Athletic Stance

Skiing: How to stand on skis


Training exercises that will help your position in skiing

Skiing is a collage of many separate skill areas, blended together into a symphony of cohesive movement and performance. Think, if you will, of each separate skill as an individual note. The more notes one has the ability produce, the greater the repertoire of musical pieces one can play on the snow. And there-in dwells the key to expanding comfort zones; expanding ones skill base within each skill area. Those skill areas are stance, balance, rotation, edging, flexion/extension, angulation, pressure control, and transitions. Let's start with stance.

The term "Stance" referrers to the nature of the standing position we take on our skis. Look around the slopes and you'll see many variations of stance. Some skiers will look as though they are standing very naturally and feel completely comfortable on their skis. These are the skiers others watch and wish they could emulate. Others look terribly uneasy, as though death is nipping at their heels, and they're struggling with every fiber of their being to escape it's oh so close grasp.

So what are the specifics that differentiate these two skier type stances? To explain it, I'm going to throw a term at you; STACKING. In skiing, when we speak of stacking, we're referring to the manner in which different parts of our body align. A well stacked skier (please, no smart comments) will have their hips aligned vertically above their feet, and their shoulders and head directly above their hips. This position puts the skier in the strongest possible position, as well as in a position that best allows them to respond athletically to the changing forces, snow, and terrain experienced while skiing. This contrasts with the non-stacked position, where exaggerated knee flexion drops the hips behind the feet, and low,,, there's major compensating forward flexion at the waist,,, and the weight has dropped back on the heels. This is not a strong position, or even remotely athletic, but it's unfortunately very common. Why? The answer often has it's roots in fear.

Skiing can be an intimidating proposition in the early stages of learning. There we are, pointing ourselves down what appear to be very steep hills, and on slippery sticks we feel we have little control over. A feeling of unease in such an environment is a reasonable response. We humans have natural survival mechanisms imbedded within us, and one of those is the "retreat" response. When we feel the acceleration of sliding kick in, a natural response is to back away from the speed. The result; we sit back. The knees bend,,, the hips drop and fall behind,,, our weight goes to our heels,,, and we bend forward at the waist to keep from falling square on our butt. From this defensive position we proceed to try to negotiate our run. Unfortunately, trying to perform in this non-athletic position just adds challenge to the task,,, but fear has put us new skiers into this poor position, and fear will cause us to remain there, struggling more than is necessary in our efforts to perform. Through that repeated effort, we learn to refine to barely workable levels the inefficient movement patterns we're employing. And as we continue to use these second class tactics, we embed them into our muscle memoried execution habits.

Looking around the slopes, we can see that a larger percentage of recreational skiers are trapped in that very situation. Hunched positions with butts behind feet and weight on heels is epidemic out there. But it can be resolved. The cure starts right at home in bare feet on carpet. Stand up, with feet approximately hip width apart, and equally weighting each foot. Now see that your knees are straightened, so that only slight flexion remains in them (perhaps 10-15 degrees out of straight), and your hips are aligned directly above your feet. Next, align shoulders and head directly above your hips. Keep your chin up and look forward. Hands up as though skiing. Finish by flexing backward and forward at the ankles only until you feel your weight concentrated on the balls of your feet, with only minor pressure on your heels. You are now in an athletic stacked stance. You can check yourself by doing this in-house drill with a mirror at your side, and sneaking a peak. A partner on hand is also helpful to provide some feedback.

Now that you've learned how to stack yourself, practice moving in and out of that stance. From your stacked stance, flex deeply in the knees. You'll feel your butt move behind your feet and drop lower. You'll also notice your weight shift back to your heels, and feel yourself flex forward at the waist in an effort to keep from falling backwards onto your keester. This is the common defensive stance. Practice moving back and forth,,, from defensive,,, to stacked,,, to defensive,,, to stacked. This will help refine your sensory awareness of the two stances so on snow you can start to become aware of which one you're in,,, and will enhance your ability to move back into stacked when you sense you've inadvertently drifted into defensive.

On snow you will continue to develop and refine these skills by doing the same thing. Find a very gentle slope that allows for slow and non-intimidating straight runs. Get yourself into the nicely stacked and balanced stance you learned at home, and then start to slide. Maintain the stacked position as you continue your straight run, and begin to develop the sense of what it feels like to ski in this athletic position. Next, do the same straight run while repeatedly switching back and forth between stacked and defensive,,, just like you did at home on the carpet. You're simply continuing to develop the sensory and recovery skills you were at home by moving the drill onto snow.

(A hint: if you simply can't find a slope flat enough to do these straight runs at a comfortable speed, you can modify the drill by doing the straight runs on an angle to the falline)

Next, you'll want to do the same progression (first stacked, then shifting back and forth) while doing turns. Start off with single partial turns. These partial turns should replicate the last third of a turn. Start with your skis facing 45 degrees to the falline, then turn uphill to a stop. Ensure you maintain a well balanced stacked stance through the entirety of the partial turn. Reverse and turn the opposite direction. Follow with the shifting back and forth drill. Continue by adding more and more turn till you're doing an entire turn. Then link your turns. Always be cognizant of the maintaining the stacking quality as you add difficulty to the drills.

Finish by skiing in very diverse stances. Make some series of turns in a very hunched stances,,, then some with an overly extended stance. Learn to perform in a wide range of stance positions. This will continue to further enhance your sensory awareness of what type of stance you're skiing in at any moment,,, further refine your ability to recover to the ideal stance when you need/want, and expand your ability to perform in a wider range of positions. In essence; expanding your comfort zone.


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