PSIA Master’s Academy: Ankles Flexed

This past week, I attended the Master’s Academy at Killington skiing with PSIA Demo Team Member Robin Barnes. Robin skis 300 days a year working at Heavenly during our winter and is the ski school director at Portillo during our summer.

The key concept for our group was a simple stance adjustment to make sure we had contact with both ankles on the boot cuff all through the turn. A more traditional PSIA turn concept is to start the long-leg / short-leg extension in your ankle, so this was surprisingly tricky to master for our group of experienced level 3 instructors.

We spent the first two days focusing exclusively on this adjustment so we could make it second nature. It takes lots of repetition to break a long-term movement pattern. The key thought for me is to feel the ankle / lower-leg biting and holding onto the lower part of the boot tongue. Robin suggested that we imagine we had teeth tattooed on our lower legs and ankles. The extension / flexion for pressure control comes from the knees and not the ankles.

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The Physics of Skiing

physics of skiingLast month I made a connection between intermediate skiing and geometry.  This applies to advanced skiers and to take it a step further, I’ll add physics to the mix.

There are two ways to put your skis on edge. The first method, inclination, uses the whole body. Angulation, the second method, creates angles by using our hips and knees joints.

When skiing at speed we can tip our whole body relying on centrifugal force to hold us up. These banked type turns can be fun in a cruising type mode but will not allow for very good edge hold as the edge angle created can only be as large as the amount of body tip.

When we tip using our hip joint and keep our upper body upright so that our shoulders are level to the horizon, we can create a much larger edge angle. In this way we utilize our most powerful joint which is surrounded by a web of powerful muscle.

This allows us to resist the forces that want to both tip us up hill while pulling us off our round turn shape and ultimately hold a better edge.  Angulation in your knees should only be used to fine tune things as those joints are much weaker and fragile and offer less range of motion than our hips.

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Skiing Geometry for Intermediates

Last month I used the ABC’s to teach children how to shape their turns for speed control. This month I’ll try to help intermediates get out of the rut and make better turns. To suit the higher ability level, I’ve moved the analogy from grade school ABC’s to high school Geometry.

skiing geometry

When I work with intermediates, I try to get them to think of their boots as being square instead rounded. In past we’d tell students move your shins directly forward into the front of the boot. Now, with modern technique we want to move those shins diagonally into the corner of our imaginary square boot tops.

If you tip both shins in the same plane into the corner of the square box (top of your boots) the skis will roll up on edge. Start by tipping your shins into the uphill corner of the square on the bottom half turns (after the apex). Try a gentle green trail and notice how your skis respond. As you gain confidence with this move try to gradually push toward the corner earlier in the turn. Not only are the skis parallel, but the planes that the shins tip in are parallel.  This leads to the leg angles that are parallel too.

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