Marcel Hirscher

WHY TRYING TO COPY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN’S MOVES DOESN’T WORK – PART 4

A central premise in skiing, especially in ski teaching and coaching, is that skiers and racers can learn to ski like the best by observing and copying them. Hence, articles and videos that talk in nebulous terms about good balance, an athletic stance, pressure control, steering, edging, extension, separation etc. as elements that, when blended together, will enable skiers and racers to ski like the Hirschers and Shiffrins of the world. If a racer who has undergone training in the system is not competitive or worse, suddenly becomes uncompetitive, the racer is typically blamed for not being strong enough or not pushing themselves hard enough or not taking enough risk or some other factor. In the end, the responsibility for lacklustre performance is conveniently assigned to the racer.

Ski boots are rarely considered a factor. So long as the boots are comfortable that is the only thing that matters. To suggest otherwise is to blame the equipment. This flies in the face of my experience. But until the skate study (1.) I had no reliable way of measuring and thus comparing performance.

The two pressure studies done in 1998 by the University of Ottawa with elite ski instructors provided an opportunity to compare the results of the studies to those of the 2012 skate study that I modified skates for. This study was also done by the University of Ottawa. Of the three studies:

  • One 1998 skier pressure study used three highly skilled ski instructors (CSIA level IV)
  • One 1998 skier pressure study used six internationally certified Canadian ski instructors.
  • The 2012 skate study used five competitive skaters.

The 1998 study with the six internationally certified Canadian ski instructors provided Peak Force data that I could use to compare to the Peak Force data obtained from the 2012 skate study.

As I pointed out in my previous posts, skating and skiing are similar in that they both depend on the ability of the participant’s neuromotor system to create a foundation of dynamic stability across the skate blade or the inside edge of the outside ski prior to being able to effectively apply force to the ice blade or ski edge. The existence of dynamic stability across the skate blade or inside edge of the outside ski enables the neuromotor system to regulate fore-aft stability in what is typically referred to as skater or skier balance.

Peak Force

Peak Force is the highest force applied in an Impulse Force

In the skate study skaters performed forward skating sprint starts in each skate (OS and NS) for a total of 6 trials each. As would be expected with competitive skaters Dynamic Stability as represented by Peak Force was very close among the skaters in their Own Skates as shown in the graphic below.

But when the highest and lowest Peak Forces of the competitive skaters were compared to the highest and lowest Peak Force of the internationally certified Canadian ski instructors the difference was much greater; approximately 125% for the skaters and 300% for the ski instructors. The researchers noted this significant variance and suggested equipment could have been a factor. But that aspect was not investigated.

Peak Force Improvement

It would seem logical to assign sole responsibility for such marked differences to inferior muscle strength or improper training. Muscle strength and training are definitely important factors. But their contribution to overall performance is dependent on the ability of a competitor to create dynamic stability and quickly acquire a position from which they can effectively apply force to a skate blade or edges of a ski. These factors, in turn, are dependent on a functional environment in the footwear for the physiogic function of the lower limb.

As shown in the graphic below, when the same skaters switched from their Own Skates (OS) to the skates I prepared (NS) there was an immediate and statistically significant improvement in mean Peak Force of approximately 190%. Even more significant is the fact that the Peak Force of skater number 4 (the lowest of the four skaters) increased by approximately 252% changing the skater’s ranking from #4 to #1.

Impulse Force Improvement

An Impulse Force is a high force of short duration that causes a change in momentum.

When the skaters switched from their Own Skates (OS) to the New Skates (NS) there was an immediate mean increase in Impulse Force of approximately 216% as shown in the graphic below. Even more significant, the Impulse Force of skater number 4 (the lowest of the four skaters in their Own Skates) increased by approximately 276% raising skater number 4 to almost the same level as skater number 3. Meanwhile, an increase in Impulse Force of approximately 224% raised skater number 2 to almost the same level as skater number 1. In other words, the New Skate was literally a game changer that resulted in a leveler playing field for the four competitive skaters.

