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The Fall Line

By Cathy Margiotta
Posted on 2/3/2018 1:43 PM

My pet peeve with ski instruction is about all the things that get omitted because the American Teaching System no longer promotes any sort of organized curriculum. PSC's Bryce racing clinic and the Southern Division Ski Patrol Women's clinic that I both led in January have given me cause to consider skills that skiers need but are no longer taught with any rigor. Without them, a skier is doomed to be a terminal ok sorta parallel skier. This list isn't necessarily comprehensive, so if you guys think of something important that I might have left out, let me know.

Skating. The motion of skating is precisely what a skier needs to commit to the outside ski. It is a forward and upward motion that directs your center of mass along the length of your ski. In skating, it is fairly straightforward, forgive the pun. To use it in turning, the skier develops a sense of degree of how much of the skating motion is needed to make a clean turn.

So if you can't skate, you can't commit to the outside ski with any confidence. On the other hand, if you learn to skate, you learn how to ride the ski around the turn as much as you need. And you learn how to shift to the next ski with better balance.

Traverse in a countered position while edging. In certain teaching circumstances, the traverse has become a dirty word. A competent skier isn't supposed to "shop for a turn," by riding across the fall line, and they will get called out if they put a long traverse between turns. However, the traverse is the perfect and simplest way to learn a correct countered stance. And it is the easiest way to learn how to edge your skis. The traverse teaches basic upper/lower body separation because your feet do one thing while your body does something else. If you want to develop the ability to ski with your upper body facing down the hill, you have to learn how to traverse properly.

100 percent commitment to your new outside ski. In order to get the racers in the racing clinic to commit to their outside ski, I first made them pick up the tail of the inside ski. If done correctly, before a skier gets to the fall line, that tail lift gets nearly all of their weight on the downhill ski. That makes the downhill ski hold its line. When they put the tail of the inside ski down, I made them step on it immediately. That transfers their weight to the new outside ski, just as if they were skating.

One of the more obscure questions that I have had to answer is: "How much weight do you put on the outside ski?" In the old days of straight skis, that answer was fixed at 100%. In the new days of shaped skis, the answer has been "Whatever the hill dictates." But this recent round of teaching made it clear to me that practicing with 100% weight on the new outside ski is important to developing the commitment that can then be adjusted as needed.

Moving your center of mass down the hill. Bumps, powder, trees are set before us as the holy grails of skiing. I've even said so. But the ability to move yourself down the fall line ahead of your feet is the real holy grail. If you cannot train your brain to leap down the hill, you probably are not going to be able to handle bumps and steeps very well. Bumps and steeps are, well, steep, and therefore scary. Consequently, our sense of survival keeps us hugging the slope. Once we learn how to commit to the outside ski and move our center of mass up and forward away from the slope, we gain the confidence that our new outside ski will turn on command.

That drill about lifting the tail of the inside or uphill ski is important for learning proper weight distribution. But by itself it means little. In other words, once you can do that, you should step on the new outside ski with that skating motion and move forward and away from the slope. It's a two-part motion that will make you ride the outside ski around the turn.

A different way to say it: while you are stepping on your new outside ski, you need to move your hips away from your feet. Specifically, on a right turn, you move your left hip away from your left foot. On a left turn, you move your right hip away from your right hip.

Foot agility. When your feet stop moving, your body stops moving, Specifically, you stop making the angles you need to ski dynamically and you end up skiing statically, or with a more rigid body. There are all sorts of drills to do to build agility and balance. If you think this is something you want to develop and you are going to Snowshoe, ask me to show you one of the thousands of drills you can do to keep your feet moving as you ski. If you are not going, you can search YouTube and look for skiing drills such as "1000 steps," "1000 hops," "shuffling feet."

Finally, pole plants, which I covered in a previous blog.

Put these six skills on your list of things to do. You can guarantee you will improve your skiing.


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