WHAT IS STYLISH SKIING?

STYLE ALTITUDE is asking the professionals what makes skiing stylish? Whether it's technique, attitude, training or just natural ability? Can anyone look stylish with time and effort - and the right gear? And what are our worst habits that make them cringe? We're looking for any tips they can give us for riding with more style.

Read the full Stylish Skiing debate featured here, originally kicked off with professional instructor and SkiSchool app founder, Darren Turner (above left). Also, giving their sides we have James Webb, British freestyle skier (above right) and Emily Sarsfield, British Ski Cross champ and qualified ski instructor And cue the Ski Sunday theme music. It's Graham Bell. The five times GB Olympic skier, Ski Sunday presenter and all round British skiing legend, has joined our discussion. He has the last word about the most important thing to wear skiing. And, no, he's not talking helmets. Read on....

What is stylish skiing? First up, Graham Bell...

'For me, style differs from technique'

What does ‘stylish skiing’ mean to you and how would you define it?

For me, style differs from technique in that it is a personal stamp that you put onto your skiing without it changing the effectiveness of what you want to achieve on the mountain. It is possible in ski racing to have a perfect technique but an ugly style., and vice versa. a beautiful style but less than perfect technique.

Can anyone learn good style – or do you need natural ability?

Good style is most associated with the relaxed flowing movements you are most likely to see from people who have skied from a very young age, and whose movements have become automated. But it can be learnt. It is often a mental issue; skiing without thinking can often relax your body and improve your style.

So how would your describe your skiing style?

Solid.

Graham Bell

'I spent years wearing figure-hugging Lycra'

Do you think women differ in style ie ride differently to men? If so, why?

In many sports, women tend to rely less on power and force and more on good technique. In skiing technique, the hips play a large role, and women’s hips are set up anatomically differently from men’s, so you often see women skiing with not only a better technique but also a more aesthetically pleasing style.

Watching other people ski, what makes you cringe, style-wise?

Wanna be racers who make Herminator style arm movements at the end of the turn, yet their hips have swung out and their skis are skidding. 

What one tip for improving style would you give?

Stay loose, skiing is all about being actively balanced. 

Team GB's best ski and snowboard results are coming from freestyle events rather than Alpine downhill or slalom. With more 'fridge' kids learning in indoor ski domes, do you think skiing style is changing with the next generation?

The debate in Freestyle revolves around style vs gymnastic ability and, in a judged sport, that can be crucial to how the sport progresses. Indoor snow centers have helped enormously with the development of both Alpine and Freestyle skiers, but ideally we need longer and steeper slopes built.

How much thought do you give to what you wear style-wise?

Graham Bell

I spent years wearing figure-hugging Lycra, branded to look like a Drambuie bottle. Style comes from within.

Best item of kit this year?

I have been using a Bolle B-Style helmet, this season. It’s lightweight and matches my blue jacket. 

Any other thought re style and skiing?

Skiing is about enjoying the mountains, I know it’s a cliché but the most important thing to wear on the slopes is a smile.

 Graham Bell is represented by Champions Celebrity


 

Next up in the Stylish Skiing debate we have Emily Sarsfield, British Ski Cross champ, who has to ski hard, fast downhill AND in the air. Racing against three other competitors, at the same time...

 

Emily Sarsfield
 

Having skied since you were three years old and competing in Alpine disciplines, you changed to Ski Cross in 2005 because various ski coaches advised that your 'skiing style and attitude' would be suited to this new extreme event. So how would you describe your style and attitude and how is it suited to Ski Cross?

I think it is my ‘all or nothing’ attitude.  When I raced Alpine prior to Ski Cross I would just go. I’d either pull it off and went fast - or crashed.You could say I was - / am - a bit of a risk taker.  

'Control to me isn't much fun'

My style is ‘go hard, or go home’ I don’t really have that button to just go controlled. Control to me isn’t as much fun!  Also, I am pretty competitive so being literally lined up shoulder to shoulder with my competitors really excites me and spurs me on.

What does ‘stylish skiing’ mean to you and how would you define it?

Well, living in Meribel and often popping to Courchevel you would think stylish skiing was all skin-tight pants and fur collars! But I definitely think it’s about being able to pull it off; whether that’s a head to toe matching outfit or the ultimate slash in the powder;. Having some grace and floating around the pistes or town is pretty cool.

