In skiing fore-aft balance is dynamic, not static. It is in a constant cycle. In regular high-level skiing, skiers always go from being back at the end of one turn to being forward at the initiation of the next turn.
As Mikaela Shiffrin in an interview (here) said: “The key for fore-aft balance, for me, is to try not to stay in one position. Because skiing is such a fluid sport, you’re always moving. And if you become static with your fore-aft balance, then the rest of your turn is going to be static. So, it’s really important to be able to be forward at the top of the turn and then try to use the rear of the skis. Not the tails really, but you know let your skis kind of shoot out from under you a little bit. Just try to play with the entire ski because you have a whole ski for a reason. You want to use the whole thing as a tool. And if you can use the tip-to-tail perfectly and be in balance, then you’re going to have a faster turn.”
In order to start a turn effectively, we need to move our Center of Mass forward to bend or balance over the shovel of the skis. We must start the turn by engaging the tip of the ski, so we look for “getting to the front of the ski” at the initiation.
That’s key in order to be centered when we arrive at the most important part of the turn: the loading phase. The loading phase is when we apply almost all the pressure and the major ski deflection occurs. In the modern slalom technique (SL turns), the pressure or loading phase is short and abrupt, and it happens all at once at the fall line (i.e. the middle. or apex of the turn). So, it is absolutely OK to be in the backseat at transition and initiation, but it is mandatory to move our center of mass forward (or our base of support back) in order to be centered when we apply the majority of the load/pressure on the skis (i.e. at the fall-line).
A great example and proof of this dynamic fore-aft balance while skiing is this state-of-the-art photo sequence made by Ron LeMaster that we will see and analyze below:
The athlete is Marcel Hirscher (A.K.A. the G.O.A.T.), performing some Slalom turns on the Aspen race course.
Here we can clearly see that he finishes his turns on the tails of the skis, as noted in the very next frame after the one hitting the blue gate/pole.
In the following frame, we can observe that the transition is definitely in the backseat and “floating”, with the skis almost in the air.
Then, he repositions forward and arrives at the last frame (the one where he is blocking the last red pole) centered and bending the ski completely from the waist. That is the apex of the turn. When the racer makes the majority of the direction change.
This invaluable photo sequence shows us that, as Mikaela says, to ski we must use the whole ski. Its entire length, from tip to tail. And that happens, at each and every turn!
Also, this photo sequence of Marcel demonstrates that one of the best and most critical drills in skiing is the so-called Dolphin turns. It is a drill that exaggerates these fore-aft movements on every turn.
Called dolphin turns, as the movement of the skis is similar shape that a dolphin makes when jumping out of the water.
It is an advanced ski drill, in which you should hop off the tails of the skis and then shift forward as you land on the shovels and in the new edges. The trick is to push the feet forward and pop off your tails, and then pull your feet back with your heels up to land on the shovels. The edge change must occur while in the air, so we land and start the new turn.
Dolphin turns will help you activate the lower joints as well as make your fore-aft balance exquisite. It is kind of a back-pedaling movement with our feet.
They’re useful in a variety of situations, but definitely on short turns, and most obviously they emulate that quintessential move in the bumps. Dolphin turns are a great way to practice skiing in the bumps without actually going into the bumps.
The idea here is to be able to finally control the fore-aft pressure distribution on your skis. The key in this drill is to work just with the feet and legs, keeping the upper body calm and quiet.
Here is a great video of Dolphin turns explanation and progression, made by Tobin Leopkey, the Founder & Program Director of Section 8 Snowsport Institute, from Canada. It was shot at Hintertux glacier in the early season (October).
See you on the slopes!