To Bully or Not to Bully
The bully, otherwise know as the Tuck or Bullet, is one of the tools in the kit of the complete racer. The bully, however, is as overused and misunderstood as the word “irregardless”.
When, where and how to employ the bully is the focus of this article. In particular, this article will explore how to learn the proper technique for the different bully stances, whether high or low, and when to pull this arrow out of your quiver.
Never tuck at the expense of your turn. We’ve all heard this caveat (Caveat 1). We’ll start here as it introduces the tuck as a tactical option that can benefit you or destroy you if attempted at an inopportune place or time in the course. That caveat is totally correct. No matter how nice a stance or how correct your arm and hand position, if you skid your skis in a turn where you could have carved you will lose any benefit you may have gained by being in a more “aerodynamic” position.
A lesson I have learned many times over my racing career is that time I have earned by tucking can be deposited back to my competition many times over by one bad turn. I learned it recently this last weekend at the Soldier Mountain downhill when I entered the “Wheelhouse” turn too straight and lost my carve. Though I maintained my tuck I lost at least a half a second or more not carrying my speed into the final steep section.
THE TACTICAL BASICS OF THE TUCK, BULLY OR BULLET
You’ve all heard your coach yell, “Tuck, Tuck, TUUUUCK” as you came into the last two gates of a racecourse. Why was your coach yelling this at you? He wanted you to go to the pharmacy to buy box of “Tucks” for him because he was lifting too many gates, bending over screwing in too many gates and standing on the hill all day? No. He wanted you to flatten your skis, glide, run straight to the finish and most importantly – get out of the air. Or in other words, reduce the forces acting on you and your skis to shave a few 10ths off your run. Tactically, the last few gates of most courses present this opportunity. In ski racing opportunities should always be exploited if even for a few hundredths of a second.
The tuck is a stance or posture we assume while skiing. The most basic attribute of this position is that it is aerodynamic whether running flat or turning. Being aerodynamic the tuck reduces the amount of drag that is measured as a down force on your skis; this down force slows you down.
So it stands to reason that if we can carve an entire course in a tuck or aerodynamic position we can reduce drag and go faster, possibly much faster.
The reality is that most of us cannot maintain a tuck, whether high or low, and carve clean turns in most courses, even most NASTAR courses. This is why when you assume your tuck becomes a critical tactical decision. This decision relates to your own abilities, skill sets and how well developed your perception, and movement (managing your center of mass/center of gravity) in the course is. In my next article I will discuss how we use our eyes and perceptions in racing. Look for it soon.
Before I go on let me state that this article is intended for the recreational racer who will be spending most of their time in NASTAR type courses or what I call “Sprint Racing”. This is not intended as a comprehensive article for speed skiers, you guys need to get in the wind tunnel! Sprint racing as I define it is usually a modified GS with an average turn radius of approximately 20 to 25 meters. It is essentially an all out mad dash from the moment you trip the wand until you break the timing lights. The best sprint racers use every trick at their disposal to gain an advantage over the clock and therefore the competition. These tricks include excellent, organized and powerful starts, running straight and late where possible and of course, using a tuck whenever it is optimal (Caveat 1 always in effect).
Back to the basics of the tuck. When a skier is standing up with their arms down they catch a lot of air and as stated above the air and wind hitting the racer increases drag slowing the racer down.
To assume the tuck the racer lowers their overall stance and levels their back more parallel to the slope with the buttocks a bit higher than the head, poles tucked under the arms and close to the body and hands together extended slightly in front of the chin to keep a “tight package”.
The tuck position allows skiers to move faster because less wind is able to hit the body. Imagine an egg with legs; that's what the position resembles. In this position wind vortices are moved around and behind the skier rather than collecting on surfaces on the front of the skier such as the chest, abdomen, upper legs and hip.
So know we know why a tuck benefits the skier (Caveat 1 always in mind). But before I prattle on, it is way more efficient for the serious NASTAR, Club, Beer League or Sprint Racer to spend hours working on performing “Arc-to-Arc” turns in the context of a race course than try and develop the perfect tuck.
