Any viewers of the 2022 Winter Olympics probably watched a few ski events like slalom, super slalom, or super giant slalom. The athletes in these events are running into poles and going up to 50 mph, which may make you wonder how to ski slalom gates.
To ski slalom gates you must have skis that can be tipped on their edge to create a carved turn. You need to put pressure on your outside ski and counter turn your torso through the turn, allowing for faster turns around the gates. Master these skills and you’ll be carving up slalom courses.
Below we’ll talk about how to practice these skills for slalom skiing, as well as some drills and troubleshooting common issues skiers encounter when trying to learn to slalom. We will also look at slalom for beginners and the gear you’ll need to master slalom skiing.
Table of Contents
What Is Slalom Skiing?
Slalom skiing, at its most basic, is just skiing around a series of poles, also known as gates. The difference between slalom, super slalom, and super giant slalom (or super g), is a matter of how far apart the gates are set. They are closest together in slalom and furthest apart in super g events.
Is Slalom Skiing Difficult For Beginners?
Slalom skiing is not necessarily difficult for beginners. If a skier can turn, they can slalom ski. Of course, no beginner is going 50 mph and carving around gates, but with the right technique and a few helpful tips, anyone can feel the rush of racing down a slalom course.
What Gear Do You Need For Slalom Skiing?
The gear you’ll need for slalom skiing includes shin and wrist guards, face guard, and an aerodynamic ski suit. This is if you’re looking to compete in slalom. Having the correct skis for slalom is paramount as the “carving” required to complete fast turns needs special skis designed for this.
Carving is best achieved on a ski with a deeper sidecut. This means the skis are thinner in the middle and wider at the tip and tail. More side cut equals a shorter turning radius, a desired trait for slalom skiers. Obviously, the right skis are important, but most important is knowing how to use them correctly.
9 Slalom Skiing Tips
1. Use A Carved Turn
This is as basic as it gets, but crucial for slalom skiing. Skis can be turned with leg rotation or with edging. Slalom skiing uses edged or carved turns. In a carved turn, the ski edges grip the snow which creates more speed than a skidded turn. To carve, tip the skis with ankle and knee movements. The skis are designed to turn when they’re on edge, the higher the edge angle, the faster the turn.
2. Direct Pressure To The Outside Ski
A carved turn is foremost in slalom but directing pressure to the outside ski is a close second. The outside ski is the one furthest from the center of the turn, the center of the body. Having more weight or pressure on the outside ski is more efficientand allows for better control, and edge grip.
Imagine hopping laterally from foot to foot. You instinctually jump outside foot to outside foot. Try landing on your inside foot, it’s awkward and unnatural. Same thing in skiing, as you move from one turn to the next, the weight needs to shift to the outside ski.
3. Counter Rotate
Maybe the most difficult part of slalom skiing is keeping the upper body facing downhill, even while the legs turn across the hill. This is called counter rotation. When the upper body is twisted opposite the legs, it creates torque. This torque then creates greater rotational force, also known as faster turns, as the legs try to line back up with the rest of the body.
4. Ski As Straight As Possible
The biggest goal when slalom skiing is to ski in as straight a line as possible. This is why the pros hit the gates with their poles or shins, also known as blocking. Only the skis and boots have to go around the gates, the rest of the body can go through them. However, a missed gate results in disqualification, so make sure to get around every one.
5. Make Shallower Turns
Big, c-shape turns that involve more time out of the fall line are slower. S-shaped turns are faster, especially towards the end of the course when the gates are straighter or have less severe turns between them. The shallower your turns, the fast you’ll be.
6. Be Explosive At The Start
Poles should be downhill of the starting wand. Don’t hit the wand (which starts the timer) until your momentum is already going downhill. You’ll notice the professionals angle their body so they have as much downhill momentum as possible before they hit the start wand.
7. Skate At The Start And End
You want to generate as much speed as fast as you can before the first turn. You can skate up to the first gate and in the run out of the course to speed up which can make a big impact on your whole run.
Make yourself more aerodynamic by pressing your chest towards your knees throughout the course. Your tuck shouldn’t hinder your ability to use carved turns as your legs should still be in their strong flexed position for carving.
9. Arrive Early
A lot of resorts set up a racecourse for the general public to practice on and enjoy. Some even record finish times and keep a just-for-fun leaderboard. If it’s your first time on a course, shoot to get there just as it opens. A freshly groomed course is a lot easier than an icy, skied out course. Remember on recreational courses, we’re probably not hitting the gates butget as close as possible.
Slalom Skiing Drills For Beginners
Drill For Carved Turns
Using a carved turn sounds easy but takes practice. These drills focus on getting you up on those edges early in the turn. A green run with a sustained low angle is a good place to try these drills. Remember to always check uphill before starting a traverse.
Starting perpendicular to downhill, also known as the fall line, get the skis up on edge by rolling your knees and ankles up the hill. After you’ve tipped the skis in place a few times, point yourself about fifteen degrees into the fall line. Once moving, gently tip the skis up on edge. Hold the edges as you traverse until the skis turn you back uphill to a stop.
The cool thing about the railroad tracks drill is you get immediate feedback from your tracks. You should leave two distinct grooves with your edges. Hence the name of the drill.
There are many variations of the railroad tracks drill. You can face more into the fall line until you’re starting straight downhill, each time gathering more speed before you begin to tip the skis. Garlands involve tipping and flattening the skis as you traverse, feeling the skis grip when they’re on edge and slide when they’re flat.
