Okay, so maybe there’s more than 7 moves in all of skiing if you want to get geeky about it, but my brain sucks at complicated things, I’m a middle aged ski bum after all, so here’s my attempt to break all the moves required to go left and right on skis into 7 digestible chunks.
Lets say we’re sliding straight down a hill in an athletic stance, balanced through the middle of both skis. From here, your speed, turn shape and level of ski performance will come down to the particular way you perform the following moves.
Go ahead and play with the timing intensity and duration of these 7 moves and see what can’t be done.
Move #1 - Leg Bending
Leg bending in this case refers to any combination of hip flexion, knee flexion and/or ankle dorsiflexion.
And yes, it’s plausible that one joint might need to bend while another on the same leg extends... but lets not worry about that for a moment. I said we’re keeping it simple!
In skiing, bending the various joints comes in extremely handy. For one, it reduces pressure. We love pressure because it makes us change direction and slow down, but sometimes you have to get rid of it.
A nice side benefit of bending vertically is it can also move us laterally. If you take pressure away from one foot it will typically add it to the other.
Bending to Release: Sometimes it’s both legs and sometimes it’s just one, but bending is a great way to release a skis’ grip on the snow and allow the mass to start toppling into the new turn.
Bending for Inclination: When we release the supporting ski we reduce inclination on one side. Now we’re at initiation and we need inclination on the other side to tip our skis on edge and balance against the forces we’re about to receive.
As discussed above, bending one leg causes the mass to topple, and toppling leads to inclination. Awesome!
Bending to Grip: So now we’re at the bottom half of the arc and forces continue to increase. I guess we’d better keep bending that inside leg. Now the skis are tipping more, creating even more pressure, I guess we’ll need to move the mass inside even further... keep bending that inside leg I suppose!
Bending Fore/Aft: Depending on how we bend each joint, our feet will either move closer to our centre of mass or move forward or backwards in relation to our centre of mass. As your skis enter the fall line they will likely speed up and you may need to pull the feet back or move the mass ahead so it keeps up.
As you steer across the fall line your feet are likely to slow down so they’ll need to be out in front to support your mass. I guess that means a little bend in the outside leg is a good idea too... I suppose in this case bending is actually increasing pressure, just be careful not to bend it too much or you wont be strong enough resist all those forces.
Move # 2 Leg Extending:
Leg extending is going to refer to any combination of hip extension, knee extension and/or ankle plantar-flexion.
Extending to Add Pressure: Extending tends to add pressure, and as we know, skiing is all about pressure. Lets say we want to hit a jump in the terrain park and we don’t have quite enough speed to make the landing. What do we do? We extend both legs powerfully into the snow just prior to take off. Our muscles show gravity who’s boss and we launch a little higher into the air and clear the knuckle.
After we’ve released the skis, twisting them and tipping them will add some pressure to create a direction change all on it’s own... but if you want to that pressure to take place a little faster extend that leg.
Extending to Release Pressure... What? Okay, I just said extending increases pressure, but in the example above, when the skier stopped extending, the pressure was released. This can come in handy when going left and right too, if for example, if you’re stuck in heavy snow and/or going too slow for bending to work.
Extended to Resist Pressure: Okay so maybe this isn’t the act of extending, but after all that bending you’ll need some extending to get there. An extended leg is much stronger with the bones all aligned and the big muscles activated allowing us to resist more pressure. Join the Resistance!
Extending Fore/Aft: If you extend your ankles, knees and hips in very specific proportions your feet will move further away from your mass (just like bending moves them closer), however, if you change those proportions up just a little, your feet will either move forward or back. We’ve discussed fore/aft moves a lot on this blog so I’ll leave it at that.
Skill Development Drills For Bending & Extending
Great for bending one leg while extending the other to create lateral moves
Great for bending and extending both legs to move vertically and manage pressure
Move #3 Femur Rotation:
Twisting and tipping the skis is the name of the game... and rotating the femurs in the hip sockets can help you do both. You just have to combine it with move 4, 5 and/or 6!
Typically one femur is rotates internally (the outside one) while the other femur rotates externally (the inside one).
