Each year newer designs and concepts are brought to market for the ski enthusiast. While these items take years to develop and are tested/reviewed by the pros, newer gear is readily available both storefront and online with little special instruction or product warning labels. The following is a brief overview of the designs being increasingly used in this year’s crop of goodies.
Longer skis: Every pendulum eventually swings the other way, and this is the year for skis! Flex patterns and contact designs are providing skiers with lengthier options for their planks. The good news is that not only do the longer skis float better in the softer snow, but now their turning is on par with the shorter carvers.
Reversed and decreased camber zones: Reversing camber in the tips or having combinations of concave/convex surfaces provide the optimal grip on most firmer snow, yet smear for the tighter zones in the trees and steeps.
Lower stack heights: As skiers rebelled against “system” bindings because of the too high tippy feel, looser connection to the ski, and limited options for binding placement, most companies have returned to a “flat” ski that allows direct mounting to the ski. Skiing lower also facilitates pivoting ability for narrow or tight spots.
Shock absorbing boot boards: This refers to the surface that the ski boot liner sits on. For years, boot boards have only been available in ridged forms that the racers crave for carving on ice. As hucking and stuck landings became more interesting than lycra speed suits, designers began manipulating the surfaces to transmit less shock to the user. This works phenomenally well—even when simply cruising packed powder—for achieving a more subtle ride.
Softer flexes: Both in skis and boots, the flex standards are mellowing and are less demanding for all-day skiing on variable terrain. Many boots now offer flex options to customize the stiffness to your style. Early rise in tips and tails also provides more subtle entry/exit to your turns. As manufacturers get better at increasing torsional rigidity, longitudinal flexes are no longer requiring 2×4 stiffness.
What these innovations bring to your skiing is a more adaptable, responsive ride with less effort, but this joy does come with a price. Mild tweaks in your style are required to get the most out of your gear. Less muscling will be needed, but your stance will require some modification. To get the most from your investments, a centered, more athletic stance is the way to go. The feel will be slightly lower, more “in” the ski/turn and flexed in your boots. Next, we’ll figure out how to obtain and practice this enhanced stance before you hit the slopes.
Athletic stance: To begin, stand barefoot on a carpeted floor and find your athletic ski stance. For most of us, feet will be approximately hip-to-shoulder-width apart. Next, you’ll want to assume a flexed and stacked posture. Flexed means you will need to bend your ankles and knees slightly to ensure that you are balanced over your forefoot. Stacked means your shoulders, hips, knees, and balls of your feet are aligned vertically. Bring your hands forward into your peripheral line of sight. This represents your athletic ski stance and is the starting point for our standing drills. On the hill, this is the most energy-efficient manner of skiing. From this athletic ski stance, we are going to progress into a series of drills. Sneakers are recommended for the following exercises.
Limits of stability: Maintaining your stance, roll side to side as if tipping your skis to bring them up onto edge. Find the contact points on your feet as you roll right-center-left. Practice this until it becomes second nature and then try it with your eyes closed. This will limit your access to visual information and force your body to encourage greater proprioception and kinematic awareness. As you progress, consider adding poles to make the drill more lifelike and enhance your timing.
Once you master this on the floor, progress to stance on a pillow or commercially available training aids. These may be as simple as a closed-cell piece of foam or more complex half-foam rollers, Swiss or Bosu ball, or something ski-specific like the new Skia Sweetspot trainer that is actually worn with your boots on.
Training on compliant and shorter surfaces also brings it back to those camber zones and absorptive boot boards.
Vertical jumps: These are best done with the hands simulating holding your poles. Take that athletic skier stance and become mobile. Start by simply clearing the floor, produce a level of hang time and return to the original starting posture. This is right on par with hopping an unexpected rock or limb on the trail. As you get better, aim for a higher and longer hang time phase. This is also a good opportunity to have a friend watch to ensure that you’re maintaining the flexed/stacked posture we started with. Building a solid neuromuscular memory on dry land will help prevent injury, especially by fending off fatigue that often allows form to stray from the stacked position.
Jump variations: As you master the base vertical jump, start thinking about how you can progress these forward, lateral, and to varying heights. Build slowly and start with lower (2-inch) heights. As you continue exploring, you will see how well the athleticism translates to the terrain you will encounter on your new gear in the backcountry or off the lift. Always respect your limits and have a partner correct your form as needed. Mastering this dynamic positional change without your skis on will better allow you to manage the forces that will develop on the hill.
Cone slaloms: This is as fun as it sounds. Toss a series of cones or tennis balls out and run them as a slalom course. Vary the distance, offset, and surfaces in this drill. To get the most out of this exercise, perform in a group with a stopwatch. Either race yourself or others, as the competition will drive better form. As you are watching, note how the planted outside foot propels the body into the turn—just as in skiing! Your foot and shin will be in as near an identical angle as they would be on the hill, and you will learn how to manage ground reaction forces generalizable to the apex of a turn.
These drills will help you as a skier maintain your athletic stance and therefore better manage the easier turning, softer, and smaller contact zones that are related to the newer gear. They are also a prerequisite for safe skiing, as the days of overly stiff boots and massive running length boards are past. While the gear is easier to turn and manipulate, you will have less to leverage against when you do get into trouble or off balance, which brings us to our final exercise.
Theraband ankle reps: Take a 10-inch looped resistance band and anchor it to a stationary object, or even your other foot. With the band wrapped over your other foot’s toes, pull your foot toward your head as many times as you can manage before fatigue forces you to switch to the other foot. Repeat at least twice per day. What this drill does is stress the tibialis anterior muscle. Perhaps the most important muscle to a skier, the tibialis anterior modulates the amount of graded ankle flexion. In glide sport like skiing, this activation prevents the deadened backseated posture, and often the twisting fall, by actually pulling your body over your feet. This modulation occurs literally thousands of times per run. (Find the best skier you know on this hill, and check out their shins over the summer, they will still have altered or absent hair growth from pressurizing the tongues of their boots!) Best of all, the exercise is so simple and the band travels so easily, there is no excuse for not performing it daily to enhance your balance.
So after you have acquired the latest gear for the slopes, take 10 to 15 minutes per day to understand and train your postural control and neuromuscular balance—you’ll maximize your safety and enjoyment out on the slopes this season.