Technique focus | All-mountain shreddin’

skier Warren Smith skies between the rocks with perfect technique

Helly Hansen’s Warren Smith arms you with the skills you need to handle the whole mountain – and the goods it has to offer

Shredding through all-mountain terrain and conditions is one of the most fun aspects of skiing, and often what we strive to make the first lift up the mountain for. Whether you’re skiing on perfectly pisted slopes and laying down your best carved turns, dipping outside of the piste onto the un-pisted terrain and testing your adaptability, or venturing into off-piste or even itinerary descents, it’s important to have a good base of skills and technique to handle all the terrain the mountain may throw at you.

skier off piste with an impressive mountain backdrop

Knowing your skis

To ski all-mountain, you first need to really know what you’re skiing it on. There are a variety of different skis out there to choose from. In this era of skiing, you can pretty much be sure that all of them are good (check out Fall Line’s 2024 Gear Guide for this season’s awesome line-up!).

The shape of your ski and its turning capabilities are one of the things to feel and get used to first. This is best done on-piste and on predictable terrain you’re confident on. Once you’ve figured out what the ski wants to do, and how the turn radius feels, you’ll know better how to adapt to it and adjust your steering, leaning and the pressure you put through the ski, so you can dominate it in all terrain.

Feeling an arc shape in your turns and letting the ski ride

In an extension to what you feel and find out about the ski, start to make some nice opened-out turns, focusing on putting pressure through your skis. On the harder pistes, be sure to have a nice firm pressure on the outside ski with a good outside leg extension. Note that as you venture further a field into choppy or softer snow, you’ll need to adjust the outside ski pressure, and recognise that pressure on the outside ski might not need to be so firm (otherwise that ski might sink). When you’ve established a definite and confident control of your outside ski, and trust it, encourage your tilting of the ski and leaning of the legs to create a greater carving dynamic. This will help you cut and shred through a variety of snow conditions.

Note that the more you ski with a flatter ski when you’re on open terrain, the less you’ll grip and the more your ski will get bounced around on the surface, especially on choppy and off-piste terrain. As you play with leaning dynamics, you’ll naturally feel great sensations from your skis and the terrain. You’ll be cutting and shredding and really getting the most out of your kit and what all the mountain has to offer you. Play with your arc shapes and turn radius with good pressing, leaning and steering of the ski. To prepare yourself for the whole mountain and all the goods it has to offer, you need to be able to adapt from lovely open turns to the shorter radius, and eventually prepare for steeps and narrows –especially if you want to hit the virgin powder fields.

virgin powder, skied by single skier, in a technique focus for all-mountain skiing skills

Learning how to absorb

The sheer nature of ‘all-mountain’ means as it sounds– you’ll be riding on all the conditions and snow types it has to offer on any given day. It’s important to know how to ride through bumps, compressions, dips and even small take offs and jumps.

Your legs, as well as steering (rotating) and leaning (edging), also need to know how to absorb the expected, and also the unexpected, conditions that all-mountain terrain will throw at you.

There is a bigger requirement than the applying of pressure to start your turns. We need the legs to be able to suck up terrain as you’re riding through your turns. In its simplest form, it is the movement of pulling your feet up underneath your hips. And what you do with the pulling up movement needs to be equally matched with extending and pushing back out and down. To get a feel for this, practice the movement statically off snow. Then try introducing it to your all-mountain skiing, riding over bumps and mounds. Be sure to pull your feet up underneath you when absorbing. A common mistake is for skiers to go ‘backseat’ here; rather than manually pulling their feet up underneath them, skiers allow their bum to sit back and their knees to jut out in front. If you are in practice mode for this movement, giving yourself a stable pole plant at the time, or just before, absorbing really helps. Then remember to get full extension back out to remain in control and balanced over the forever-changing all-mountain terrain.

Riding ungroomed snow

If you’re lucky enough to ski untouched snow on a powder day, you need to be aware that even though you’ll be using a similar technique to your on-piste carved shredding, you need to be more sensitive to the fact that the surface isn’t hard and groomed – it’s something that will move and give when pressed on. Because of this, there is a higher risk of your skis separating. Therefore, try not to have leg extensions on your outside leg that are like pistons. Ease off the hard pressing on the outside ski and be sensitive to trying to make the surface of your skis ride together and in unison.

Same goes for the symmetry in your legs. If you have an A-frame, or an asymmetric stance (the line of your skeleton from your ball and socket joint to your foot), it will not bode well in powder or snow that gives at the surface. Skis tilted at different angles because of an A-frame will go in different directions – there’s not the same correction or forgiveness you can get away with on-piste.

solo skier on a steep open face, below rocks

Controlling speed on the steeper terrain

Another aspect to master for all-mountain terrain is skiing on steeper and narrower terrain. Part of the nature of itinerary runs and off-piste terrain is often more challenging (steeper, narrower, more tricky snow, etc) entrances to access that lovely snow.

What you don’t want to do is follow friends into the off-piste environment and realise you can’t ski a narrow couloir, or control your speed in a really short area of space.

To be an established all-mountain skier you need to learn to ski and make speed-controlled turns in a tight, narrow space. You can set yourself a challenge at the edge of a piste that’s steep – a red or black run – and visualise a couloir. Test yourself with a pivot, skid, short carve or jump turn and see how you control yourself in this type of environment. It’s essential that you reach a good level of competence here before taking your all-mountain skiing into itineraries and off-piste.

Things that will help here are a much more predominant leg steering action, reduction in upper body rotations and a definite pole plant.

Rest assured that this is the area that usually needs the most practice, so don’t take it lightly– make it the most important thing you practice for your all-mountain adventure.

skier on piste carving

Playing the short/long game

Overall, the all-mountain skiing game requires that you can ski the long, open carved turns and also the short controlled turns to enjoy all of it safely. Think of this as the all-mountain spectrum of skiing – make yourself the best all-round skier and you’ll accomplish it all.