When I hear that people don’t ski in their local areas because they’re spoiled by skiing out West, I believe they’re missing something.

A lot of world class ski racers cut their teeth on areas that have less than 1000’ vertical. Lindsey Vonn and Kristina Koznick both were raised on Buck Hill in Minnesota, under the watchful eye of Erich Sailer.  Erich is a world-renowned coach and has done an amazing job training ski racers on a hill with very little vertical drop.  Similarly, the Cochran family in Vermont has a rich legacy of developing ski racing talent on smaller hills.

Seven Springs Resort, Pennsylvania

Recently, the PSIA pod cast, Chaos and Company, discussed the fact that there are many drills that can be utilized at smaller areas.  Frank Andres, who coached racing at Seven Springs Resort (another <1000’ vertical hill) used to advise making as many small turns as possible.

Buck Hill trail map

My message is: wherever you ski, utilize the available terrain to advance your skiing skills. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Use edging exercises such as garland drills, where you link edge and release traverses across the hill. They’re beneficial in helping you understand when and where to release and set edges during a turn.  Many garlands can be made at smaller areas.
  • Jump turns can be utilized along with short radius turns to make use of the terrain at smaller areas. See how many short radius turns or jump turns you can make in a contest with friends
  • Blend short radius turns into medium radius turns and back again in a prescribed space to develop control.
  • Pick an imaginary alley and make a series of short radius turns not allowing yourself to ski out of the alley.  Mix it up by using the same imaginary alley and holding your poles in front of you to promote balance.  Think of the poles like holding a tray and avoid spilling the drinks.
  • Make your legs do all the work to eliminate rotation during a turn.  If you’re not accustomed to this drill, start on a gentle slope or trail.
  • NASTAR is often run at smaller areas and allows for repeated race turns against the clock.
  • Skiing on one ski and switching back and forth can develop good individual leg coordination and can be utilized with ease at a smaller area.

Practice these exercises locally and you’ll get a lot more skiing out of a lot less vertical. That home hill homework will get you better prepared for that trip out West.



  1. Hi Pat,

    Couldn’t agree more.
    I teach at Ski Bradford in Haverhill, MA
    It’s all of 240 vertical feet.
    Many of the area High Schools ski teams train there as do some of the area colleges.
    The Bradford Ski Team is part of the Eastern Massachusetts Buddy Warner League.
    They, also, compete in Tri-State and USSA open races in Southern New Hampshire.
    My son started there at age 7 and went on to become a PSIA Certified instructor up to Level II all through High School and College

  2. Jump turns? Hello!! Most seniors are fortunate to be out on the hill enjoying the mountain and trying to stay upright and vertical. I want my skis and feet flat on the ground. Of course, that could because of the neuropathy in my feet that many senior skiers experience.

    I say go out and enjoy an incredible day on the mountain.

  3. Ken- sounds like a familiar story. Lots of people utilize smaller areas. High school racers, college racers, ski instructors. When you are sliding you are smiling. Thanks for reading.

  4. Hi Pat,

    I love skiing at the hills near where I live – all with slightly less than 600 vert. While huge mountains with massive snowfall are wonderful, the bump I ski on is wonderful. My thought on those who dis small hills is their narcissism is on display – as well as their net worth statements.

    I have been fortunate to ski many of the major areas in North America and Europe and much chopper time. I still love the little bump.

    As a race coach I can verify your statement that great skiers can be made on small hills.

    All the best,


    • Hi, Dick; I’m from RI, so little hills were the norm, with only Yawgoo Valley left. But I first skied at King Ridge in NH, so I subscribe to your words about “Small is Beautiful”. God to hear it. Peter

  5. Mark Hutchinson says:

    Hey Pat! Do a road trip and come up and ski Cochrans with me sometime. Maybe we can go for some night skiing and watch some Race training.

  6. John Vyverberg says:

    My home mountain (Bristol NY) is a little over 1000′ at 1200′ (depends on how you measure), but certainly is in the small mountain class. Lots of good skiing and training there and a perfect way to prepare for bigger resorts in NE and out west. We’re very fortunate to have it 45 minutes away from home.

  7. Barbara McIntyre says:

    Thanks, Pat. I am a new member and admittedly a snob about Midwest versus “real mountain skiing.” I am looking forward to Banff/Lake Louise in March but will meet other midwesterners at Nub’s Nob in January. I really appreciate your comments and am now looking forward to skiing in my own state for the first time in 50 years. Have a fantastic year! Barbara.

    • doug kilbourn says:

      enjoy the Lake louise
      it is my home area that i grew up in
      we have the most snow to date since 1955
      my 66th year skiing every week and still teach and coach

  8. 57 years ago I cut my skiing teeth at Buck Hill. It was the place to go for Minnesota kids in the 60’s. Time and a drivers license eventually sent me North. Many good memories. I taught my wife and kids to ski at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. If you want more there is Lutsen Mt overlooking Lake Superior. Skiing the Rockies never spoiled me over the small ski resorts in MN which I still enjoy with my wife.

  9. Anthony Summit says:

    Skiing is Skiing. I have often heard from skiers who have been out west that they just can’t be bothered with eastern skiing. Phewy, if you love skiing, you enjoy each and every time and place you put the boards on your boots. I ski New York and Vermont then drive west to the Rockies. On the way I stop at the midwestern hills just for the fun. I use the same skills and watch others having just as much fun. Yes, the small stuff can be training for high Mtns but as I said Skiing is skiing.

  10. As a skier now turning eighty, I find that the small area’s where I live (Lower Hudson Valley NY) Mt Peter and Mountian Creek are about all that I need these day’s. Mt Peter is free over 70 and the Creek is discounted and has some very good longer runs, for me Mt. Peter is a week day social event where I will find skiers my age any day during the week and the owners and staff are really great. I have a son in Evergreen Colo with a house in Blue River so if the west calls there is Breck, Copper and the Basin……

  11. Enjoyed as a small child, sliding on the Seattle Mountaineers hill and staying at the lodge 64 years ago. But an arsonist apparently burned down the lodge, so end of wonderful small ski hill. Sob [like in crying]. . .

  12. Winnie Johnson says:

    I learned to ski at Wilmont Hills, WI.
    I first went there as a freshman in HS in 1959. It was in a farmer’s field with a rope tow. I was “bitten” by the ski bug after one day on the hill . . . fast forward 63 years to today . . . Vail bought it – dug into the pasture, raised the height of the hill and renamed it Wilmont Mountain Ski Resort.
    My introduction to that little ski hill changed my life – I moved to Colorado for college and taught skiing there (A-Basin, Keystone, Copper Mtn.) on weekends for 51 years!

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