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"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT":
by Bill Jones, Ski Instructor
Control on skis is vital if one is to have the best chance to enjoy an uninterrupted ski life. What is control? Speed management is obviously one aspect, but my definition of control is the ability to alter the arc of the turn while in it. I have seen skiers in the midst of a turn so locked into its arc that they have run into another skier. Conditions often change during a turn or may even have been incorrectly assessed to begin with. How reassuring to know that one can adjust turn shape as well as speed as one skis along. Methods of controlling turn shape while in the turn include changing one's fore-aft position by tilting forward or back, changing the tilt of the skis by moving the knees more inside the turn or more to its outside, or when the skis are flattish to the snow twisting the legs more or less to alter the skis' direction. [Editor to develop: Change radius of turn by timing, intensity, duration of movements. Turns have varying shapes: round like a C, smoothly connected like linked S's, asymmetrical like J's, or sharp and angular like a Z.]
What a Skier can do to Skis. We can only influence skis three ways: we can pivot them, we can tilt them, and we can change the pressure on them. The skills of skiing are likewise classified as rotary or turning skills (pivot), edging skills (tilting), and pressure management skills (pressuring). Balance must be appropriate to accomplish these three skills, and in a way is the result of applying the skills.
How to Pivot Skis. We can pivot a pair of skis by twisting our hips, but when we do the hip obviously swings around and probably more or less than the skis. This puts our outside hip forward and not in the Position of Power, or us in a weaker and less mobile position so we lose the ability to most-effectively manage speed on even moderate slopes. Fortunately, there is another way to pivot the skis. Our bodies are built so that we can turn each of our legs separately or together in our hip sockets. We don't usually do this because it doesn't work well when one or both of our feet are stuck to the Earth or to the floor as they normally are. But when our feet are freer to spin as in skiing, it does work. On a hard floor, try standing on one foot and twisting the other foot and its leg without moving the hip. For most of us, the hip will move. Now put a sheet of paper under each foot (mimicking slick snow) and then stand on both feet; now you will be able to twist both legs inside the hip sockets--and therefore your feet--without moving the hips. For this to work best, have your feet apart about as wide as your hips. But try it with your feet close: you will find your hips turning more when you turn your feet; this is why it is not effective to ski with your feet together, for most of us can't rotate our legs in the hip sockets with our feet close together.
Anatomy and Strength. Human anatomy controls the positions we can assume on skis. Sometimes we can assume positions with contortions, but likely we will not derive maximum strength and mobility in such postures. Generally, the bones of our skeletons should be more or less arranged in a line. We will bend about this line, but to deviate too far from it for long will cause us to use muscles to support ourselves rather than using our bones to hold our weight up or against the forces of a turn. If we use our muscles to support ourselves instead of our bones, we no longer have as much muscle power available for repositioning as we seek to manage our balance while reacting to the irregularities of the ski slope and snow conditions, and we will aslo tire sooner.
Skiing Must Be Proactive. Skis are designed to produce effects specific to the particular positions they happen to be placed in. Skis therefore continue to produce those effects until they are repositioned. The skier must be the one to reposition the skis (although sometimes terrain irregularities tend to reposition the skis unless these forces are resisted). Some skiers seem to be "along for the ride" when they should instead be starting their skis' new moves to change speed or direction. To know which move to plan, a skier must of course be looking ahead to the conditions coming up and be deciding what kind of maneuver to perform. Skiing is not a time to be thinking about where to have lunch. Be not just active, but proactive. (You will also be reactive as you absorb bumps or correct for some miscalculation.) An example from downhill ski racing is that the downhiller, upon approaching a drop, will rise up before the drop as if to jump, so that the downhiller's weight is falling when the drop-off is reached, carrying him or her down close to the grade; to not be proactive here, the downhiller could fly some distance in the air and not be able to turn for the next gate (a human body in the air continues in the path it had when it became airborne).
Bend Zee Knees. Austrians were largely responsible for bringing alpine skiing from their country to America. For many years before and after World War II, these Austrian imports dominated the industry in the United States--as instructors, area managers, and developers. A number joined our army in that war as ski troopers to fight against Hitler in the Alps of Europe. Austrians are noted for their discipline, adherence to standards, and zeal for accomplishment. Self-admittedly, however, for many English was not a language they could teach in easily. Of course in skiing the bending (and unbending, or straightening) of the knees leads to many good things, as mentioned in other parts of this writing. And so there are stories of early Austrian ski instructors whose lessons consisted of the advice "Bend Zee Knees...Five Dollars, Please." (The price would now be much more.) The American culture is a bit different, and so it is natural, perhaps, that this difference when coupled with international jealousy and rivalry would lead to modern instructors pointing out some of the demands Austrians had made on their early pupils. Another story is documented and involves Hannes Schroll, who pioneered skiing at Yosemite's Badger Pass and the Tahoe area's Sugar Bowl. He is now in the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame. He admonished students about as follows: "My zhtudent, you are zhtanding like a Chrizhtmaz tree! You are going to have to bend your kneez zooner or later, zo vhy not zave uz both zome time by bending zem now?" Today we would want to see the knees bend, too, but we'd get them to bend by bending the ankles first so the weight lowers over the feet and therefore does not shift rearward.
