New USST phenom Mikaela Shiffrin
demonstrates a freeskiing turn-shape drill.
best engrain them into muscle memory.
All the coaches were reading from the same script when it came to
their choices for the most important technical elements:
1. Balance, stance
2. Pressure on the front of the boots
3. Early-edge pressure at the top of the turn
4. Level shoulders and hips through transition to next turn
This seems simple, but like all sports, the refinement of the execution
is the hard part. Let’s look at each component and pick up suggestions from the panel of coaches.
Bill Skinner says that racers should imagine they are getting ready to
catch a medicine ball thrown at them at chest height. The knees are
flexed, the weight is on the balls of the feet, and the chest is slightly
forward from the hips. From this position racers should be able to
jump up and down in perfect balance.
Matt Kerr adds that this is not a static position, since the landscape
is constantly changing. This requires the skier to “move and flow” in
order to be centered at all times.
Many of the old-school drills and exercises used to teach balance are
still as effective now as when they were first introduced decades ago:
skiing with no poles; skiing with boots unbuckled; skiing on one ski;
and jumping and landing while straight-running on a flat surface in a
balanced position over the balls of the feet.
Proper boot flex will play a role with balance in that if boots are too
stiff, the racer will be constantly fighting to become centered and balanced.
Many racers take this technical element for granted, but coaches recommend that all racers, regardless of experience, should be disciplined in maintaining a proper stance — hands up, balanced over the
balls of the feet, flexed knees.
Pressure on the front of the boots
All masters racers are aware that even shaped skis will not turn with-
out some degree of pressure on the front of the ski. They are perhaps
more acutely aware of how quickly disaster will occur when one’s
weight inadvertently drifts into the backseat. In order to maintain bal-
ance throughout the turn, the lower legs must maintain pressure on
the front of the boots at all times.
Early edge pressure at the top of the turn
All coaches agree that this component is the holy grail of modern ski
racing. This is how masters can maximize their investment in shaped
skis, and it’s the key to fast skiing. Most masters racers would like to
claim that they have this move in their bag of tricks. As Skinner says,
however, 60 to 70 percent of masters can carve the bottom of the turn,
but only 10 percent can actually carve at the top.
There’s a certain amount of trust involved in committing to the new
turn while the skis are still traveling in the same direction as the end
of the previous turn. This entails leaning into the new turn and extending the new downhill ski out and away from the body mass. Since the
new downhill ski is on edge and centrifugal force is putting pressure
on the ski, it will hook up and start to carve. Being on a clean-carving
ski while entering the fall line — as well as powering down the fall line
and then exiting the fall line — represents the core of fast skiing.
Skinner recommends that racers always work from flat terrain to
steep, and that they focus on the downhill ski before adding the inside
ski to the carving process. When skiers are ready to focus on carving
with the inside ski, they should remember to pull the inside ski back,
thus increasing the ankle pressure necessary to engage the inside
ski. “To help with the process,” says Skinner, “reach across your body