey and Robert Kriegel, 1977.
  • The Skiers Edge by Ron LeMaster, 1999.
  • Skiing and Teaching Methods, Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance.
  • Children’s Instruction Manual, Professional Ski Instructors of America.
  • Alpine Instructors Manual, New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance.

Simon Grove