Intermediate Ski Tips: 13 Common Mistakes & How To Fix Them
Learning the basics of skiing is a big accomplishment. Once you start skiing intermediate terrain, it’s tempting to prioritize fun over learning. But you can pick up bad habits at any stage of skiing, and once those habits sink in, they’re really hard to get rid of. As a ski instructor, I’ve seen it all, and been guilty of many of the mistakes below.
My intermediate ski tips and recommended exercises will help you avoid those common mistakes and build on what you’ve already learned.
1. Not Practicing Weight Transfers
When turning, you have two skis. One is the outside or downhill ski. This is the ski that’s closer to the bottom of the run when you’re FINISHING your turn. The other ski is the inside or uphill ski. If you turn to the right, your outside ski is your left ski. If you turn left, the outside ski is the right ski.
Between turns, your feet are pressing down on the snow at about the same rate. When you start your turn, shift your weight to the outside or downhill ski. The downhill ski is your anchor. This is one of the most important intermediate skiing techniques.
Weight Transfer Exercise
First, try a simple turn. Then, on the next turn, try lifting up your inside leg briefly. You’ll find that all your weight can stand on the outside ski without you falling over.
If you do this and feel out of balance, try putting more pressure on the outside/downhill ski. The added pressure stabilizes your downhill ski. With that stability, you can now lift the inside leg completely.
The key point here is that the downhill ski is the all-important one for turning. By moving most of your weight to the downhill ski, you’ll be able to create smoother turns.
2. Not Correcting Your Stance
The golden rule is never to have a ski stance wider than your shoulders.
Because beginners learn the wedge formation to stop, new intermediate skiers often sport a wide stance. It makes sense because to make a wedge, you need to push your feet outward.
When skiers begin to ski parallel, they still hold onto that wide stance. A wide stance will tire your legs out faster.
Once you put skis on, before moving, look at your feet and see how wide your stance is. Make it a habit to check periodically and move your skis a bit closer together each time. If you do this often, you'll develop the muscle memory necessary to make the right stance second nature.
This is not an instant process. In general, dry land sports benefit from wider, stable body positions. Think of the ready position for tennis players, a lineman in football, or a soccer goalie defending a penalty shot. None of their legs are close together like skiing demands. Legs close together makes us feel like even a small gust of wind can push us over.
Our preset notions of stability gets completely thrown off by skiing. You’re actually MORE stable when your skis are a bit closer together. Practice reducing your stance often.
3. Forgetting To Complete Your Turns
Wide stance or not, at the intermediate stage, you’ll be using parallel turns to manage speed. A complete turn is when skis go from pointing downhill to pointing across the slope or even slightly uphill. A complete turn helps you control speed.
When skiers get excited, they want to connect turns quickly. Add fear into the mix and that impulse causes shallower turns. A shallow turn means a skier starts to turn, but before their skis point across the slope, they point them back downhill. If you don't complete the turn, you could speed up too fast and get out of control.
You can always pick up more speed later, but completing turns does two critical things. First, it proves you don’t need a wedge to slow down. Secondly, it provides a smoother and less muscle-intensive way to control speed.
4. Not Practicing Hockey Stops And Side Slipping
Before getting into hockey stops, you need to be able to use your turns to manage speed. So, first, practice completing your turns.
Once you do that, practice it again, focusing on stopping faster each time. You'll notice a few things if you're starting to play with weight transfers.
- You stop faster when your body is at an angle closer to the ground
- You stop faster when you scrape your ski edges against the snow
- The more pressure you push down on your outside/downhill ski, the faster you stop
As you turn, lean into the mountain. You can see that the metal edges of your skis begin to scrape against the snow. The scraping is what helps you stop faster. A true hockey stop is when you turn to a complete stop within 3 seconds.
The hockey stop requires your skis to tilt. If that’s hard to visualize, try this exercise.
Hockey Stop Exercise
On a slope, position your ski across the slope.
If you’re using the flat bottoms of your skis, you’ll start to slide downhill sideways. Instead, push your hip and knees toward the mountain (i.e., the uphill direction). This will tilt your skis until you are on your edges.
When you’re on your edges, you’re locked in place. Despite their tiny width, your edges are very stable and supportive. Once you're locked in, take your hands and gently start pushing your knees in the opposite direction, down the hill.
It may come as a bit of a shock, but once you do, the flats of your ski bottoms will start sliding down the hill sideways. That’s sideslipping. You stop by tilting back onto your edges. See if you can lock your edges in, sideslip for 3 seconds, and tilt back to stop.
This movement is a distilled version of the hockey stop. You’ll ski on your flats, and then tilt and scrape those edges quickly into a full stop.
Notice in the image above that the green bottom of my skis aren’t even touching the ground. It’s all about scraping those edges and applying more pressure to the downhill ski.
