Downhill Skiing

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Downhill skiing is a form of snow sport that involves majority of the time skiing downhill with some speed, hence of its namesake. Most people participate in the sport of downhill skiing at ski resorts "lifted", which are chairlifts that are designed to carry snow slope users from the bottom of the run back up to the top of the run. There are however are some time when going up hill is required at "lifted" resorts due to slope placements or the needs of the skier. Downhill skiing is sometimes called Alpine Skiing, particularly in contradistinction to Nordic skiing, which is cross country skiing and ski jumping.

Tips & Tricks for Advanced and Advancing Skiers

People learn in different ways. Some learn by watching and mimicry, others by having things explained to them. Most people learn through a combination. Good instructors know this, and adapt. Most instructors also have a series of tips and tricks that focus a student's attention on some other part of the body, or routine, that incidentally improves their skiing. Many people retain a few of these ideas that are an excellent way to refocus and return to good form. Not every tip works for every person, but one or more of the tips below may work for you.

  • Breathing Sometimes, in tense situations, you hold your breath inadvertently. If you recognise this and consciously start to breathe again things improve. Also, if you breathe rhythmically as you turn that act can help your skiing. If you inhale during the first one third of a turn you will inhale while you are extending. Inhalation is helped by the act of extension and reminds you to extend. If you exhale during the last two thirds you will be exhaling during the compression phase. Exhaling is helped by, and helps compression. If you repeat this sequence through a series of turns you will establish a rhythm of appropriate extension and compression. Consciously reverting to the rhythm of inhale/first third/extension, exhale/last two thirds/compression creates or restores the rhythm. This works really well in deep snow.
  • The Phantom Move This is a Harald Harb tip. If you angulate, or press down with, the little toe of the inside ski during a turn the biomechanics of the thing pretty much ensure that the outside ski angulates as well. If you think about your little toe, everything else follows. Harald Harb's books are an excellent resource for skiers of all levels. Tips that could be shared here. If someone wanted to.
  • Grab Your Pole With Your Pinky A good, solid, committed pole plant sets up a good committed turn. It is very easy to get into the habit of doing a cursory pole plant with a flick of the wrist, especially if you have spent a lot of time on the groomers. If you make sure that you have a firm grip on the pole with all your fingers the biomechanics make it less likely that you will flick your wrist. If your little finger is grabbing the pole, all the other fingers will be also. So, by gripping the pole with your little finger you will be setting up for a good, solid, committed pole plant which will get your torso facing downhill and moving downhill which leads to a good, solid, committed turn. This works well on steep slopes and in heavy or deep snow.
  • Slice At The End of Your Carve Sometimes the hardest time to keep a carve going is the end of the turn, when your tails wash out and skid. If this is happening to you try slicing the snow at the end of the turn by pushing your ski forward. Think of cutting a loaf of bread by pushing a knife away from you. The snow is the bread, the knife is your ski.

10 Ways to Bump It Up

Few things in life offer the same amount of satisfaction as a bump run well executed. The sheer excitement of not knowing what lies ahead and the snap judgements that have to be made keep you in ‘the zone’. Bump skiing requires one to be highly alert and active, yet at the same time totally calm and relaxed.

Here are 10 tips to improve your fall line bump skiing:

1. Eccentric muscle strengthening

Let’s face it – skiing is a sport and it requires a level of fitness that will allow you to cope successfully with the demands that it places on your body. Skiing requires a type of muscle action where the muscle lengthens as it contracts. This is called an eccentric muscle contraction. This type of contraction happens in your thigh and calf muscles when you bend your legs while they are carrying weight, like during skiing. Incidentally this is also the type of muscle contraction that is most strenuous on your muscles. It’s no wonder so many people are in agony after the first two days of their vacation. In the bumps this ability to control the bending of the legs (eccentric muscle control) in order to absorb the pressure as you hit the bumps is extremely important and must be trained.

Incorporate eccentric muscle control in your current workout by focussing on a slow and gradual bending of the legs in squats and lunges. If you’ve already been doing this (good for you!), increase the load by holding a dumbbell weight in each hand. To progress further and be a superstar in the bumps, start working with plyometric exercises (more on this in another issue).

