From intermediate cruiser to gnarly expert, how to become a better skier

Cat Weakley
From apps, to gadgets to courses, here's everything you need to help you unlock your skiing potential - BASS

Ahh the end of another great day on the slopes. Sliding from restaurant to restaurant admiring mountains outlined against an azure blue sky, swooping gracefully down runs at the top of your game. Skiing is bliss isn’t it? 

But what about the time you had to walk awkwardly back uphill carrying skis because a red run turns out to have scary bumps on it. Or took a spa day because it was snowing and a fluffy soft snow makes you fall over. 

Let’s be honest, many British skiers who say they’re “advanced” are only really advanced on a perfectly groomed blue or red piste. Otherwise we are sailing comfortably along in the good ship “intermediate plateau” having given up lessons long ago, because “they’re boring and I can get down anything now”. But perhaps we have a niggling feeling we could have more fun if we skied better – and wouldn’t it be good to be able to keep up with the kids? 

Well here’s the news, it’s never too late. Whatever the aim, where there’s a will, there’s a way – wanting to improve, stopping with the excuses, is the first step to improvement.

I firmly believe that one of the best things about skiing, or snowboarding for that matter, is that you can never feel you’ve really cracked it. There is always something to aspire to, whether it’s carving perfect tracks in corduroy snow, looking back up at the evidence of 100 turns marked in powder snow, or landing a jump. Or just not falling over every time you do a red run. 

I was a late starter, 23. But after I’d done four weeks of skiing, one week a year, I loved it so much I took time out of my job and signed up to do a ski season, cooking in a chalet in Courchevel. In between flambéeing bananas, making beds and over-enjoying the après, I skied. Instruction was rare, but just getting out there and doing it every day made a massive difference. Not everyone has that option of course, but everyone can resolve to improve. My friend Karen and I had just one ambition at first, to ski down what was then, to us, the intimidatingly steep top of Saulire, Courchevel’s signature red run, without falling over. It took weeks of trying, bumps and bruises. But when we managed it, no doubt still without style, what a feeling!

Ski lessons aren't just for beginners Credit: warren smith ski academy

Since then, well over 20 years on (crikey!), I’ve learnt plenty from numerous instructors, experienced joyous revelation, backtracks and tears, but on the way gathered nuggets of advice that have taken me up a notch and influenced my skiing ever since. 

Sometimes the names have gone, but that doesn’t make them less important. There was Adam, who told me to keep my hands where I could see them; an instructor from The Development Centre in Val d’Isère who told me to activate my core when skiing bumps, to avoid flopping forward; Phil Smith of Snoworks who said stop worrying about style and focus on getting feet in the right place; my friend Rob who told me you don’t have to bob up and down on new style skis, just tip them over and carve; Warren Smith of the eponymous Academy who improved my short turns – and belief in myself – enough that I linked 20 jump turns down an off-piste couloir in Verbier.

Enthusiasm and sense of fun, and being able to recognise what pupils are capable of, making us believe we can do more, is so important. Since doing a course with Extremely Canadian in Whistler, at the top of a worrying run I can still hear the voice of my instructor Nigel ringing in my ears. “You can do it,” he’d say while instilling in me the concept of flowing turns off piste and convincing me I could take on (small) jumps. And I’d never have done one more full off-piste descent of the Gemsstock in Andermatt at 4pm without mountain guide Dan Loutrel egging me on.

Maybe one of the important progression tips wasn’t even about technique, but to take time to consider a route down before setting off – and that came from a snowboard instructor, Neil McNab in Chamonix. “Ride the mountain like it wants to be ridden,” he said. And now I always think about the line, not just top to bottom as fast as I can, but following contours, taking in soft snow on the side of a piste, going around trees. After all, it takes a while to get back up again, you might as well take the long, fun way down. Enjoying every moment, that’s what progression should be about.

These days, certainly, my nephews and nieces think I’m a pretty good skier, even an expert, but I’m glad to say, there’s always room for improvement, and always better skiers to admire, ski with and aspire to. Here is a round up of courses from a whole range of schools and teachers, quite a few of whom have inspired me personally. Small classes, personalised instruction, patience and passion mark them out, all you need add is the motivation to board a different ship.

