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How to Learn Movements & Skills for Skiing

Skiing Skills

A Model for Learning Movements & Skills

Skills for skiing

Some people are born with being able to sprint fast or other talented gifts. Such as being able to obtain skills for skiing effortlessly. But what about those who are not blessed with these abilities and genetics. I am a professional and I am going to tell you that its possible to teach these things, and all motor skills. By first understanding how we learn movement patterns and skills. Which brings me to the Fitts and Posner Three Stage model of acquiring a motor skill. While there are different learning styles to which individuals process and understand information. The process we go through when acquiring motor skills is similar for everyone. Even though motor skills vary widely in type and complexity, such as skills for skiing. The acquisition process is still similar for all. Paul Fitts (1964, Fitts & Posner, 1967) proposed three stages (or phases) of acquiring a motor skill: the cognitive, associative, and autonomous stages (see the table below).

1st Stage of Skill Development

Paul Fitts and Michael Posner presented their three stage model in 1967. And to this day, it is applicable in learning motor skills. The first stage is the cognitive stage. Which is characterised by the learner trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done.

Skier’s Example:

What is the objective of carving the ski?” “How should I position my body so that I can edge the skis enough?” “Where in the turn should I tilt my feet to edge my skis?” “How should I distribute my weight?” “How do I control my speed and direction?”
What is the objective of parallel turning?” “How can I turn both feet at the same time without losing balance?” “How do I control my speed?” “Why do I need to travel faster?

There are many questions that a skier has when they first try to learn to carve the skis. Fitts and Posner explain that the learner must engage in considerable cognitive activity. While they listen to instructions and receive feedback from the instructor. As a result, control of movements are through conscious effort in this stage. Also learners sometimes use (overt or covert) self-talk in this stage, giving it label of “the verbal stage”.

During this stage, learners often experiment with different strategies. In order to find out which ones work, or don’t work. Consequently bringing them closer to the movement goal. Also, learners tend to pay attention to the step-by-step execution of the skill. Which requires considerable attentional capacity. The result of using conscious control strategies is that the movement is relatively slow, abrupt, and inefficient. So the performance ends up being rather inconsistent. This is when the learner knows that they’re not yet skilled enough to perform the task. One of the ways to help the learner through this first stage, and understand their performance. Is through the use of video analysis. From experience, once the learner can watch their performance they tend to adjust it at a faster rate.

2nd Stage of Skill Development

The second stage of learning a skill in the Fitts and Posner model is called the associative stage. Which is characterised by more subtle movement adjustments. Here the movement outcome is more reliable, and the movements are more consistent from trial to trial. As a result, inefficient parts of the movement pattern become gradually reduced. And the movement becomes more efficient overall. The transition into this stage occurs after an unspecified amount of structured practice.

The learner reaches this stage once they’ve developed the knowledge of; what, how, and when to perform the different tasks the make up the skill. Therefore the learner may make mistakes, but fewer in this stage. And the performance of the skill is usually more consistent. In the associative stage, the learner knows how to do something. But, in spite of this, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration. As a result, this can make the learner tense, which could inhibit the learner’s skiing performance.

3rd Stage of Skill Development

The third and final stage of learning a skill is called the autonomous stage. After further structured practice that appropriately varies; the rate, range, timing, intensity, or durations of the skill. The performer’s fluent and seemingly effortless motions characterise the arrival of the autonomous phase. In this stage the skill has become automatic/habitual. Most of all, this applies to the learning of all motor skills, including motor skills that are ineffective. Therefore, remember that practice does not achieve perfect, it only leads movements to become automatic. Even if that is a poor quality movement. So practice must be of correct form and structure to achieve the goal.

chamonix off piste

Learners in this stage do not think about all the steps required to make a parallel turn, or carve the skis. So the learner just performs and skis the desired turn. Guiding the learner through so much correctly structured practice with a skill. Means that it has become “second nature”. The performance of the skill is easy involving very little thinking. Thus, one thing that seems to change considerably as we gain more experience with a skill is the amount of attention that we need to dedicate to its execution. Some studies have looked more closely at how attentional demands change as individuals go through different stages of skill acquisition. We can for example start to dedicate some attention to reading the terrain, adjusting our line or tactics accordingly (which is especially useful for Chamonix skiing).

Skiing Megeve St Gervais


In closing, any athletic drill or movement can use the Fitts and Posner’s Three Stage Model of learning. Of course, there are other different theories of learning but with the Fitts and Posner model it is simple and it works time and time again. As a coach you can use this model with all of your learners developing new skills or movements. Of course it is easy to go out and train a bunch of skiers by just skiing them into the ground copying templates. And many instructors still do that. But to be a great coach or instructor, the use of teaching techniques with an understanding of how humans learn motor skills, can be much more beneficial to a person who is developing skills for skiing.

Finally, in learning motor skills the whole basis is being able to program your body to learn and do different things. The earlier you start programming your body into the correct way to perform specific movements, like ski, snowboard, telemark, run, jump, throw, lift, etc. The better skier or performer you will be. The important aspect is learning the proper technique sooner because the longer a person waits there is a greater chance there is of the skier acquiring automatic bad habits. That is why it is so important to find a qualified, educated instructor, coach, or teacher. Who can show, teach, and explain the proper techniques of skiing and snowsports (or any motor skill).

Stages of Skill Aqcuisition

Stages of Skill AquisitionMovements & FocusConscious Effort
Cognitive (verbal)Movements are slow, inconsistent, and inefficientLarge parts of the movement are controlled consciously
Considerable cognitive activity is required
AssociativeMovements are more fluid, reliable, and efficientSome parts of the movement are controlled consciously, some automatically
Less cognitive activity is required
Autonomous (motor)Movements are accurate, consistent, and efficientMovement is largely controlled automatically
Little or no cognitive activity is required

skills for skiing

If you are interested in our teaching methods, come and join us for some ski lessons in Chamonix or at any of our ski schools in Megeve, St Gervais, and Les Contamines.

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