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What is the terminal intermediate plateau? And how do I avoid getting stuck there?

NYSnowflake

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#1
Hi Diva instructors and gurus! I’ve heard there’s this thing called the terminal intermediate plateau... And that it is not desirable to stay there. Any tips for a 40ish new-to-skiing intermediate skier on what this plateau is exactly, and how to progress beyond the Bermuda triangle of intermediate skiing?:ski2:
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#2
To start I have to say there is nothing wrong with being a terminal intermediate if you are having fun and spending time and money to improve your ski technique isn't a priority or just not practical at the moment.

To get past the "intermediate plateau" the simple answer is to keep taking lessons, but know that mileage is important too. A few years ago a friend in the Mid-Atlantic and I started an online discussion about what it took to get to an advanced level for someone who could only skied about 20 days a season and didn't live in ski country. The conclusion was that while it's possible with random lessons and days on snow at small hills (PA, VA), it's a lot easier if can include a 1-week ski vacation to a big mountain. Not only can get in more mileage, that allows a few days to focus on skiing even if doing some work remotely in the evenings.

Read on for my story and more thoughts about how to improve . . .

I was a terminal intermediate for decades, from my 20s to early 50s. That meant I stuck to groomers on trips out west (not every winter), which was my only skiing for quite a while. Happens with you are working and married to a non-skier. I'd skied for two seasons in middle school (straight skis, lace up boots) because I was having a grand time at North Country School in Lake Placid, which has a rope tow ski hill on campus. Loved it but didn't ski at all for ten years since my family moved from NYC to North Carolina.

Before I started taking lessons about 10 years ago, I could make it down an ungroomed slope or a groomer with chopped up snow but it was a lot of work and there was a lot of stopping along the way to recover and reset for a few more turns. I was an adventurous advanced intermediate. My daughter was a better skier than I was by age 10 since she started with ski school at age 4, even though we were only skiing 10-15 days working around a school schedule. It was eye-opening when I experienced the difference between an instructor with PSIA Level 3 certification and/or 20+ years of teaching experience and the usual instructors teaching intermediate group lessons. By the time I was 60, I was skiing terrain I never expected to ever touch. Still expect to keep improving for at least another decade. Maybe longer given what my ski buddy has learned from instructors in his late 60s, and he was an advanced skier in high school.

The other factor that really helped was finding a ski buddy who was both a much better skier and very patient and willing to be a sweeper. That meant I could do "adventure runs" during trips out west. Having a sweeper means there is someone behind you who can help if you fall, makes it easier to go a little faster and make a few more turns before stopping on a more challenging run. What's challenging changes with conditions and improving ability. Could be a steeper groomer, or a short section of bumps on the side of a groomer, or some run off-piste where there isn't a way to bail.

The reasons I wanted to get off groomers and feel more confident skiing any black terrain shifted as I had the opportunity to ski more often and take more trips out west. The top three below is how I started. #3 about powder is because I experienced one powder run (boot deep) on Ballroom in 8th grade with an instructor during a trip because a friend invited me for a week. I never forgot the feeling. #4 and #5 are why I've kept taking semi-private lessons and going to Taos Ski Weeks in recent years. I didn't understand why learning to ski bumps (not zipper-line) was so useful until after a couple seasons of lessons with L3 instructors, both at my home hill and out west.

1) stay better than my daughter . . . didn't work, she was better by age 10 :smile:
2) get away from crowded blue trails in the southeast, mid-Atlantic, or northeast
3) learn to ski deep powder
4) learn to ski powder in trees, which meant learning to ski bumps first
5) make it easier to explore a new ski area/resort because no worries about getting into terrain that would be too difficult
 
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#3
I wouldn't worry about this unless you're actually stuck in it. Some people are more naturally gifted than others. There are some women on this board that started as an adult and progressed to being very good advanced skiers within a few years. There are others of us that didn't progress as quickly despite many lessons and clinics.

I have days where I feel like a terminal intermediate and other days where I feel like a rock star.

I think this is common in many sports. I have a surfer friend who feels stuck at the same level for years. It's not like most adults have the time to really devote themselves to a sport as much as they'd like.
 

Skier31

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#4
The beauty of skiing is that you get to choose what makes you happy.

There are plenty of people who love cruising around the mountain. There are others who love the technical aspects of skiing. Others want to be able to ski the whole mountain. Others love club racing.

What do you enjoy? Are you able to do what you enjoy now or do you think you need some additional skills or confidence to reach your goals?

