Fitness alone is not enough for great skiing
It’s game time. Ski enthusiasts are knocking the dust off their boots in preparation of winter.
This excitement ignites the desire for some skiers to aggressively seek specific fitness; last week’s Vail Daily article covered the details of ski conditioning. Today, I want to take a detour and discuss proper ski technique and provide insight into a few exercises that will reinforce good ski movements.
Ski design advancements have provided an opportunity for a larger audience of skiers who lack the technical capability to excel with traditional ski equipment. These innovations, such as rockered camber and hefty-waist widths, have made skiing the easiest it has ever been.
However, these advancements have also allowed average skiers to ski above their ability; skiers no longer need to know how to turn because the ski designs have allowed riders to plow through undesirable conditions with speed and bomb down groomers without any awareness of what their bodies are doing. General fitness acquisition is a worthy pursuit for any skier.
TECHNIQUE OVER FITNESS
But general fitness will only get average skiers so far in their quest for total development.
For example, two of my closest friends and ski companions, Shawn Jones and Paul Kulas, are as good of skiers as anybody out there. I will personally give $100 to anybody who can beat “Uncle Pork Chop” down Spyder in Rose Bowl this winter. Granted, Shawn is kind of lame these days and only skis East Vail, so he might not even take the bet.
Shawn doesn’t exercise much at all. He didn’t get the nickname Pork Chop by skipping meals by the way. His fitness routine consists of hiking East Vail and the Highlands Bowl in Aspen every season. Fundamental ski technique is second nature to him because of his 35 years spent skiing. Paul spends more time talking about ski efficiency than he does about his maximum squat numbers.
Ski technique trumps fitness every time. But many of today’s developing skiers no longer learn proper technique in the first place, partly because the equipment can act as a band-aid.
Fundamental ski techniques are as follows: rolling the ankles to engage the edges, fore-aft balance, flexion, counteracting and counterbalancing. How can you train off of the snow to promote the development of these skills and enhance your skiing performance?
FROM ANKLES ON UP
Good skiing begins at the ankles. Tipping the skis onto a high edge angle requires the ability to roll your ankles laterally by twisting your legs. Freedom of leg movement is essential to creating a great turn. One of my favorite exercises for developing this trait is to stand erect with your feet shoulder width apart. Begin by rotating your left foot clockwise, right foot counterclockwise as far as possible; both feet will look pigeon toed facing each other. Reverse this by rotating your feet outwards as far as possible as to look duck footed. Make sure to rotate your legs at the hip joint. Repeat this motion for 20 repetitions. This will build the appropriate amount of rotational strength needed to dissociate your legs from your hip joint.
Fore and aft balance is the ability to keep your center of mass directly over the balls of your feet in order to maintain optimal position over your skis. A great way to reinforce this strong position is to use an exercise band to mimic the challenges of staying centered. Ideally use a continuous, 360-degree looped surgical band and fixate the band around a firm object such as a squat rack or a door handle in your house. Kneeling, wrap the rest of the band around your torso under your armpits. Situate yourself as far away as possible from the fixed object, and rock back and forth allowing the band to pull you forward as you resist this reaction for 20 repetitions. Lastly, turn around away from the fixed object and rock back and forth to challenge the detrimental back seat position that plagues so many skiers.
Flexing the ankle, knee, and hip simultaneously helps lighten the skis allowing for easy turn transitions and absorption of bumps and other terrain variations. The best way to train this movement is to perform a negative squat. Set up a stool or a bench in front of you about mid-thigh height. Grab the heaviest dumbbell you can hold at shoulder height. Standing erect, squat down slowly with the weight until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground. Leave the weight on the bench as you stand back up. Pick the weight up off of the bench, pull it up to shoulder height and repeat for 10 repetitions.
Lastly, counteracting and counterbalancing resists the effects of tipping the skis on edge and balance against the forces as the skis travel across the hill throughout the turn. These skills help minimize twisting that can cause the skis to skid and cause the skier to fall to the inside of the turn, respectively. To reinforce these skills, stand sideways on a 45-degree incline bench. Rotate your knees downward towards the ground as you lean sideways in the opposite direction. Your body will look like the letter “C” as you properly perform this drill. Perform 20 repetitions per side.
Try these drills to reinforce good skiing technique. General fitness training and specific skills practice, as I have described, will keep you sharp on the hill this winter. Have fun out there!
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.