Ice is one of skiing's ultimate tests. On the world cup, racers compete on the hardest, slickest surfaces imaginable. But every skier is likely to face icy conditions, from the "frozen granular" that infests East Coast snow reports to stuff so hard and clear you can see the grass underneath. To master ice, you'll want to start with a well-tuned pair of skis—sharp, smooth edges are a must. Then you'll want to practice. Skiers who manage ice well adapt easily to other conditions, so read up and get out there. You'll ski better—no matter what the snow report says.
Pushing the Ski Away to Find an Edge: Many skiers try to gain control on ice by shoving their tails away from themselves until the edge of their outside ski grips. That's like driving by constantly alternating between the brake and gas. What's more, each time you hit an edge with this much force, your ski will rebound off the snow. If you're even slightly off balance, your feet will jet out from under you.
Turn Your Tips First
Click the "intermediate" slideshow below for the details.
Focus on Early Edge Engagement with Your Feet and Legs
Ice demands four things of you: good balance; a stance that's wide enough to let you pressure and edge both skis easily; edge engagement that starts at the ski tip (allowing you to use the entire length of the edge); and edging that begins early enough in the turn to forestall excessive skidding.
Undisciplined Upper Body: Watch a good ice skier and you'll notice that his or her edges don't slip much. Look more closely and you'll see a very quiet upper body. Accomplished ice skiers concentrate on where they're going next. They don't twist, tip or tilt. Their hands are well positioned and they employ a smooth, purposeful pole plant.
Develop a Stance that Helps Balance
Click the "advanced" slideshow for the details.
Open, Countered Hips
Here's a view of Mike from behind. Notice how relaxed (and yet alert) his upper body looks. His hips are aligned with his shoulders, as though a part of them, and they're open, or "countered," meaning they're turned away from the direction his skis are pointing and facing downhill. This helps prevent his tails from skidding out.
One-Trick Pony: One of the defining differences between advanced and expert skiers on ice is the expert's ability to make a variety of turn sizes and shapes. Bigger carved turns, with no skid at all, are tougher than short, slightly skidded turns.
Make Longer Turns
Click the "expert" slideshow for the details.
Use the Edges of Both Skis
The illustration above represents the culmination of what we should all try to achieve on ice. Mike's feet are apart, and because the edges of both of his skis are working, he's not skidding. Mike will leave parallel arcs in the snow. Note his almost casual-looking upper body, his ready arms and hands, his countered hips and his long outside leg. Would that we could all make turns like this—on ice or elsewhere.