Center of Force (CoF) Variance: Where Races are Really Won

The most significant effect of the New Skate (NS) was on what is called Center of Force (CoF) Variance. Center of Force Variance is the amount of forward movement of the Center of Force within a fixed unit of time to the position on a skate blade or ski edge where force can effectively be applied.

The graphic below shows the Center of Force Variance of the four competitive skaters in their own skates (OS).

The graphic below shows the Center of Force Variance of the four competitive skaters in their Own Skates (OS) compared to the Center of Force Variance in the new skates (NS). When the skaters switched from their Own Skates (OS) to the New Skates (NS) there was an immediate mean increase in CoF Variance of approximately 172% as shown in the graphic below. Skater number 4 experienced the largest increase in CoF Variance (approximately 241%) that changed the ranking from #3 to #1.

An increase in the variance of CoF results in increased control during the stance phase of forward skating.

The graphic below shows what would happen if only skater number four were provided with New Skates (NS) while the other 3 competitive skaters continued to use their Own Skates (OS). Think of the red dashed line at 1.20 as the finish line of the CoF Variance race. It should obvious who will win and who will have the advantage at every turn.

The Score for Skater Four

Skater number four experienced the following improvements in the New Skates (NS) over their Own Skates (OS)

  • Peak Force – 252%
  • Impulse – 276%
  • CoF Variance – 241%
  • Mean improvement – 256%

The improvement in the three metrics was immediate and, based on my experience with skiers and racers, probably immediately reversible simply by having the competitive skaters revert to their Own Skate (OS) format.

Few forms of athletics place as high demands on the footwear used in their performance as alpine skiing. It (the ski boot) functions as a connecting link between the binding and the body and performs a series of difficult complex tasks. (2.)

To paraphrase Dr. Emily Splichal:

A skier is only as strong as they are dynamically stable.

In my next post, I will discuss the implications of the skate study and associated performance technology and metrics for the future of skiing, especially ski racing.


  1. A Novel Protocol for Assessing Skating Performance in Ice Hockey – Kendall M, Zanetti K, & Hoshizaki TB – School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa. Ottawa, Canada
  2. Ski-Specific Injuries and Overload Problems – Orthopedic Design of the Ski Boot –  Dr. med. H.W. Bar, Orthopedics-Sportsmedicine, member of GOTS, Murnau, West Germany

THE HIRSCHER/SHIFFRIN HAIRPIN TURN EXPLAINED

The topics of interest in recent views of my blog combined with comments on online forums on ski technique where nebulous terms such as pressure and tipping are an integral part of the narrative, have highlighted the need for a uniform frame of reference as a basis for meaningful discussions of ski technique as well as for the analysis and accurate identification of factors that explain the superior technique of racers like Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. Simply trying to emulate the moves of the great skiers without re-creating the equipment factors that enable superior performance is not a productive exercise.

I touched on some of the factors that enable Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin to dominate their competition in my posts WHY SHIFFRIN AND HIRSCHER ARE DOMINATING (1.) and WHY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN CAN CROSS THE LINE (2.). Over the coming weeks, I will post on the factors that I believe explain the ability of Hirscher and Shiffrin to make rapid, abbreviated hairpin turns even on the steep pitches of a course using what I call the problem-solving matrix jigsaw puzzle format. In contrast to the linear step-by-step progression problem-solving format, the matrix jigsaw puzzle format lays out information relevant to a situation in a grid format much like a jigsaw puzzle.  Known factors are assembled where there is a fit with the interfaces and arranged in relation to other components until a solution begins to emerge much like a coherent picture begins to emerge in a jigsaw puzzle as the pieces are correctly assembled. As the picture becomes more clear, tentative connections between the known segments are hypothesized to try and extrapolate the big picture. As the process progresses, less certain or flawed information is discarded and replaced with more certain information

A lot of critical information on the neurobiomechanics and even the mechanics and physics of skiing is either missing, misapplied or misunderstood in the narrative of ski equipment and technique.

Biomechanics of Sports Shoes

A valuable reference on neurobiomechanics and the future of sports shoes is the technical text, Biomechanics of Sports Shoes by Benno M. Nigg. Used in conjunction with the chapter on the Ski Boot in the medical text, The Shoe in Sport, valuable insights can be gleaned on the mechanics, neurobiomechanics and physics of skiing.

