Making correct turns: It’s all in the hands
When you are skiing down a slope, what is the first thing you move to initiate a turn? It should be your hand on the side toward which you want to turn. This is because every turn should start with a pole plant. The reason you move just your hand for the pole plant, rather than your whole arm, is that your arm should already be in the correct position.Don’t forgetBecause turns require so much action from your lower body, it’s very easy to forget about your hands until you need them for the pole plant.
But if you wait until then, you may find yourself having to “look” for that hand. By the time you are aware of where it is and then move it to where it should be, at the least you will have destroyed the smoothness of your turn, or your balance, or both.If, for example, you have let one or both hands drop down to your sides when you made your previous turn, they then tend to fall behind your body. And they will probably still be there by the time you are ready to start your next turn.But that’s just the beginning of your problems. Once you let your uphill hand drop down and behind, you have turned your shoulders so that they are no longer perpendicular to the fall line. This causes the rest of your body, including your skis, to pivot such that they overturn. This then can twist your shoulders ever farther out of position.If you are on a steep incline and overturn far enough, you will fall. And to think, all of this can happen just because your hands are not where they are supposed to be in order to initiate your next turn.Even though hand position is so important, many skiers don’t think of their hands separately from their poles, if they think of them at all. However, pole plants are most easily understood if you deal with hands and poles as two issues, not just one.
Pole plantsPole plants are used to start turns because they provide the timing for your turn as well as establish your balance point. Hands are responsible not only for operating your poles, but for controlling your whole upper body position.If your hand is in the correct position for your next pole plant then your arm will be in the best position to keep your shoulders facing downhill, which will prevent your torso from twisting and causing your skis to overturn, and will therefore keep your skis in the correct position and ready for your next turn.So, with all this responsibility, what is the correct position for your hands? Both of them should be held away from your body and reaching forward down the fall line, with your elbows bent and your arms relaxed and in an open, balanced position as opposed to close against your sides. Your hands should be about level with your elbows, as if you were driving a car by holding onto the lower portion of each side of the steering wheel.When your hands are in this correct position, all you will need to do for your actual pole plant is open your palm, grasping the pole with your thumb and forefinger, and flick it forward and down into the snow as you turn around it.
Next plantAt that point, with your arms both still in the “open position” and hands both reaching forward down the fall line, you are ready to make your next pole plant by first moving only your other hand. Meanwhile, because your hands have kept your arms in the correct position, they have kept your shoulders facing downhill so they have prevented you from overturning.This can all sound complicated and appear to add a whole new set of things to remember as you anticipate everything you must do to turn. But there is one simple way to master your hands: Just make sure as soon as you start down a slope, that both of your hands are always within sight in your peripheral vision. That way they can never drop down and behind, and they will always be ready for your next turn.Elizabeth Eber is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Vail.Vail, Colorado