More tips are to follow, including those briefed below. Suggestions for new topics, or reworking old ones, will be heeded.
Cover upper body/lower body separation, with discipline of upper body. Is pelvis part of upper body or lower? (Upper usually.) If upper body starts a turn, then block hip to transmit turn to lower. Use only in soft snow conditions that will stop the rotation (more common in Sierra than Rockies).
Inside ski first (or outside ski back)--depending on where fore/aft balance is as last turn ends. Little toe, ankle-boot side, boot top, knee, thigh, hip, shoulder, all above, strong inside.
Concept of neutral. Aim includes how much "belly-button" down the hill. Not usual to turn skis crosswise to body, too contorted.
Concept of aim as body crosses over skis. Tilt body down the the hill to change edges of skis. Like a dive as hill gets steeper. More aggressive to make tighter turns.
Upper body will follow turns around in longer-radius turns, less so in shorter.
Anticipation wind-up produces turning effect. But must have a release.
Exercises to isolate skills as in PSIA exams--pivot slips, converging steps.
Conditioning and balancing drills before the season starts.
Learning to ski versus learning to board.
Aggressive versus assertive versus conservative. Remember we must first move the body or some part(s) to get the ski to move. "Right" (right-brain) skiing. Imagine an animal or a skier image and mimic in mind that image. Sing a song. Dance.(pick tunes of appropriate cadence).
How to take a good ski lesson--have a goal, take care of creature needs, realize learning will not happen if under physical or emotional stress. Ask if not sure. Challenge what is said; it may seem to differ from what you have understood before.
Advancing your skiing is expanding your options.
Fight loss of balance until you must bail out. Learn to recover if possible. Skiing is restoring balance. Advanced skiing is linking your recoveries.
As skiing skill goes up, feet go more to side and extension movement is inclined to vertical, but still perpendicular to skis as they are tilted. Turns may become retraction instead of extension.
Never start a new turn until balance is restored from the old one.
If we do not move to stay perpendicular to skis as they enter fall line, weight naturally shifts to heel and we thereby push skis ahead and away. We must rock body forward--or pull skis back--before this to stay balanced. Especially true in moguls.
Much the same thing true for lower level skiers, who must learn to not use upper body much.
Note that same basic skills are used from beginner through advanced, so it is important to stay in that loop rather than learning contrary skills on one's own and then having to unlearn/relearn (much harder). There are many ways to ski, but only one system that leads from beginner to advanced.
Braking versus gliding.
Types of skiers, double-edged death grip, lock and step, dig-me, gliders.
Importance of flex/extend early in career as well as from then on. "It's the thing they always forget; leads to excess outside hip rotation. If they don't go up and down, then they do go 'round and 'round.
Two types of ski turns: twisty and tippy--flatten the ski to the snow, then twist it or tilt it to turn. Luckily both types of turn start the same--with a move from old inside of turn toward new outside.
Turn terminology--uphill/downhill ski for beginners; inside/outside ski later on; top ski/bottom ski.
Parts of a turn--preparation, initiation, control, finish (=preparation). Or top half and bottom half. The switch.
Patience at starts of turns. Make the arc round. Smooth forces during turn. Quick pivots cause ski to turn across direction of travel. Might skid or in softer snow, hang up; ski will slow or stop, skier won't.
Exercises--pick and explain for which skills they work (some work for several). Value of exercises is to explore new maneuvers piecemeal before trying to put into a full turn.
Ski medium-radius turns and ski more slowly while learning in order to have time to do all the new moves. Also on non-threatening terrain until ready to apply.
Converging edges versus parallel edges
step up to outside edge, flat base, inside edge
Show the ski bottoms to the trees; hide the bases/show the bases; show the top sheets to the crowd.
Show the pearls to the crowd.
Stretch the hams to rest the thighs.
Comfort zone--ski within. While learning ski at top area of zone, not above, and certainly not at bottom area of zone. "Ski as fast as you dare."
Age issues, if any.
To emphasize leg use, hold poles in center of shaft, planting as usual. This somewhat blocks use of upper body and requires legs to do the work first.
IS A SLIDING SPORT"--a skiing web manual:
Skiing Web Manual Contents Why Read
This Skiing Web Manual That First Skiing Lesson
A Little Skiing History
Motion in Skiing
Conventional Skiing Wisdoms
Skier Excuses Fear in
Conditioning for Skiing
Equipment and Technique
to Develop Balance on Skis
A Skiing Turn
Simplified The Final Skiing Skill:
pressure management Tactics for Terrains and Snow
Textures and Racing
TIPS and TALES--a potpourri
Exercises for Developing Skiing Skills
Children and Skiing
Age and Skiing Gender &
Skiing Culture & Skiing
Skiing Ethics and Slope Survival Slope Safety Skiing
Environment Videos and Apps Glossary Acknowledgements
SkiMyBest Website Contents