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Why some skiers just can't "Get it"

A Trilogy of Thoughts

1) Gary Dranow

Have you ever felt that no matter what your coach says, no matter how many drills you do, no matter how HARD YOU TRY, you just can’t get where your coach is guiding you?

Most skiers have experience this sometime during their development. Some Skiers have experience to such a frustrating point that they eventually give up, take up another sport or to another form of sliding such as Telemark (Pinning) or Snowboarding.

More times than not it’s not the skiers fault. It is a symptom of a bio-mechanical road block created by an alignment issue that has not been properly addressed at the most rudimentary stage of any skier’s development. Boot fitting.

In these cases it IS the coach's responsibility to recognize the physical cues that indicate that something is preventing the skier to move naturally on their skis.

Something is causing a breakdown down from input to execution, especially when the form is fundamentally correct. This is recognizing a physical breakdown or block in the kinetic chain. Some coaches are very good at seeing this root cause, other’s simply miss it and keep trying to work through an puzzle that has no solution without the missing critical piece to complete evaluation/solution.

The boot is the interface between the User and the Application to put in software terms. The boot is the interface that takes your inputs and translates it to the ski in either an understandable and executable format or jumbles the input resulting in inability to execute and feedback to the User that is, using again software parlance, GIGO, Garbage in Garbage Out.

I am introducing this rather obvious and moldy subject at this point in the new season because this has just happened to me.

In a log entry I detail the processes that lead me to throw out the book and start over again so early in my season.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum (one man's story that can save you a lot of misery)

I'm a pretty good student of the sport and one of those coaches that looks at my subject and immediately evaluates their movement by stance and alignment. I can usually pick out even subtle cues that something isn’t right with ramp angle, ankle function, forward lean/boot design/flex patterns and the most obvious to see is canting.

That’s me as a coach looking at others. Change the frame of reference to me the skier I’m pretty good at telling when something is wrong with my equipment, especially with my ski setup. Last season I was stumped, completely missed a major error in how a pair of my boots were built and never put the whole picture together until yesterday, when my coach, Rick Slabinski asked me a simple question; “How do you have your boots canted?”.

I told him and simultaneously while he was explaining what he was seeing I realized what had happened last season, very early in the season and how I missed the all the physical cues myself, until Brent Amsbury went to verify what we believe my boots were set at, what was written on the boots, only to find out that the technician somehow messed up and put me 3 degrees off to the outside on my left boot and 2.5 degrees off on my right. Rather substantial we all must admit. My bet is most skiers would be off the hill within minutes with his massive of a mistake. Partly what caused me to miss the problem is the boots were a different year/model and a completely different flex pattern AND I adjust very quickly to changes in my equipment. I can notoriously jump from my DH skis to my Slalom skis to my Cheater skis and not miss a beat. Just something I can do.

So I figured out how to ski the boots and what further complicated the problem is I was skiing a lot more speed last season. I was on SuperG and DH skis 2 to 3 days a week and training SuperG every Wednesday morning. Interestingly, at least to me, the boots worked very well for Speed, especially when I was in a tuck, low or high, didn’t matter. Why? My track is wider and the boots flattened out, especially in my low gliding tuck. The more flexible boots also allowed me to be more subtle with my inputs and this actually helped my balance as well as my speed down the courses, nothing abrupt of over powering.
On the other hand, once I lost my stiffer pair of boots (they shell cracked and my left foot was getting wet and very cold) my Slalom went into an inexplicable (to me) spiral into an exercise in futility. No matter what I tried and couldn’t go faster, instead and started losing time on the field. In GS I hit a similar but not as obvious wall. I was closing in quickly on the winners then all of a sudden I just stayed even, my progress stopped dead.

As I reported in my log I was owed a replacement pair of boots from Rossignol and got the same flex boot I was skiing for speed. I never bothered to have them fit knowing I needed a stiffer boot, however, I was still under the impression that I was skiing 1.5 degrees out on my right leg and 1 degree out on my left. It wasn’t until we changed sponsors, moved to Fischer, Brent Amsbury moved to town, worked our Steamboat clinic, opened his Pedorthics shop in PC that we discovered my boots were WAY off were I THOUGHT they were. The season, however, was over. I knew I was going to Fischer Duck3s and didn’t give it anymore thought.

Back to Yesterday. Thunder Jalili, who I ski a lot with, was the first to notice that something was going on with my skiing. His observation was that I wasn’t “getting your [my] hip far enough into the hill, especially on your left turn”. I felt it but figured it was just early season rust. I asked him what the solution was, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, however, was looking technical solutions, didn’t consider my equipment.

Fast forward to Rick’s sharp eye and single question about my canting. I remembered everything that happened last season in a montage of images, feelings, race finishes and the April meeting with Brent at his lab.

Here’s my point in this long winded post that was started with a simple question.

I simply could not move my hip up and forward enough to use my innate range of motion to get to the front outside of the cuff of my inside boot. I couldn’t get enough inward flexion of my inside knee because my hip was stuck back, just a few Millimeters, but just enough to prevent me moving through my transitions to get on the front of my inside boot cuff. A block in my kinetic chain sufficient enough to severely hamper my execution, at least to the eyes of my de facto coaches.

Rick called me, I called Brent. Brent had already planned to start me neutral on the Ducks then progressively move me out to 2 degrees then back to find my optimal stance for SuperG, GS and Slalom. We came to the conclusion, last April (and though I remembered this but it wasn’t playing in mind while I was skiing my first 3 days) that I was going to need different setups and flexes for Slalom than GS. I may should be able to use my GS boots for SuperG, that is still out there to be investigated.

