How to improve our own skiing through self-assessing measurables.
Have you ever wondered if your skiing is improving over time? Some days you feel light on your feet and other days you couldn’t make a turn to save your life. How we go about improving our skiing is one thing, but knowing if we’re actually getting measurable results is the real question!
There are several methods which can inform us if we’re doing better. With ski racers, it’s easy – they win the race. “Yup, Brian’s skiing is getting better. He’s winning races.” But not all of us are on the World Cup circuit or just starting out in our Junior Race series. For most of us, we’re recreational skiers or ski instructors just wanting to improve our skiing. Again, the question begs: “So, how do I know my skiing is improving?“
The way I see it, we have two choices: We can develop our skiing through the eyes and guidance of a pro (My recommendation) and/or we can Self-Develop our own skiing. There’s not too much that can replace the keen eye of a seasoned ski pro who brings years of experience and knowledge on what works and what doesn’t. Improving your skiing in a lesson can be an accelerated path for ski development.
For those times that you’re skiing on your own and wish to spring board from the ski pro’s lesson, you will want to consider using a method of self–assessment and measurables to actually determine and know if your skiing is actually improving.
Skier development can come in a variety of forms. We can be taught during a ski instructor’s lesson and guided mileage (Social (interpersonal): Learn in groups or with other people) or through a self-guided approach (Solitary (intrapersonal): Work alone and use self-study).
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. This can take on different forms of learning as well from visually, auditory, verbal, physical, or logical. As an introduction into the mind of a national coach and the methods in which they have used in the past, feel free to visit the article on “Ski Coaching Approaches” by Pierre Ruel.
How to begin the process of becoming a better skier.
Intent > Self-Assess > Measure > Outcomes > Meeting Intent?
Intentions / Objective
We first need to know what we’re trying to accomplish or what our actual intention is for ski improvement. What’s our objective? What do we wish to accomplish? What skills are required? What motor skill are we going to have to develop? What’s our motivation and motivation that we’re bringing to the process?
Some of us just want to become more stable (Stability: Wider/Lower). Some wish to have a power or impulse to our turns (Impulse: force applied over time). Others wish to improve our speed management or velocity on different terrain (Velocity: How to use Biggest to smallest joint). One objective or intention may be to remain more in contact with the snow and not get bounced-around so much. It’s important to start with our intention or objective as a goal or place to get to. Without a clear and concise objective, we’ll miss the target every time.
What follows Intentions?
Most good coaches look for a skier’s intentions or objectives before prescribing a strategy. Once we know what our intentions are, ski coaches often choose one of the following approaches to develop skiers:
- An Emotional / Mental training approach
- A Cognitive / Mental training approach;
- A Motor Skill & Technical Development; (Biomechanical Principle)
- Stability (Wider/Lower)
- Maximum Force (All Joints, loading, absorbing, controlling)
- Impulse (Force applied over time)
- Direction (For ever force, there’s an equal and opposite reaction)
- Velocity (Biggest to smallest joint. COM ahead of BOS, line of travel)
- AngularMotion (more torque increases impulse, natural separation, produce or maintain speed, shorten Arc)
- Angular Momentum (The role of the pole)
Where in the Body, Where in the Turn
Self assessing our skiing is a tool that could accompany some guided mileage by a ski pro. Self assessing ones own skiing starts with understanding more about what we are doing in-the-body and in-the-turn.
Being aware of what our body is doing and when is the beginning to understanding where we’re at in our skiing development and creating that benchmark of where to start. Eliminating old motor skill patters and developing new motor skill patters can be a useful process. Where and when we move and how it feels is a good start.
Having the ability to perceive where our body is in space is called Proprioception. Knowing if you’re on icy surface or powder; knowing what leg you have more weight on; knowing where your upper body is in relation to your lower body; feeling where the centre of foot feels; knowing where your hips are in relation to your feet (BOS-Base of Support) are all part of proprioception.
This awareness of your body in space (Proprioception) allows the body to perform simultaneous actions without stopping to think about each one separately. Proprioception is necessary for precise and fluid movements, making it essential to all skiers.
Proprioception relies on the relationship between the body’s central nervous system and certain soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
These tissues have sensory organs called proprioceptors. Sensory nerve endings wrap around the proprioceptors to send information to the nervous system. The proprioceptors can sense when tissues are stretched or experience tension and pressure.
If We Do This, Then This Happens…
If we move our foot like this, then the turn shape will increase/decrease. If I feel my calf pressing against the back rim of the boot, my skis cannot turn as much. If I move my knees into the hill, my skis become grippier. If I move my centre of mass ahead of my base of support before the fall-line, I can build velocity down the hill.
In order to improve, you must understand what’s happening in the turn and in the body as a base-line. Once we have that awareness, we can begin to change it or break the old movement patterns and develop new more appropriate patterns that will produce the measurable outcomes we’re looking for.
