Yankee’s editor, Mel Allen, knows that I taught skiing for years so he keeps asking me about ways he can improve his turning and edging. I haven’t seen him ski yet, but based on his simulated ski moves, I am guessing that the tips below will help him. (As a little side note, I love watching people pretend they are skiing. Swoosh, swoosh. It cracks me up.) So here are the tips, and in a future blog posting, I will let you know if it helped Mel. Warning: for those who learn visually, lots of text follows. My recommendation, read this, then take a lesson!
With your ski equipment on, at the top of the slope, rock back and forth in your boots, fore and aft with your shin against the front of boot, then calf on the back. Ideally you should be balanced over the whole foot with the shin lightly resting on the front of the boot. You should feel slightly more pressure on the ball of your foot and a little less pressure on your heels.
To get this balanced alignment, you have to flex your ankle forward and equally flex your knees. When standing still, the butt should be over your feet, not back over the tails of your skis. Your body should feel relaxed with the skeletal structure supporting your weight. Hands out in front, gripping ski poles correctly? Before you take off skiing, it’s a good idea to get in this balanced stationary position so your body can feel relaxed and balanced. Take a few jumps up and down to feel your body’s extension (getting long and tall as you go up) and flexion (absorbing and bending as you go down). If you land on the tails of your skis or your skis make a loud thwap noise, try a few more jumps until you find the sweet spot, where your body is balanced and the movement is fluid and you can gently absorb your weight as you land.
When you are skiing, you will be moving in and out of a balanced position. The more accomplished you become, the easier it will be to regain balance and adjust to things–ice, then mounds of snow–that may be forces that push you out of balance.
Being in good balance allows you to edge more effectively, to steer your turns better, and to control pressure on your skis. Being well aligned over your skis, allows everything else in skiing to happen.
To work on improving edge engagement, focus on the pressure that can develop under the inside edge of your downhill ski by rolling onto the big toe side of your foot, or ball of your foot. Both the ankle and the knee can push against the diagonal inside of your boot in the early part of your turn. This movement needs to be gradual so your edge can engage. Be patient as your ski engages. Rushing through this part of the turn will make your turn shape zig zagged, rather than round, and we all know from experience that round turns are smoother and help to control speed better. If you find that your turns are zig-zag shaped, you should go to an easier slope and practice slowing your turns down so you feel your ski edge engage to make the turn, rather than steering with your foot to start the turn.
As you end an old turn and begin the new turn, the edges of your skis need to release. This can be accomplished many different ways. With the new ski shapes, it is easiest to relax the legs, flatten the skis and start building up pressure on the new outside ski early in the turn. (Practice this by sideslipping and experimenting with staying flexed while your skis are flat.) So, from turn to turn, we our realigning our balance from new outside ski to new outside ski, or from foot to foot.
Think about the other sports you play. Bicycling is a good example. When you push down on one pedal, you are balanced over that foot, while the other foot gets light and comes up. This is the same in skiing: practice being balanced over the outside foot, with your inside foot lighter and slightly advanced. Remember the inside foot and knee are still helping you out in your turns, but it is the outside foot that becomes the main balance point.
As you get to steeper terrain, balance gets a little trickier. When you stand stationary on a flat surface, you don’t have to worry so much about gravity and the angles and the pitch of the slope. When you are on steeper terrain, though, you need to still be aligned and balanced while other forces are acting on you. This is when your upper body plays an increasingly important role in our balance. Through all levels of skiing, it is important to have the upper body slightly countered to where your skis are going–or rather, your upper body should be slightly square down the hill, more or less depending on whether turn size is large or small. Once again, the purpose is so you can be more balanced over the outside ski so you can edge and pressure the ski more, and also so your center of mass–stomach, shoulders, arms–can direct you into the new turn when you release your edges. I am sure that you have felt flow of your turns when all the parts of your body work together.
And so what helps you do all this? Your poles, sticks, whatever you want to call them help with balance, and timing of the turn. Work on getting the pole basket–of your outside hand–down the mountain, by slowly flicking the wrist forward and controlling the swing by letting the bottom fingers open up rather than grasping the pole grip tightly. This helps you keep your hands in front, while your wrists and hands do the pole moving, rather than your whole arm which will make your upper body twist in the wrong direction and mess up your balance and edging. See how it is all connected?
When you are ready to commit to the next turn, touch the pole tip down lightly in the snow. (If the whole arm does the pole moving, then your shoulders will drop back and you will need to start the turns with your upper body because your center of mass will be directed towards where your ski tips are pointed–towards the woods–at the end of the turn.) The switch part of the turn comes as you finish one turn and start another. Once you lightly touch the pole tip in the snow–outside downhill hand, you need to roll that hand forward so you can ski past the pole touch, while the pole and your hand stays down the mountain, pushing through the turn. This keeps that shoulder forward and your upper body down the mountain as that old hand is pushing forward, you are also relaxing your legs and edges as you can get to the new outside ski and start the flick of the wrist on the new outside hand.
Another drill to practice keeping your arms relaxed in front of your body at about hip height is to ski without your poles. When you do this, keep your hands in front of you and down the hill, just where you would have your hands positioned with poles. This is what we are trying to do when we have our poles too. Just as you can move your hands easily without poles, you can also become more accomplished at refined hand movements with poles. Skiing without your poles, among other things, allows you to quiet your upper bodies, direct your center of mass down the hill and feel flowy. Try it on a trail you feel very comfortable skiing.
The things that I mentioned are the keys to feeling more confident skiing, conquering the steeps, bumps, and varying conditions.
Let me know if you have any tips to improve balance, turn shape, and edging. And we shall wait to hear what Mel thinks of this.
Read more New England Ski tips from Heather Atwell.