The Secret of Snoworks Revealed!

Are you an ‘Open’ or ‘Closed’ skier?

And is this the key to why ski schools may have literally got it all wrong…?

Could this be at the core of why thousands, perhaps millions, of skiers around the world develop learning plateaus, unable to progress no matter how many times they sign up for ski school?

I’ve introduced this topic before in the article ‘Open Your Mind’ (April 2010 read here) featured in our Live to Ski Guide. IT’S AT THE HEART OF THE SNOWORKS SKIING & SKI TEACHING PHILOSOPHY.

So this time I’ve gone into it in more detail…

What are Open and Closed sports?
Closed sports are where the environment does not change such as running in lanes, swimming in lanes, javelin throwing, discuss, hammer etc.. Open sports are where the environment is constantly changing such as football, rugby, tennis, sailing, surfing etc..

Is Skiing Open or Closed?
Skiing is probably one of the most ‘Open’ and dynamic sports there is, yet somewhat alarmingly, the industry has built its understanding and foundations of skiing and teaching skiing on ‘closed sports’ methodology. It’s why there are so many different systems and ways of learning to ski and why so many skiers who travel to different resorts and countries in their skiing life are left confused, bewildered and despairing at the inconsistencies of how skiing is taught and why so many just don’t bother pursuing skiing tuition beyond the so-called ‘basics’.

For many skiers, the perception of ski school is only useful for gaining control over your skis for the pistes and groomed runs, where the environment is indeed less open, along with perhaps a broad understanding of mountain safety… oh, and how to get up lifts of course. But if the basics have been taught in ‘closed’ environment terms, then that’s it… you’re trapped for life. Unless, that is, you recognise this is how you’ve been taught and break free, starting the journey on a more long term and sustainable ‘open’ ski learning methodology…

Are you a closed skier?
Statements such as these below demonstrate a closed approach to skiing. Do you find yourself saying any (or all!) of these?… Are you a ‘VARIABLES VICTIM’?

– I’m ok providing it doesn’t get icy
– I can ski powder but when it begins to get varied I struggle
– I’m ok providing it doesn’t get steep
– Other skiers put me off
– I can’t control my speed
– I end up skiing too fast and lose control
– I’m ok providing the bumps are nicely spread out
– I struggle in bad visibility
– I struggle in slush
– I struggle on narrow paths
– I struggle when it gets crowded
– Trees put me off

Each statement has a variable attached to it – slope steepness, hazards, visibility, snow texture, other skiers or speed. If any of these statements ring true with you, then it’s time to go open, because having learned the closed method of skiing, you will always be a victim of skiing variables!

To clarify the difference between open and closed, it’s useful to understand the difference between why we have been taught to learn these methods.

When learning closed skills for closed sports, the movements tend to involve repetitive patterns; there’s a start and finish, like throwing a javelin – where the movement pattern can be described accurately.

When learning open skills for open sports there’s NO start or finish to the movement patterns, they have to be continually adapted to the changing environment.

Despite still being widely taught by many ski instructors and schools – knowing what we know about skiing in open environments, leaves ‘movement pattern learning’ obsolete.

A simply analogy I constantly use, would be trying to describe (and then teach!) the movement patterns of running through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks! To accurately describe what is happening and how to copy it is impossible – the probability of the same thing happening again exactly is like winning the lottery twice.

Set movement patterns would only work if you ran through the bar where each time everyone and everything always stayed in the same place. But of course, this would never happen: more people may have arrived, creating more obstacles; and furniture may have moved, the floor may be more slippery, etc., etc.. The variables are infinite.

This is why we don’t teach ‘set movement patterns’ anymore for all-terrain skiing.

Do any of these sound familiar?:

– Don’t lean back
– Face downhill
– Stand up, sink down
– Push into the front of the boots
– Don’t skid
– Get a rhythm
– Bounce up and down
– Equally weight your skis
– Keep more weight on the outside ski
– Plant your pole and stand up
– There are three phases to making a turn

All the above are statements which describe ‘closed techniques’. There is no consideration to the variables. By practicing any of the above, you will simply end up at a plateau when performance doesn’t match the variable. It’s a viscious circle.

So how do I go open?

Instead of set movement techniques, we teach our clients a toolbox of skiing skills – which the subconscious understands how and when to employ instinctively, adjusting to the terrain automatically without having to rely on repetitive conscious thought trying (and failing) to keep up with the changing environment.

Some of the skills we teach include:

Edge control
Pressure control
Rotary control
Speed control
Controlling Line
Decision making

Focus when skiing open environments is then on the output, ‘controlling your descent’ and the skills learnt are used at a subconscious level completely mixed together in an infinitely variable blend. Like running through the crowded bar analogy above.

By shifting your focus and concentration from the myths of making set movement patterns and onto developing and perfecting skills, you will instantly begin to understand the reality of the changing environment and how you should react accordingly. Skills learning allows you to be able to develop your skiing and take it much further, much faster than you (and all those skiers still ‘closed’) may ever know.

Skills-learning gives you total independence, connecting you with the ski against snow, snow structure, snow depth, terrain, steepness and speed to name but a few skiing variables.

Learning to ski ‘open’ may sound rather scientific and intense. At the very beginning, this may be true because of the terminology you’ll hear, like ‘Edge Control’ Pressure Control’ and ‘Rotary Control’. But after just a few hours, words will become meanings and feelings and then the penny will begin to drop as the mind and body opens into a whole new skiing universe.

Learning open skiing comes with a warning though: you’ll just wish you’d discovered it ten years ago, as you’ll find yourself pondering the time wasted on techniques that should now be forgotten on the mountain, but remembered fondly as times gone by and put up on the mantelpiece.

Hope to share more of our secrets with you soon!


Skills-learning for open environments is the Snoworks philosophy. Join Phil and other Snoworks-trained instructors to teach you the ‘open’ skills needed for effective skiing.

Our most popular course, All-Terrain, is an ideal way to learn and perfect the art of ‘open’ skiing. All-Terrain courses are run in the autumn and winter at UK Snowdomes, Tignes, Three Valleys and Hintertux. Click for details.

Also see our FAQ Ski Course v Ski School