There is a small muscle on the outside of shin that is called the tibialus anterior (TA). It's about the size of a foot-long ruler and it allows the ankle to hinge open and closed. If you can't engage this muscle while you ski, you won't balance yourself at all. EVER.
And this is not the first time you've heard me say this. It's that important.
I hope this blog will help you learn how to strengthen them and use them effectively when you ski.
Below is a link to exercises that you can do to improve their strength and flexibility. (My link is not an endorsement of LIVESTRONG, fyi.)
When I learned to ski back in the stone ages, of course the instructor yelled at me to bend my knees. Some instructors still yell this out to their students, in hopes that the student will stay in balance. I don't. Because I have kept up with the latest techniques, I know that the amount of bend in the knees is a consequence of a skier's speed, pitch of slope, and travel over terrain, and not some ideal posture to be maintained at all costs.
When a skier is moving through their turns, both TAs contract and relax in unison. This cyclical muscle action is one of the subtle rhythms in skiing. Simply, the skier contracts both TAs as they swoop into the fall line, then relaxes them as they come out of the fall line. The contraction causes the skier's height to drop a few inches, which is good, considering that the skier is probably going a bit faster. Lowering their center of mass is a more stable thing. You can try this right now. Stand up and squeeze your shins tight. Voila! You should lose about 2-3 inches.
When the TAs relax, the skier gets back those extra inches which allows the skier to make a full extension of their legs into the next turn.
So exactly how does this cyclical muscle action help keep your balance?
Contracting the TAs causes the ankle to momentarily "lock" and help you power through things like mashed potatoes and other changes in the snow surface. That locking keeps you off your heels!
Contracting the TAs lowers your center of mass. That makes you more stable.
Relaxing the TAs allows your legs to reach and float into the next turn, absorbing that terrain.
Contracting the TAs helps your upper body keep up with your lower body. When my feet get ahead of my butt, I'm toast!
This cycle of contractions and relaxations is the basis of the "athletic stance." As we approach the fall line, we need to be in an athletic stance. This is what all that yelling about the knees is trying to get at but misses.
Next time you are approaching crud or mashed potatoes, squeeze your shins and admire how well you made it through.
Next time you find yourself turning, squeeze your shins as you approach the fall line. You'll find more control and some extra speed.
When you get the hang of contracting and relaxing your TAs while you ski, you will discover more control over your speed and balance. Amazing! Speed and control becomes exciting! Love it!
One final thing:
The TAs need to stay in contact with the tongues of the boots to transmit the energy from your shins to the tips of your skis. This is another thing that instructors tend to yell out. But some instructors never learned how to coach their students to do this. Also, proper buckling of the top two buckles is important. too much slack up there and it gets hard to make contact. If you need a buckle check, ask me next time you ski with me!
The illustration of the Tibialus Anterior is from Gray's Anatomy, plate 1240.