Last night I put 8 strips of duct tape (about 1.5 to 2 Degrees) on the outside of each of my R11 Mutix (we skied wide shovel skis for a reason today, later, maybe). I instantly felt a massive change that was completely visible to my coaches, especially Rick and Liz, who know my skiing best. I was able to project my pelvis forward and drive onto the outside of the cuff of my inside boot. My hip cleared, I got much higher angles, effortlessly and my outside ski hooked up like as it never did last season. The funniest experience for me was straight running down our cat track and my skis swimming all over the place. Which indicates to me I'll end up back at 1 to 1.5 degrees out, depending on left or right foot. Since my Rossi WC ZC/ZC are basically done I took them in and have them being re-ground by the shop that did the original work as I mentioned above. A fair amount of work and epoxy will be needed but I'm not shimming up 15 pair of ski bindings, especially when they will all need to be remounted for my smaller shell size Duck3s. At least I won't be fighting myself for the next two weeks while I wait for my Fischers to get here and get built.

So I lose a great pair of Downhill boots. I'm not racing Downhill anymore. *shrug*

So this brings me to the first question in the post.

Have you ever felt that no matter what your coach says, no matter how many drills you do, no matter how HARD YOU TRY, you just can’t get where your coach is guiding you?

If the answer is yes, and yes now, stop, go get your alignment and bio-mechanical function tested by and qualified expert. Don’t fight an unwindable battle with yourself. Depending on your level, style, process, consider different setups for different applications/disciplines. What’s right for Slalom may be alright but not perfect for GS or the other way around and definitely not optimal for speed, if you do race speed events. Yes, it’s an individual thing but it’s my guess for most, there is no one boot meets all needs when it comes to high performance skiing and especially Master Level and up racing.

There are no magic pills for skill development and while alignment issues or bio-mechanical function can play havoc with expert skiers you have to get their first. You can’t get there (expert level) if your equipment doesn’t put you in the right position to make the proper movement patterns or use your own innate full range of motion. But you still have to develop all those skills, do the hours of drills that develop those skills and become the expert skier. Just don’t let bad boot fitting and blocks in your kinetic chain stop you from ever getting there.

Resource List – suggested reading

Abduction Junction, what’s your Function

Some Thoughts on Boot Flex

Can I really “buy” a turn

Size is Everything – A ski boot fitting guide

2) Justin Meyer

This is a problem that I believe hampers the vast majority of skiers out there and worse yet is exacerbated by those claiming to be "master boot fitters." Its ironic that the majority of boot fitters rely solely on a static environment (shop setting) when setting up an athlete for a dynamic sport like skiing. I often wonder just how many times they get something wrong but the athlete doesn't realize it because they can't see themselves ski and aren't sure what the proper set up should feel like.

In my estimation, on hill analyses is the best cure for this dilemma. While I realize this may not be possible for many skiers I would suggest the alternative of using video to assist a competent boot fitter in movement analysis/problem diagnosis. For $2-300 you can buy a small digital video camera that will do wonders for your skiing. Considering the amount we all spend on skis, bindings, boots, etc. its a rather small investment by comparison which can yield big results.

Personally I have felt that "wall" in my development as a skier and have only begun to breach it with in the past year. There are many factors that contribute to this but with out question boot balancing was a major factor. When I speak of boot balancing I mean full spectrum; lateral and fore/aft. After having work done last season to get me more upright in the boot and also intensify the fore/aft sensation I improved my skiing. While every boot fitter deals with the lateral plane I have only worked with one who dealt with the fore/aft plane beyond stuffing a heal lift in the boot. Having worked with many of the industry’s top gurus, I'm amazed at how this area is either given a once over or simply ignored all together.

A few mm can be the difference between moving forward and engaging the ski effectively or being stuck behind knocking on the door with no one answering. While I realize that both lateral and fore/aft are important (and the fact that I'm not a kinetic expert), I would say that having perfect lateral alignment is useless if you can't realize where you are standing on the ski. Put simply; If I'm not standing over the right part of the ski (fore/aft), then I have little chance of attaining effective lateral engagement.

3) Brent Amsbury

To All,

Every skier, regardless of ability, needs stance balancing. It is also referred to as boot balancing, but in reality the boot is merely an appliance we voluntarily put on our feet to support the mechanical requirement of skiing on a pair of skis.

Many of us believe that the ski boot comes "ready to ski" out of a box, and that the manufacturer has taken all parameters into consideration. Though ski boot manufacturers have made immense strides in the last two decades, they cannot, and will not individualize ski boots. They must build them to accept a broad enough range of body types so as to be profitable in the market place.

Thus, stance balancing is the only true way to individualize a ski boot for each skier.

Stance balancing is essentially a process of aligning the lower and upper portion of the ski boot shell to "unlock" the skeletal and muscular potential of each skier.
If a ski boot forces your body to constantly use primary and secondary muscles to stay in balance, then the body cannot focus on essential tasks required to achieve a carved turn.

Once a skier has achieved a balanced stance in their boot, muscle groups are then in a relaxed state until that skier asks them to move.

If a coach or instructor asks you to move forward, or to angulate more, the body can only achieve this when the skier has the ability to do so from a balanced position over their skis.

Will stance balancing solve all ski technique issues? Certainly not. But for a great majority of skiers, a substantial amount of progress is available to them as soon as the stance balancing issue becomes resolved.

Other factors such as overall strength, cardiovascular fitness, and general athleticism will continue to take a significant role in continued progress of a skiers quest to improve their ability, but that initial ascension required to move out of a skiing ability rut or plateau starts with the foundation of better balance.