Let us know and there are many here who can point you in the direction you want to go.
 

SallyCat

Moderator
Staff member
#5
To answer your question by way of a cautionary tale, I'm very much on the plateau, and to me it's negative because I'd like to keep up with friends and ski more varied terrain. I'm on the fence between becoming a 2- or 3-day-a-season skier or really committing to trying to improve this year. It does not bode well that opening day is Saturday and I don't really know if I feel like going or not.

So to answer your question my perspective is that if you feel that you're stagnating and you don't want to stagnate, try to recognize that and come at it really hard with lessons and a plan to spend as much time on snow as possible. That way you'll hopefully jump-start some tangible progress before frustration sets in.
 

NYSnowflake

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#6
The beauty of skiing is that you get to choose what makes you happy.

There are plenty of people who love cruising around the mountain. There are others who love the technical aspects of skiing. Others want to be able to ski the whole mountain. Others love club racing.

What do you enjoy? Are you able to do what you enjoy now or do you think you need some additional skills or confidence to reach your goals?

Let us know and there are many here who can point you in the direction you want to go.
I really enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. I come from an equestrian eventing background so I enjoy the speed and thrills (XC and jumping) and also the technical side of sports (dressage), and just being outdoors. My husband and our friends are all really good skiers (instructors, examiners, etc.). I don’t like being left behind as the one who can’t hang with everybody else. My husband also wants us to go to Whistler Blackcomb in March. This is pretty scary to me especially because he used to be a mountain host there, and our friend is a ski examiner there, and I am a little concerned that I am going to be in way over my head out there with no intermediates to ski with. So I would like to be able to comfortably ski at least all the black diamonds.

With my Dressage background I don’t want to be a sloppy skier or have a lack of appreciation for proper technique. It annoys me that when my husband skis people say “wow he’s showing us how it’s done”. And when I ski people say things like “you need to keep your body facing down the hill, or you have to work on your angulation, you’re too far forward, or make your turns rounder”. I want that to stop! I guess I’m a little competitive! :hurt:But I know I’ll never be as good of a skier as my husband. I know I was a stronger skier and could competently execute a lot more moves last March. I’ve been out twice this season (my second year on skis) and feel rusty. I need to work on refreshing my memory on all the things I learned last season and building on that. I know the basic differences between flat skiing and carving and in between and can execute them in a basic way. I can side slip and pivot slip and do falling leaf fairly confidently. Looking at my calendar I think it’s possible but I’ll hit 50 days on the snow this year, give or take 10 depending on weather and luck.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#7
I know I was a stronger skier and could competently execute a lot more moves last March. I’ve been out twice this season (my second year on skis) and feel rusty. I need to work on refreshing my memory on all the things I learned last season and building on that. I know the basic differences between flat skiing and carving and in between and can execute them in a basic way. I can side slip and pivot slip and do falling leaf fairly confidently.
As my daughter was becoming an advanced skier, I always made her take a lesson during our first couple local ski trips. It was the simplest way from her developing bad habits. Given that our home hill is small, it was very easy for her to get away with not having the best form.

What I've learned is that there were times when I thought I was doing a drill the correct way, but in fact I wasn't due to pretty subtle reasons. Essentially because I didn't understand the details and couldn't really see exactly what the instructors legs were doing under their ski pants. Was definitely the case for railroad tracks. I'd been doing them for a couple seasons . . . or so I thought. Was free skiing with a friend who is a L3 instructor. He wasn't impressed. It took another season or two before I really understood what was missing.

I'm a visual learner when it comes to sports. Following an instructor or good skier is very helpful for learning a new drill or for practice. For others, reading a book or watching a video is enough to get started. For me, reading or a video is only helpful for a deeper understanding of a drill I've already tried to do.

A story since you mentioned pivot slips . . .

I arranged a semi-private lesson at JH with @snoWYmonkey several years ago. My ski buddies, Bill and Jason, hadn't had a lesson in quite a while. Decades in Bill's case and he was an advanced skier in high school in Colorado. One of the first drills she asked us to do was pivot slips. Jason had never done them. I'd done them a few times but wasn't good at them yet. After she demonstrated, Jason and I took our turns. Then Bill went. He pivoted easily and finished with a 360 stopping right next to her. She said something nice and then took the drill to another level for him. She drew a line down the fall line in the snow with her pole. Then asked him to do pivot slips while keeping his boots over the line. In his first set of pivots, he'd been moving horizontally quite a bit as he moved downhill. Fair to say that he had to concentrate a LOT more to stay over the line.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#8
And when I ski people say things like “you need to keep your body facing down the hill, or you have to work on your angulation, you’re too far forward, or make your turns rounder”. I want that to stop! I guess I’m a little competitive!
Have you ever considered letting them know that there are times when you'd rather not get that sort of feedback? Or at least that they should ask before offering "help."