Caveat 2. A racer running “Hands down” (non-tuck position) skiing clean arcs will destroy the racer holding their tuck from top to bottom. Okay, okay, this is Caveat 1, just said a little differently to make sure you’ve got it and are out there working on your turns FIRST, then playing with you tuck once you can carve your local NASTAR hill.
Before we move on there a few more aspects of the tuck that need to be considered and understood.
Simply assuming a tuck has an effect on how your center of mass moves in relation to you platform. Pull the hands in and your center of mass moves closer to your base or platform (regardless of whether it is a stance based platform or a “force based” platform, this will be detailed in another article coming soon). Pulling in your arms means that your lateral balance will become more dependent on your stance (your two feet/skis). You will become more “tippy” so balance, speed and movement becomes more critical to staying upright.
Another factor is your fore/aft weight distribution. A centered stance and keeping as much ski surface on the snow as possible promotes gliding. Whether you are turning or running straight a gliding ski is moving fastest across the snow. This supports Caveat 3: in sprint racing use the MINIMUM amount of edge required making each turn. The less edge you have the better you will glide or slide (as opposed to skid). As you have your back fairly parallel to the ground your fore/aft balance point is naturally maintained. In other words you would have to make an effort to get your balance too forward or back. That said, a simple tactic to remember in soft snow when in a tuck, by moving your fore/aft distribution back a tad you will lighten your tips and help your skis glide over the snow. This can be done is short sections such as going into the finish to decrease drag and go a bit faster (one of those sprint racing tricks).
The last and most important factor is having both the skill and strength to hold your tuck longer and deeper over more terrain and turn situations while keeping your turns clean. The more you tuck with clean turns the greater the benefit over the length of the course. An example would be one of those dead straight courses we see from time to time (and a lot at PCMR). Holding the tuck, clean turns and flatter skis wins the race, every time. But the racer who can hold his/her tuck in a course with turns, ruts, holes, bumps, ice and so on while making clean turns wins the race by a good margin over the racer who has to drop their hands (Caveat 1 in effect).
So now you know everything you need to know about the basics of the tuck. Now how do you get in a decent tuck?
Practice in your house in front of a mirror.
You want your feet hip-width apart. You want both skis tracking in the same direction with equal and minimal edging for the situation or turn.
If you get your feet too wide you will put yourself up on your inside edges and lose the advantage of gliding. You want your knees bent; ankles flexed forward, your back at least level if not butt high. Having poles with a slight bend will help you achieve the proper hand position. Roll your hands inwards towards you, moving your little fingers in until your palms are up. As you roll your hands in move them up in front of your chin and KEEP THEM THERE. Too many racers get the hand roll right but leave their hands too low catching air vortices in their chest defeating the point of the tuck, reducing drag.
In the pictures above both racers have their hands too low and are catching air in the “bucket” they’ve got between their chin and their hands. For the correction see Frames 5 – 8 in my montage.
Next you want to work on keeping your feet, knees, and hips aligned with the direction of travel. This will help you keep a flatter ski even when turning. Lastly you want to hold your head only high enough to see the course developing in front of you. Ideally, you can look through the top of your eyes as long as you can see your course and look ahead. This will relax your neck and back making you suppler to absorb and move with the terrain.
THE DIFFERENT TUCK POSTURES
Click to enlarge picture
There are two basic tuck stances (with thousands of variations based on racer skill and purpose). These are the high tuck and the low tuck. In Frames 5 – 7 I am in a high tuck. In Frame 8 I have moved to a low tuck as I am approaching the finish line and have a minimal turn to make (a sprint course trick).
THE HIGH TUCK
Many NASTAR level racers think that getting a better tuck is simply getting as low as possible. No so. Adjusting the hands upwards and moving them closer to the face, resting just below the chin, actually made a bigger difference during wind tunnel tests by the US Ski Team in decreasing drag than raising or lowering the stance. Breaking the air with just one “point of a bullet” pierces the wind cleaner. Lining up arms with legs decreases a racer’s width and exposure. Closing up other gaps, like the one between the elbows and the knees/shins or the chest and the thighs leaves fewer areas for air turbulence to build up, resulting in a decrease in the amount of drag. A good high tuck with proper hand position is way better than a low tuck that decreases your turn quality and your general suppleness.
