In my first few seasons of instructing, I had the good fortune of teaching an honest-to-god rocket scientist (who shared with me that rocket science is actually a lot simpler than a whole lot of other sciences out there). He was an inquisitive student that was learning the snowplough turn.
I remember one of his questions vividly. “Why does putting your weight on one ski make you turn? And more importantly why does putting more weight on that ski make you turn even sharper?” At the time, I honestly did not know the answer. I taught him how to turn that way but I never asked why it did so. So I searched for the answer and asked as many senior instructors and trainers as I could. There was much misinformation, confusion and debate amongst them all. When I slowly discovered the answer for myself a few seasons later, I stopped teaching it.
I was taught to teach that method. Up to then, it had worked for almost all my students who were learning the snowplough turn. It was simple and usually effective. But it was so wrong.
About 90% of skiers who come to an intermediate lesson tell me that they (still) turn by putting more weight onto one ski. Friends, family and even some instructors are guilty of teaching them that. And that’s probably one of the reasons why they are stuck at the intermediate level. This method of turning has severe limitations and creates countless issues down the road. Some instructor training establishments have stopped teaching it to their instructors but many continue to do so.
Putting ‘weight’ is usually taught by leaning your upper body onto one side. When you do so, your body usually naturally compensates for this shift in balance by rolling your ankles and knees in. This then tilts the ski onto an angle, what is known as putting the ski on an edge. Modern skis have shaped side-cuts and when on an angle, creates an arc in the snow (labelled as the radius on the ski). You’re essentially trying to use the side-cut of the ski to turn.
Lean your upper body more to one side and your ankle and knees will roll in further. Your skis will then tilt onto more of an angle thus creating a tighter arc. But putting more weight by leaning even more onto one side won’t make your ski turn any more sharper after a certain point. And how much further can you really lean the body over? Or how much more can your ankles and knees roll inwards. Bio-mechanically, our bodies can’t cash those cheques we’re trying to make it write.
I’ve seen in some lessons where students have leaned over quite far with little movement in their ankles and knees, mostly teenage boys in that awkward stage of body growth. They don’t turn and also feel like they are going to topple over. Most end up frustrated because they did exactly what the instructor told them to do but it didn’t work. This illustrates another flaw of the teaching method; if you’re going to teach them to use side-cut to turn, teach the direct movement itself, which is roll the ankles. Not tell them to lean their upper body hoping that their ankles will roll in to compensate.
Actively leaning our bodies onto one side can also cause spinal angulation (as opposed to hip angulation). While it helps to make a skier feel more balanced, (an angulated position, even spinally angulated, will feel more balanced than no angulation at all) it limits the range of movement of other parts of the body. You could also hurt yourself as it puts the spine in an awkward position.
|Spinal angulation, a tell is that the jacket is scrunched up only on on side at the waist.
|Hi p angulation, the jacket has an even fold across the hip region.
Some instructors also teach this method and disguise it as ‘balancing on the outside ski’. A concept that is so overly misused as a solution to many ski problems. Balancing on the outside ski is a by product, not a means. It happens because we are doing something else correctly. We shouldn’t actively aim to use it to correct other movements.
Family and friends often tell new skiers to put more weight on one ski to turn but they never tell them ‘how’. If you were standing and I told you to put more weight on one side, you might instinctively ‘push’ down with your leg strength on that side. And guess what, it still kinda works! Your body is now ‘pushed’ away by your legs, so your whole body leans to one side which still puts your skis on an edge. You still somewhat use side-cut to turn but even better, because you’re actively pushing against the snow (creating frictional resistance) you slow down, which is why most skiers turn in the first place.
|A straight leg on the 2nd half of the turn is usually a sign of a skier ‘pushing’ that ski.
|Skiers using this method become lazy skiers who believe skiing is just about a sway of body weight from side to side (Enter the gay sway snowboarders do to make fun of skiers). And why not, they manage to turn and slow down to a certain degree. They have no inkling of how else to turn their skis and are resistant to learn any alternative method because the way they’ve been doing it is so much ‘easier’. However, they would lack balance, build muscle fatigue faster from all that ‘pushing’ and be unable to control their turn shape.
The task at hand is to turn our skis. Putting weight on one ski doesn’t really work. There is a simpler and better way of turning our skis whether it’s a snowplough turn or a short turn. It took a rocket scientist to show me that.
Next post: Thigh twisting turns.