2. Stance

An excellent stance is most definitely a good starting point. Here are the key check points, from the bottom up:

1. Shins firmly touching the front of the boot.

2. Skis about fist width apart.

3. Knees bent over the toes.

4. Hips bent over the heel pieces.

5. Hands out in front and keep them there.

6. Vision ahead of you so you can see what’s coming.

3. Improve your short radius turns

Fall line bump skiing is about being able to do great short radius turns in bumpy terrain so improving your short radius turns on groomed runs and then applying those improvements in the bumps is very useful. Make sure that you are able to choose an imaginary corridor to ski in and that you are able to maintain the same speed all the way down. If you can do this on moderate terrain, move on to steeper runs or small bumps to make it more challenging.

4. Pole plant

A strong, confident and decisive pole plant that reaches forward down the fall line is your ally in the bumps. Doing this consistently forces you to commit to turning all the time. A mantra like “Plant, turn, plant, turn, plant…,” can be very useful.

Planting your pole into the face of the bump as you approach it has the effect of kicking your hand back and can in turn cause your upper body to go back as well. Reach further forward and over the top of the bump for a smoother ride.

5. Activate your ankles

Think of your body as a giant shock absorber. To most effectively absorb the bumps you need to use all the joints at your disposal. The ankle joint is often neglected.

Picture this: you approach a bump, the tips of your skis start to slide onto it and as they do, the skis start to bend. As this happens the force gets transferred to you your ankles that then start to bend. As your ankles bend the force travels further up your legs to your knees that in turn start to bend and eventually ends up at your hips that absorb the remainder of the force.

Remember that in the same way that a shock absorber lengthens after it has absorbed the shock, you need to lengthen your legs as you ski over the other side of the bump in order to maintain contact with the snow and absorb the next bump in the same way.

6. Choose the best line

Choose your initial line for the features that you are looking for. You might only be able to see the first 4 or 5 bumps and nothing further than that. Maybe you want the first few bumps to be more regular in shape and pattern to make for an easier start or perhaps you want to play a bit and choose a more challenging line with interesting features. It’s really up to you. The more tricky part is to keep looking 2 or 3 bumps ahead of you as you make your way down the run so that you know what is coming and you have that extra split second to prepare. More advanced skiers are also able to scan the bumps to their left and right to decide whether they want to change to a better line.

7. Breath

Remember to breath! Your muscles need the oxygen. Focussing on deep, slow breathing has the added benefit of keeping you appropriately relaxed. Sometimes we just try too hard and then we start to force things. Focussed breathing takes your mind off what you need to do, giving you a clear mind and the ability to ski more ‘naturally’.

8. Visualize

Visualization in sport is a fantastic tool to improve all aspects of your ability. Virtually all Olympic and elite athletes employ this technique in their training programmes and more and more recreational athletes are realizing the benefits of visualization. Find video footage of an expert bump skier in action. Become that person in your mind and replay the run over and over in your mind’s eye. Make it as real as possible, including colour, sound and feeling in your visualization. I really encourage you to find out more about visualization techniques. They are incredibly valuable.

9. Enjoy the experience

Sometimes we are so serious about improving our skiing that we forget to enjoy it. If you have fun while you are working hard, the improvements will come much quicker. Savour every run and take in all the detail. You deserve it!

10. Take lessons or join a ski improvement course

Take the guess work out by spending time with an experienced instructor who will coach you to your goals and by using supplementary tools such as video analysis. You will reach your goals much quicker and you’ll have heaps of fun with other skiers of a similar ability level. Two companies offering ski improvement courses are Yes Improvement and Snow Adventure. Snow Adventure offers courses at Big White Ski Resort in Canada. Yes Improvement runs courses at Whistler (Canada), Niseko (Japan) and Wanaka (New Zealand).

The best time to start working towards your goals is right now. It’s important to realize that you can start making improvements anytime and anywhere. Muscle strengthening, visualization and checking your stance in a mirror while in your ski boots can be done even while you’re on holiday in the Bahamas. Ok, well, maybe lugging your ski boots to the Bahamas is taking it a bit too far. Or is it…?