Finding Forward

Reprinted from The Central Line, a publication of PSIA-AASI

Finding forward

By Ron Shepherd, central division Alpine technical team

We’re all pretty good skiers here, right? Were self-aware, proficient, confident. Sadly, we also tend to lie to ourselves (just a little) about our skiing, convincing ourselves that we are achieving, representing, demonstrating something that we are not. That “thing” We think-we-do-but don’t is get forward on our skis. We’re deluding ourselves when we think we are sufficiently there.

I was at a press conference a few years back, and a Reporter asked Mikaela Shiffrin what she was working on. Getting forward she said. That’s right, THE Mikaela Shiffrin (!) doesn’t think she’s forward enough on her skis. Neither are we.

Think about this: your toe piece of your bindings is mounted around the middle of your ski (assuming you are not on center mounted twin tips). If you stand flat on your whole foot inside your ski boots, the center of your boot (the midsole mark) Is behind the center of your ski by several inches. In a normal, everyday “straight run,” We tend to stand whole-footed, flexed in our “athletic stance”. We think we’re forward – after all, our hands are up, right? We’re not, though; we’re only forward enough to adjust for our sliding skis – enough to stay upright. We are not really forward because more forward feels off balance. Why? Because we know that a position that is levered forward causes our flat-and-bent skis to feel squirrelly, and squirrely is scary. So we train ourselves to believe that we are suitably forward on our skis, because experience says that too far forward is scary.

The answer is just a few degrees away.

When we move not just forward, but forward towards the edge of the ski – more specifically towards the edge of the ski we are transferring to through transition, something entirely different happens. Your ski responds, it bends, it engages with the snow, where, a force originates, delivering feedback to your body, through your lower leg, through your thighs – saying “trust me”. This force creates a touch- point (honestly, I don’t know a better word for it) against which we can move, and act. This spot is sweet (so, it’s a sweet spot!), and it is fundamental to ski performance at the top of the turn. We just need to train ourselves to find and enjoy it, and it is an all-in, immersive sensation: ankle-flexed, hips and shoulders ahead, like that image of Leonardo DiCaprio at the bow of the Titanic I’m the King of the world!

So, how do we find, recognize, and harness that force?

It comes down to familiarity and trust. Personally, I found it via D-Team member Michael Rogan, who taught me to ski slowly on one leg, my poles crossed behind my back. Michael challenged me to make skidded turns from this awkward position, and I learned that the only way I could succeed was to adopt A stance further forward (not levered, but not comfortably back either) than my normal, casual stance. I found this exercise then made the task “outside ski turns” more attainable for me, and I found that as I practiced them, I began to trust in the power and capability of my skis forebodies – that whole portion ahead of my toe pieces, and I’m beginning to love it. I brought it to speed, and began to trust the front to support me when I moved there.

Of course, you are thinking “I know this- I teach it all the time”, and yet here is where I challenge you: It isn’t enough. You, I, we – don’t use the front of our skis to their potential, and our performance is less than maximum, as a result. Find the front, and grow to love it.

Want to understand more about how our forward pressure works? Check out these two great sources offered by coach and scientist Ron Kipp.

In the first, Alpine Ski Motion Characteristics in Slalom, the authors explore the groove a ski creates relative to edge angle, and the predictability of radius and trajectory. This is relevant and understanding that the science of ski bend is not exactly straight forward, yet the ability to predict trajectory of the ski increases with edge angle. Bottom line? Tipping is instrumental to bending. in the following YouTube video, you’ll see an actual study of ski tip pressure without the benefit of edge engagement.