Skiing/Alpine Balancing Skills 1
Alpine Stance and Balancing
It’s just leaning forward and keeping your hands forward, isn’t it?
Well, no, not really;
When learning to ski how a person stands and balancing can be said to be the most important aspect of the sport, at any point along their Learning Curve. If they are standing and are therefore balancing in an ineffective way then, when trying to develop or add another skill, the process may take a lot longer as something fundamental is already faulty and interfering with progress.
Here, because of the complexity of Telemark we’ll start with the focus on Alpine skiing but develop these ideas in a section dedicated specifically to stance variations in the chapter Telemark Stance and Balancing.
There are many good books, instructors and courses that like to refer to a particular skiing stance. They will usually generalise to give an idea of what the stance looks like and may relate it to another sport or activity. This can be great if you’re interested in the given example, but what if you’re not? To answer this and give you a slant that may be of more use to you and your background, hobby or interest, take a look at the chapter on Relating to Other Sports/Activities.
Having already read about V.A.K. Visual, Audio and Kinaesthetic in the previous chapter Learning Curves, will enable you to understand why this chapter and book may have a very feel oriented style. As stated above most instructors will only show you what it looks like, here you will find ideas of what it should feel like and where possible there will be a diagram or picture for the seeing learner, a description that you can imagine being said to you for the hearing learner and lots to help you become aware of the feelings.
Note the word I’ve chosen is Balancing and not balance or balanced. This is because the word balance could be construed as a static word – I’ve achieved a stance or way of standing and if I stay like this I’m balanced – well not necessarily; if your skis, the forces and the terrain are constantly moving and changing, so should you.
Hang on though, Stance sounds static!
Yes correct, to help; think of stance as one of the building blocks of balancing and more truly re-balancing, it could be said to be a place we visit and move around from; we have to start somewhere.
Firstly we need to look at this stance we are going to use to either get the idea or intellectually understand what we are trying to achieve. As stated above we can get the idea from other sports and activities. For this I will use 3 sports that I played before taking skiing seriously; golf, tennis and horse riding. It is not overly important if you’re not into these sports as it is just to get an idea using the V from V.A.K. I could just as easily use a sumo wrestler, flipping a pancake, a person about to dive into a pool as examples along with many other options dealt with later in another chapter.
It’s easy to Google search for images of a golfer, tennis player, jockey.
If you look at the 3 slightly different but also vaguely similar stances or shapes you may be able to see that each one is lower (more dynamic) than the previous – a golf stance or address isn’t as dynamic as a tennis player receiving serve – why? Because it is effective for the sport and the ball is static, whereas the receiver in tennis doesn’t know where the ball is going so therefore needs a more adaptable “ready for anything” stance. A jockey in the Grand National for example, has a vast amount of dynamic factors to deal with – terrain (jumps and undulations) the horse moving along with external interference from other horses and jockeys too.
NOTE that each of these stances design has evolved to suit the given sport, (and therefore have pros and cons with regard to an ideal match for a ski stance) they are also designed to deal with the different movements needed and the external forces that happen;
- The golf stance’s movements are generally lateral (side to side) with some rotational and the external forces (interference and reactions) are nominal
Note, when looking at a golf stance or address the legs are a little upright and the shoulders may be too far in front of the ankle and therefore more toward the balls of the feet (many beginners resemble this stiffer more upright stance due to apprehension/fear but are usually back rather than forward).
- The tennis stance’s movements are multi-directional, mainly due to the unknown direction of the ball (reactionary and anticipatory)
Note, when receiving serve in tennis, we could talk about a first stance; which is low and wide footed and relatively static, akin to a racing tuck in downhill skiing. Then a second stance, when the player moves to a slightly more upright stance which is more on the balls of the feet and enables them to anticipate a movement in any direction (known as the split step). This is similar to both alpine stance and also Telemark (See Alpine Phase? and Relating to other sports/activities).