Nigg’s book can be ordered at NiggShoeBook@kin.ucalgary.ca. The following chapters in particular contain information relevant to skiing:

3. Functional Biomechanics of the Lower Extremities (pp 79 to 123) – contains essential information on the human ankle joint complex, tibial rotation movement coupling and foot torsion.

4. Sensory System of the Lower Extremities (pp 243 to 253) – contains essential information on the sensory system responsible for balance and precise movement, both of which are key to effective skiing.

In order to advance skiing as a science, a mutual objective must be getting the right answer as opposed to a need to be right.

The wisdom of Albert Einstein is appropriate.

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

In my next post, I will start laying out the functional principles that I currently believe explain the factors that enable the superior performance of racers like Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin and their ability to rapidly redirect their line and maximally accelerate by making rapid, abbreviated, hairpin turns.


  1. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2q3
  2. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2qo

WHY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN CAN CROSS THE LINE

There has been a huge surge in interest in my post HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN WIN BY CROSSING THE LINE.

The reason Hirscher and Shiffrin can ski this way is that they have the ability to cross the rise line and establish balance on their outside foot and leg in milliseconds. This enables them to make what amounts to a hairpin turn. They are on and off their edges like a flat stone skipping off the water. The reason they can do what few other racers can is because their boot setup supports the requisite neurobiomechanics. I discuss this in my last post WHY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN ARE DOMINATING.

WHY SHIFFRIN AND HIRSCHER ARE DOMINATING

Existing footwear does not provide for the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot by providing a fit system with dynamic and predictable qualities to substantially match those of the foot and lower leg.

MacPhail, US Patent 5,265,350 – November 30, 1993

Of all the figures who have influenced the development of the plastic shell ski boot over the years, the Australian, Sven Coomer, stands tall as one of the most significant and innovative. More recently, Coomer was involved with the development of Atomic’s race boot, the Redster, used by Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. Coomer claims that the Redster allows the skier’s forefoot to flex and move naturally within the confines of the shell.

A 2014 article by Jackson Hogen quoted Coomer as saying:

This liberation of the previously stunted, frozen and crushed forefoot is what allows for the subtle edging and foot steering that initiates the slalom turns of World Cup champions Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. (1.)

Four years, later Hirscher and Shiffrin are dominating the technical disciplines of the World Cup circuit.

The ability to establish balance on the outside foot and ski in milliseconds is dependent on the ability of the forefoot to fully spread and acquire fascial tensioning that extends to the ankle and knee. This is called time-to-stabilization. Although Coomer doesn’t mention them, a myriad of other factors are also critical; including the alignment of the big toe on the long axis of the foot and the optimal ramp angle.

Coomer suspects that if racers would only fit their boots more accurately, coupled with a dynamic molding inner boot medium between the foot and shell, and without down-sizing into short, narrow, thick-sidewall shells, their results just might improve. (1.)

In order to realize their maximum potential it is critical that racers and even recreational skiers have a ski boot fit with dynamic and predictable qualities that substantially match those of the foot and lower leg. Yet Coomer readily acknowledges:

Many racers believe they need downsized, super-stiff, ultra-narrow boots. The most accomplished alpine ski boot designer of the plastic era, Sven Coomer, believes that’s changing.(1.)

But then, he seems to retract his optimism when he says that after forty-five years as the Cassandra of the ski boot world, he knows all too well that just because you can prove you’re right, it doesn’t mean your advice will be heeded.

My observation is that since Hogen’s 2014 article, the situation with downsized, hyper-restrictive ski boots that severely compromise the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot, has gotten worse. I have seen instances where after having ski boots properly fit, it took several full seasons for the competence of the balance to be fully restored after a skier or racer’s feet and legs were constrained for years in ski boots that were too small and too tightly fit.

Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin have heeded Coomer’s advice. Others choose to ignore him at their own peril. In so doing, they handicap their efforts and limit their race results.

