|Training & Technique|
By STEVE HINDMAN
You’ve seen them on the trails—skiers skimming over the snow, passing you with no apparent effort. Perhaps her rhythmic pole plants first caught your eye, but what left a lasting impression was how she used a V-2 on a hill you always climbed in a V-1. Another day, you heard "on the inside" before he stepped around you on the rutted trail, leaving you to struggle with your snowplow. Then a skier floated up the rise, silently gripping and gliding as he passed while you cursed and slipped with each stride.
How do they do it? Good technique is important, but with skiing, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Powerful, efficient skiers know how to stay over their feet and relax, letting gravity and their skis do most of the work. It is as simple as it sounds, but not always easy. So, how can you do it?
Arnold Lunn described what it took to be a complete ski runner—the term before ‘skier’ came into common usage—in the early days of recreational skiing.
Skiing is believing
From The Complete Ski-Runner by Arnold Lunn, president of the Ski Club of Great Britain, 1928 - 1930
Falls are due to a lack of will-power. There is an element of volition in ninety-nine falls out of a hundred. Never lie down until you are thrown. The man who is determined never to fall until the ground gets up and hits him between the eyes will soon make a skier.
Of course, there are rare occasions on which an intentional fall is justified, e.g. if you are heading for a cliff or an open crevasse or a judge of a ski test that you are hoping to pass. Most falls, however, ought to be and can be avoided. A bad "runner" always assumes that he is under a positive obligation to fall if anything unusual occurs. If one ski parts itself on an icy rut, the bad skier promptly sits down. He doesn’t even wait to fall. Etiquette, he seems to think, demands a prompt surrender.
The bad runner does not realize that even a forward fall is frequently a sign of pure funk. If he pitches forward, on a sudden patch of soft snow, he feels virtuous, for he assumes that there can be nothing intentional about a forward fall. He is wrong, for the will to stand would probably have saved him. The really determined runner instinctively braces himself the moment his leading ski drives through the resistance. The bad runner, instead of bracing himself, goes flabby in his muscles and his will to the unforeseen check and over he goes.
It is amazing what one can survive in the way of changes of gradient or of snow if one is feeling really good. Even when you believe a fall is inevitable, try to stagger on for a yard or two. "I’m going to fall of course, but I’m jolly well going to wait until I’m thrown down. I don’t object to falling, but I do object to lying down." If this be your attitude you will get away with it time and time again. Your ski gets in a rut—set your teeth and drag it out of the rut.
You strike a bump and fly into the air. A bad runner, of course, will at once assume that he has the legal right to lie down once his ski leaves the ground. If a man who jumped 70 meters stood, surely you can manage an impromptu five meters without collapsing.
At the core of the matter
Lunn’s "really determined runner" that "instinctively braces himself" had learned how to use and direct his core to stay on his feet. Instructors, coaches and authors aim at this same secret when they talk about what to do with your center, your hips, or your core.
Regardless of what you call it, you need to know what your core is, how to activate and use it and what it can do for your skiing. Then you can work on how to keep it moving forward to stay over your feet and get the most out of your efforts (Photo 1).
A group of muscles that provide support and stability for your torso and legs, your core is your center of balance. To feel your deep core muscles, just cough. To activate and use them, raise your ribcage—not your shoulders—and twist your upper body from side to side. You can do this as you sit reading. Do you feel the connection from one side of your torso to the opposite hip? If not, cough, and keep those muscles tensed as you lengthen your torso by raising your sternum, then twist again.
To provide support, core muscles have to be activated first before the larger muscles responsible for movement. Timing is as important as strength. Awareness, timing, and strength can be improved through a variety of exercise programs currently referred to as functional exercises. Excellent options include Pilates, mat and stability ball exercises, and programs that use a wide variety of other devices. In addition, awareness of your core muscles and using them as you run, ski-walk, roller ski and snow ski, will result in significant ski-specific benefits.
Unfortunately, many skiers hold their arms and legs rigid in search of balance while their stomach and back muscles are flaccid and forgotten. Activating your core provides stability that makes balance easier. Then your limbs relax, so they can flex and extend. Supple limbs add balance by acting as shock absorbers. Limbs free to bend and flex also let your muscles work to move you where you want to go.
A stable core helps you "set your teeth and drag it out" when you are trying to arc turns through the cut up crud or your ski gets caught in a rut. When you are faced with a rutted trail or other challenges, engage or tense your core—whatever term works for you. "Stagger on for a yard or two" when you hit something that throws you off. This should smooth out the bumps, helping you recover, and "you will get away with it time and time again."
On skate skis, focus on guiding your stable core on a more direct path down the trail than the direction your limbs follow. This simple focus will allow you to sidestep any confusion about whether to align with your ski while it glides or in the trail direction. A stable core also acts like the keel of a sailboat, translating angled forces from your arms and legs into forward motion (Photo 2).
Keep track of your core through your belly button. For balance, it may move sideways to line up and travel with your ski at times, but deviate from the direction of travel only as little as possible. The trick is to keep your core moving forward while it moves to the side when you align with your ski.
A long-standing tip for classic skiing is to drive the hip forward over the new ski. When you do, be sure to take your core and the rest of your body forward with that hip. Many skiers focus so much on twisting one hip out and over the new ski that the other hip actually moves back, dropping their core behind their heels.
While skating or striding, seek a "C" body shape from your thighs to your head, but be sure to keep your core muscles active and stable by maintaining a long torso, lifting your ribs away from your pelvis (Photo 3). This prevents a collapse at the waist as you pole with your arms and push off with your legs, which would move your core backwards. Whenever your core moves backwards, you have to make up ground that has already been covered.
Avoid the extra work of "hauling yourself out of the back seat." While striding or skating, discover what you need to do throughout the stride and skate cycles to keep your core always moving forward. When you do, you’ll find that you can step lightly onto your next ski, adding as much push as needed.
Focusing on your core allows you to develop and refine your own technique. It is not a step-by-step or paint-by-numbers approach. Use this tool to analyze what you need to do to accomplish change by becoming aware of how you use and move your core. Does it take a more direct path than your limbs? Does it move only forward or a bit sideways, but never back? Does your core initiate the movement toward the next ski? Does it lead you into the next turn, as in photo 4? (Photo 4) If not, why not? What muscles can you use differently? How can you balance differently? What strategy or tactic can you change?
Skiers who are curious about how to improve their skiing will check their core. When you combine core awareness, strength and stability with an understanding of what to do with your core, you will soon be the skier that others watch floating up the hills and flying back down.
photos by Susan