TIP: Movement patterns are called patterns because they repeat in a predictable manner and take time to develop. A pattern is a predictable and repeated set of movements over time. Repeating a set of movements can become instinctive and habitual. The habit becomes part of your regular or new movement pattern, but it takes a lot of practice to ‘break the bad” and pattern the new.
Purposeful practice + Assessment + New Motor Pattern = Habit and new muscle memory movement patterns.
We need a benchmark or base line before beginning the process. We must first be aware and understand what’s happening in the body and the turn. If we recognize that our skis are chattering at the end of the turn or your inside ski pole is bending on the slope because we’re leaning on it, we then have the beginnings of that proprioception.
So, keeping it simple… ask ourselves the following: Am I turning when and how I want to ? Am I controlling my speed the way I want to (speeding up or maintaining speed)? Do I feel balanced over my outside ski ? It’s a lot about feeling and looking at what those feelings produce.
In ski teaching, ski instructor reviews basic components of their skiers to see where to begin (Some methods start with the motor/technical viewpoint).
Some self assessing milestones relate to four components.
- Accessing all joints in order to remain mobile and centered
- Turning with the lower body
- Angulation of the body to get grip – balance on outside ski
- Coordinated Movement – Linked Turns
When self-assessing our own skiing, keeping these basic components in mind can get us on the right track and eliminate any bad habits.
Where in the Body, Where in the Turn?
When we talk about “where in the body” and “where in the turn” we’re referring to what happens in our muscles and joints specifically and when in the turn those movements are happening.
Where in the Foot?
“Ok, where do I feel balance at this part of the turn?” “Can I move my lower body so I feel balanced over the arch of the foot?” “Can I utilize more ankle to push towards the front corners of the boot to get the ski to grip?” …
Where in the Boot?
“Where do I feel the boot on my leg? Is the the back or front of the cuff?” “Can I flex my boot to maintain balance?”
Where in the Turn?
Ok, our intent is to be gripping in the RED zone and gliding more in the GREEN zone.
How Do We Know If We’re Doing It Right?
A measurable is a “sign” in our skiing letting us know if we’re doing it right or wrong. If you win the race, you must be doing something right ! Racing has a very distinct measure. You either make the podium or you don’t. In recreational skiing, there is no podium, so how do we know if we’re doing it right or wrong (At least moving in the right direction).
Some simple measures can be accomplished when we measure the Turn Shape, Speed, Carving or Skidding, Interaction with the Snow, pattern on the snow, Amount of rebound, and so on.
If we’re measuring how our body moves, we can think of it as starting from the feet (Base of Support). How does the foot feel at the top of the turn? Where do I feel pressure building in the boot when I do a carving turn?
“IF we turn your legs like this, then the ski will turn in that direction.” If we turn our lower body (legs) quickly, we should get a shorter / smaller turn shape.” An easy way to think and be aware of the body movements is Ankle-Knee-Hips. Knowing where these joints are and what they’re doing at a specific part of the run will help us tremendously.
If we move our foot like this, then the turn shape will increase/decrease? If we can jump in the air and land on the entire ski, will we be balanced? If we feel our calf muscle pressing against the back rim of the boot, our skis cannot turn as much. If we move our knees into the hill, our skis become grippier. If we move our centre of mass ahead of our base of support before the fall-line, can we build velocity down the hill?
Imagine we are going down a narrow slope. One measure to know if we are in control would be to measure our speed as it relates to our Turn Shape. If you pick up speed, it’s a measure letting us know something needs change when it comes to turn shape or our ability to turn the feet when we want to. Either way, we’ll know immediately if we’re in control or not.
Speed/Velocity – (Acceleration or Constant)
Using the same example as above skiing in a narrow chute, if we pick up speed or slow down, it’s a measure of how much to adjust our turn shape OR the quickness of turning the lower body to make the turns.
If we are racing in a course, and we want more speed, we’ll have to adjust the Line or when we’re turning our lower body and by how much. Too much turning tends to slow us down.