The top courses to help you improve

Best for cracking the whole mountain

Snoworks All-Terrain 

Tignes, France

The boundless and infectious enthusiasm of Snoworks founder Phil Smith influences the style of the company’s courses – one of instructors’ key aims is to make sure skiers enjoy the mountains as much as they do. The plan on the five-day All-Terrain course is to show participants they have the skills to ski the whole mountain in all kinds of snow, on piste and off, by giving personal feedback and setting personalised goals. Suitable for blue and red runs skiers and above, courses include strategies for steeps, ice, bumps, fresh snow and even the dreaded bad visibility. 

Need to know

All-Terrain courses with Snoworks cost £385, including three hours of instruction a day and video analysis. There is also the option for full days of instruction by combining with another course such as off piste.

Best for focusing on piste carving

Skivolution Technical 1

Kaprun, Austria

Aimed at skiers who can make parallel turns on blue runs and are moving to steeper reds, Skivolution’s five-day Technical 1 course is squarely aimed at cracking carving. Top British instructors use reassuring drills and exercises on easy slopes first, to make sure participants can keep speed under control as the going gets steeper. They also give turn timing a boost, and by the end of the week there should be no doubt about what those metal ski edges are for. Taking place on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kapun, courses run through November and December.

Need to know

Skivolution’s Technical 1 courses cost from £879, with dates from November 9 to December 7. Price includes five full days of instruction, video analysis and seven nights’ half-board accommodation. Course only £420.

Best for the time poor

Inspired to Ski Three-day Performance

Morzine, France

Founded by the suitably inspiring Sally Chapman, a YMCA-qualified exercise teacher as well as top qualified ski instructor, Inspired to ski runs three-day performance courses for those who can’t manage its week-long options. There are groups for different levels, and the aim is to keep instruction clear and simple, while giving plenty of encouragement and support for pushing limits. Unusually, there’s the option of women-only groups, also split into suitable levels. Inspired to Ski also has innovative courses for particularly nervous skiers and those returning from injury.

Need to know

A three-day performance course or women’s performance course with Inspired to Ski costs £290, starting 12 or 15 January, and 5 or 7 March, and includes 2.5 days of tuition and optional video feedback. 

Best for mixing snow business and pleasure

New Generation Ski or Snowboard Clinic

Various European resorts

Let’s face it, some of us just can’t face the idea of a full week of lessons, and really want a HOLIDAY. So rather than five intense days, New Generation’s advanced ski and snowboard clinics are five hours of coaching split over a Tuesday and Thursday, focusing on spotting imperfections then giving tips and exercises to put them right. So there’s time to get ski or snowboard legs on arriving in resort, time to put Tuesday’s tips into practice before returning for more, and free time fun at the end of the week. With three levels of course for skiers and two for snowboarders, now what’s the excuse?

Need to know

A two-day Ski or Snowboard Clinic with New Generation costs £150, with 2.5 hours of coaching each day. They’re on offer in 13 French resorts, Verbier in Switzerland and Lech and St Anton in Austria. In St Anton the course is eight hours over the two days, costing £190.

Best for an all-inclusive holiday

Le Ski Première Neige Clinics

Val d’Isère, France

Chalet holiday specialist Le Ski runs its annual early-season clinics with former ski racer and long-standing Val d’Isère instructor Pat Zimmer, and they are hosted by renowned ski journalist and Telegraph contributor Peter Hardy. Zimmer believes in stripping skills back to basics on the all-day courses, to improve skills whether moving up the piste gradings or starting to go off piste. Clinics are available as either a week-long trip or a shorter mini-tuition break, with groups divided according to skill level, from confident blue runners upwards. Instruction is complemented by nights in Le Ski’s catered chalets, all with en-suite baths and access to outdoor hot tubs for soaking away the rigors of learning. 

Need to know

Le Ski’s Premiere Neige Clinic runs November 30 to December 7 and costs from £1,299; the three-day mini-break start at £759 and run December 7 to 10. Price includes tuition, video analysis, lift pass, half-board chalet accommodation, flights and transfers.

Best for finding hidden powers

BASS Performance Breakthrough Clinic

Morzine, France

“More power for less effort” is one of the key improvements promised on a five-day BASS Performance Breakthrough Clinic. Led by British Alpine Ski School (BASS) director and founder Hugh Monney in Morzine, Level 1 is suitable for reasonable skiers who can ski safely on black runs, but may struggle to tackle them with panache. Subtle technique tweaks are the name of the game, to stretch the boundaries to tougher pistes, off piste or ski touring. There is just one scheduled Level 1 course a year, but one alternative, particularly for skiers who aren’t quite happy on blacks, is a three-day Developing Course with BASS Morzine. Perfecting Parallel includes tactics for moving from red to black runs and making first forays off piste.

