Whistler Ashleigh McIvor
Credit: Jim Milne

Talking about ski technique with the Whistler-based Olympian:

Pam Johnson:

Most people are only going to purchase one set of ski equipment. If you were to give a key piece of advice about choosing equipment, what would it be?

Ashleigh McIvor-DeMerit: 

Boots are the single most important piece of equipment you can invest in. They affect your comfort, enjoyment and performance. I know it’s crazy, but the boots I ski in right now are six years old. I have worked with a boot-fitter over the years to mold them and now they fit me like a glove. Even while on tour, we would carry our boots on the plane so that they wouldn’t get lost in transit. Take the time to work with a fitter and you will have a good experience.

PJ: 

During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, you obviously thrived in some pretty lousy race conditions. Can you share some tips on how to handle poor visibility?

AM: 

Those conditions actually played to my strengths. I realized that I was likely better prepared than the other racers to compete in the fog and rain because I grew up in Whistler, where anything goes. That gave me confidence. Nothing can replace mileage. Skiing often and in all conditions will translate into a higher level of comfort in those conditions. Treed terrain also helps to give you a frame of reference so that it’s not one big blank façade of white. 

PJ: 

I hear conflicting advice on how to ski powder. What works for you?

AM: 

Ski technique has adapted along with changes in ski technology. In the days of skinny skis, you had to sit back or you would plunge face-first into the snow. That’s no longer the case. [Today], skis are wider with an early rise [rocker] on the front. This allows the tips of the skis to stay above the snow. An athletic and balanced position, bending at the knees and hips, but with weight centred over your feet, will allow you to ski powder — or any conditions for that matter. Your feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart and you should feel some light pressure on your shins from the front of your boots. Your hands should always be in front of you, almost like you are holding a beach ball, approximately waist high. 

PJ:

What is the most common mistake the average skier makes?

AM: 

By far, it’s the tendency to sit back, with hips over the heelpieces. This puts weight on the tails of the skis, which is an unbalanced position. It’s tough to turn and to adapt to terrain changes from that position, but it’s a natural instinct to do so, especially if you’re nervous. You need to do the exact opposite and take a more aggressive athletic position… With practice and lessons, you begin to understand what this position feels like. Skiing is really about feeling. You know when you’ve done it right and you just want to replicate that feeling again and again.

PJ: 

Let’s talk pole-plants.

AM: 

Pole planting is actually an advanced skill. The role of a pole-plant is to establish a rhythm, get your timing and to help initiate your turns. This is crucial as you attack more challenging terrain. It’s just a subtle wrist movement, pole aimed down the hill near your ski tip, timed just as you unweight your skis at the end of one turn and before you start your next one. It allows your upper body to remain quiet and square to the direction you are going with your weight balanced properly over your skis as you turn. 

PJ: 

You mentioned that I “ski like a girl,” which I am. What does this mean and how can I fix it?

AM: 

It’s called “A-Framing.” Back in the day when skis were incredibly stiff, it was very hard to bend them and get them carving. You had to put all of your weight on your outside ski to get it to perform. With today’s technology, you want to distribute your weight more evenly over both skis and also keep your tips almost even with one another. This allows both skis perform through each turn. Because it feels like a “safe” position, A-Framing is a hard habit to kick. It’s more common in women because of our wider hips. We tend to drop our hips inside and rotate over a bent inside knee so that our inside ski sits flat on its base, to brace us in case we lose grip on our outside edge. Instead, you need to put that inside ski on edge to match the outside [downhill] one.

A good drill to get comfortable on both edges is called “1,000 Steps.” It’s almost like doing cross-overs on ice skates, where you really commit to that awkward outside edge of your inside foot. Start by doing small side steps between the turns as you are facing across the hill. Don’t worry if you can’t actually pick your feet up off the snow at first, just feel the effect of unweighting one foot then the other. Once you’re comfortable, try doing steps all the way through your turns. 

PJ: 

Technically, I can ski most steeps, but when I stand on a precipice, I freeze with fear. What can you suggest to help manage this?

AM: 

When I injured my knee, it took a long time to rehab physically but also to regain the mental confidence needed to take those jumps that I used to relish. I would mountain bike in the summer while rehabbing. Initially, even the four-footers were intimidating, so I went back to basics. I started on the little jumps that I took as a 10-year-old, then moved up to the small jumps in the terrain park and so on. With each successive step, my confidence grew. The larger jumps eventually became achievable. It’s the same mental process with skiing. Start small, get comfortable and with each success move to the next level. Put in mileage. 

This article appeared in our Winter 2014 issue.

Plan your next great adventure with explore!
Off the beaten path locations, tips and tricks, interviews with intrepid explorers and more.