Skill Development For Femur Rotation
Moves #4 & #5 - Foot Roll-Tation
Okay, I know I’m going to get lambasted for over simplification here, but seeing as the foot, ankle and lower leg have a bazillion moveable parts (actually the foot and ankle is made up of the twenty-six individual bones, together with the long-bones of the lower limb to form a total of thirty-three joints), the intricacies get way too complicated to be of much use to simple ski instructors. That said, things tend to move together down there so some general rules of thumb are important to understand when it comes to turning the feet. That’s why I had to make up my own word, “Foot Roll-Tation.”
Combine one of these two moves with femur rotation and wait for the magic (I’m mean science) to happen. Keep in mind, whichever move you choose to use on the outside foot, the opposite typically happens to an equal degree on the inside foot.
Move #4 Internal/Medial Foot Roll-Tation
Rotating the foot inwards, towards the midline of the body, is always coupled with an inversion of the foot so as the toes point across your momentum the foot rolls to its outside edge.
This move is a great addition to femur rotation when you need some extra steering angle (or more twist) but less grip.
Move #5 - External/Lateral Foot Roll-Tation
Rotating the foot outwards, away from the midline of the body, is always coupled with an eversion of the foot so as the toes point away the foot rolls to its inside edge.
This move is a great addition to femur rotation when you need some additional grip but less twist.
Skill Development For Foot Roll-Tation
Great for more twist and less grip
Great for more grip and less twist
A Note for Nerds: You may have noticed I strayed away from the terms pronation and supination here. The reason is that these are compound movements that usually include plantarflexion and dorsiflexion.
Pronation = dorsiflexion + eversion + lateral rotation of the foot
Supination = plantar-flexion + inversion + medial rotation of the foot
Although these moves do happen in skiing, I don’t want to confuse flexion and extension of the ankle joint with the moves of the foot twisting rotationally and rolling laterally as they are often isolated in skiing (For example, sometimes the ankle might extend while the foot everts or flex while it inverts).
Move #6 Hip Angulation
Hip flexion with an internally rotated femur (and perhaps a little hip abduction thrown in for good measure), allows the upper body to counter balance all that inclination you created by bending the inside leg. This means we can effectively tip our skis over more without losing that precious balance and pressure on the outside ski.
It’s important to remember that rotational ‘separation’ of the upper and lower body is what makes this move work. Separation is when the pelvis and torso face a different direction than the legs and feet. Conveniently, if the turning effort is lead by the lower body, the resulting ‘separation’ increases towards the bottom half of the arc as our femurs rotate across our momentum. This also happens to be where we typically need to increase the hip angulation.
I suppose if you need even more of it, you could actively counter rotate with the upper body, but it’s usually not necessary and can often lead to other problems.
Skill Development For Hip Angulation
Move #7 The Wrist Cock
You’re holding onto these weird sticks and you’ve got to move them somehow. So our final major move is cocking the wrist. This allows effective movement of that pole basket in front of your feet so you can plant your pole.
Pole plants have a number a significant benefits that I talk about elsewhere, so I highly recommend you master them. As the feet move through the arc so should the pole basket... so cock the wrist.
Skill Development For Timing & Wrist Cocking
Bonus: Moves of the Upper Body
Used sparingly, subtle moves of the upper body can be used to supplement moves #1 through #7.
The Spine: With 24 vertebrae and 364 joints the spine moves in every possible direction and can add a little extra range of motion when moving fore/aft, vertically and even rotationally or laterally when the situation calls for it. Just remember too much force on a bent or twisted spine is gonna hurt.
Shoulders and Elbows: There’s some mass in your arms so moving your hands around can be pretty good at affecting balance. You’ll notice when you bend down, all that ass (that was a Freudian typo... I mean mass) in your hips moves back, so it‘s handy to counter balance that with your hands by pushing them forward. This of course requires movement at the shoulders and elbows.
Using all these joints of the upper body can also be a pretty effective recovery tool when out of balance in just about any plane. Of course excessive use of anything in the upper body is probably a good indicator that you miscalculated one of the other moves!
If that’s the case, review 1 through 7 and keep a stable upper body!