I'm been lucky to free ski with a few very experienced instructors I've "met" on ski forums. While they are generally happy to answer a few questions or demonstrate a drill, they don't offer unsolicited advice. What I enjoy doing with them the most is simply following closely behind in an attempt to match their rhythm and turn shape, and line for a bump run.
 

TaylorC

Diva in Training
#9
It's only your 2nd year? You said you are an intermediate but that's a very broad term. After only one year, you needn't worry about an intermediate or any plateau just yet. Give yourself time. I'd work on being a strong (advanced) intermediate before wanting to ski all the blacks at Whistler this season.

Time on snow and appropriate terrain are all you need to improve. Ski solo, so you can go at your own pace. Once you feel you've mastered a slope (green, then blue) then and only then, progress to something harder. That's what is meant by appropriate terrain.
Sounds like you've been a bit over-coached (pivot slip, falling leaf, flat, carving- for heavens sake!). Tell those coaches/hubby to stop. Let them know that you will ASK if you need advise. Once I know a newbie knows the basics, I tell them to ask me for further advise. I could give them 100 tips but don't because I know they need to absorb it all, and practice what is and is not working for them. It called guided learning. If someone can teach themselves, learning happens deeper.
Another big factor is strength. And good you get so many days out there. Much of skiing improvement is about your strength. Ski each day until your legs burn. Bike in the off season to prepare those legs.
Homework - Google "Warming Up - Tips for Intermediate Skiers" I just found this one, but there are many other good short video ski tips online. I work in adaptive skiing and it's no small thing if a client uses many forms of developing knowledge before and during the learning process.
Last I will say, Yes, you can become as good as Anyone. Your past work in the equestrian world will transfer in many ways, dedication, attention to detail, and determination will greatly aid your process of learning.
Have FUN. If it's not fun, stop and change something. Immediately.
 

contesstant

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#10
As a former competitive horse show gal, I can definitely relate to the desire for perfection and "perfect" form. Your lucky that you competed in eventing so you are used to perhaps a bit more chaos at times, which can be useful in skiing. You're probably quite a bit bolder than I am--my fear holds me back more than anything.

With that in mind, try to not get too caught up in being perfect. Ironically, I also ski with my husband who is an L3 instructor, and all of our friends, most of whom are also instructors, and it can be a bit discouraging. Try to emulate them and not get discouraged by how "perfect" they seem!
 
#11
I ski often with amazing skiers. My beloved, "Mr. Blizzard," will tell anyone who will listen that this will be his 55th consecutive season. His sister is PSIA 3. His brothers are all great skiers, and so are most of their wives and all their kids, and quite a few from that bunch are also sometimes instructors. My diva friends are all better than me!

Perhaps this won't help you. But I remind myself that I started as a never-ever at age 62, and as a rather fearful, non-athletic person, I ski cautiously and make slow but steady progress. I can't expect to ski like them. We can all have lunch!

Good luck. Remind yourself you are an accomplished horsewoman and a novice skier making good progress. As was suggested above, multiple tips may do more harm than good. I always ask an instructor to tell me "one thing." Coordinating my brain and my body take a lot out of me; if you give me four things to focus on, this is a losing battle!
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#12
Time. On. Snow.

That's the best way to improve.

Also, lessons. But I think others here have said it -- they're an important tool, but you need to back off from time to time to give yourself time to practice, internalize the input, and just have FUN. Because really, that's what it's all about.

One more thing: if you don't feel comfortable doing something, don't do it. Sure, it's good to give yourself a challenge and go for it from time to time. But keep it in perspective. Don't try to tackle terrain you know is over your head, even if everyone else is doing it. You'll know when the time is right.
 
