Breaking the Mold
Going to where you want to
by Gary Dranow
Future balance - A dynamic move made during a transition which results in a temporary state of imbalance. The skier leads aggressively with the Center of Mass down the hill and into the new turn, and must wait for the skis to engage and turn forces to emerge for balance to be restored
I'm going to start this article summarizing my many experiences coaching my wife, Liz Dranow in Ski Racing, Road biking and racing, Golf and Auto Racing (Solo).
Liz had pretty good back ground all mountain skiing, some background in NASTAR level racing but with a very PSIA oriented development. She had no experience whatsoever with Cycle Racing or Auto Racing (much less driving, she got her first drivers license this year, no kidding).
How we’ve survived as a couple should be a topic of its own, by all historical accounts we should have gone down in flames within the first year.
Liz is a good sport and has the patience of Jobe! I don't.
In several of these pursuits I dragged Liz in almost kicking and screaming. Why? Liz had a fear based orientation to sports requiring athleticism and that had an aspect of risk or injury or a VERY high aspect of risk such at Road Bike Criterium Racing or Alpine Speed events, particularly Downhill.
Golf is was the daunting task of learning such as subtle sport requiring incredible focus, skill development from movement patterns to balance to timing. Her main fear, I believe, was to disappoint me. She is a solid Bogey golfer today, from the MEN'S front tees, when she’s playing regularly. She's already started her come back from her downhill injury (distal fracture of her right radius) and is playing, in some terms, better than when she stopped a year ago.
She has excelled in each of these sports. One reason is she is tenacious about learning. She is quietly but intensely competitive, she really enjoys competing. She has repeatedly blown down road blocks to the next level in each of these sports. It is inspiring to see as her develop and acquire one skill set after another in so many pursuits in such a condensed period of time. We were married January 3rd, 2005.
Well again I'm dragging her kicking a clawing into a new endeavor. A endeavor that I had her in once before. But due to my folly as a coach or not knowing when to “step out” as a coach I literally ruined it for her. Yup, the study of T'ai Chi Ch'aun.
We have reconciled the issues, road blocks to her return and she will return, begrudgingly, to this. I will be hands off, she will practice on her own.
That she is returning has relevance to this article.
Liz has developed this quality as described in Mike Hancock's, Stance and Functional Tension article:
Eyes are critical to developing a go-there attitude . - Stance, Functional Tension
This one sentence says volumes about all the sports we do. In AutoCross, also known as Solo, drivers are taught that the car goes where the eyes look. More accidents happen due to drivers fixating on what they need to miss rather than on where they need to go. In ski racing your eyes are the keys to where you need your Center of Mass to be BEFORE you get there, just like driving a high powered race car in Solo, it’s not in the butt (or feet in ski racing), it always starts in the eyes (for those of us who have sight, of course).
AutoCross/Solo and Criterium racing taught Liz a very important attribute to racing that Mike describes beautifully in that simple sentence. "A go-THERE attitude".
In Auto Racing we all have this cool thing called the throttle which really helps us develop that attitude. Once Liz got in my 400HP Corvette out of the Mini Cooper "S" her go-there attitude got REAL BIG.
It will be interesting to see how this translates to the slopes and especially racing.
Here’s where the meat of this article really takes off, thanks for your patience.
Caveat #1 - You can have all the Go-There attitude in the world but without a sufficient foundation of skill sets to get you there the outcome will be less than optimal, if not disastrous.
Mike continues, speaking of some of the foundation basics;
I can already see your eyes glaze over with boredom. We all know this, at least at a conceptual level. Yet how many of us stiffen up when we ski, trying to get into the "right position" so we can "make" our skis turn. We try to consciously do too many things at once, and end up with something that falls short of our expectations. Throw some plastic poles in front of us and it only gets worse. I'm surprised more of us don’t end up in the B netting, but when you ski rigid you can only go so fast.
The key is to use just enough muscle tension to get the job done while remaining loose enough to react to changing conditions. Functional tension, if you will. You aren’t going to get there focusing on 10 things at once. You'll just end up sequentially locking down contrived poses while you struggle to "fix" whatever else is on your laundry list of technical errors. Instead, focus on one (or two, if you’re really good) key points each run and hammer those points home before you move on to other pressing matters .
-Stance, Functional Tension
Liz has already developed an impressive array of practical ski racing skill sets. Put her on a Blue slope in a free environment (turn where she wants), regardless of the type of ski, Slalom, GS, or Speed and she uses her eyes, head up and does a great job of "going there". In other words, plotting where she wants her Center of Mass to be at the Apex of the next turn (or any point along the future turn) and gets it there, in balance and carrying speed. She has a very good understanding of her edge control. She lives on the edge and can articulate her edge angles to affect her turn radius remaining in balance almost at will.
But as Mike suggests, take the environment and simple change it by sticking some plastic poles in the snow and the job of projected your CoM a future spot and getting there in an organized fashion gets exponentially tougher.
Before I get into the main obstacle that all beginning racers or skiers must overcome to not just gain the confidence to have "a go-there" attitude then execute (removing the built in blocks to high performance skiing), I want to talk about the tight rope we all need to walk as skiers and ski racers.
Assuming you want to find your "Gas Pedal" and ski race courses or just varied terrain at high speed in extreme control you must learn my second Caveat.
Caveat #2 - Living on the Edge
Edging is important; possibly the most important foundation skill to acquire.
I'm going to introduce two new concepts that we employ at different levels as we learn our edging skills.
