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The Fall Line

By Cathy Margiotta
Posted on 9/18/2017 3:55 PM

I think I've said how much I love math. That will always be true. Nothing quite stirs my blood like solving for x. So does geometry. Being able to walk around with a protractor at the ready would be a life's dream for me. And if I were off my rocker, I would do it. Sadly, I am not, so no protractor for now. Not yet.

Please take note, then, that the range of motion in an average ankle is about 60 degrees. In the average knee, it's about 150 degrees. And our hips can bend forward and back about 100 degrees.

The most significant thing that I observe from my chairlift rides is that most skiers do not avail themselves of these angles. Most skiers, me included, don't bend our ankles, knees, or hips nearly enough to smoothly ride over the snow.

Instead, we tend toward the rigid side of flexibility.

That makes our skiing reactive rather than anticipatory. And it wears us out faster. We spend a lot of energy holding ourselves stiffly in place or getting knocked around by a less than perfectly groomed slope.

It's only natural to keep the use of our angles down to a minimum. Our sense of safety while skiing keeps us holding back because we are all old enough to know how much a trip to the emergency room can cost.

But it's like having blown shock absorbers on a car. Every imperfection in the snow gets magnified. We get tossed into the back seat when the terrain kicks up even a little bit. Our skis lose contact with the snow—so we lose control. And then poof—we are laid out on the slope because the mountain humbles rigid people.

So what can we do to help improve our use of the angles that God gave us?

  1. Learn how to gently bounce on your skis. Bounce up and down a few times while standing still. You will get tall as you bounce up then shorter as you land. Take that into a turn. Bounce tall as you head down the hill then get short as you ski across it. Bouncing while skiing is very scary at first, but you will adapt and become proficient. And then it might become fun.

  2. Ski with your head at a consistent altitude above the snow. When you try this, your knees will bend toward your chest as you cross the hill during your turn. Then your legs will reach long as you head down the hill at that part of the turn. It's kinda the same idea as above, but cuts down on extraneous upper body motion. And that improves balance.

  3. Use the range of motion in your ankles to power you through the turn. If you bend your ankles about 10-15 degrees more as you swoosh into the fall line, you will suddenly discover all the power that resides in your shins. Use it to cut down on getting tossed around by the terrain. It's what I do when I am about to confront mashed potatoes or a big stash of powder. Most importantly, it keeps you from being thrown into the back seat.

  1. If you want to ski bumps, you have no choice but to explore the range of motion in your lower joints. Or die.

  1. If you want to ski powder, you need to know how to move your joints with finesse. You won't die, but you will find yourself laid out face down with both skis about ten feet above you.

  1. If you want to jump off a cornice or any terrain park feature, you need to be able to bounce. You won't die here either, but there will be the likelihood of a huge yard sale.

Ski instructors have numerous words for this. Skiing with intensity, with spice, with a sense of play, being dynamic. My Quebecois instructor at Mont Sainte Anne told me, with a French accent, "Be loose, loose."

It is hard to do at first, I know, but I'll be happy to explain what I mean if you have any questions. Or show you, if we have the chance to ski together.


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