Over the last 25 years of my teaching experience, mainly since the advent of “shaped” skis, many of my students have asked me, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” Here is my answer.
In modern skiing, what we teach is based upon and directly related to the tool (the ski) we’re sliding upon, and how the human body can perform in the most efficient manner.
Shape of the ski: Narrow under the foot, wider at the tip and tail, so there is an arc or curve built into the side of the ski. It’s called the sidecut. There are only two things you need to know about the sidecut: 1) It is there; and 2) The designers of the ski put it there to help the ski turn.
Now, if you look at the ski from the side profile, you’ll notice that it is thicker under the foot and thinner at the tip and tail. The ski is designed so that if you stand with your weight centered over the mid-part of the ski, your weight will be distributed equally to the tip and tail, and you’ll have the full benefit of that sidecut working for you.
So, here is where the problem arises: we put a human on top. Most humans come coded at a cellular level with something called the “righting reflex.” What that means is that when they feel their feet start to slide out from under them, the instinctual response is to lean back. The problem we humans face is that if we lean against the back of our boot, then we can only put pressure on the edge of the ski from the heelpiece to the tail, so that instead of having a nice, long and curved turning tool, all we have is a short little braking device. At this point, all we can do with that is make a series of linked pushing or braking maneuvers – not to be confused with skiing!
Then, the question we need to ask ourselves is: Am I standing on my tool/ski in a manner that allows it to do what it was designed to do? When I don’t, I’m going to struggle; when I do, skiing becomes more efficient, and The Force is with me!
So how can the enlightened human know he/she is standing correctly on the ski? If you feel your leg in contact with (and not smashing against) the tongue of the boot, then there is a high degree of probability that success is being achieved! Back in the late 1980s, Ingamar Stenmark said, “Tip it on its edge, balance on it, and ride it around,” and that’still true to this day.
Richard Thorpe is a PSIA level III private lesson Instructor, former Colorado Ski Country-USA Instructor of the Year, and coordinator for Telluride Ski and Snowboard School’s BioMechanics Camp.