Sideslipping is one of downhill skiing's fundamental skills, whether you downhill on alpine or telemark gear. Not only does it get you out of trouble on hard terrain, it teaches you fundamental edge control and stance skills. Surprisingly, though, I often come across even intermediate skiers who haven't truly learned this skill.
I always think of sideslipping as a fundamental skill that every skier should have in their toolkit, but I've been surprised to find people show up for intermediate and even advanced lessons who either can't sideslip or can't do it well. When I worked ski patrol for a season, I was surprised that even some solid skiers had a lot of trouble controlling a loaded sled in a sideslip.
Sideslipping is when a skier goes downhill, but the skis are pointed across the hill. Of course, normally, the point of skiing is to travel in the same direction that the skis are pointing! But there are some very good reasons to master this skill:
- Great exercise for refining edge control and weight distribution. We'll get back to this with some stuff to try below.
- Get out of trouble. This is why I think everyone should master a sideslip. When you find yourself on a trail that's too steep and narrow for you, being able to comfortably sideslip will let you get yourself down to terrain where you're comfortable, but without having to turn and point straight downhill for that brief moment in the middle of the turn.
Getting Started with Sideslipping
The basics of a sideslip are as simple as can be:
- Find yourself a reasonably steep and well-groomed slope, but in your comfort zone.
- Come to a stop with your skis across the hill, so you can stay in one spot without your poles.
- Release your edges and start sliding downhill.
The latter part deserves a bit more comment. One of the great values of sideslipping is that it allows you to experiment how to release the edges and beginners in particular have trouble getting their skis flat on the snow and starting to slide. There are a few keys
- Stand tall. See what happens to your skis? When you stand taller, some of the bend comes out of the knee and your ski tends to lie flatter with respect to the slope.
- Now, keep a nice upright stances and bring both your hips and shoulds just a little bit downhill. This is hard move for some beginners because they want to hug the hill, but it's key, because it reduces the edge grip and lets your skis start to slide sideways. The key thing is not to stick out just the shoulders or just the hips in some contorted attempt to get a piece of yourself downhill, but keeping the center of gravity uphill. Actually, you want to move your body less radically, but more or less all together.
- Relax your ankles. You don't really have much lateral flexibility in the ankles with modern boots, but it's a good way to think about relaxing the edge grip.
Playing with the Slide
Once you start to slide, you can experiment with "catch and release" slipping. Start sliding, then stop hard. Start sliding, then stop hard. Commonly, beginners will have trouble keeping themselves going in a straight line and either the tips or the tails of the skis drop and they get out of control and are forced to turn.
- Problem: your tips drop or you're going more forward than sideways. This basically means that your weight is to far forward. You need to take some weight off your toes and shift back toward your heels.
- Problem: your tails drop or you're going more backward than sideways. This means your weight is a bit too far back. Put a little extra pressure on your shins. This is the far more common problem of the two because it is more common for people to be too far back than it is for them to be too far forward.
Once you've figured out how to sideslip in a straight line, experiment with making the tips drop just a little, and then bringing the skis back straight across the slope. Then do the same with the tails. Take an S path down the hill, but always staying in a sideslip. Experiment with going faster and slower, towards the tails and towards the tips.
A Key Building Block
Of course, most of the time, your goal is not to go sliding sideways down the hill, so why bother? Besides the ability to get yourself out of trouble, all of this play with the sideslip will let you build some basic skills that are essential for strong skiing in general.
- Weight distribution. Playing with the back and forth will let you find out what a true neutral stance is. Is it somewhat more forward than you thought? Getting this dialed is huge for your skiing.
- Edge control. The "catch and release" drills and learning how to slide faster and stop quicker will also work wonders for your turns. The ability to release the edges during the transition phase from one turn into another is also key for developing a strong, smooth turn.
So take some time and get back to the basics. A few minutes each day spent sideslipping can be hugely helpful in getting your skiing dialed in.