Stance Based Platform
This is the moving platform that all beginning-to-lower-level skiers live within. Their CoM resides within their physical platform created by the width of their stance and how much they are willing to tip their skis to get them up on edge OR not edge and keep their skis relatively flat and pivot them across the snow, keeping them comfortably within their “stance based platform”.
The second concept is a hard one to get. For the lower level skier and even skiers of Liz’s level, often retreat from this next type of platform to the stance based platform to when she goes outside of her comfort zone, especially on steep/icy/rough high speed race courses.
Forced Based Platform
This is where the CoM resides outside of the physical platform throughout much of the turn and especially right after the transition through the “inclination phase” and the skier is simply supported by the skis’ razor edge offsetting the resultant force vector that would otherwise throw the skier over the outside of the turn (in Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).
In "Stance: Allowing a Functional base of Support" you can see, static images world cup skiers demonstrating Forced Based Platforms.
In order to accomplish the exception to Newton’s law they use a functional stance, good posture (not necessarily perfect) and skeletal stacking using the guy wires of our structure, ligaments and tendons to unleash incredible power in their movements, Greg discusses this further adding to Mike’s article here;
Always begin with a functional horizontal separation similar to the separation that you would use when walking or running. This is the distance that you will be most comfortable with and best balanced so it is a very good width to use as a starting point. Both horizontal and vertical separation will change as dictated by the turns being made as to not compromise the base of support. Transition types and timing of edge changes will also affect how much the horizontal separation changes between the apex and transition. Fast (forced) edge changes and high edge angles will often force a skier to maintain a slightly wider horizontal separation through the transition because they are spending so little time in it. The majority of the time is spent at high edge angles where horizontal separation is very small. Vertical separation is more difficult to teach because it is a direct function of the angle that your skis are tipped at. It is also a component that must be allowed to develop, but not forced or created. When either component is compromised, the base of support is also compromised, which will lead to ineffective balance and constantly fighting the turn that you are making
- Stance: Allowing a Functional Base of Support
This brings me back to the fundamentals of edging. The emerging high performance skier must learn the full range of edge skills and when to employ high edge angles and forced based "functional" platforms or low edge angle stance based platforms allowing for pivoted turns. In Skiing on the Edge we delve into those foundation skills;
So what is "edging"? In a most basic description, it's the act of tipping a ski sideways so that its base is no longer flat on the surface of the slope. No effective turn can happen on a completely flat ski. Skis that rest flat on the snow tend to surrender to the whims of gravity. A flat ski, regardless of the direction it's pointing or traveling, will seek to follow the falline. Skis tipped up on edge tend, when pressured to the snow, to want to travel in the direction the skis are currently pointing. As skiers we use this knowledge to our advantage. If we want to change our direction or speed of travel, we do it through the manner in which we engage, or disengage, the edges of our skis to the snow. Obviously, then, this is a rather important skill package to possess
-From Skiing on the Edge
Let’s go back to Liz on that 40 percent pitch going 40 MPH approaching Gotcha Face (a blind break over) going 40 MPH and starts NOT WANTING TO GO-THERE.
She reverts to her skiing fetal position, gets inside her physical base (or really close to it) and pivots the living crap out of her skis scrubbing all her speed. This effectively gets off her gas pedal and slams on here brakes.
Finally bringing me to crux of this article, with is a primer for a video/photo essay about to be introduced, Gait Mechanics, Transitions and Future Balance.
In order for the intermediate level skier to step up the skill ladder and eventually become a high performance skier or elite level racer is a fairly simply but complex concept.
Caveat #3 Future Balance - find it, understand it, give into it.
A skier must be able to terminate a turn, create a moment of imbalance commonly known as a “the cross over” or transition, and project their CoM to a spot downhill and at an optimal point to execute the future desired turn, especially in Off Piste skiing or ski racing where “turn on demand” environments make turn placement critical.
There is a simple block that all skier must remove to get to this elite form of skiing and simply stated, clear your inside hip out of the way so you can move over your base to the inside of your new turn. Easier said than done, especially on that 50 percent pitch behind the blind break over on icy chatter, that scares the crap out of you.
The block is the ghost or vestiges of the stance based platform that we all want to cling to in extreme situations or what we perceive as extreme situations. In a stance based platform we tend to keep our hips very square to our direction of travel or path. If we keep our hips oriented in this manner as we move to forced based platform turns our square hip position literally blocks us bio-mechanically from getting over. Have you ever felt “Hung-up” in between your turns? Of course you have. This is what you are feeling.
When all else fails trust your body and ski with confidence (go-there attitude). As Liz, retreating to the skiing fetal position, giving into fear, backing off from projection, the intentional move to “Future Balance”, any hesitation or breakdown in your form that causes blocks in your kinetic-chain while making high speed or high force maneuvers results in poor execution, missing your marks, or injury.
The same thing happens in cars, as I mentioned above and we call that “object fixation”, looking at what you are going to hit, not where you NEED to go. This is all tied together and it’s up between your ears as well as in your skill development.
No matter where you are, what you are doing on skis, being able to project your CoM to a specific point downhill and execute the movement patterns, edging, stance, in a fluid smooth dynamic sequence will put you where you want to be, not on your head or in those rocks, or up against that netting or tree.
To ski fast, to ski with confidence, you must fall down hill while remaining or regaining your equilibrium and that starts with gait mechanics and clearing your inside hip letting you fall down hill projecting your mass where you intent it to go.
Later we’ll delve deeper into the concept of your "Intelligent Core" and how that is your internal gyro (Gyro-Stabilization: A mechanism or program the controls the yaw, pitch and roll motion of a vessel) that will put you in a constant state of equilibrium throughout your turns.
Ski fast, ski with confidence, ski where you want to go.