In future posts, I am going to analyze video of Morgan Petitniot of France and Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Pro, Matt Williams, and identify the issues that are preventing them from reaching the level of competence on skis that they are both capable of. I am going to do this in parallel with a step-by-step analysis of Ted Ligety; one that will include analyses of Mikaela Shiffrin and Federica Brignone. If my theory of what Ligety, Shiffrin and Brignone are doing is correct, all their techniques should ultimately all have one thing in common; walking.
When I first started skiing in 1970, the world’s best skiers talked about “standing on the outside ski’. In his book, Ultimate Skiing, LeMaster comments that when he started skiing in the ’50s, skiers were told to “stand on your downhill ski”. LeMaster further commented that Marc Giardelli said that once you can balance perfectly on your outside ski, everything else follows. Back then, the best skiers didn’t talk about “standing on the edge” as some skiers still do today. Instead, they talked about “standing on the outside ski” as if they were talking about actually standing on the snow. When a skier lost the edge of their outside ski and it slipped downhill, they said they had, “fallen off the edge”. Why did they say that they had “fallen off the edge” instead of saying they “had lost their outside edge”? The reason they said that they had fallen off the edge is that they had lost the platform under their outside foot that they were standing on.
Today, Ligety talks about “stepping on the inside ski while it is still on its current (uphill) edge” and the need to “create pressure”. What does Ligety mean when he says he needs to create pressure? For what purpose? Create pressure how and on what? Is he referring to creating competitive pressure on himself to win? Or is he taking about putting pressure on a physical object? If the latter, is he talking about putting pressure on the shaft of his ski boot? What does creating pressure have to do with starting the next turn? If that is what he wants to do, why doesn’t Ligety just stop resisting with his outside leg at the end of a turn and allow his torso to cross over and fall into the new turn as many advocate? Meantime, Shiffrin talks about “getting over it”. Getting over what? A cold? A failed relationship? If she is talking about getting over her foot, what part of her foot does she want to get over?
These are all good questions that need good answers. But more than simply asking Ligety and Shiffrin why they are saying these things, we need to know what they are doing and for what purpose. While the actual process behind what Ligety and Shiffrin are doing will probably turn out to be relatively simple, understanding their actions requires at least a basic knowledge of the associated principles of functional anatomy, human movement and physics. Until such time as someone analyzes what Ligety and Shiffrin are doing, applies their findings to skiers who are not skiing the same way and produces the same result, no one has any way of conclusively proving what Ligety and Shiffrin are doing. A good starting point for the analytical process is to ask what activity involves taking a step, getting over it and creating pressure? The answer? Walking and running.
Standing upright and balancing on two feet (bipedalism) is an extremely complex activity. Standing on one foot is infinitely more complex. The ease with which we are able to perform these activities, with no conscious effort, belies the complexity……. until something affects us that causes difficulty standing upright and especially walking. The problem is that for all but a small group of skiers, ski equipment, especially the ski boot, can present problems for the hard-wired mechanisms of walking and upright balance unless steps are taken to ensure this does not happen.
What I came to appreciate, after years of searching for the answer, is that the best skiers stand on the outside ski by creating a platform that is an extension of the snow. How does a ski on its edge, with air under the remainder of the ski, support the weight of a skier? I got an early clue when I took a lesson from a ski pro the same winter I was struggling with my skiing after switching to new plastic ski boots. After watching me ski, she told me to put pressure on the ball of my outside foot. I didn’t understand what she was trying to get me to do. Until taught to do otherwise, the human tendency is to stand upright on both skis with the weight of the body felt under the heels. Because I was doing exactly that, I wasn’t able to put pressure on the ball of my outside foot. Eventually, I came to understand that putting pressure on the ball of the foot, as part of the sequence of events at ski flat, aligns the anatomical balance/force axis of the foot so that it crosses the inside edge of the outside ski in front of the foot and crosses the outside edge of the ski behind the foot. In this configuration, the anatomical balance/force axis runs diagonally across the ski. Aligning the balance/force axis diagonally across the ski is what Ligety and Shiffrin are doing at ski flat at the end of the transition.
The diagonal axis is the equivalent of a gas pedal for a turn. The actual pedal is like a button about an inch in diameter under the ball of the outside foot. The harder a skier presses on the gas pedal button, while rotating the leg into the turn, the greater will be the turning force applied to the ski. I designed the Roll Over Trainer to serve as a feedback device to train skiers how to find the gas pedal at ski flat and press down on it in the turn.
In the next post I will talk about the events that need to happen at ski flat so we can find the gas pedal and step on the gas.