I’m in the process of writing individual analyses of your skiing from our camp in Chile. They do take some time, however, so I wanted to give you a preview of the elements that will be discussed.
I’ve broken down what we worked on into five fundamentals. They are not meant to be overly technical, but if you need clarification I encourage you to call or to write. After each one, your own assessment will contain individualized comments for your skiing. The five are as follows:
1. Angle of attack. Probably the first and most primary element to master is the concept of being "with" the hill, which involves both sensing the pitch of the hill you are on together with an awareness of the location and position of your body. We’ve also referred to this as the optimal "angle of attack.” It is different for every situation and every pitch, and really more than anything needs practice to be habituated into confidence, first on moderate terrain and then on steeper stuff in order to be felt and acted upon properly. We have often begun practice with this concept as a group by getting into balance and alignment while standing still, facing uphill, playing with the feelings our body gives us when in and out of alignment, and being sensitive to how close optimal is to not optimal. We then observe the angle our body makes with the hill and remind ourselves that this is the optimum angle we should target when skiing down the hill.
To master this fundamental one has to work through the innate body fear that comes with trusting that falling forward (or even diving forward) feeling one must be comfortable with from the turn’s release until the horizontal line of the next turn, in progressively steeper and/or higher jeopardy types of situations. Mastering this skill runs counter to our innate fear of falling, and it requires a full commitment to a definite releasing of the bulk of one's mass down the fall line at precisely that moment when most of our instincts tell us to do just the opposite. Once you learn to trust this, however, you will wonder why you ever conceived of it any other way.
2. Parallel stance and base of support width. Once you have mastered angle of attack, one of the next major points is mastering a true, dynamic parallel stance on an appropriately sized base of support, or stance width. While generally it’s true that one should have parallel skis all of the time, a better description is that we should feel and control both edges, and that they should be running as cleanly as possible through the snow at all times. Width of stance may then be controlled by making minor adjustments of convergence and divergence between one's two edges at appropriate points in the turn. Without the parallel stance, it is difficult if not impossible to quickly and effectively move on one's axis at all points in a turn, and thus it becomes nearly impossible to easily achieve those body positions that are most advantageous to withstanding and/or creating force. Divergence with skidding essentially creates a drag on the inside half, which prevents moving forward and through when we need it most. What divergence does do however is give us a sense of security in that, should we fall to the inside, we have a safety net. The only problem is, it’s not safer and it’s definitely slow, like dragging an anchor along for the ride down a race course. To master this fundamental, you must commit to releasing the need for a safety net. Get comfortable with both feet running away from you on both your outside and inside edges, and you will be pleasantly surprised that your base of support will “catch” you better than ever before.
3. Athletic position. Once the previous fundamental is mastered, you now have a good chance of getting your body into alignment at all points of your turn, including achieving proper alignment at that point when you will create at the heaviest, or highest energy part of the turn. This opens the door to higher edge angles, the ability to generate higher pressure, and the option of a more direct line through gates on cleaner skis. Finding proper alignment is essentially anticipating the most athletic position you are capable of, that is not only dynamic and sensitive but also able to withstand forces greater than your body weight. This skill requires a good “mid-air” sense. While most ski racers are proficient at being aware of where their body parts are when they are under a load such as when the ski is hooking up, awareness of where their body is while not under load is often neglected, and neglected from a very young age. The good news is that, like anything else in ski racing, it can be practiced into mastery.
We can call this a lot of things, such as “good posture” or simply anatomical alignment, but above all finding proper alignment is a dynamic act as opposed to a static position. And again, from a young age many of us are taught skiing “positions” rather than sensing balance in motion. For example, if you've just jumped off of a platform a foot or two high, think of the way your body automatically aligns itself in anticipation before contacting the ground if your goal is to spring up again. Muscles are ready, all joints have flexion, and above all the body is precisely aligned to the big force that is ABOUT to take place. This is the type of state you want your muscles and joints and awareness to occupy as you are upside down in your turn. Doing so requires mastery of all of the previous fundamental elements discussed. Needless to say, your overall fitness level and strength to weight ratio play a very large part in determining whether you can withstand those larger forces. That said, however, strength and power almost always come second to balance and alignment. Without these, all of the power in the world cannot be effectively applied to the ski.
4. Turn shape selection and control. We discussed the use of pressure, edge angle, and fore-aft application. These are the three basic elements we identified that can alter the radius of a carved turn. For example, more pressure creates more effective side cut, which reduces the turn's radius, which increases centripetal force (e.g. more pressure), which enables us to lower our CM (center of mass) to remain balanced against the additional force, which increases edge angle, which reduces the turns radius further, and so on and so on... The gist here is that all of the elements are tied to one another. Mastery of ski racing entails being able to balance and blend all three ways of altering turn shape, depending on the situation in which one finds themselves. Mastery of your own turn shape is largely a process of experience, whereby for example you should, at least daily, pick out one of the three and "play" with it. Every situation is different, so this process requires a lot of intentioned self-discovery and reflection on whether or not it is effective. One of the bigger cultural problems we face is that often times when free skiing, athletes choose to simply go with the flow, which, while admittedly fun, does nothing to develop a need to select a turn shape that precisely matches the targeted skiing we perform while in gates. This creates repetition of a turn shape that really doesn’t exist in most courses.
5. Pressing the "gas pedal." One of the most elusive but important fundamental elements of ski racing that we talked about was finding the "gas pedal." Formally speaking, the gas pedal is the ability to press on the new outside ski at the moment it is coming under the CM at transition. To understand this better, the analogy we talked about was imagining skiing down a two-tiered straight track with one foot above the other. At some point the two-tiers would become one. Now, if everyone started at the same speed and we timed such an event, the obvious way to be the fastest would be to precisely time pressuring one's higher foot as it came down to the level of the lower foot. This would give us a little acceleration boost. Pressuring too early or too late would result in no acceleration, but hitting it just right, on its sweet spot, would result in an appreciable boost. Because there is one of these sweet spots in every turn, it’s useful to time this pressuring of the new outside ski. Being able to master this skill implies mastery of 1-4 above and will launch you into a whole new realm of speed in ski racing. Your turns will link, you’ll be connected to the snow, and you’ll develop a keen awareness of where your switch happens and why. Accomplished ski racers utilize this concept of “pressing on the back side of a bump" almost every single turn.