If you’re comfortable traversing, find a flat run and tip back and forth, letting the skis turn both directions. This leaves curvy railroad tracks. Slowly work your way up to steeper runs and higher speeds, edging to create the turning force. You’re well on your way to carving through a slalom course.
Troubleshooting Railroad Tracks
You Don’t See Any Railroad Tracks Behind You
This means you’re not up on your edges, the skis are flat. Get more edge angle by really rolling your ankles and knees uphill. Think about trying to show someone the bottom of your skis, and then hold, digging the edges in. Tipping is hard without a good athletic stance, so make sure your knees and ankles are flexed.
You Only See One Railroad Track
This is probably because only one ski is tipping. It’s helpful to think about your toes. You want to stand on the big toe of your downhill ski and the pinky toe of your uphill ski. If the correct toes aren’t down in the snow, your edges aren’t either. It can be scary to stand on your pinky toe but once the edge is engaged it will be a solid support.
You Immediately Fall
You start traversing, go to tip the skis and fall down. You might be trying to get the skis on edge by tipping your whole body. Remember to tip the skis using your feet and legs, while your upper body counterbalances. In other words, don’t incline the whole body to tip the skis or you will fall over.
Outside Ski Pressure Drills
You should aim to have at least 80% of your weight on the outside ski. At first it will take constant thought and adjustment, but practice makes perfect. Same as with the carving drills, start slow and add speed and pitch as you get more comfortable.
Inside Ski Taps
Making wide turns, pick up the inside ski and tap it on the snow. Three taps per side for a whole run will help get your body used to standing on the outside ski.
Outside Ski Turns
When inside ski taps feel easy, try picking up and holding the inside ski off the snow for more of the turn. Eventually you should be able to ski on only the outside ski, picking up the new inside foot at the start of each turn.
Troubleshooting Outside Ski Pressure
You Lose Balance
Keep your hands out in front of you and your core muscles tight to help balance yourself. Same as normal skiing, the upper body should move as little as possible. You can also drag your uphill pole to help stabilize you. Or keep the tip of the lifted ski on the snow for another point of contact. Make sure to lift the inside leg by flexing your knee and hip together.
You simply Cannot Lift the Inside Leg
This is a clear indication that you have almost all your weight on the inside ski. Start by deliberately lifting one leg and then the other while stationary. Then try shifting from leg to leg in a straight line before adding turning forces. If that feels okay, find very mellow terrain and move into inside ski taps, lifting the inside leg as high as you can within each turn.
Counter Rotation Drills
At first, this will feel quite strange, even a little robotic as you turn your upper body opposite your legs. Our feet almost always point the direction we’re going, but not in slalom skiing.
Look Downhill At A Specific Object
Before starting downhill on your favorite groomed run, look for a specific object somewhere at the bottom of the fall line. It could be a lift pylon, the lodge, a ski rack, any stationary object. As you head down the run, focus on keeping the zipper of your jacket pointed at the object.This will give you a good visual for where you should be pointing your chest.
Use Poles To Create A Window
With your poles up about 6 inches apart, hold them in front of your face like a viewfinder. Ski down the same groomed run and keep the same stationary object within your “pole window” the whole way down. This works the same way to help keep your upper body pointed in the direction of travel, as your legs turn side to side.
Troubleshooting Counter Rotation
You Start Going Too Fast and Feel Out of Control
If this is happening to you, the good news is, the counter rotation is working to create faster turns. The bad news is you can’t quite control it yet. Even though your upper body is facing down the hill, your legs and skis should still be crossing the fall line to help control your speed.
Make sure you’re completing each turn, by really tipping the skis to bring them across the hill. Or try these drills with skidded turns first. This will help control the speed. Double check that your shins are pressing into the fronts of your boots. If your stance is too far back the skis will be harder to control. Start on a flatter run and work your way up to steeper ones.
Slalom Course Drill
Pre-ride, Re-ride, Freeride
This mantra originated for terrain parks, but also applies to a slalom course. First you pre-ride a course by skiing alongside the gates and testing the starting block and the run out. Then do a re-ride. Run the course as you would but not at 100%. You’re still testing the conditions and seeing how the gates flow. The freerideis when you go for it, skiing the course to the best of your abilities.
Troubleshooting Slalom Course
Your skis chatter
Ski chatter is the result of the downhill edge rapidly gripping and un-gripping the snow. You may be sitting back, pressuring the tails of the skis. This causes the tips to disengage from the snow leaving them to bounce around. You want your weight to be forward and to be directing pressure to the outside ski. Both adjustments can help with chatter.
Sometimes at higher speeds ski chatter is inevitable. If you’re getting really serious about high precision slalom skiing, you may want a stiffer ski. Beginner skis are usually more flexible, and the forces associated with advanced skiing can cause chatter. A stiffer ski will perform better at higher speeds.
You Miss or Almost Miss Gates
If it feels like you’re barely making it around each gate without blowing up, you need to work on timing your turns. Half the turn should happen above the gate and half the turn below the gate. You should pass the gate right in the fall line. If you turn too late, you’ll be fighting to get over to the next gate.
Your Legs Hurt After One Run
If your quads are burning after one lap on the slalom course, your center of mass is too far back or aft. “Sitting in the back seat” feels like doing wall sits while you ski. To bring your center of mass forward you want to flex your ankles and press your shins into the fronts of your boots at all times. This will take pressure off your quads and your knees will thank you.
Anyone can learn to ski slalom. You need skis that can be tipped to create carved turns. You’ll need to direct pressure to your outside ski while counter rotating with your upper body. Once comfortable in these skills you can head to the slalom course and start making and beating personal records.