Many athletes forget how important it is to keep variety in their training. There’s no question that, generally speaking, the more you practice, the better you become. But it can be mind-blowing how switching things
up can make a dramatic difference in your performance.
Some younger athletes spend too much time training
gates when they should be out ripping up the mountain
with a grin from ear to ear.
“Freeskiing is the foundation of skiing,” says U.S. Ski
Team member Tommy Ford (recovering from a broken
leg right now). “Without it, no World Cup racer would
be where they are.” Ford is right. Freeskiing, or skiing
without gates, is the best way to connect uninterrupted
During a long season, it’s important to spend some time
skiing off piste or on the groomers. This can enhance
not only your racing but also your personal enjoyment
of the sport. I’ve found my best performances have
come after spending a couple days freeskiing.
There’s nothing like getting on a good surface and
naturally linking GS turns from top to bottom. Without
gates, you can completely focus on uninterrupted
arcing. Giant slalom benefits the most from freeskiing,
in my experience, but it works for all events. Six years
ago, when I was coming back from a deep bone bruise
to my tibial plateau, my body couldn’t handle training.
So I just freeskied, trying to link only four turns together
at a time. I would make four turns, stop and then do it
again. And again. It was great training, as I was in the
right position for those turns without going too fast, and
it was extremely gentle on my weakened knee.
“When Ted [Ligety] watches video, he only looks to
see if he’s arcing,” said Adam Cole, Ligety’s personal
coach. “He’s just trying to link every turn together.” And
if you are not Ligety, the best way to continually link
arcs together is to do it freeskiing. When the course
is challenging and the snow is hard and bumpy, it’s
extremely difficult to link arcs together. Freeskiing
is the place to get that feeling back so that you have
confidence to bring arcing into training and racing.
I’ve often found myself struggling after spending too
much time training a single event on one hill. This is
definitely a luxury of being a high-level ski racer, as
we have the opportunity to train in so many different
places, but it’s important to switch things up. “We didn’t
train a single day of GS at Vail or any other mountain
other than Copper in November,” said Tim Jitloff after
having a couple tough races in Beaver Creek and Val
D’Isere, where he didn’t qualify. “After six weeks there
I just got worse.”
He makes a really interesting point, and a number of
the World Cup GS racers expressed the same feeling.
I specifically trained solo on a number of days so I
could get onto different hills like Loveland, Vail and
Echo. Sure, speed training at Copper is phenomenal,
but training GS and slalom there is only good for a few
days without injected snow — all the World Cup tech
events are on injected snow. In this case, there was too
much time on softer, Colorado hero snow.
After Jitloff’s two disappointing results in Beaver Creek
and Val d’Isere, he took a few days off to stay with his
girlfriend in Germany and then had two great days of
training on an injected surface in Alta Badia before he
tied his career-best performance of fifth. Often you just
have to look out for your own best interest and make
sure you’re setting yourself up to succeed as Jitloff just
Gate training is imperative, but you need to find a
good balance of your training to perform at your best.
Too much of one thing is a good way to make yourself
static and complacent. Getting out to freeski and enjoy
yourself on the slopes is a great way to make huge
strides in your skiing.
Variety is the Spice of Ski Racing
ORE COWBELL with WARNER NICKERSON
32, is an independent
American ski racer
from Gilford, N.H.,
and Colby College
with 41 FIS victories,
three U.S. Nationals
podiums and two
titles, among other
awards; he was
also a member of
the 2011 U.S. World
At Alta Badia, Tim Jitloff tied
his career-best of fifth after
taking a few days off.