5. Steering With Your Inside Leg
Inside-leg steering mistakes are common because many skiers don't realize they're doing it.
It occurs when you are about to enter a turn, and you rotate your inside leg first. Frozen in a picture, it looks like you’ve created an open V (the opposite of a wedge) between your skis.
Skiers do this for a few reasons.
You have a dominant and non-dominant leg. When the non-dominant leg is your downhill ski, it feels awkward transferring weight to it. By turning your inside leg, you're compensating for what you think is your weaker leg. Another reason is that it spreads your stance out, and a wider stance feels more stable.
Unfortunately, without most of the weight on the downhill ski, you’ll actually be more unstable. You might notice your downhill leg shaking because it doesn’t have enough pressure to become your stable anchor. You may also notice that you lean backward because your body is uncomfortable with your skis pointing in two different directions.
The issue is that skiing works best when both skis point in the same direction and move at the same time. Inside leg steering means you move one ski first and then the other, which creates an unbalanced situation.
If you do this, don’t worry; even advanced skiers are guilty of it from time to time. You can correct it by skiing in a narrower stance, sliding your inside ski closer to your downhill ski, or trying one-ski turns.
It’s subtle, but the arrows in the picture above help showcase an instance of inside leg steering. Ideally, the uphill ski should be pointing in the same direction as the downhill ski.
6. Forgetting About Pole Plants
The intermediate phase is when proper pole technique comes into play.
Poles are great for correcting bad form but can also add to it. The best strategy, at first, is to simply hold them in front of you. They weigh a little, so if you’re not paying attention, your poles will start dragging. This, in turn, pulls your body back, which increases the strain on your quads. Keep your poles up and in front of you.
Poles are mainly used for rhythm. Pole planting is when you lightly touch your ski pole to the ground in front and slightly to the outside of your downhill ski. Why? As a visual reminder to your brain that the next turn is coming.
Please understand that a pole touch does not mean a pole stab. If you aggressively stab the ground, you could bend your pole and throw off your body position. The movement is pretty subtle.
Pole Touch Exercise
Try this exercise on flat ground with poles. Hold your arms in front of you with a slight bend in your elbows and knees. Then, reach forward, flick your wrist, and gently touch a pole to the ground. Repeat this exercise with both poles to reinforce appropriate pole plant action.
When skiing, make sure the pole touch isn’t directly in front of you because you’ll run right over your pole, and it’ll hit you between the legs.
Once you have the movements down, here’s how you can practice smooth pole plants.
- Get a little speed with both poles in front of your body
- Bend your knees in preparation for the next turn
- Extend your arm and reach for a spot in the snow to the outside of your downhill ski
- Lightly touch the ground by flicking your wrist and tapping the pole tip to the snow
- Turn your skis around the spot in the snow where you touched your pole
- Repeat for the other pole before your next turn
Notice in the picture above that both of my hands are in front of my body. This stops the poles from dragging me out of the correct body position.
7. Neglecting Ski Rhythm
One of the last challenges in the beginner skiing phase is connecting turns. Your turn shape and when you turn establishes rhythm. A skier who skis with rhythm is predictable. A predictable skier can manage their speed, and others can safely pass them on busy terrain.
If you don’t practice rhythm, it’s much harder for people to anticipate where you're going. This can lead to more accidents.
Skiing Rhythm Exercise
Pick a number between 3 and 5. Count to the number you’ve picked between each turn. Staying in that simple pattern establishes consistency and helps you keep a rhythm. Once you get that down, try mixing it up to create a pattern. 3 seconds, turn, 5 seconds, turn, 4 seconds, turn, etc.
It’s best not to pick a number higher than 5. That will create a turn so wide it may take up the width of the run and block people behind you.
8. Turning With Your Shoulders
Your upper and lower body are two separate things in skiing and they need to be doing separate things. You do not need to use your shoulders or upper body to make your legs turn.
We think that by throwing our shoulders in one direction or another, we can convince our legs to follow suit. This only works up to a certain point. However, throwing out a back or twisting a shoulder are real concerns if you rely on this.
Body Separation Exercise
Pick a stationary object down a ski run, something large like a trail sign. Then, keep your eyes and upper body facing it while you turn. At first, this will be tough. A lot of beginner-intermediate skiers feel compelled to look at their skis. Just remember, your skis are connected to your legs. I promise you they’ll move, even if you're not eyeballing them.
A skier that’s looking at their skis isn't looking at potential hazards around them. By the same token, a skier using their shoulders to force their legs to turn won’t be as maneuverable and risks wrenching something in their upper body.
Turning your legs while your upper body and shoulders face one direction is called upper/lower body separation. It is one of the bridges connecting intermediate-level skiing to advanced skiing.
