Short of flying to the Southern Hemisphere or to a glacier to find snow (which I cannot afford), is there any way to improve my skiing this summer?
A visionary French ski coach, George Joubert, once wrote, "We learn to ski in summer. We learn to swim in winter." He was talking about how some great French racers made quantum leaps in their results from one year to the next through imaging and visualization in the off season.
On-snow time in winter gives you time to practice-for better or worse-what you already do, ingraining both good and bad habits into your muscle memory. Many instructors and coaches believe you can shorten the rehabituating process by taking a physical break and running mental "tapes" of what you want to do. I agree.
The problem is that you need a crystal-clear "streaming video" of what you want to accomplish. Read all you can, study video, set specific technical goals, and check with a truly knowledgeable teacher to be sure your understanding of the goal is sound.
If, for example, your goal is to improve your slalom technique, you need to know what this looks like and have some idea of how it feels. Then play the movements over in your mind all summer. You might be astonished at how easily the movement comes to you when you get back on snow next fall. Changing even a simple pattern to create a new habit requires hundreds of repetitions.
You also need to stay in shape and enter each season as strong as possible. No exercises exactly simulate skiing, but practicing quick, controlled turns down gentle paved hills on inline skates is pretty close. I stood on a slalom hill in Colorado with Olympic gold medalist Phil Mahre not long ago, watching world-class slalom skiers run gates. Phil noted that starting a turn on a short, shaped slalom ski is a lot like turning on inline skates, so that's another good option.
Have a question for The Professor? Write Stu Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org.