By Ron Kubicki
PSIA/AASI Certified Level III Alpine, Children’s Specialist II
Skiing well requires all of our parts to work together to keep us poised, active and balanced on our skis.
Starting at the bottom, we can easily see the importance of our feet, ankles, knees, hips and core. But to complete the picture and keep us active and engaged, we need to keep an involved but quiet upper body. This includes arms, hands, shoulders and even our heads.
Most of the direction and managing of what our skis are doing on the snow happens in the lower body, core on down. But our upper body is very engaged by remaining upright, leading us into turns and keeping us directed downhill. A very quick check is where are your hands? Can you see them in your peripheral vision? Are they down at your sides? Are they flailing around keeping you in balance?
Watch GS racers and see how their hands are engaged. In a tuck, their hands are up and in front of their bodies, leading them where they are going. Watch when they are in a turn and are regaining balance. They will throw their arms to the side to regain balance. Now remember that these racers are skiing in excess of 50-60 mph so their reactions are extreme, but effective.
Our hands should not move that dramatically in typical skiing. Extreme conditions and speed require more extreme and radical applications.
But to get a sense of what I mean: loosely hold your poles in front of you, with your arms easily flexed at about 90 degrees. Let your poles drag a bit on the snow so the baskets trail back towards your boots.
Now, keeping your hands still, make some medium shaped turns keeping both hands in front of you. Keep your head up, but be sure you can see your hands in your peripheral vision. Do not steer with your hands, but let your hands and upper body lead you into the turns. Do this enough times so you develop a rhythm in your turns.
This should quiet down your upper body, keep you leaning a bit forward in a poised athletic position. Your head should be up and looking where you are going. Do not drop your other hand down or let it trail behind you.
Now, pick up the tips of your poles off the ground by gripping them a bit more firmly. Do not hold them in a fist. Your pole touch and swing is in a loose grip and should flick in your hand, not stab the ground!
Begin a cadence of pole touches, one pole at a time. Remember, you are turning around your pole, so you touch the inside/downhill pole and initiate your turn.
To begin your other turn, keep that hands-forward position and touch your other pole toward the tip of your ski. Then turn. You should not be extending with your arm or dramatically turning a shoulder to initiate your turns.
Speed, turn-shape, terrain and other factors will require you to use hands and arms to maintain and regain balance. Your turn shape and the pitch of the terrain will determine where to place your pole touch. As a rule of thumb: tighter turns on steeper terrain keep your poles closer to your boot; longer turns on milder terrain keep the poles closer to the front of your ski. As always, experiment on your own. You will soon realize, less is often more than enough if you are conscious of being athletic and poised on your skis.
If you are aware of your body in motion and keeping yourself active and athletic, you need to include your hands, arms and upper body.
There are tons of other drills and tactics to enhance your upper body awareness, and any of the area’s local PSIA-E/AASI trained instructors can work with you. So keep your hands in sight and use your poles to increase your effective and skilled skiing.
As always, I hope to catch you on the slopes.
Keep smiling … turn left, turn right … repeat!