9. Being Afraid Of Skiing In Snowy Weather
One of my favorite skiing moments was a question I received as a ski instructor, “Does ski school get canceled when it snows?” The answer is no, but the question is telling. Don't only aspire to be a fair-weather skier. If you commit to skiing, try skiing in different conditions.
Different weather helps you expand your ski knowledge and skill. Different weather also requires different equipment. For example, the best ski goggles for sunny days utilize dark lenses, while gray or snowy days benefit from lighter-colored lenses.
Snowy ski resort days can be a lot of fun if you dress appropriately and bring the right gear. Plus, they’ll allow you to slowly get used to the idea of skiing powder.
10. Renting Equipment Too Long
Renting equipment is helpful, but start considering buying equipment once you're comfortable on intermediate slopes. You can always rent. Sometimes that’s the most cost-efficient method, but it’s limited. Rental shops aren’t going to have the best pairs of skis or boots.
A great way to try and branch out from rentals is to ask about demos. Demoing skis is a process where you rent new skis for a day or two to test out how you like them. If you demo a few skis, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of skis you want. Typically, for intermediate skiers, you’ll want all-mountain skis.
When you do buy equipment, you’ll notice a few immediate benefits. First, you get to skip the rental line, which gives you a longer day of skiing. And secondly, you’re not at the mercy of whatever the rental shop has in stock.
11. Not Understanding Your Ski Boots
The right ski boots can make a huge difference in your performance and attitude.
You’ll notice that your ski boots are made of two pieces, a plastic shell, and a softer liner. The liners can be removed, which helps when you want to dry them. See our ski boot dryer article for advice on how to do that.
You’ll also notice that ski boots come with buckles. Your buckles may be too tight if your feet feel dramatically colder than the rest of your body. If your foot slides around in your boots, they may be too loose. Play with different configurations to find the best fit.
Temperature also has a say in boot fit. Don’t leave ski boots in the cold. The cold hardens the plastic and makes it much harder to shove your feet into. Also, when you take your boots off, buckle them back up. This small step helps the boots keep their shape. Over time, plastic can bend. If you never take care of your boots, they’ll bend in strange and painful ways.
Modern ski boots come with a lot of add-ons as well, like plastic foot ramps. Slipping that into your boot will force you to adjust your body position, which can be a great reminder to lean forward. Some options also come with a “walk mode.” Once activated, the walk mode makes it a lot more comfortable to stroll around base areas or ski villages.
Use our ski boot chart to get a rough idea of your boot size. Then, figure out if you need narrow ski boots or wide ski boots. Finally, with your size and width calculated, figure out what ski boot flex works for you. For intermediate skiers, anything between about 90-110 flex is a good range.
Last but not least, make sure your socks and layers aren’t bunching in your boots. It’ll go a long way toward preventing future pain.
12. Avoiding Variable Terrain
In the beginner phase, resort-groomed gentle slopes are the way to go. When you advance to intermediate, it’s time to open up the possibilities. Don’t shy away from trying something new.
Variable terrain allows you to experience different conditions. Each winter conditions change, sometimes daily, and it helps to understand what that feels like. A better-prepared skier is less likely to injure themselves.
Challenge yourself to dabble in ungroomed or off-piste terrain. Then, if it's available, try skiing through small clumps of trees with clearly marked ski tracks you can follow. Take that same mindset and practice skiing moguls bordered by gentler terrain. The key here is to be willing to experiment.
In the picture above, you can see several different slope angles, trees, open areas, and even a line of semi-hidden rocks in the center. Skiing variable terrain helps improve your skiing skill and obstacle awareness.
13. Avoiding Ski School
If you read my other article on the 15 common mistakes to avoid for beginner skiers, this point will look familiar. Even when skiers do consider ski lessons, they think they only need a few. The truth is; ski lessons can help at any stage of your skiing career.
Generally, once skiers are comfortable skiing on green, groomed terrain, they often hit a plateau. The next set of skills, like everything detailed above, are much easier to master with the helping hand of a ski instructor. Instructors can show you how to cruise through the intermediate skiing phase through demonstration and repetition.
Getting an intermediate ski lesson is a great way to continue developing. Things like inside-leg steering and wide stances are much easier to correct with the help of a ski instructor.
The biggest mistakes I see at this stage of skiing fall into three broad categories. First is forgetting to perfect your skiing form, whether it's a hockey stop, weight transfer, or body position. Second is neglecting to expand the types of terrain and weather that you ski in. And third is continuing to rent equipment when you should start to look at buying gear.
The intermediate skiing phase is a big one, and a lot of things happen here that can greatly expand or hamper your skiing ability. Armed with my intermediate skiing tips, you’ll be well on your way to crushing every run on the mountain.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.