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The Fall Line

HABITUAL BIPEDS ON SKIS, OH MY!
By Cathy Margiotta
Posted on 1/18/2018 11:18 AM

Yep, that's us humans alright. We stand, walk, run, and jump on two legs as members of an exclusive group of creatures which includes birds, pangolins, macropods, and kangaroo rats and mice. Most animals are quadripeds, as you well know, but lucky us, we get to rise above our animal relatives and shashay our way through life on high heels or sneakers.


For skiers, this bipedalism presents two huge problems. Both can be overcome, but first we must recognize what they are.


We are not only right and left-handed, we are right and left-footed.


I naturally make a right turn much easier than a left one. So in my early years on snow, I tended to ski diagonally down the hill, from right to left, because making a left turn felt safer and more comfortable. Those left turns were bigger and lasted longer than my very unsure and poorly executed right ones.


This was because the alignment of my leg bones was not symmetrical, and that's true for all of us. Each leg is aligned differently. When we learn to walk, we also learn to adapt our gait to our leg structure. As we grow, we continue to adjust our structural alignment. And as adults, we make adjustments for things like arthritis and "bad knees."


Since we don't really notice these adjustments to our gait, we don't realize that one leg becomes our "go-to" appendage. And that leg becomes the favored when we turn.


So how to fix? Mentally focusing on the weak leg helps. Doing skiing drills will also help develop the weak leg. I know that's not much of an answer, but if you ask me, I can suggest particulars.


We prefer sequential leg movements over simultaneous ones.


It's why parallel, simultaneous movements of our skis is such a holy grail. Instructors like me see sequential movements in our students and realize we got our work cut out for us. But I try not blame my fellow bipeds. Our bodies evolved to run, walk, and jump by putting a leading leg forward and leaving the trailing leg behind. Sequential locomotion is natural, safe, and comfortable.


In skiing, we call it "stemming," which is the sequential movement of doing something with one ski and then having the other ski match it. And actually, if it gets you down the hill with a smile on your face, why fix it?


Because fixing requires that you develop the mental ability to accept sliding on both feet at the same time as the safest and best way to slide down a hill. It's hard to do, to overcome millions of years of evolution, just to make a perfect turn. We have to learn to trust what would normally be counterintuitive—that leaning away from the hill is safer than hunkering into it.


To eliminate a stem, you must learn to shorten yourself at the end of the turn, and lengthen both legs equally as you head down the fall line. And that's the part that seems to fly in the face of self-preservation. Most of us balk at the notion of pushing our head down the hill ahead of our feet. I liken that rising up on the balls of my feet to the sensation of jumping into a pool. But a pool is way different than staring down a double black bump-upped diamond. That's just suicide.


It's not the way skiing started. Those crazy Norwegians developed telemarking, allegedly in the town of the same name, which involves sliding one ski forward to turn, and keeping one ski behind for balance. That two-footed simultaneous stuff was developed in Europe and seems more suited to skiing at higher speeds. It's more about Heinrich racing his brothers and sisters down the Alps to the village school than it is about Olaf looking after his caribou or trekking to town for supplies.


So as I said in a previous blog, we don't have monkey feet, and we weren't really designed to locomote on two feet at the same time, but what the hey? It's still fun.


  Member of the Blue Ridge Ski Council