Need to know 

This season’s Level 1 BASS Performance Breakthrough Clinic takes place March 16 to 20 and costs €870; the 2021 course will run at a similar time. BASS Morzine’s Adult Developing Courses cost from £270.

Best for the holistic approach 

Warren Smith Ski Academy Five-Day

Verbier, Switzerland

Ski coach Warren Smith was tasked with the challenge of turning non-skiing celebrities like Bradley Wiggins into ski heroes on Channel 4’s The Jump, thanks to his reputation for dramatically improving the skills of everyone from early intermediate upwards. His innovative programme addresses individual biomechanical limitations as well as ski technique, and the Academy offers year-round options. Top of the list for keen improvers are five-day courses in snow-sure Cervinia, Italy, from November and Verbier, Switzerland, from December. The format includes ski equipment checks, video and biomechanical analysis, daily fitness warm-ups and take-home exercises to practise off the slopes, as well as targeted work on the slopes to improve carving, mogul, steeps and powder skiing. 

Need to know

An exclusive Telegraph reader holiday hosted by Warren Smith takes place April 18 to 25 in Cervinia. Costing £989 it includes a week’s B&B accommodation at the three-star hotel Mon Reve, as well as coaching. To book, call SkiWeekends. Warren Smith is also at the Telegraph Ski and Snowboard Festival 24 to 27 October, giving technique talks and testing ski fitness. On other dates, five-day courses with Warren Smith Ski Academy start at £469 in Cervinia. Alternatively, one-day courses in September and October at UK indoor slopes cost £139.

Best for conquering steeps and deeps

Extremely Canadian Steep Skiing Clinic

Whistler, Canada

Aimed at boosting the skills and confidence of skiers who can already get down an ungroomed black run, Extremely Canadian’s Steep Skiing courses are run by experienced and always enthusiastic coaches – including former pro freeskiers like founder Peter Smart – who put the fun into learning new skills. As well as giving top tactical and technical tips, to make sure that intermediate-level “getting down” turns into linked, flowing turns, they share the inside track for making the most of Whistler’s huge ski area after the course. As in all North American resorts, and unlike in Europe, all ungroomed runs in the Whistler are made safe from avalanches and checked by ski patrol, making them a low risk way to get into powder. 

Need to know

Extremely Canadian offers Steep Skiing courses throughout the season, costing $279 for one day or $499 for a two-day course. Discount of $50 on two-day courses if booked by November 15. Freeride snowboard camps also available.

Best for a pre-season boost 

Ski Club of Great Britain Pre-season Performance Clinic

UK indoor slopes

Running on Fridays and Saturdays until October 5, the Ski Club of Great Britain has gathered a top team of British instructors – including former racer and Ski Sunday presenter Chemmy Alcott – for its new one-day Pre-Season Clinics at UK indoor slopes. Designed for confident blue run skiers and above, the aim is to get to the nub of what is holding participants back, and everyone receives a personalised improvement plan to put into action on the slopes. Others on the team include Amanda Pirie, who coached Team GB’s Paralympic athletes, and Mark Jones, director of ICE instructor-training school in Val d’Isere, and Ski Club also has a five-day on-snow course for confident red run skiers and above led by Pirie and Jones. 

Need to know

The Ski Club of Great Britain’s Pre-season courses cost from £140, including six hours of tuition, lift pass, video analysis and equipment hire if needed. The five-day course runs December 2 to 6 and costs from £499. Non members must join Ski Club, at a discounted annual fee of £33.50, to book courses. 

Top tricks you can try yourself

Make it easier to move to the next level with top fitness-targeting shortcuts, specialist kit, apps and gadgets that will make skiing or snowboarding like a snowpro come that much easier.

Get a pre season MOT 

Fitness, fitness, fitness – it makes all the difference to ski performance, especially when making the leap from intermediate to expert runs, since consistent, technical turns are easier with stronger legs, heart and lungs, better balance and a firm core. Being fit also makes injuries less likely when using unfamiliar movements to push to the next level. Focus on the right stuff at the gym with the help of the scientists at top Harley Street clinic Isokinetic, who after a barrage of tests will come up with a personalised plan of action. A 90-minute health and fitness assessment costs £275.