Emily Sarsfield

'I like to spend my down days riding with the guys'

Can anyone learn good style – or do you need natural ability?

I have just launched a ski school called EmSkiSchool which I do while I am not competing. My first five minutes of every lesson are always spent teaching them how to carry the skis. It's all about being able to carry it off so the beginners, who have never seen skis, know how to pop them on their shoulder and get to the après bar looking hot and not decapitating any locals along the way!  There is nothing worse than looking like ‘all the gear, no idea’.

Do you think women differ in style ie ride differently to men? If so, how?

Yes, I think so,. But I think it all stems from in our minds. Skiing is a hugely psychological sport and, sometimes, women hold back a little more than men, so often appear more controlled or tentative. I like to spend my down days riding with the guys, so I like to ski fast.

Emily Sarsfield
 

Since it's first introduction in 2010, Ski Cross in the Olympic Winter Games has become one of the most popular events, watched by over three million UK viewers. Do you think it is influencing a new generation of Ski Cross riders?

Ski Cross is such a great spectator sport. You never know what is going to happen with all the obstacles - and seeing people race head to head is fun  It’s the 100 metres of winter sports.

'The female influx is not as huge as the males'

I would love to see more people get involved in Ski Cross; it is certainly growing in popularity. However, it is an ‘extreme’ sport so the female influx is not as huge as the males. But it is great to have new competitors to race against. I have been setting up some Ski Cross camps, too, for people to give it a try. All the details will be on my website in the future: www.emilysarsfield.com.

Emily Sarsfield

'Ski the whole mountain, the powder, the park'

You actually coach Ski Cross training camps? Any tips for those wanting to get to your level?

Ski Cross requires a good all round skier; someone who is versatile on their skis. So the best training is getting out there and going skiing. Ski the whole mountain, the powder, the park, race technique and just pushing your skiing. When you're racing Ski Cross you're never going to be 100% in control so you need to be able to react to everything and everyone quickly. It’s a fun sport to train for.

Emily Sarsfield

And, so, you are, also, a qualified ski instructor? What advice re improving skiing style do you give?

Yes, I have just launched my ski school EmSkiSchool which is exciting. I love watching people enjoy the mountain and seeing them move from green to black runs. I love teaching kids, too. They have such a low centre of gravity. Once, in a week, we went from first day on skis to a black run. They were so excited and I was extremely excited to see them achieve so much!

My tips would be have a lesson every year, just to get rid of any bad habits. And try something new. That way you can see more of the mountain and have a new challenge.

Watching other people ski, what makes you cringe? Any bad habits you see?

I love watching the folks with all the gear. It's ever so slightly disappointing, though, if they have ‘no idea’! You see a few bad habits from people just throwing their upper body around to try make their skis move; but this is the opposite to what you need to do. Everything should come from the legs - and the upper body should remain pretty quiet and relaxed.  

'The mountains can be a dangerous playground sometimes'

But my biggest cringe is when you see people venturing off-piste and they don’t have any safety equipment with them. That is scary.  The mountains can be a dangerous playground sometimes, so it's best you are always prepared.

For Ski Cross do you dress aerodynamically? Does Lycra make you go faster?

It’s effectively a downhill race so dynamics play a huge part in it. But we aren’t allowed to wear the tight Lycra suits they wear in Alpine skiing. They want to keep the ‘cool factor’ in ski cross as it is a freestyle discipline so we have rules on how ‘baggy’ our clothes have to be!  However, everyone is always looking for the tiny margin to be faster which has resulted in us all getting specially designed Lycra baggy suits.

You have to go fast, turn and jump in Ski Cross. So what profile skis do you use?

Yes, Ski Cross is a mix of all sorts of features but speed is still key. So we use pretty much a giant slalom ski - women around 185cm and men around 195cm. This way we can keep the speed and still have the stability on landing jumps.

<imgsrc="images/emily3.jpg" alt="Emily Sarsfield" />

And what do you wear on the Hill when you're not competing?

