Alpine Advice from the Pro
By Ron Kubicki, PSIA/AASI Certified Level III Alpine, Children’s Specialist II
Place yourself on two slippery pieces of equipment, stand on a cold slippery surface, push off down a rather steep piece of terrain, pick up speed. Now, stay in balance!
Right, good luck with that! But that’s what we do isn’t it? And we do it with varying degrees of success based on a number of factors.
Some of these factors are speed, snow conditions, steepness of terrain, visibility, etc. Watch skilled skiers manage terrain and they always appear poised and accurately controlling the direction and angle of their skis. They seem to have the knack for always being balanced.
But even high-end skiers are always adjusting many things to stay or get back into balance. They have the ability to ski in and out of balance, and how to re-center and rebalance themselves. They are receiving feedback from a myriad of stimuli. In short, they are body-aware.
Your skiing will improve once you become body-aware.
Skiing is all about the movement of your body in space. You need to remain aware of feedback using your eyes, ears, hands and feet.
Yep, your feet. I know they are encased in stiff and heavy boots, but you should always be conscious of feedback from your feet. Are you feeling the bottoms of your feet? Is the most weight/pressure on the ball of your foot? Do you feel your shins against the tongue or are you aware of leaning against the back of your boot for balance? Can you tip your foot onto its big toe side and tip the other on the little toe side?
Go to a very open, flat and uncongested area and in a slow speed straight run, experiment with your stance and feedback from your feet.
A proper stance is balanced and athletic, meaning your ankles are flexed and your knees slightly bent with your core supported skeletally, not muscularly.
In this stance, with your head and eyes up (do not look at your feet!), experiment with “feeling” your feet. You should feel more pressure on the ball of your foot.
Straighten your knees and ankles slowly and feel the weight move more toward your heel, until you are standing straight legged with no ankle or knee flexion. If you let your skis run in this straight-legged position for awhile, you will soon realize that without flexion adjustments in knees and ankle you are soon out of balance and have little control over your skis.
Now, for a real treat, lean back and try to manage a slow speed turn. Slowly allow your knees and ankles to flex until you hit your comfort zone in your balance.
Tip both skis in the same direction at the same time. Notice the pressure build on your big toe on one foot and little toe on the other, and take note of how the pressure builds as the turn develops.
Now slowly tip both skis the other way. Think of your feet, take the feedback you are getting and get accustomed to adding this to your “tool bag of skills.” Then flatten your skis and slowly try to pivot your skis one way then the other.
Where do you need to be standing on your foot to attempt this? Pick up one foot. Is the ski parallel to the snow or is a tip or tail dragging? Adjust the pressure you feel in the foot that’s on the ground; if your tail is dragging, you will probably feel more pressure on your heel and the back of your boot. Adjust your stance by the feedback you are getting and slowly flex your ankle more and notice that your ski will now rise off the tail to parallel. If you keep moving forward, the pressure is on your toes and soon the tip will be on the ground. Change feet and repeat.
Practice these simple exercises often, using your heightened ability to sense your feet to keep you more poised and balanced in your skiing. For even more specific feedback, consider taking a group or private lesson from any of the local highly skilled PSIA-E/AASI trained instructors at our local resorts.
And as always, I look forward to seeing you on the slopes. Ski safe and keep smiling!