Choose the right kit

Marching into a ski shop and demanding the most expensive of everything is not (thankfully) the way to become more skilled on the slopes. Choosing the right skis or snowboard for your level, and what you’re planning to do, is. Skis designed to take on a little bit of everything – aka all-mountain skis – are often the best pick for moving on up and discovering the kind of terrain you like. Narrow enough in the middle to make carving turns on piste, they also have fat tips to assist floatation in deeper snow. 

The standout performers for intermediates moving to the next level in The Telegraph’s 2019 ski test, held in Pila, Italy, were the Fischer RC One 82 GT for men (£560 including bindings) and, for women, the Atomic Vantage 80 Ti W (£500 including bindings).

“Ease of use, on and off piste, combined with upper end performance on firm snow made the Fischers stand out,” said Al Morgan, The Telegraph’s ski equipment editor. “They’re light, confidence inspiring, nimble, grippy and versatile.” The women’s Atomics were equally impressive: “These are so easy to ski, but with bags of grip at speed too, and suit a broad range of abilities,” said Morgan. 

Soup up your boots

Whether renting or buying, finding the best boots for comfort, fit, skill level and terrain can make or break the chances of both fun and improvement on the slopes. Getting expert advice on the most suitable pair in the shop is essential, as is being honest about ski level – and buying online is not recommended. While the most important thing is getting the right fit for you, Telegraph ski equipment editor Al Morgan say the Lange’s new “superbly comfy” LX 90 W boots for women (£325) and Salomon’s new S/Pro 100 for men which “make turning easier” (£320) are worth a look for their exciting new tech that can help progression. 

For personalised performance, replacing standard insoles with specialist footbeds designed to mould to the feet, support them and keep the body in optimum alignment is helpful both for getting the best out of skis or board, and for easing foot pain. UK shops including Ellis Brigham and Snow+Rock offer customised footbed fitting as part of their boot buying service – Snow+Rock offers a comfort guarantee too. 

Try online fit tips

Developed by the sports injury and fitness experts at the Clinique du Sport in Chamonix, SkiFit is a programme of targeted exercise videos for snow sports. Part of the BeFitApps range the eight-week programme is suitable for all fitness levels and led by the Clinique du Sport’s director and senior physiotherapist, Neil MacLean-Martin. It includes four hour-long workouts, plus a selection of bitesize eight-minute blasts, so the time-poor have no excuse. The exercises need minimal equipment so can be done at home or in a gym. BeFitApps online membership costs £9.99 a year, and gives access to bike, run and tri programmes as well as ski. SkiFit is also available as an app for iPhone and Android, costing £9.98 for a year. Free trials are available on both platforms.

Support your knees

Lost your mojo thanks to years of asking your knees to bounce down lumpy snow fields? Happily, you can buy it back for a mere £498. Ski-Mojo is a robo-like shock-absorbing contraption that attaches to the back of ski boots and straps to the legs. It can help users ski better and for longer, since they are working muscles less, and improve fitness too. Four-time British Winter Olympian Chemmy Alcott uses one, and it works with some snowboard boots too. 

Boost confidence

If what’s holding you back is fear – whether of of falling or just not being able to do “it”  – tensing up when approaching a tricky section will not make it easier. Tricks for relaxed, confident turns include singing a happy tune and visualisation – looking down that intimidating run, imagining doing it perfectly, then taking a few deep breaths and just doing it. If more help is needed, hypnotherapy might be the answer. Hypnotherapist Sharon Shinwell has a specific “Overcome Skiing Fears” self-hypnosis session available on CD or for download from £16.90.

Start skiing at home

Get legs, core and balance skills prepared for more advanced turns in the comfort of home, with the help of specialist equipment. Actilean is a pair of foot-sized balance boards shaped to mimic the gradient of a ski slope. Standing on them, then rolling feet from side to side as if edging, trains ski muscles and helps remind legs what they’re supposed to do on the slopes. The SkiA Sweetspot Balance Trainer has a similar one-for-each foot design, but is meant to be used with ski boots on. It can be adapted to suit four levels from beginner to expert. For those with more space (and more cash) a Skier’s Edge machine, as used by Ski Sunday’s former ski racer Graham Bell, replicates the side to side movements of skiing, helping with technique, balance and coordination. From £3,495 for the latest T7 model, suitable for all levels of skier.