I’ll probably be wearing my Head BIG Joy skis as I'll be searching for powder! I feel the cold so I always make sure I’m wearing my Mons Royals thermals; they are so warm made from merino wool. And I'll be wrapped up in a matching Dare2b outfit. I’m quite into their luxe range at the moment; I’m loving a fur hood! Nowadays I’m always wearing a helmet, too. The POC Receptor Bug is pretty cool and I know I am in safe hands with all their technology. Then the finishing touch will be a pair of Oakley goggles which will probably match my whole outfit!

And for après, what's your style?

Après is all about looking relaxed with a touch of faux fur!

Emily Sarsfield

I spend so much time in tracksuits when I am away competing so it's nice to pop a pair of jeans on for après! Whatever I am wearing I always have my staple wardrobe essential Sorels. My favourite après boots at the moment are my Sorel Joan of Arctics. They are super warm and practical but girly with the fur trim. Ladies they are a ski holiday essential; they take you from mountain to bar in one perfect pair of boots!


 

Here's how the debate started about what is stylish skiing with ski instructor guru, Darren Turner...

 

stylish skiing

Photos of Darren Turner: Michael Truelove 

Darren Turner is the professional instructor, arbiter of modern ski style, who launched the SkiSchool app in 2010. Ninety thousand sales later with over six million views on YouTube. the aptly named Darren Turner, based in Serre Chevalier, talks about skiing and style – and carving through the teaching crud.

What is the difference between new and old school style skiing?

At the top end the difference is less than you think. No slalom skier ever held their legs together and wiggled. That’s a fact. Even if you go back to the 40s or 50s you’ll struggle to find a photo of a slalom racer with legs wedged together because it is not efficient.  It doesn’t improve your balance.  It doesn’t work.

But why was tight parallel “wiggle” skiing ever considered stylish?

The skiing community, the instructors and tourists, made it more about how you looked as opposed to how efficiently you were skiing. 

When did the perception and “wiggle” skiing change?

When skies went wider. When carving skis meant you couldn’t have your legs together as the front tips and tails would start touching.

So how much does ski design effect style?

Imagine a long straight ski from 30 years ago, Technically it was a lot more about pivoting a ski rather than rolling the ski onto the edge and letting it turn as with carving skis. Now you have to be more accurate on your skis, more on it as speed picks up. Ultimately you need to have a better stance. And a better stance is hip width apart, roughly speaking.

But good skiers have always been good skiers. If you put a good skier on powder or carving skis or whatever, then even if they had never skied on them before, they would make the necessary adjustments very quickly.

'The things that hold women back are fear, confidence - and their partners'.  

Should women ski like men?

Nine times out of 10, women have more finesse on skis. They use less force and rely less on strength. Mostly the things that hold women back are fear, confidence - and their partners.

You mean guys hold women back?

When I’m teaching a couple and ask the woman a question about her skiing and her husband answers, I instantly know that she is being psychologically held back. She is like a third world country and America is controlling her. Even with the best intentions.

It’s the same way that dads are shit at teaching daughters to drive. People who are close do not generally make the best instructors. It’s not a ski thing, it’s a life thing.

But, generally, women have more finesse and feel when skiing. It’s like dancing.

But, generally, men can’t dance.

Most men can’t dance unless they have had five pints and then they look like an idiot. 

How long have you been teaching?

I started when I was 16 on dry slopes. I am now 42, so 26 years.

Has teaching changed in those years?

Any sport evolves, equipment makes it evolve. Also our knowledge makes it evolve. In my opinion, a lot of racing techniques have trickled down to teaching techniques. Also big mountain skiing has made off piste more accessible and changes the way you ski. There is no way you can ski off piste with your legs together.

'How you stand on your skis is, in my opinion, the most important thing'

Do you teach any differently from other ski instructors? 

I don’t think I have a revolutionary technique or way of teaching, apart from the fact that I try and cut through the bullshit and make it simple. A lot of people over complicate it. How you stand on your skis is, in my opinion, the most important thing. The better that basic stance, the better you can make adjustments. Feel those adjustments.


So how should you stand?

You can’t say put this much weight on this ski on the piste and this much weight on that ski, off piste. You encounter different types of snow on and off piste. It is constantly changing and the better you stand and place yourself on your skis not only will you find it easier but you will find and feel what those adjustment are that you have to make. 

Can anyone learn good style – or do you need natural ability?

