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Transitions: Examining
The Evolution of
The Modern Ski Racing Turn

 

 

 

BY GARY DRANOW, 2003

Note: This was written sometime in 2003, since then our understanding has evolved but we feel the underlying motion analysis is still valid. We have added a few notes in parentheses referencing our current nomenclature for things we had not yet full defined at the time this was written. We are posting this as a starting point for the avid student of the Modern Ski Racing Technique detailing our path and thinking process in developing our current methodology we are presenting in our “Level Series” and our “Foundation Series” collection.


When most aspiring ski racers look for images of their favorite racer on the web they typically find images taken about the same place within a turn –the ‘apex’ or at the gate.

Yes, these are the most exciting pictures to look at, at least in the technical events, but these images do not tell the whole story of that turn.

The real story of the turn starts and ends at the transition. It is most unfortunate that most professional photographers never bother to develop or publish pictures of this critical phase of the turn.

This coming season (this was written in 2003, in our upcoming “Foundations Series” we have finally got to it) we will photograph this “dark-space” of the transition phase of both GS and Slalom turns. With Park City not having the World Cup races this season we will have lost a wonderful opportunity to take our camera (or cameraman) out and focus on this all-important moment of the turn.

While organizing to get these photos we thought it might be a good exercise to look at several segments of images that are readily available on the Web. We’ve broken this down into two different pieces: 1) World Cup Racers and the ski the turn from the ‘90’s and through today, and 2) Some general pics we found that may help each racer develop their own eye for “Error Recognition”.

We truly believe that if you can see what another skier is doing, especially in the cause and effect circumstances of what you are seeing, you can much more readily feel and correct your own errors without the need for a coach’s eyes or video camera constantly on you.

Part 1: World Cup Racers and the ski the turn from the ‘90’s and through today

In this article, we'll look at the dynamic changes of World Cup skiing technique from the 90’s into today. In looking at these, while no racer is always has perfect form, the “Template” (i.e. ideal form) is more consistent among the winners during each run, and when the best skiers fall out of the template they can feel it, and can quickly adjust and recover much faster than those who consistently run as later seeds.

First let’s look at some pictures from the Tomba Era to the early Maier/Kosir careers.

Here is Tomba in his Classic GS turn Apex

Here is Tomba at his best (yes, when Rossignol ruled ski racing!) Notice that his outside leg looks somewhat similar to our modern racers, however, there the similarities start to break down. His outside ski is at an approximately a 65 Degree angle to the snow but his inside ski is at least 5 degrees less. Why? His use of knee angulation and heavy countered hip angulation to stay balanced when employing high edge angles on the straighter sidecut skis of his era. These technical factors result in the open shoulders he displays here. You will notice that his inside shin is NOT lined up near perfectly with his outside thigh. He was also skiing the line of the day - not as round and not as high as today’s line - and attacking the gate more head on (not that this doesn’t still happen once in a while).

Because his line (and I have looked at a lot of pictures and see this happening with most of the top racers back then) he has to clear his head to the inside of the pole lest he gets a nice concussion. You will also notice that he has quite a bit of bend at the waist that he uses to keep his weight more over the balls of his feet and to aide in creating the knee/ankle bend to get his skis on “Big Edge”.

You can almost see the evolution from Tomba above to this early picture of Aamodt in 1997

To Kosir a few years later:

In this series of pictures you can literally see the evolution of the MSRT “Template” at the apex of the turn. In each of these pictures, from Tomba in the early 90’s, to Aamodt in the mid-90’s, and next to Kosir in the late-90’s you see the shoulders starting to square up, a higher, less direct line developing, the body in a more skeletal position with a greater mid-foot bias, and the inside ski coming into play in the turn.

The advent of the Elan Parabolic ski created the final impetus for the MSRT to take shape. The biggest change came from what the shaped skis allowed the ski racers to do at the transition of the turn, thereby drastically altering the line they could ski.

