Steer into balance

Most skiers know that they are supposed to balance on the outside ski, however exactly how this is achieved is not well understood. Unfortunately, getting it wrong results in a lack of balance on the outside ski.

Before we begin, many people talk about standing on the ”downhill” ski. I avoid referring to skis as uphill or downhill since in a given turn the outside ski begins as the uphill ski and becomes the downhill ski.

Diagram 2

It is important to understand what we mean by balance on the outside ski. Balance on the outside ski is simply pressure. When we ski, we rely on pressure to change direction and therefore control our speed. Directing this pressure through our outside foot allows us to maintain strength and mobility. It also gives us maximum ability to control the magnitude of this pressure.

So how do we create balance/pressure against the outside ski? It’s as simple as turning the ski. We turn (or steer) the ski using a combination of pivoting (rotation of the ski in the transverse plane) and edging (rotation of the ski in the frontal plane).

Consider a skier in motion. Her momentum is the tendency of her mass to continue travelling straight ahead. When she steers her skis, she creates a force that acts to accelerate her mass across her direction of travel, causing her to change direction. However her momentum is pulling her straight ahead, towards the outside of the turn and the outside ski. This results in balance/pressure on the outside ski. This sensation of being pulled to the outside of the turn is what’s known as centrifugal force. So balance/pressure on the outside ski is the result of a direction change and we change direction by steering the skis. Thus, we steer ourselves into balance on the outside ski.

You experience the same phenomenon when driving a car. Steering the front wheels creates a change in direction and your momentum pulls you to the outside of the turn. The car’s momentum is also acting towards the outside of the turn, resulting in more weight on the outside wheels. If you drive too fast around a corner, the outside wheels can become so heavy and the inside wheels so light, that the inside wheels lift off the road completely and the car rolls.

As with anything, this idea of balance on the outside ski can be and often is misunderstood, with people trying to create pressure or balance against the outside ski by ”pushing” or ”pressing” on it. Pushing on the outside foot causes it to move away from the centre of mass, which results in the centre of mass being supported by the inside foot/ski – balance on the inside ski – and a loss of balance/pressure on the outside ski.

Similarly, turning the body shifts the centre of mass towards the inside ski, resulting in balance on the inside ski and a loss of balance/pressure on the outside ski.

A good exercise to experience steering into balance is the stem turn. Start in an athletic position skiing straight down the hill. Steer the outside ski into a wedge (snow plough/pizza etc.). This will create a turning force that will result in a direction change and you will experience pressure/balance on the outside ski. Continue to turn in the same direction until you turn up the hill and stop.

It is important that you use the leg to steer the ski and not the upper body. It is equally important that you don’t push the outside foot away from you. Try to keep your foot underneath your mass.

Practice this in both directions. Then start off skiing across the hill and begin to turn down the hill before turning across and up the hill to stop. Do this a few times in both directions and then have a go at linking turns. Bring what you have learnt into parallel skiing by turning both skis at the same time.

This exercise allows you to steer the ski using more pivot (resulting in a skidded turn) or using more edging (resulting in a carved turn).

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