The second movement to maintain balance in skiing.

Lower leg and spine are at parallel angles due
to equal flex at ankle and hip joints.

I’ve been in Canada for the past few weeks working with a former colleague on some of my personal methodologies for the instruction of skiing. It’s been an interesting an insightful time from a teaching perspective. To be able to spend that much time and go into such depth with an individual who is so incredibly motivated to improve their skiing has reaped many dividends on several levels for both sides. 


In one of my first few posts, I talked about the importance of moving the ankles (the first movement for balance) and how it is the key movement that controls our balance. Yes, you must first move the ankles but eventually it must be accompanied by another movement to ultimately maintain the middle/ sweet spot in skiing. The movements are the folding forward AND straightening of the upper body at the hip joint.

Female skier has adequate and equal flex at ankles and hip joint. Male skier, while 
having equal angles as well, does not have ankle flex to begin with and is therefore back.

The important distinction is that the folding movement happens at the hips, NOT the spine. If you arch at the spine, you’re in a crunched position that is not very well equipped to deal with high pressures in skiing but more importantly you may feel like you’re centred when you’re really not. 

Left skier folds at the hips. Skier on the right arches at the spine and is back.


In terms of timing, it’s pretty simple. You  progressively straighten the ankles and upper body (extension) for the first half of the turn. From the middle to end of the turn you progressively bend your ankles and fold forward the upper body (flexion).

Extend at the start of the turn and flex from the middle to the end of the turn.

How much to fold the upper body is the challenging bit. In skiing, the upper body (spine) and lower leg (tibia/fibula) should almost always be parallel. Therefore you should fold the upper body forward as much as you’ve bent the ankles. You also straighten the upper body a similar amount when you straighten the ankle. Those movements, unfortunately, are not as easy as it sounds. 

One of those few occasions in skiing that your upper body and lower leg are not parallel.



The best way I’ve found to learn those movements is to do it stationary outside of boots and check your profile against a full length mirror for feedback. (Preferably alone or at least in the company of other ski junkies). Close your eyes then flex the ankles and fold at the upper body simultaneously. Have a look at the mirror to check your profile. Are they at the same angle? 


Correct and repeat this exercise until you can accurately feel that the movements are the same amount. Increase the range of the movements gradually and see if your internal feedback is still accurate. Make sure you do this for both flexing and straightening of the ankles and the upper body. They should be at the same angles even when you rise up. Oh  and it is a purely an up and down movement. Not a forward and backward movement. You should always be able to feel the entire sole of your foot on the ground. That’s the indicator for knowing that you’re balanced (in the middle/ sweet spot). 

 

 
Flexing the ankles forward instead of up and down. Skier is in contact only with the front sole of the boot and is therefore balanced on the front of the ski rather than its centre.



If you only flex at the ankles and not at the hips, you’ll end up in the back. However, if you flex your ankles and fold too much at your hips, you’ll also end up in the back. This is because your ankles will automatically straighten to automatically adjust for the body being too far forward. Try it and see for yourself. 


Balance is the holy grail of skiing. If you don’t have it, every other skill becomes either more difficult or downright impossible to perform. Ironically, it is  much simpler to learn the movements without skis and boots. Once you put those on and are blazing down a slope, it can become…entertaining to observe. If you can’t do it in front of a mirror precisely, you’re quite unlikely to be able to do it on mountain. It goes without saying that just reading and understanding the movement in your head is not going to magically give you the ability to perform it.


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