You can teach anyone to ski well but you do have people with more style than others. It’s to do with the feel. Fluid, calm, relaxed movements tend to flow into good style. Abrupt, forced, grunty movements tend to be more physically demanding. You might get down the same slope but it’s going to take a lot more effort and won’t be sustainable. Not everyone ends up skiing with the same style, even good skiers. I can recognise my friends a long way off on the slopes by their individual nuances of style.

'Not everyone ends up skiing with the same style, even good skiers'

Can you learn without lessons?

Yeah, definitely. But you’d need a full skill set. You’d need to be confident, fit, able to fall over without hurting yourself. And you would probably end up with a slightly strange style and technique that would work for you. Not necessarily good technique and probably not stylish.

Couldn’t you learn style from watching others?

From a teaching point of view, people do learn differently. Some are very visual. But, of course, they can’t see themselves skiing.

So seamless link, is this where your SkiSchool app comes in?

The SkiSchool app idea is to record your skiing, slow down the video and freeze frame so you can compare it exactly with the way that I am doing it on a split screen, using technology to analyse your style.  We’re not trying to dictate how to ski, but allowing you to learn more about the way you ski.

When I am teaching, a lot of people just want to know “how did I look?”. So this helps. But you have to also ask, “how did it feel?”

What makes you cringe style-wise?

To be honest, I actually wouldn’t cringe at all if I saw a guy skiing uphill in pyjamas on 1970s skis with his legs wedged together if he was absolutely loving it, having fun. I guess I cringe mostly when I see someone with a lot of errors in their skiing but who believes they are shit hot.

What is one tip you would give to help improve?

It sounds simple but, apart from the way you stand, I’d say be conscious that there is always something going on. When you ski you are moving constantly so always, always be aware that something is happening. No dead spots.

'A lot of people ride with inappropriate eyewear'

If you were to buy one thing, skiwear wise?

Merino socks which are up there as far as best inventions are concerned, along with carving skis. Or the new Scott LCG goggles which have lenses that are easy to change according to the light. A lot of people ride with inappropriate eyewear. They wear goggles for bad weather – and also for good, with the same sunny lens. These make it a lot easier to switch lenses. 

What are your future plans?

I am looking at doing more skiing films. Not just about technique but also travel and history.

Also telemarking. I used to telemark quite a bit so I want to organise a trip to Norway, the birthplace of telemarking.. Telemarking is the ultimate in graceful and fluid style. But to telemark you have to stand on your skis properly because you haven’t got bindings holding you in place. That’s why it’s so good for skiing style.

So how would you define: “stylish” skiing?

Like telemarking, like any sport, it’s anyone who makes something difficult look effortless. 


 

Continuing the discussion, we caught up with one of the best riders on the British Freestyle ski scene: James ‘Webbo’ Webb.. 

James Webb: Team Rider for Animal  Photos: James McPhail/Animal

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James Webb

'To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it'

You said the above was your favourite quote in an interview from 2006. Although this is from a while ago, where did you find the above quote, and what does it mean to you? Does it mean the same now as it did back then?

This is really interesting actually because this quote comes from Richard Taylor, a professional roller blader who tried his hand at skiing and won the British Champs on his first attempt. Sadly, Richard died back in 2004, (a skating accident in his home town), and since I said that this was my favourite quote I have become really good friends with his brother Robert. Rob has told me a lot about Richard and he’s a big inspiration to me and a lot of other people on the ski scene.

'I would re-word it slghtly after some experiences with his brother Rob'

Now, I do still agree with this quote, yet, I would re-word it slightly after some experiences with his brother Rob. Rob does a lot of pretty crazy, (and some would call dangerous), stuff and he has got me involved once or twice. One time this involved cliff jumping in Wales into an old asbestos quarry. Now, this would obviously qualify as dangerous, and I did it without any style at all. However, it was a LOT of fun. Therefore I would re-word this to something more like:  “To do an easy thing with style is preferable to doing a difficult thing without it”. 

What does ‘stylish skiing’ mean to you and how would you define it?

To me stylish skiing is making it look smooth and easy. There are lots of different styles out there but as long as a trick, no matter how technical, is executed with what appears to be little effort and no jerkiness then that’s stylish skiing.