In my next post I will start a series of posts on how to build a ski boot from the snow up; one that provides a fit with dynamic and predictable qualities that substantially match those of the foot and lower leg.


  1. The Master Boot Laster by Jackson Hogen: The International Skiing History Association – Article Date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014

HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN WIN BY CROSSING THE LINE

When a World Cup racer wins a GS by a commanding margin, it’s a sure sign they’ve crossed the line and the gravity of the situation is significant. But I’m not talking about  breaking any rules. Instead, I’m referring to Hirscher and Shiffrin mobilizing the force of gravity by jumping across the rise line above the gate and/or minimizing pressure while rotating their skis across the rise line towards the gate so the edges of their outside ski progressively engage and lock up as they extend and incline closing the kinetic chain. Knee extension, in combination with ankle extension, uses the momentum of COM in conjunction with the force of gravity to progressively engage and apply force to the outside ski.

Reilly McGlashan has an excellent YouTube analysis of Marcel Hirscher using this technique in the 2017 Alta Badia GS (1.) The technique Hirscher and now Mikaela Shiffrin are using relates directly to the second rocker/internal rotation, impulse loading mechanism I described in a series of posts. The text below is excerpted from a comment I posted on McGlashan’s YouTube video analysis of Hirscher.

Hirscher progressively engages his edges, especially on his outside ski then hooks a tight arc close to the gate to establish his line. Once he has established his line, he no longer needs his outside ski. He gets off it in milliseconds and uses the rebound energy to project forward with only enough pressure on his uphill (new outside) ski to influence his trajectory of inertia so his COM enters the rise line at a low angle of intersection. He gets rebound energy from the loading  of his outside ski and from what amounts to a plyometric release of muscle tension from the biokinetic chain of muscles extending from the balls of his outside foot to his pelvis. The energy is created by the vertical drop from above the gate to below the gate similar to jumping off a box, landing and then making a plyometric rebound. Hirscher is skiing the optimal way and it shows on the clock and leader board.

Replicating the mechanism in a static environment is not possible because there is no inertia. But a device I have designed and constructed enables the mechanism to be rehearsed with the same feeling as in skiing.

The key is loading the forebody of the outside ski with a shovel down position as the leg is rotating the ski into the turn. This sets up the second rocker impulse loading mechanism that tips the ski onto its inside edge. Extending the knee and ankle uses momentum to exert a force on the snow with the ski.

The photo below shows the training mechanism head on. The white horizontal arms represent the sidecut of the ski. The platform under the foot can be adjusted transversely to change the sensitivity. Vertical plates set beside the ball of the foot and on the outer corner and behind the heel transfer turntable rotation torque to the ski created by rotating the leg internally with the glutes. The platform will only tilt under impulse loading if the second rocker can engage. Few skiers can use this mechanism because their ski boots do not accommodate second rocker biomechanics.

The link below is to a video that shows the effect of extending the knee and ankle while moving the hips forward and over the support foot (monopedal function). The stack height and minimum profile width of are FIS 93 mm/63 mm. Rotation in itself will not cause the device to tip onto its inside edge if centre of pressure is on the anatomic centre of the foot (through the centre of the heel and ball of the second toe).

Dr. Emily Splichal’s recent webinar on the Science of Sensory Sequencing and Afferent Stimulation (2.) is relevant to motor control and cognitive development associated with high performance skiing. Pay careful attention to Dr. Splichal’s discussion of the role of mechanoceptors and the fact there are none on the inner (medial) aspect of the arches of the feet which is why footbeds or anything that impinges on the inner arch is a bad thing. I will discuss the implications of Dr. Splichal’s webinar in a future post.

In my next post, I will provide detailed information on the training device.


  1. https://youtu.be/OxqEp7LS_24
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qPnrQ85uec&feature=youtu.be

 

 

THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS REVISITED

Since I started this blog with my first post, A CINDERELLA STORY: THE ‘MYTH’ OF THE PERFECT FIT (1.) on 2013-05-11, THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS (2.) is by far the most widely viewed post. This is significant because the content of this post challenges premises that are widely embraced and cited as knowledge that is fundamental to skiing.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.

