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Alpine ski lessons : the basic techniques
Leg independence
This is probably the most important technique in alpine skiing, and probably the least well acknowledged by beginner skiers... When you look at a good skier who is skiing both skis parallel and close to each other, it seems like his weight is evenly distributed on both skis. Actually, in most cases, the skier's weight is mainly over one of the skis, the outside ski in turns and the downhill ski when traversing. The weight distribution depends on the type of ski, the type of turns. Since the arrival of parabolic skis many years ago that made carved turns easier, the importance of the weight distribution is a lot less marked.
There are, however, two exceptions to this:
The weight is evenly distributed on both skis in the following cases: powder ski and lack of slope (straight run in the fall line, as both skis stay at the same height).
These exercises will help you work on your leg independence:
Exercise 1:
Descend a very gentle slope following the fall line progressively shifting your weight from one ski to another.
Exercise 2:
While traversing a medium slope, completely lift the uphill ski (the one that's the highest up on the slope).
Exercise 3:
Descend a gentle to medium slope following the fall line by making wide turns. While turning, touch your outside knee (the left one if you're turning right) with the hand that's on the inside (right if you're turning right).
The role of the knees
In alpine skiing, the knees play a very important role.
The uphill knee (while traversing) or, in case of a turn, the outside knee, is the one that sets the edging as it depends on how close it is to the other leg. In order to do so, the knee must be bent. Indeed, if it's not bent, the knee has no lateral mobility.
While traversing on a medium slope, with your knees bent, bring your downhill knee progressively closer to the other leg. You'll feel the pressure on the downhill leg increase (strong edging) and decrease (light edging: skidding).
Terrain absorption
You have most likely seen good skiers ski on groomed snow or a mogul field. Their upper body follows the fall line while their legs absorb the terrain. The knees play an important part: they rise up when going over a mogul and go down in between moguls.
In an easy mogul field, practice traversing while keeping your knees flexed, but relaxed and your back straight. Allow your knees to rise as high up as possible over each mogul.
Edging: sliding effect, carving, skidding effect
Edging is when you increase the gap between the run and the skis' soles, thus increasing the edges' grip on the snow.
When the ski is under a lateral force, e.g a centrifugal force during a turn, it can react differently depending on the amount of edging:
No edging: the ski slides
The ski encounters no resistance and slides laterally.
Slight edging: the ski skids
The ski encounters a resistance that doesn't keep it from side-slipping, but slows it down. A skidded turn leaves a wide track, since the skis are moving in a crab-like manner.
Strong edging: the ski carves
The ski encounters a strong resistance which blocks it laterally and forces it to move in its axis. The carved turn is used to change directions without loss of speed. It's, of course, the turn that competitive and advanced skiers use. Unlike the skidded turn, a carved turn leaves a narrow track. It is thanks to the curve of the ski that a skier can turn without skidding, for when it is in the process of edging, the ski bends under the weight of the skier, and therefore changes direction.
One talks of anticipation when the upper body is always facing the slope, thus anticipating the next turn.
Practice traversing with your knees bent and your upper body facing downhill (the valley). You'll see that the turn at the end of the traversing will become easier. Make sure you're leaning on the downhill ski.
Unweighting/weighting your skis
It is essential that you know how to control the amount of pressure you apply to your skis. An advanced skier will constantly change the pressure applied to his/her skis. He/She will unweight his/her skis to turn them and apply a lot of pressure to them during the edging phases. The weighting phases complement the unweighting phrases since when the skier's body drops back down on the skis after slightly lifting to unweight the skis, the pressure exerted on the skis is more important than would be normally.
These are three ways of obtaining an "unweighting/weighting" combo:
The flex/extension method (up-unweighting)
The body flexes and then extends upwards. This is the classic technique for jumping with a very limited amplitude, as the feet don't leave the ground.
While traversing, as you are applying pressure to the downhill ski, lower your upper body while extending forward your knees and relax your body without engaging a turn. Repeat this exercise several times during the traverse.
Using the relief to unweight (terrain unweighting)
The skis unweight when going over a mogul or a crest. This type of unweighting is used in mogul skiing, where the bumps are used to turn more easily.
Practice skiing over small moguls without completely absorbing them, with your upper body extended forward, and making sure you stay balanced.
Using the skis' rebound to unweight (rebound unweighting)
When a skier sharply edges at the start of a turn while going at a high level of speed, the skis' flexibility make him/her rebound, thus unweighting the skis. In some cases, there is a full unweighting as the skier completely lifts his/her skis off the ground. Only skiers who know how to make controlled short turns and set strong edges should attempt this kind of unweighting.
At the start of the turn, knees bent, upper body facing the slope, set a strong edge on the downhill ski with a pole plant, while making sure you're not going to loose your balance forward. Let the skis do their unweighting business, helping them, if necessary, by a light flex-extension. The skis will pivot towards downhill, and complete the turn in the following weighting phase.
The pole plant
Many beginner skiers often consider the pole plant to be useless. However, the pole plant is an essential skiing technique. Leaning on the pole, in fact, even lightly and only from time to time, is very helpful to engage the turn. It forces the body to position itself facing forwards and to lean on the uphill ski; provides a support to lean on when shifting the weight to the other ski; and is used to start the turn.
When stopped on a medium slope, plant your pole, lean on it for support and turn. Stop and repeat.
Advice: work on your pole plant before seriously considering moving on to parallel turns.
Angulation is when the skier projects his/her legs outside the turn while keeping his upper body straight. If you face the skier, it will look like his/her legs and upper body form an angle. Angulation is used to counteract the centrifugal force's action during the turn. The degree of angulation therefore varies depending on the speed the skier is going at and the radius of the turn.
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