- The jockey’s stance, movements and reactions are also multi-directional but also totally 3 dimensional due to the horses added movements and reactions to the terrain
Note, there is an unknown quantity here; the horse could react in a way that the Jockey wasn’t expecting. I know I’ve hit the ground a few times!
The movements and forces are dealt with later during the book and this chapter (See Science/Biology).
Stance into stances
Although a pedantic point of view, I tend to stay away from words like “position”, because in my opinion there are NO Positions in Alpine snow sports. Of course if you look at pictures they capture a moment in time and a stance/position that may be a good thing to copy. However, the stance we use in skiing is dependent on the dynamic conditions we are skiing on, for example; a beginner on a green run or nursery slope can use a relatively un-dynamic stance because the terrain and speed they are using isn’t changing much or creating great forces.
The stance can be developed into stances or a useful series of stances.
Stances into Shape
Whereas more adventurous terrain and speed users, will have to contend with changes in the terrain along with the forces that will be created by them, the terrain and speed they are travelling at. Although at the moment we are looking at the stance we are ultimately going to use a changing or evolving shape, which may be a mishmash of the 3 ideas above.
The above shows the building blocks; a stance refined and adapted into a series of stances, which is further refined into a continually changing and adaptable shape that can deal with the ever changing terrain and forces.
When thinking about images for this project I got to thinking that if I place a picture, then people will try to copy it. Pictures also go in and out of fashion and if the model isn’t of your build or sex then it becomes less useful. Under our clothes, flesh and muscles, our skeleton’s are pretty similar. With that in mind here’s Skeleton Bob (I used Bob because it’s short for Kate, unisex); use him to get the idea and place your build and sex on top of his generic frame or template (remember Bob isn’t designed to be the ideal human nor is he biologically correct or in true scale). This is also the reason I haven’t put any side views of skiers in this section.
Notice that the knees are in an area over the toes (A-A) or at least in front of or above the ankle joint, the shoulders are in an area over the knees (B-B), however tall or small the person stands. The backside has to stick out a bit, or more depending on height of skier (race tuck or tall stance) to counter-balance the head (which will go forward along with the shoulders in race tuck). Many people try to (and were also encouraged to in the past) ski with their bottom tucked under; this can inhibit a full range of movement and place the spine in danger to injury.
Imagine picking up a heavy box from the floor without allowing your backside to stick out! This would feel very un-natural. Depending on your morphology (build) your spine will either be slightly bent one way or the other or flat, when skiing keep it quite neutral; in other words don’t force it to bend in a way that is too alien to your normal range or flexion in any direction.
The main aim at the start of your progress to becoming the skier/athlete that you want to be is to target toward an exact outcome. Create at first, an effective stance that enables you to feel your body supported over your feet within your boots, through the skeleton by using your joints and muscles efficiently. You can then develop this into a series of accurate stances that will useful as things progress and can then be explored and experimented with toward a wider idea later. Possibly the best way to do this is to work from the feet up, finding an effective centre to your base of support.
Lots of instructors will work from the head down; horizontal eye line, hands out and forward for example – none of this is wrong but being from a building/engineering background… I would suggest you can build a house from the roof down but generally you work upwards from the correct foundations!
Find or build “Centre” from the Feet Up!
Balancing in skiing is done on your feet; your feet are the closest parts of your body to the skis and are connected via the boots and bindings. Your feet are also the base of support that are interacting with the ski/snow and can therefore influence every action and reaction in very subtle but effective ways. Allow your eyes and hands to help your balancing actions and reactions after you have learnt to use your brain to process the feelings you will have to become aware of within your boots. Your boots and feet will tell you when you’re in or out of centre if you allow them to. You will over time and practice build a repertoire of feelings – good and bad, right and wrong and all will be useful.
Up until now we have been using the visual from VAK and if we imagine someone talking through this we may be able to say we have used the audio too. However we cannot look or listen to balancing other than to understand the principle. So coming up are some ideas using the K, kinaesthetic or feel.
The next segment of this chapter will introduce 0xo, Dice 5, The Sweetspot & fore-aft, lateral and vertical – the 3 planes of Balancing, Jose