Refining off the slope:
In order to get good at any thing you need to practice, the conflict with skiing is that it’s usually a holiday as well. You really just want to ski and not concentrate so hard all the time. Also another problem with skiing is that sometimes we just forget what we were supposed to be doing as soon as we start moving. This is where practicing off the slope comes in at home at work or just walking around comes in. I have developed a few little exercises that you can do at home before you go on your skiing trip and these will save you a couple of days of working on the basics on the slopes.
1) Body position:
The correct skiing body position is vital in order to become an advanced skier. Most intermediates are taught to get their body weight forwards during a turn. This is wrong in most cases, the weight on a modern ski should be in the center. This makes it easy for us as we already know how to stand with the weight spread evenly across the whole foot. The difficult part is adjusting our height for skiing. One of the problems with playing with your body position with your skis on is that you can get it totally wrong, and because the skis are so long you wont fall over. You can (if you had to) lean all the way forward and touch your ski tips without falling over. So this is why we are going to learn correct body position at home in our bare feet. Why don’t we stand bolt upright for skiing? Why do we lower our height a little? The answer is simple it is just to turn your body into a shock absorber. If we stand to upright and hit a bump we will literally take off, likewise if we do the opposite and crouch down as far as we can go we will also take off if we hit a bump. The perfect position is somewhere in the middle. If we stand in our bare feet and crouch down as low as we can go keeping your feet flat on the ground and the weight central and our back as straight as possible. Then slowly stand up to about three quarters this is our neutral skiing position. Notice how your ankles are bent more than your knees or they should be if your weight is flat across your feet. Most intermediate skiers get this the wrong way round and bend ‘z’ knees more than the ankles. You can get away with this with your skis on but try it in your bare feet. You fall backwards! A common mistake is to compensate this rear weight transfer buy putting the arms forward and sticking your bum out. This then bends the lower back and is the cause of a low back strains, we want the legs to bend like a spring but if our back is to bent our back also gets jarred. Also if our back is bent this restricts the range of movement in our legs, see how far you can bring your knees up with a bent back and then compare this with a straight back, come on give it a go. Sit in a chair and lean back with your back straight, now pick your knees up as far as you can. Now lean forwards and do the same, get the idea. Going back to our correct neutral position move just your hands forward a little and see how your weight transfers to the balls of your feet and then back again. This movement is very subtle and is exactly what you should be doing on your skis. Another popular misconception is that there is one ‘skiing position’ that we try to achieve. This again comes from the ski instructors that ski very smoothly, they find it so easy to ski at the speeds in a lesson that they barely move. This is great for them as they are just saving energy as they have to do it all again tomorrow and the next day. For us the body position is a dynamic position and our height will vary as terrain and conditions vary. As a general guide you should ski more upright when the going is good and lower our height as the snow gets deeper, faster and heavier but still keep your weight in the centre.
So we now have our general body position correct. How do we put our skis on their edges? Edging skis comes from the lower leg, not as in most cases from the hip. This is a slightly new movement for the body as it is easier to slide your hips to one side to edge your skis but this puts your weight off centre to the side. Our aim in edging the ski is to bend it with our weight, difficult if the weight isn’t over the ski. This means that in order for the average skier to bend the edged ski they must put a lot more energy in to the ski. So in order to edge the ski correctly we must use our lower leg. Try putting your hands on your hips in your neutral position and then move both your knees to the side without moving your hips. If you aren’t sure what I mean try moving your knees out in opposite directions, sideways like the ‘chicken’ dance (Don’t Laugh). This movement is purely in the socket of the leg joint. Now instead of moving in opposite directions, now move in the same direction. This takes a while to become natural so practise this whenever you can really feel the pressure on the inside of your outside foot. Imagine if you can’t do this in the comfort of you own home, how are you going to do it on the slopes? Now see how far you can go, notice how the more you edge the lower you go. This is natural and comes for free also notice how throughout these exercises I haven’t mentioned how far your feet should be apart this is because this is also natural. During an advanced carving turn you should also turn your upper body a little more in the opposite direction. If you were to bend you knees and ankles to a maximum and get as low as you can from a neutral position your bum (fanny for our US friends) would restrict how low you could go. If you were to put it to one side you could go a little lower. This is also true for skiing, if we move our knees to the side as described above, but then rotate our upper body in the opposite direction our bum naturally lowers, and our feet edge more. Try it, get in a skiing position, move both knees to one side and get low, now rotate your shoulders and arms in the opposite direction and look at what happens to your feet. Yes they edge more, and for nothing! This is a big point, practise this a lot. You can try this in the tuck position, try and carve in the tuck position and then try to rotate you arms and shoulders in the opposite direction until you can feel the tension in your waist. Now you are on rails. That’s it edging is easy, you should now be able to call any amount of edging as required. Don’t worry about putting weight on one foot more than another as this subtle weighting of the out side ski is a natural occurrence as soon as you start to turn. Also note that the turn is started by edging the skis this is your steering wheel, not as our friends the intermediates do by throwing the shoulders round followed by the skis.
Just a short note about those long things that nobody really knows what to do with. You can now start to use your poles. Poles help you move around in lift queues, get back up when you have fallen over, and to balance. With old technique relative beginners were taught how to ‘pole plant’. This spelled disaster for most people, pole planting is an advanced technique that is easily misinterpreted. It is the cause of shoulder rotation and upper body movement and is difficult to cure. The ‘pole plant’ was used to initiate the turn, but we have learned that we initiate the turn by edging. Only on very steep slopes is a pole plant really necessary, so for now we will just use the poles for balance. We want to keep the upper body quiet, so how can we use the poles correctly? If you look at a down hill racer in the middle of a turn their poles are pointing out side ways for balance and there is certainly no pole plant and we will do the same. The poles should point out sideways, not behind as most intermediates. If you imagine our subtle weight transfer exercise where we move our hands for balance, if we now hold our poles facing backwards the poles will upset our delicate balance and put the weight on our heels. Therefore we need to keep them out to the sides. A good drill is to put the handles end to end as we start off so that they are horizontal and then relax into your neutral position. If done correctly you will be able to feel the weight of the tips of the poles against your hands. Another tip is to bring your elbows forwards a little, level with your shoulders, this naturally rotates the hands to bring your poles pointing sideways. Every time I set off I bring my elbows forwards, relax my arms, and do a little arm bounce, a bit like a monkey, this removes the tension from the arms so that they might move naturally to aid my balance. Poles are for balance just like a tight rope walker.