“Did you make any good turns?” (Jeff Shiffrin)

Fundamentals
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Balance

Skiing anchors on dynamic balance. Balance is the most important fundamental skill for skiing. Balance is both a source and an outcome of effective movement.

For ski racing, balance is not the goal; skiing fast is the goal.  Good balance allows racers to ski fast. 

 

Athletic Stance

According to the PSIA technical manual, athletic stance refers to the ability of the athlete to move in any direction at any time. The basic stance for a skier includes flexion of the ankles, knees, hips, and spine.

This stance was summarized by USSA as (1) feet are hip width apart; (2) ankles are of even flex; (3) center-of-mass is above the feet; (4) back is rounded; (5) hands are held out and in front of the body; (6) vision is forward; and (7) muscles are in tension but not stiff.

Below are two illustrations of skiing stance.  Note athletic stance doesn’t mean to lean forward the upper body.  It is a natural stance which allows skiers to easily move and adapt to various snow conditions. 

In challenging terrains, the same principle works. Note Josh Foster’s emphasis on “feel the shin of my boots.”

Arm & Body Position
It is important to maintain a quiet upper body position with hands in front.

Note the difference between body position during long/medium and short turns.

Ankle Tension

Ankle flexion is an important part of fore/aft balance, but it is not enough for a skier to be out of the backseat and move forward. Skiers need to add tension to ankle flexion. The video below has some nice indoor/on-snow exercises.

Lateral balance: 1000 poles
This drill requires continuous, alternating pole plants. Note the relationship between pole position and the outside ski in the demo below.

Fore/Aft Balance: 1000 steps
Continuous stepping throughout the turns. Maintain athletic stance.

Fore/Aft Balance: Falling Leaf
Note the demo skier’s upper body is less rigid than the learners.

Fore/Aft Balance: Backward Skiing
This exercise is also a good one for practicing pressure control. The other three exercises Deb recommended are also useful.

Up and Over
This drill practices both lateral and fore/aft balances. Transition should be made before the turn is completed, but as Mikaela said in the video below, you also need to be patient.

Outside ski to outside ski edge
This is one of the most important drills which could help practice all the fundamentals. Make sure to keep the athletic position all the time. At an advanced level, carve all the time.

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Edging
USSA defines edge control as the ability to maintain proper adjustment of the angle between the skis’ running surface and the snow for the ski maneuver being performed.

PSIA has a similar definition, but more explicitly emphasizes tipping, which enables skiers to increase/decrease the ski-to-snow angle.

Wedge Christie
This drill is important for changing wedge skiing to parallel skiing. Inside ski needs to match the outside ski through edge change and steering. At a more advanced level, pole touch can be used.

Power Wedge

While wedge is often used as a beginner exercise, it could actually help achieve carving. Note the emphasis on “more pressure on the outside ski” in the following drill demo.

More guidelines by Warren Witherell in How the Racers Ski (pp. 29-33):

(1) Feel ski-snow interaction on a flat terrain with moderate speed;
(2) Spread skis about 2 feet apart;
(3) Put most of your weight on outside ski; inside ski is lightly weighted and just provides balance;
(4) Roll outside ski 30 to 45 degrees on edge by moving your knee to the inside;
(5) Don’t push the tail out or thrust the ski laterally in any way;
(6) Make long, gradual turns left and right close to the fall line by shifting your weight alternately from one ski to the other;
(7) Vary the radius of your turns and forward/backward pressure distribution; experiment with different edge angles and pressure applications.

To make a pure carved turn, you must edge your ski first, then apply pressure and let it turn.

Railroad Track

According to Witherell and Evrard (The Athletic Skier, p. 96), we learn three things from the railroad track drill: (1) begin turns without skidding, which is the hardest skill in carving; (2) ride a pure carving edge through the belly of a turn, which is the most joyful part of carving; and (3) explore how a carving ski responds to various amount of edge and pressure.

To start this exercise, please start straight down the fall line with your weight distributed equally on both skis, Shift your weight first to the right ski for a few seconds, and then to your left ski. Repeat. Feel the edge on snow; adjust it using ankles and knees. Keep the skis parallel.

Don’t push or twist your skis. When you weight on one ski, leave the other in light contact with the snow. Also don’t try to turn more than a few degrees out of the fall line.

Inspect your track. It should be clean and thin, and shouldn’t smear.

Tuck Turns
Good drill for practicing edging and counter.

Garlands
Fluid edging and pressure management. Both skis need to be rolled on edge simultaneously. Start from a moderate terrain. You can challenge yourself by moving to more steep terrains and/or use one ski only for the drill.

