Paradoxical [par-uh-dok-si-kuhl]: adj; Something that involves two facts or qualities which seem to contradict each other, or to be self-contradictory.
Skiing, unlike the majority of sports, is a super counterintuitive activity and we have to work against basic instincts (like self-preservation) to get better at it. Let’s deep dive into this quite revealing concept…
To make myself clear, let’s start with a direct example: in order to get pressure on the front part of the ski (tip/shovel) and successfully initiate a turn, we need to move our Center of Mass forward at the beginning (the high “C” part) of the turn. This means in the steeps, to “face the danger” or “dive into the abyss” at initiation.
And let’s be honest, leaning downhill or moving ourselves down the fall line on a steep slope goes against all common sense. It is definitely counterintuitive but mandatory for good skiing and/or even to ski in control.
And that’s where the paradoxical aspect kicks in. In skiing, actually to avoid crashing (and ultimately preserve your health) you have to perform movements that feel (at first) very risky to do on a steep slope. Movements that “initially” feel like against self-preservation instincts. But trust me, only at first…
So, the paradox would be that “in order to preserve my life while skiing, I need to do stuff that seems pretty unsafe or dangerous”. Particularly for the non-skier or even for the beginner and intermediate ones. However, in reality, those are actually the movements that are going to allow the skier to make controlled turns and thus ski safely down the mountain. A beautiful paradox… isn’t it?
That’s why (in my humble opinion) skiing seems that difficult when we start trying it, or even for the intermediate skiers. We try to follow our instincts when we try to slow down or turn, leading to an inexorable lack of stability and control.
Nevertheless, if we keep training and trying to improve our technique, we progress and reach a point in which our brain does a “click” and we realize that that’s actually the way to achieve control and consequently be safe on the slopes. When that “click” happens, our connection with the activity of skiing changes forever. It is a groundbreaking discovery, a game changer.
Once we do that “mental click” and start “winning the battle”, skiing becomes, for the most part, a not-so-difficult activity. It gets way safer, and way more enjoyable. Everything kind of falls into place…
But it is worth nothing to say that it takes quite some time for the brain to “trust” those (at first risky) movement patterns, and implement them regularly in our skiing. That part only comes with practice and repetition. So what at the beginning seems like going out of the comfort zone, then it actually produces an enlargement of that comfort area. And that is a huge leap into high-level skiing.
Now let’s describe two of these “counter-intuitive” and necessary movements:
1) Being forward at turn initiation: moving our Center of Mass forward (and down the valley) at the beginning of the turn. This is a key movement in order to load the tip/shovel of the new outside ski at initiation, and thus starting the turn correctly. Loading the tip of the outside ski at the beginning allows us to make those “Capital C letter” turn shapes, typical of advanced skiers. And actually the steeper it gets, the more forward we should move our center of mass in order to keep initiating on the tip of that ski.
In the image above, notice how I am crossing my Center of Mass forward and down the valley in order to initiate the next turn…
2) Upper body angulation to the outside of the turn: that means leaning the upper body down the valley during the second part of the turn (i.e. after the fall line). This movement is key in order to keep main balance over the outside ski. And it is a proven fact that changing direction with our balance over the outside leg/ski is the most stable and efficient way to turn. More so, the shorter the radius of the performed turn or the more slowly the carving, the greater the upper body angulation required to stay balanced over that outside ski throughout the curve. Take a look at the picture below…
As a matter of fact, beginners and even the majority of intermediate skiers tend to do quite the opposite of what they should. They tend to lean back and in while performing a turn. So one of the aspects that separate intermediate from advanced skiers is the presence of this non-instinctive kind of movements in their skiing. Actually, one of the “tickets” to advanced skiing is the performing of those counter-intuitive movements consistently.
Marcel Hirscher in the GS run of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 2017 at Piz Nair in St. Moritz, Switzerland, showing a tremendous amount of upper body angulation to the outside of the turn. By the way, he won the gold medal on that race.
See you on the slopes!