                                                                                    – attributed to Stephen Hawking

Widely accepted false beliefs can negate incentives to pursue the acquisition of knowledge necessary to understand complex issues that fall outside the limits of established paradigms. A prime example being the ability to balance perfectly on the outside ski.

Observing great skiers like Marc Giardelli or Ingemar and more recently, Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Marcel Hirscher balance perfectly on their outside ski suggests it is possible. But uninformed observation in itself does not impart, let alone lead to, an understanding of the associated mechanics, biomechanics and physics of perfect balance on the outside ski as it equates with neuromuscular mediated dynamic balance of triplanar torques acting across the joints of the ankle/foot complex, knee and hip. The intrinsic need of those who regarded as authorities on ski technique to provide plausible explanations for the actions of elite skiers led to the fabrication of terms such as knee angulation that served to create an illusion of knowledge of the mechanism of balance on the outside ski. Knee angulation also provided an effective mechanism with which to demonstrate the mechanics of edge hold.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

                                                                                                                          – Albert Einstein

While knee angulation provides a plausible explanation for a mechanism with which to rotate a ski onto it’s edge, it does not explain the mechanism of perfect balance on the outside ski in accordance with Newton’s Laws and the principles of functional anatomy. Solving this mystery required raising new possibilities and creating a new paradigm; one that looked at the function of the human lower limbs from a new perspective with new possibilities.

It took me from 1980 to 1990 to discover how the mechanism of balance on the outside ski works. Trying to impart an understanding of this mechanism to others has presented significant challenges because the illusion of knowledge within the ranks of the ski industry has resulted in a hardened mental model that makes the real mechanism all but invisible. The resulting information bias causes people to seek information that supports what they believe while filtering out information that conflicts with what they believe; i.e.

I don’t need new information on how to balance perfectly on my outside ski because I have been doing this for years and I don’t need to know anything more.

But the reality is, that with rare exception, while elite skiers and even World Cup racers may think they can balance on their outside ski they have no way of recognizing the correct feeling, let alone confirming that they are actually doing what they think they are doing.

I have designed and fabricated a device with which to train skiers/racers to create a platform under their outside ski on which to stand and balance perfectly on. The device can be used to capture what I call a skier’s personal Balance Signature using technologies like CARV. More on this in my next post.


  1. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-p
  2. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-UB

GIRARDELLI AND STENMARK DEMONSTRATE BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI

In my last post, I discussed the movements elite Ski Pros make to balance on their outside ski.  I used Big White Ski Pro, Josh Foster as an example and reproduced his key comments from his YouTube video, Strong Platform.

Since Foster was skiing on moderate terrain, his speed is the equivalent of slomotion in comparison to typical World Cup speeds. For this post I am providing a video clip of Marc Girardelli and Ingemar Stenmark from the 1987 World Championship SL in Crans Montana, Switzerland. The video will allow you to compare the movements that create balance on the outside ski at race speeds to Foster’s movements at recreational speeds. I added reduced speed clips at the end to allow the rapid extension movement to be more easily seen.

I don’t believe there is any question that Marc Girardelli and Ingemar Stenmark can actually balance on their outside ski, especially in view of Girardelli’s statement: –

Once you can balance perfectly on the outside ski, everything else follows.

Note that the movement occurs above the gate as Girardelli and Stenmark approach the rise line and it mainly involves a rapid extension of the knee. According the predominant view, as articulated in the mental model of ski teaching and coaching, a quick extension is an unweighting movement. If this were true, why would the best skiers in the world unweight their outside ski above the gate?

What Foster, Girardelli, Stenmark, Shiffrin, Hirscher and all the best skiers in the world are really doing is loading and engaging a dual rocker system by applying a high impulse load to their outside foot at ski flat between edge change. Without knowledge of the associated mechanics, biomechanics and physics, no amount of observation will provide insights as to what is really happening. This is why 30 years after the World Championships at Crans Montana, what racers like Shiffrin, Ligety, Hirscher and other World Cup greats are doing remains a deep, dark mystery.

In my next post, I will introduce you to the Rockers.