The high tuck is by far the most widely used by sprint racers and world cup racers alike. You can turn fairly effectively from the high tuck as well as move with the terrain. A low tuck is really for very straight sections and when you can run on very flat skis. Remember from a low tuck you’ve got nowhere to go to absorb sudden or quick changes in terrain such as a compression or bump.
In the Lemaster montage above of Gerg you can see her absorbing terrain in frames 4 – 6. This is a modified high tuck.
TURNING FROM THE TUCK
I hate to say it but this is where our little concept of Waist Steering really shines. Even my usually taciturn friend, Master Speed Phenom Rick “the Human Cannonball” Slabinski noted to me early this season that turning from the tuck is possibly the best application of Waist Steering.
Most NASTAR level skiers try to angulate their outside knee and really tip in their inside knee to affect their turns from the tuck. This is inefficient and usually results in over edging one or both skis. This is slow. The proper way to turn in a tuck is to simply turn your trunk away from the direction of your turn. This will move your hip to the inside of the turn and equally edge both skis.
To see this look at the montage of Gerg frames 6 – 10. You can also see this technique in my montage from frame 6 to 8. I make my turn entirely by using my core to turn my trunk slightly to the outside of the turn thereby tipping my skis equally on edge. Notice that my feet, shins, knees are all parallel. The same technique appears in the single frame picture of the Canadian Team member above. Note the low edge angles for the radius of the turn.
Of course you’ve read all about Waist Steering so you already know that waist steering recruits the core muscles to turn the trunk and depart rotary force to the skis in stand up skiing. In a tuck it is used (the recruitment of the core muscles to “turn the waist”) to turn the trunk “against” the turn moving the hip inward edging the skis (no rotary force to the skis, tipped skis only).
Caveat 4. The very best tuck position you can have, regardless of the numbers and the results from the wind tunnel, is the one that you can comfortably get into when you’re actually skiing!!
LOOKING FOR THE PLACE TO USE YOUR TUCK, LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITY
Once you’ve got your tuck down and can throw it in at will while free skiing you're ready to consider it as a tactical option in your spring racing. Course set, speed, terrain and snow conditions will all dictate if using the tuck is advisable. When you inspect (see my upcoming article on “Your Two Sets of Eyes”, you can read a preview on the NASTAR FORUM )you can see or locate obvious areas where you might be able to bully to pick up time. Once you are in the course these opportunities may or may not present themselves do don’t make up your mind unless it is a clearly available option.
I’m sure you all have watched World Cup Giant Slalom, SuperG and Downhill. Thinking about it I’m sure you can all remember seeing these guys and gals in each discipline grabbing their bully for just a gate or a gate to two. They are always looking for a place to tuck and take it if its there, if only for a few seconds. The hundredths build up over the course.
Here’s some examples of places where you might want to tuck:
The last 3 to 4 gates of course
Always from the last gate to the finish
Coming off of a pitch to a flat section that is a fairly “relaxed” set
Always across a flat if you can make the turns clean
ny part of the course where you can pick up speed in a tuck and still make clean turns
Any entire course that is a straight set that you can make clean turns
And so on
It really boils down to your experience and skill level where and when you tuck.
Perfecting the tuck, or coming as close to perfecting it as possible, requires a lot of core body and lower body strength, power and flexibility. The fastest Alpine skiers are the best at maintaining their tuck throughout the run. They have to remain as aerodynamic as possible in a turn, which means having the ski edges, shins and knees as close to parallel as possible, and they must carry that form into the turn, through the setup and into the next turn.
Maintaining the tuck and keeping the body balanced and centered over the middle of the skis, enables the skier to have better control over the gliding process. During the glide, the skier wants as much of the skis' surface to be in contact with the snow as possible. Skiers move slower if the skis are on an edge. Hitting the edge of the ski is easier when the skier isn't centered and therefore more prone to losing the tuck.
When the tuck is lost, so is the race. More in Downhill but this can be true in Sprint Racing as well. This is NOT a caveat ;-)