Book instructors on the go

Confidence taken a knock on the slopes today, emergency instructor needed? SkiBro could have an immediate answer. The booking platform lets users book available instructors close by in a trice – had a bad day on the slopes, find an available instructor for the morning. Each instructor has an online introduction about themselves, including the kind of coaching they offer, complemented by reviews and ratings from clients and sometimes a friendly video too. Meeting up can be made easier by GPS tracking in the associated app. SkiBros are available in a growing number of European resorts in France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. They also aren’t limited to Bros – Sisters and ski schools are on the books too.

Bag a virtual private instructor

Like Siri or Alexa for skiers, or maybe Jiminy Cricket, Carv is a digital instructor that monitors technique on the go, then pipes up with hints on how to improve. It can be set to spy silently then give feedback and tips at the end of a session or, in training mode, to whisper sweet somethings into your ear as you ski, including ego-boosting compliments like “beautiful skiing”.

The system includes insoles to put inside ski boots, connected to compact battery packs on the back of each boot. Carv assesses technique via pressure-sensitive pads and motion sensors, and feeds info to the associated app via Bluetooth, before being converted into individual, concise feedback suitable for the level of the piste. 

Most helpful for improving on-piste carving Carv 2.0 is available for iPhone. Upgraded Carv 3.0 software, with added instruction videos, launches December 20, along with an Android compatible version.

Top five resorts to go from zero to hero

The more black there is on a piste map, the more likely it is that the resort will step up to the mark for thrillingly steep and long descents, whether smoothly groomed and fast, or left ungroomed so that powder snow lies deep or bumpy fields of moguls build up. For best progression, seek out resorts that also have easier runs for getting to grips with perfect turns before upping the challenge. Here are five of the best.

Les Arcs, France

The slopes of Les Arcs are remarkably varied, with pistes to suit all standards from beginner to expert, especially since its ski area is linked to that of La Plagne to form the huge 425km Paradiski area. For those ready to progress to off-piste challenges, the anti can be upped on the seriously steep and challenging ungroomed but avalanche-protected black runs above Arc 2000, one of the resort’s four purpose-built villages.

St Anton, Austria

Part of Austria’s biggest ski area, the 340km Arlberg region, as well as testing black pistes St Anton has 200km of marked off-piste itinerary runs. The most dedicated experts will not only tackle these runs and the rest of the off-piste terrain, they will also make the most of St Anton’s famously wild après ski. Anyone looking to rest their legs for a while should head to the more relaxed linked slopes of Lech, Zürs and Warth-Schröken.

St Anton is part of the biggest ski area in Austria Credit: TVB St. Anton am Arlberg/Fotograf Patrick Säly/PATRICK SAELY PHOTOGRAPHY

Zermatt, Switzerland

The many attractions of Zermatt – a varied, extensive 200km ski area with slopes linked to those of Cervinia in Italy, quality mountain restaurants, a characterful, car-free village and stand-out views of the Matterhorn – make it a good destination for all standards. But for those wanting to take things to the next level, there are moguls aplenty and long, testing off-piste itinerary runs, plus Europe’s biggest heliskiing operation.

Alagna, Italy

The quiet little village of Alagna, complete with stone church and attractive old wooden farmhouses, is part of the 200km Monterosa ski area. It has a cult following among powder hounds, thanks to a cable-car to 3,275m that opens up a variety of gnarly off-piste routes towards the village. There are limited pistes here, but for those seeking to practise on piste, Monterosa Ski’s alternative bases, Gressoney and Champoluc, have more intermediate runs. Off-piste runs to Gressoney from the cable car are more mellow, suitable even for strong intermediates. 

Whistler, Canada

With more steep terrain than any other resort in North America, Whistler’s numerous high, open bowls offer a wide range of possibilities for experts. There’s also snowcat skiing and heliskiing. But happily for those considering a trip to Canada, Whistler is also packed with intermediate pistes. Its two linked mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, add up to the biggest ski area in North America, 8,171 acres, and the resort runs a useful free orientation tour for intermediates and experts each morning.