Carving or Skidding
A simple measure sometimes is to be aware of how much grip we’re getting in the turn and where. Measuring how much skidding at the end of the turn can indicate that our balance may be off (too far inside or back). Too much carving or grip on the down hill ski could mean we’re turning too much and slowing down. Not letting go to glide like mentioned in an article called “Ski Technique Exposed“
Pattern in Snow
Sometimes, it’s a simple at looking back at the marks in the snow. Did we make two pencil-lines (distinct lines in the snow) carved into the groomed slope or did we ‘smear’ or spread the snow as we moved over top of it? Two pencil lines usually means we’re balanced and our legs and edges are parallel. If the snow looks like it has one pencil line (hopefully the outside ski) and the inside track is a little smeared, this could mean a variety of alignment issues to address (Sitting back, too twisted in the hip joint, upper body rotation into the turn, etc)
Interaction with the Snow
Imagine there we are ripping it up all morning and assessing our skiing skills run after run. We like what we feel so far, but all of a sudden – MOGUL field. We thought we were aligned properly as we were working all morning on turning with consistent speed and impulse. Then, out of nowhere – bumps – and we’re bouncing all over the place. Sometimes measuring our contact with the snow is a good indicator that we’re using all joints (ankle-knee-hip) and have the ability to absorb and control the variances in pressure being exerted on us by the bumps. This could go back to one of our Intentions (“I want to ski the bumps without being tossed around”). Interaction with the snow in technical terms is called managing the pressure. Maximum Force: (All Joints, loading, absorbing, controlling)
This is my favourite. Pick a narrow’ish corridor or pitch. Make sure no one else is around. Give yourself the task of skiing with purpose and saying that you’ll ski using the entire width of the slope. The only way to do this sometimes is with Impulse. Impulse is to exert force over time. The quicker the movement of force, the greater the impulse. Imagine two trampolines tilted at 45 degrees facing each other. You’re hopping from one to another and that feeling of rebounding is similar to impulse. Create a quick pump of the legs and you’ll get shot over to the other trampoline very quickly. Go slowly and without force, and the impulse will seem less pronounced. You’ll feel impulse in the body and in the turn as you travel quickly from side to side.
Another way to think about impulse is “agility” vs “stagnation”. If you have a lot of impulse, be ready for the rebound effect. Buckle Up !
Ability to stop on a dime
This is a straight forward drill when starting out that is 100% measurable. If we can stop on a dime and remain 100% motionless upon our stop, we are measuring your ability to stay balanced over the outside foot. If we can turn our feet without turning our upper body and stop, success !
If we waiver after your attempted stop, it reveals and measures where we are balanced. If we attempt to stop and begin to slide forward (we are probably too far forward on our skis; conversely, if we begin to slide backwards after your attempted stop, we are probably sitting back too much. It’s a self-assessment that measures our skiing skill.
Outcomes are the result of our intentions. After we have measured and self-assessed our skiing, we often want to know if we’ve arrived at the desired result or outcome. Sometimes the outcomes don’t come quickly. Anything worthwhile takes times and effort.
Some of the outcomes can relate to stability. Were we more stable on our skis? Did we fall a lot? Were our skis close together or shoulder-width apart?
Outcomes can also relate to speed. Could we pick up speed when we wanted to and could we slow the turn down on demand? Could we turn our body and change the turn shape to adjust the speed?
Could we accomplish our intention of a different turn shape? Could we perform a short-radius turn on a steeper pitch?
Skiing faster with more stability will prompt us to challenge ourselves and begin changing the impulse of our skiing. Could we make a short turn shape on a steep run with impulse and liveliness?
What a day it would be if we could grip and carve on an icy surface! Having a day where we could develop measures to ski down the icy pitch. Roller-blade turns on an intermediate slope to practice pencil lines in the snow and then applying to a more challenging run with some success would be a valuable tactic.
Being more comfortable on our skis is a simple objective or intention for a day on the slopes. Comfort could mean less fatigued at the end of the day or going all day without stopping. Easy measures that proper alignment could assist with.
Some days, I personally just want to ski with excitement. I want to be whipping through the powder rebounding off some bumps and flying through the air. I want to be able to handle anything that is in front of me and do it at expert speed. There’s a lot of components on achieving this intention/objective, but with a few continuous measures and self-assessed development, anyone can improve their skiing.
|More Stability||Discover more of the mountain||Fewer Falls, easier to turn|
|More carving||More Fun||Snow flying out at the top half of the turn / Able to move laterally inside more / earlier grip in the turn / acceleration|
|Better contact with snow||Ski bumps||Being tossed around less|
|Better alignment||Skiing for longer||Less fatigue|
|Being able to turn better||Better awareness of lower body turning effort||More turns and rounder turn shape|
|Short turns on steep terrain||Ski black diamond runs||Managed Speed|
|More lively & exciting||Agility||Using more of the hill width with quick rebounds. More tired too|
|Be more balanced / Centered||Grippier skis||Less chatter|
“Keeping my feet aligned with my centre of mass enables me to adjust my movements in the correct manner.”Andrew Elsdon
The process of becoming a better skier can take on many forms. We develop through others and/or on our own. Either way, we should consider what this original objective is before jumping into a list of drills and ski technique. It’s not about skiing to look like someone else. It’s the mechanics behind how to ski. Looking like someone else or skiing like someone else are two different things.
- Choose your Intention or Objective.
- Understand where you’re at now and become aware (Proprioception)
- Set up and document specific measures
- Look at the outcomes and adjust
- Evaluate and continue
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