Stacking

This drill looks easy but it is actually hard to do it precisely. Many people either put their hands in a wrong position (e.g., on waist instead of hips) or use their hand to push the hip. The focus should be on edging, making sure that lateral rolling of ankles and knees is used to control edge angles. Arms are held in assigned position, with shoulders being parallel throughout the turn.

The video below also has other useful edging and weight transfer drills. Compare the demo skier and the younger racer. You can tell the importance of keeping a quiet upper body and rolling ankles/knees into a larger edge angle.

Hockey Stop
This drill is also very useful for rotary and linking short turns. Stop with a strong edge set.

Norwegian Drill
Practice inside ski edging, along with other fundamental skills.

One Ski Skiing
One ski skiing is one of the most important, yet also one of the most difficult exercises for all the key fundamentals. It is especially hard for adults. Deb’s passionate video has some good tips (hip position, shin pressure, etc.). It is better to practice it on a very gentle slope. Be patient.

More details. Note the instructor’s emphasis on angulation in facilitating this exercise:

High-level demo. Racers should do this drill every day.

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Rotary
According to USSA, rotary movements refer to movements that increase, limit, or decrease the rotation of the skis. Rotary movements can be either with the entire body, or with the lower body rotating in the opposite of the upper body.

PSIA’s definition of rotary control refers to turning the skis about the vertical axis of the body. Skiers use this action to affect the direction their skis point.

One of the key aspects of rotation concerns upper-lower body separation. The extent of this separation depends on terrain conditions, turn radius, etc. For example, short turns typically require upper body facing the fall line almost all the time. In other words, they require more separation than long turns.

Rotary exercises are typically useful for building rotational balance as well.

Leg Rotation
Sometimes ski coaches talk a bit too much about angle/knee movements, but miss the point that legs can provide a wide range of rotational input to the skis; the degree of versatility makes leg rotation the most efficient source for most alpine skiing applications (PSIA technical manual).

The demo below shows that effective leg rotation could easily help development of other critical skills (e.g., J-turn which is useful for training short turns).

Pivot Slips
The video is a bit old, but good skiing stays the same. And the text embedded in the video illustrates this rotary drill very well. Note his upper body position and relaxation.

A more disciplined approach is the following:

Hop Turns
Initiate the turn with explosive power; keep the skis parallel. The first video below has detailed guidelines; the second video shows the value of this drill for skiing moguls.

Spiess
An extension of hop turn. Useful for steeps.

Short Turn Drill: Javeline Turn
Short turn is hard. It may expose multiple fundamental problems such as upper body rotation, unnecessary hip movement, tip up (an indicator of sitting back), etc. The drill below is useful. Please do it patiently.

More details:

Bumps
Bumps/moguls are wonderful for practicing rotary skills. Bumps are also great for enhancing slalom and giant slalom skills (e.g., anticipation, line choice, ruts, etc.).

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Pressure
Pressure movements, according to USSA, are movements that may affect pressure on the skis. Pressure control and manipulation is achieved through leverage, flexion, extension,
redistribution of weight from foot to foot,
increasing and decreasing edge angle,
muscle tension, changing turn shape and
size, etc. PSIA has a similar definition.
Pole Jumpers

For racers, it is better to have the poles arranged as demonstrated in the video below.

For non-racers, you may just jump roughly every 8 meters. Or a few friends could just place their poles on the snow and then do the drills.  It doesn’t matter much if you don’t have poles in your hands; you just need a powerful start (e.g., skating) to gain speed.  

It is important to maintain athletic stance throughout the exercise and land both skis simultaneously.

Swiss Drill
As Mikaela Shiffrin noted in the background, this drill is very useful for reducing up-and-down movement and keeping forward pressure on the shins. It needs to be done patiently, with poles being passed from the inside arm to the coming inside arm during transition.

Retraction
How to keep body position low like an expert skier? This is a question that bothers many intermediate skiers. If you try to achieve a low body position by leaning your upper body forward, it will disrupt athletic stance.

There are surely many different ways of doing this. One effective exercise is illustrated by Guy Hetherington in the following two videos, i.e., the “roller drill”:

Wavetrack
You may practice this drill in a terrain park. Only use the lower body to absorb the rolls.

Whirlybirds (360)

This is again a drill that could benefit all the fundamentals. With respect to pressure, it helps practice the application and release of pressuring skills. Use flexion and extension of ankles to manage pressure application and release. Skis need to rotate simultaneously and stay parallel.  Do it on an easy slope.

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