Now let’s look at Bode from last season on his way to win the Men’s GS World Cup Title . You can see the affect of this ability to take a different line in the picture below. Today, only very rarely do you see a racer crash directly through the turning gate. They usually are brushing it and usually that occurs under the bottom of the gate, and not at the top of the gate. In other words, their turn is finished and they are getting ready to make their transition to the next turn when they are making contact with the gate.

Notice that the amount of counter has been reduced, his shoulders are much more square to the turn, his inside shin is in near perfect alignment with his outside thigh, and he is not as nearly bent at the waist as the racers of the past. His line to the gate is also much different. In picture after picture (with some exceptions, most often when he loses balance) the apex of his turn is completed just above the gate, allowing him pass underneath the gate rather than crash straight through it. Most importantly, his skis are nearer the same angle on the snow and are close to 75 degrees.

To get a sense of how things have changed, let’s look at Tomba, Covili, and Bode.

Here is Tomba in one of those rare in-between-the-gates pictures late in his career:

Covili, from France and same point in the turn:

And finally, Bode.

An interesting comparison, eh? First, Covili skis more like Tomba than anybody else out there today. (It seems he should be from Italy as he uses hip angulation in much the same way Tomba did!) You can still see elements of the MSRT in Covili’s turn, with his left arm driving forward, his shoulders square to the turn, and his ski tips are fairly parallel – elements that are very clear in Bode’s turn.

Let’s look at some specific comparisons of the techniques. First, notice that both Covili and Tomba are throwing up a lot of snow from their inside and outside skis unlike Bode. This is a result of Bode driving his outside hand forward and down to increase the pressure on his radically angled outside ski. Tomba is banking and still has his shoulders a little bit open at the turn (though nothing like he will at the gate). Bode will continue to drive his left side into the turn (we have subsequently defined what we saw here as Waist Steering) and this allows him to roll his inside knee hard towards the developing turn while he keeps his inside ski tip back parallel with is outside ski. He is actually sucking the inside knee up to his chest to keep his ski back and in contact with the snow. In Tomba’s picture you can clearly see that his inside ski is in front of his downhill ski as he prepares to drop his hip into the turn (Hip Angulation). Bode will drop his hip but only when he wishes to de-angulate his ski (Today we look at this a bit differently, we see hip angulation as a top/to mid turn means to stack the body, create and offset big edge angles and promote ankle flexion). If he needs to finish the turn more aggressively he keeps his outside shoulder, hand and hip driving forward and will start to straighten his lower back (this is part of the “Stacking and Posture” we identify a year later in our Level 1 DVD) as he comes into and exits the Apex of his turn.

What Bode does better than anybody is keep his skis in the fall line longer actually creating less perpendicular forces on his skis for a shorter period of time - just amazing! By keeping his skis in the fall line longer, he reduces the pressures that lead to skidding as his skis are moving forward more, seeking downhill more, and not overturning any more than is absolutely necessary.

Fast forward to the 2005/2006 World Cup Season. Watch this video footage from Sports1.at of Bode’s GS win at Beaver Creek. In particular watch his second run. Bode appears to be using what we saw way back in 2002 (pelvic tilt from the Apex to just before the finish of the turn) to move fore/aft through his ski and compress the direction change later in the turn over a shorter distance than the other racers. The resultant forces of his stance and movement sequences repeatedly caused him to lose balance and link recoveries, especially in the second run. Anybody looking at this run would have to agree that this are bobbles, balance mistakes and adjustments but he manages to win the race with such a visually flawed run. He does this based on his general turn shape and he achieves his turn shape and therefore the entire line down the racecourse based on his stance/posture, movement patterns and of course incredible athleticism, timing and finesse. In simple turns, what has he done here? He takes most of his turns “deeper” than the other racers once again spending more time in the falline the his competitors. This is what we were referring to in the paragraph above back in 2003.