#13
I really enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. I come from an equestrian eventing background so I enjoy the speed and thrills (XC and jumping) and also the technical side of sports (dressage), and just being outdoors. My husband and our friends are all really good skiers (instructors, examiners, etc.). I don’t like being left behind as the one who can’t hang with everybody else. My husband also wants us to go to Whistler Blackcomb in March. This is pretty scary to me especially because he used to be a mountain host there, and our friend is a ski examiner there, and I am a little concerned that I am going to be in way over my head out there with no intermediates to ski with. So I would like to be able to comfortably ski at least all the black diamonds.
Being able to challenge yourself and enjoy it is HUGE...it's how you expand your comfort zone, and expanding your comfort zone means you're picking up new skills. I will say, as you get better, the accomplishments become smaller...don't get discouraged by this. At that point keep celebrating the little victories which are often gauged on how comfortable you are on a trail that once terrified you.

As for Whistler. Maybe book a group lesson or two while you're there. That way you have a chance to ski with other people on terrain that suits your needs, your husband can get the double black diamonds out of his system and you can meet up later and ski terrain that you both will enjoy together.

I know the feeling of being left behind or holding people up sucks...a lot. Couple thoughts for advice...stop thinking that you're being left behind when they go down something that you're not ready for. Start thinking that you're just taking your own path down the mountain. As social as skiing is, it's a solitary sport...own your individual path...doesn't matter what your friends are doing. Second thought, when people are waiting for you, say "thanks for waiting for me", rather than "sorry I'm slow and holding you up"....best advice I've ever gotten mountain biking.

As for the unsolicited advice you're getting on the mountain. Tell your friends or your husband that you know they're trying to help but giving you random pointers, isn't really helping.
 
#14
I really enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. I come from an equestrian eventing background so I enjoy the speed and thrills (XC and jumping) and also the technical side of sports (dressage), and just being outdoors. My husband and our friends are all really good skiers (instructors, examiners, etc.). I don’t like being left behind as the one who can’t hang with everybody else. My husband also wants us to go to Whistler Blackcomb in March. This is pretty scary to me especially because he used to be a mountain host there, and our friend is a ski examiner there, and I am a little concerned that I am going to be in way over my head out there with no intermediates to ski with. So I would like to be able to comfortably ski at least all the black diamonds.

With my Dressage background I don’t want to be a sloppy skier or have a lack of appreciation for proper technique. It annoys me that when my husband skis people say “wow he’s showing us how it’s done”. And when I ski people say things like “you need to keep your body facing down the hill, or you have to work on your angulation, you’re too far forward, or make your turns rounder”. I want that to stop! I guess I’m a little competitive! :hurt:But I know I’ll never be as good of a skier as my husband. I know I was a stronger skier and could competently execute a lot more moves last March. I’ve been out twice this season (my second year on skis) and feel rusty. I need to work on refreshing my memory on all the things I learned last season and building on that. I know the basic differences between flat skiing and carving and in between and can execute them in a basic way. I can side slip and pivot slip and do falling leaf fairly confidently. Looking at my calendar I think it’s possible but I’ll hit 50 days on the snow this year, give or take 10 depending on weather and luck.

You'll love Whistler, lots of good terrain, I'll suggest on the day they go hiking to do extreme stuff, take the Mt tour. Taking the Mt Tour is a great way to be introduced to any MT so you'll learn you way around with local guides that do not take you on any black trails, and chances are you'll meet someone you may want to ski with more.

If you are extremely fearful of the MT do take a lesson but it sounds like you are off to a great start and I think you'll be fine. Most lifts at Whistler as I recall had terrain off of them for intermediates and beginners.

To be an excellent skier is time on snow for sure. Find just a couple of pointers that work for you:" "hands down the hill" "keep your zipper in the fall line" .

Skiing with better skiers and following their line is one of the best ways to get better. Focus on looking down the hill, not at your ski tips, and Try to Relax, Don't forget to Breathe- If your toes are Curling- STOP - Re group and start over. Have a great trip!!!
 
#15
I know the feeling of being left behind or holding people up sucks...a lot. Couple thoughts for advice...stop thinking that you're being left behind when they go down something that you're not ready for. Start thinking that you're just taking your own path down the mountain. As social as skiing is, it's a solitary sport...own your individual path...doesn't matter what your friends are doing.
I like skiing alone and being able to focus on my skiing without trying to keep up. I also like skiing with friends who are better skiers and trying to keep up. There's a time and place for everything though, and if a friend points me down one run while they take a different route I am not offended or hurt. I appreciate that they are keeping my skills in mind and that they are trying to keep me in one piece and having fun. There will be runs you can do together as a group, and there will be runs that you would do better to put off until another season. More important than always skiing together as a group is staying in one piece and having fun so that you can tackle those difficult runs another season. And if you are always the last one down the hill? Tell them it's ok to head in and order your beer so it is waiting for you, you will return the favor when you are the first down :smile:
 
#16
Just a reality check. The vast majority of people would not even be thinking of skiing a black diamond at Whistler in their second year. Whistler has some great lesson groups. I'd stop hanging out with the expert skiers and being frustrated that you can't keep up with them and that they're giving you unsolicited advice. Do a lesson group instead with skiers of your own level, and meet your friends for speed.
 