How would you describe your style of skiing?

I just try to be relaxed and not take on anyone else’s style. I just do what feels right at the time and hope that it looks good! If it feels good then that’s good enough for me.

How has your skiing evolved from when you first started?

When I first started skiing it was just a once a year proper punter kind of thing. I really enjoyed it but it was just a hobby that my dad suggested. Then I started to progress into more focused types of skiing like racing and freestyle. Racing really helped my performance skiing and freestyle helped my confidence.

'Sponsors as well made it a far more substantial past time'

Then it all became about freestyle! I went to my first competition at Sheffield ski village (maybe 01/02) and met all the guys and girls on this scene and this pushed me forward to learn loads of new tricks. Then it got a little more serious, but still fun. I was competing at a higher level, winning the British champs in 2008 and training with the GB team. Sponsors as well made it a far more substantial past time and it quickly took over most of my life! So what started as a once a year hobby in a matter of five years or so became what everything revolves around.

James Webb2

Can anyone learn good style – or do you need natural ability?

I think if you put in the hard work and really commit then anyone can learn anything. A natural ability can obviously help, like decent balance, a good spatial awareness or a background in gymnastics or other sports.  

'Riders should find their own style'

Watching other people ski, what makes you cringe? Any bad habits you see?

I hate it when people try to take on a style. Like when they’re trying to be really gangster and trying to “afterbang” everything. It looks so unnatural if you try to force it. Riders should find their own style.

Whose skiing style do you admire the most?

There are lot of skiers who I admire for their style, Tom Wallisch, Henrik Harlaut, Gus Kentworthy, Bobby Brown, Russ Henshaw. They all have a distinctive style and land everything clean. 

Do you think women differ in style ie ride differently to men? If so, why?

As in a lot of sports, there is a difference in men and women, purely because of how we differ in build. But right now, the women as pushing hard and progressing really fast.

What’s your favourite discipline: Big Air, Slopestyle or Half Pipe?

My favourite discipline is definitely Slopestyle. It is the most free of the disciplines and allows for a lot of creativity and different styles. I don’t have anything against the other disciplines at all though. The last few years I have been training with the British Halfpipe team and taking part in World Cups and aiming for the Winter Olympics. However, after an injury last winter I am going back to my slopestyle roots.

'Some kids now start skiing with a view to getting straight into freestyle'

How is freestyle affecting how people ski?  What’s its influence on kids learning to ski now?

As freestyle is seen as the newer cooler way to ski, some kids now start skiing with a view to getting straight into freestyle. This in itself is not a bad thing, but they are sometimes too eager and forget, or miss out on the fundamentals.

'It's important to actully learn how to ski first'

Therefore, you end up with kids who can ride a rail or do a 360 but can barely ski a red run. So I am all for a kid wanting to get into this sport, but it’s important to actually learn how to ski first.

Many athletes now have learnt on dry slopes and snow centres – are they learning a different style? Is there a new style of skiing that’s emerging?

I don’t think this is anything new, but it can dictate what a person is good at. For example, a kid that rides Castleford xscape might be really good on rails, as this is what they specialise in, and a kid from Halifax, where all they really have is a kicker, will be decent in the air. The only thing that changes the style is if skiers have never been abroad. Then, they won’t have learnt how to ride big lines and ski really well so this could affect their style.

What is the future for skiing style? Has the Olympics pushed the freestyle skiing circuit?

This sport is growing all the time, but what has held it back is a lack of funding, media and acknowledgment. With Slopestyle and Halfpipe in the Olympics it can only help with all of these issues.

James Webb3

Where’s your favourite place to ride?

My favourite place to ride is Breckenridge, Colorado. The parks are always perfectly maintained and some of the best on the world. The kickers are awesome, the rails are always changing and creative and the halfpipe is massive. It’s also a really chilled town with decent restaurants and bars. Not to mention the best gym I’ve ever used.

Have you ever taught anyone to ski and how did it go?

I worked as a ski instructor at Bracknell dryslope for years and I now coach the Southern Freestyle Club. I like to think it goes well. I love coaching and I generally get a really positive response from the kids and the parents.

What brands do you wear on the hill?

Atomic ski boots and poles, Animal clothing, Bawbags underwear.