Beaver Creek 2005, Bode Miller, Men’s GS Winner

Additionally, both Covili and Tomba tilt their heads away from the turn while Bode keeps his head in alignment with his torso. Again, a reaction to the balance demands of a straighter sidecut ski.

For us mere mortals, finishing our turns nice and high and skiing a round line minimizing our skidding is just fine and will win races! If you go looking for images of the old guard and the new young guns, try and find similar pictures and see how far back on the ski the spray starts, if you can find it at all. In Covili’s picture the spray is starting under foot, in Tomba’s right behind the tips and with Bode, almost no spray at all.

I am not suggesting that any two racer’s turns can be compared identically but I am suggesting that these major concepts will be seen over and over again, between racers and over the history of the evolution of the MSRT.

So to simplify, with the advent of the shaped ski, racers have changed their stances (“The Template”) over time to adjust to what the new ski design would allow them to do. The line has changed radically as racers started arcing the inside ski at the same time they arc their outside ski, something that in Tomba’s day was very difficult to do. As the racers squared up they found that they could create greater and greater edge angle by starting their turns ridiculously early and allowing their skis to extend farther out to the side of them while keeping both skis on the same angle to the snow.

The changes over time are clear in the apex of the turn (lots of pictures, so it’s easy to study and compare!), but what changed in between the turns? Unfortunately, because the pictures of this part of the turn aren’t as ‘exciting’ it’s much more difficult to find examples. However, there was a definite change in technique that accompanied the changes seen in the apex of the turn.

Racers like Lasse Kjus started experimenting with how to get off the turning skis onto the new turning skis. Back in the Tomba era the racer would typically push off the downhill ski and pivot, or step to the inside edge of the uphill ski, in other words, a downhill ski release. You would often see the outside ski still finishing the old turn while the new ski was engaging right before the weight transfer. At this point you would see an “A” frame (this is NOT the “A” frame that was so prevalent among ski instructors in the 80’s – this is a different deal) where the skis were converging and the shins were not parallel.

Kjus played with releasing off the uphill ski, the beginning of the cross-over or what we, the MSR Team, now call ILE (Inside Leg Extension). He would push off the uphill outside edge of his inside ski as he moved his center-of-mass down and inside to the new turn. By doing this he could roll his new inside ski on the inside edge much quicker and start to use both skis with his weight more evenly distributed and a wider stance. By doing this he made a quicker transition, could ski a higher line and more importantly, resist much higher forces without overloading the pressure on his skis and avoid breaking into a skid.

Here is a montage of The Herminator still using a sequential edge change only a few seasons ago. Frame 4 is a prime example of the ‘A’ frame mentioned above. In the last season you have seen this position pretty much disappear from his initiation phase.

The difference between Hermann and us is that in 1/100th of second he went from a hip back, heel weighted position to a full cross over and both outside and inside edges weighted. He has done this is less than 10 feet probably going about 30MPH! We’d be lucky to pull this move off in 20 feet if at all! It is MUCH better for us (the Recreational Racer) to be in the right position at the right time so we do not ATTEMPT to use this level of strength and athletic prowess.

And then finally, here is Schlopy bringing the technique current where both skis release and there is a simultaneous edge change of both outside and inside ski, the most powerful transition yet (I’m not going to cover the Pivot Entry Turn, the PET, here).

Now, my disclaimer: there will always be a time to step off of one ski or the other. Not even the best can roll ‘em every time. The point is, when they can, they do. Why? Because it IS stronger and quicker allowing the turn to be finished sooner as well as creating greater edge angles. Greater edge angles resist greater forces without skidding, and is simply faster. Today we call this Arc-to-Arc sking.

Heck, even this old author is getting the idea (Circa 2003)!

My angles are good with the exception of my inside ski climbing up the huge rut that cannot be seen in this picture (I was the 75th Racer on this course). Proof that even us old, broken down, has-been, slow, bloated Racers can get “in the MSRT Template”. If I can do it, there’s hope for anyone!

Continue to MSRT Transitions Part II, Error Recognition