NewEnglandSkier

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
As another person with a horse show background--also remember ski season is relatively limited in timing--you are not on snow everyday. Even 50 days while that is a fairly large number is not a lot compared to riding say 300 days per year. It's no wonder people don't make the same progress in skiing since time on snow/experience counts for a lot and it's self limiting for most due to seasons etc. Most people don't get to be advanced riders after only one year, so same is true of skiing!
 
#18
There will be runs you can do together as a group, and there will be runs that you would do better to put off until another season.
I agree with this ^^^^
When skiing with a friend(s) and I want to do a more challenging run, I'll usually say "you might not like this one." How about if I meet you at the chair?
And vice versa. Agree nobody wants unsolicited advice on a run that they're already feeling challenged by.
 
#19
Thanks for asking this question and all the great replies! I'm a "late to skiing" person as well, skied about 5 times in my life prior to last year when I finally decided to commit to more time on the slopes since we now live close to amazing ski areas. I hear you on the perfection thing as well, I grew up a competitive figure skater and so skiing was a bit of a learning curve for me, but at least I wasn't really afraid of falling while trying something new.

I feel I'm probably in the same boat as you, I took a few lessons right at the beginning, then wound up skiing on my own for several weeks, daughter in ski school during the day and my hubby doesn't ski (talked him into it this year though!). And then I took additional lessons with a couple of other instructors later in the season and picked up a few more things. By the end of the season I was comfortable skiing everything on Buttermilk expect for a mogul run (goal for this year) and I even went down a couple of blacks up at Snowmass which definitely stretched my comfort level. I hope that by getting more time on the snow this year and some more lessons that I will eventually be able to break out of the Intermediate area in a few years. But, I think that even if I don't, I will be happy as long as I can ski with my family and enjoy it!
 

Abbi

Angel Diva
#20
I really enjoy learning new things and challenging myself. I come from an equestrian eventing background so I enjoy the speed and thrills (XC and jumping) and also the technical side of sports (dressage), and just being outdoors. My husband and our friends are all really good skiers (instructors, examiners, etc.). I don’t like being left behind as the one who can’t hang with everybody else. My husband also wants us to go to Whistler Blackcomb in March. This is pretty scary to me especially because he used to be a mountain host there, and our friend is a ski examiner there, and I am a little concerned that I am going to be in way over my head out there with no intermediates to ski with. So I would like to be able to comfortably ski at least all the black diamonds.

With my Dressage background I don’t want to be a sloppy skier or have a lack of appreciation for proper technique. It annoys me that when my husband skis people say “wow he’s showing us how it’s done”. And when I ski people say things like “you need to keep your body facing down the hill, or you have to work on your angulation, you’re too far forward, or make your turns rounder”. I want that to stop! I guess I’m a little competitive! :hurt:But I know I’ll never be as good of a skier as my husband. I know I was a stronger skier and could competently execute a lot more moves last March. I’ve been out twice this season (my second year on skis) and feel rusty. I need to work on refreshing my memory on all the things I learned last season and building on that. I know the basic differences between flat skiing and carving and in between and can execute them in a basic way. I can side slip and pivot slip and do falling leaf fairly confidently. Looking at my calendar I think it’s possible but I’ll hit 50 days on the snow this year, give or take 10 depending on weather and luck.
I showed hunters WAAAAAY back when. (only a little bit of training level eventing) And now I race my sailboat. I totally get the competitive thing! BUT for now, since you are learning, compete with yourself! Learn, learn, learn. Take lessons. Exactly as you said, build from where you started.

I go nuts when friends (not a problem when said friends are instructors who I ask for help) offer 'help' when I don't ask. If I'm having a problem (OFTEN!!!) I mostly want to figure it out and not feel pressured.

50 days will make a huge difference. Take each day as it comes and don't get all Type A on yourself (spoken from the 'do as I say, not as I do' experience!)! Have a blast!
 

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