How many days do you ski a season? People often use answers to this question to judge a person’s skiing skills. When you sign up for a lesson, the instructor asks you this question. When you interview for an instructor job, the snow school asks you this question. When you do ski racing, this question is used for evaluating your training. Indeed, the US Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) uses mileage as an indicator of training volume in their alpine training systems.
Mileage could certainly help skiers adapt to different weather conditions (e.g., we may get used to cold weather), but it is hard to say that it could help skiers handle different terrain conditions. It is the quality of snow time, not the quantity of snow time, that matters more.
On my home mountain, I remember seeing a skier almost every day I went skiing. She took the first lift and skied until dark. Sometimes I left before the resort closed and she was still out there skiing. From her body form and serious eyes, you can tell she was not skiing for killing time; she was skiing for improvement.
When I saw her the first year, I thought, “Wow, she works hard.” When I saw her the second year, I thought, “Wow, she works really hard.” But when I saw her the third year, I wondered, “Wait a minute. Her skiing didn’t change at all.”
There is a myth in the mind of many skiers – if I ski more, I will ski better. If you don’t know how to handle bumps with quiet/relaxing upper body and correct pole plant, will it make a big difference trying moguls time and again? If you cannot get your skis on edge effectively, will it make a big difference trying icy surfaces time and again? If you cannot initiate quick, short turns with upper-lower body separation, will it make a big difference trying steeps time and again?
So many times, we see skiers persistently trying black-diamond trails, but they ski down almost with the same unbalanced form every run. Sometimes they even ski worse because problematic stances and forms get habituated over many runs. Changing habits is always hard. Ski instructors may have to disassemble many things of their skiing before putting them back together.
At a higher level, below are comments by Mikaela Shiffrin when she was interviewed by the New Yorker (“Mikaela Shiffrin, the Best Slalom Skier in the World”):
“You can’t get ten thousand hours of skiing. You spend so much time on the chairlift. My coach did a calculation of how many hours I’ve been on snow. We’d been overestimating. I think we came up with something like eleven total hours of skiing on snow a year. It’s like seven minutes a day. Still, at the age of twenty-two, I’ve probably had more time on snow than most. I always practice, even on the cat tracks or in those interstitial periods. My dad says, ‘Even when you’re just stopping, be sure to do it right, maintaining a good position, with counter-rotational force.’ These are the kinds of things my dad says, and I’m, like, ‘Shut up.’ But if you say it’s seven minutes a day, then consider that thirty seconds that all the others spend just straight-lining from the bottom of the racecourse to the bottom of the lift: I use that part to work on my turns. I’m getting extra minutes. If I don’t, my mom or my coaches will stop me and say something.”
The implication here is: if you are serious about ski learning, then have something in mind while skiing. Don’t try to work on too many things in one run. Work on one thing each run; if it doesn’t feel good enough, do multiple runs on the same skill. Then move to the next skill. Ski learning is like build a house; you cannot miss any fundamental steps. If you miss them, you may have to restart.
Be patient. Mileage is not everything.