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Transitions: Examining
The Evolution of
The Modern Ski Racing Turn





Note: This was written sometime in 2003, since then our understanding has evolved but we feel the underlying motion analysis is still valid. We have added a few notes in parentheses referencing our current nomenclature for things we had not yet full defined at the time this was written. We are posting this as a starting point for the avid student of the Modern Ski Racing Technique detailing our path and thinking process in developing our current methodology we are presenting in our “Level Series” and our “Foundation Series” collection.

MSRT Transitions Part II: Error Recognition

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime. It is a great exercise to look at the best in the world in video, montages and stills, however, there is one problem. Most of us CAN’T DO IT!

What we can do is work towards it. We can work on the concepts and move closer to the technique in a proper way that will allow all of us to use elements of the MSRT in our skiing to go faster in any course. We may not always look pretty, but we can be technically sound in how we stand on our skis and even more importantly - how we make our transitions.

One way to get there is to have a solid visual image as presented in my last post of what the best in the world look like at each phase of the turn. The next step is to then be able to recognize what you are seeing in other racers when they are both in the “template” and out of it. The ability to see movements that are out of “The Template” is step one. Understanding the cause of the effect that you see is next in importance. Next, and even more importantly, is knowing how to solve the problems that you see. For example, the racer who is falling back and inside as he/she passes the gate could be fixed with something as simple as keeping his/her hands up and in front (the cause being their hands carried low and behind their hips).

The final step is translating what you see in others and applying that to your own skiing. This involves what I refer to in the MSRT as Total Body Awareness. This process involves seeing yourself (i.e. being able to visualize yourself as you ski) in both still photos and (more importantly) video, as well as knowing where YOU are in each moment of each turn, and finally being able to make instantaneous corrections during each turn and each run.

Ultimately the goal is to be “Aware” in the Race Course (where most racers lose sense of time and space) and be able to adapt quickly to the course, snow condition, terrain and your own technique.

A simple exercise to use early in this upcoming season is pick one of your “Zones” (see below) and simply be aware of what is going on in that zone during a free ski run (and I don’t mean EVER looking down at your ski tips!!!). Next run pick another Zone and continue with this process until you are satisfied that you can “feel” each Zone, and can ultimately develop a sense of the relationship between the ‘Zones’. Then take this process into your practice courses or the Nastar course (this is what Nastar is particularly good for).

For a quick reference your Zones are:

    1. Head

    2. Shoulders

    3. Hand/Arms

    4. Waist

    5. Hips/Thighs

    6. Knees

    7. Ankles/Shins

    8. Feet/Edges

Let’s take a look at some “Real Racers” and identify both their relationship to the “Template” and the probable cause and effect of what we see.

This post was first set up as an exploration of different problems that recreational skiers face. In the process of doing this, I thought that the Good Doctor (Liz) would benefit from looking at these pictures and identifying the problems/effects as well as the way to correct these problems. So, in these examples, I have set out the problem (error recognition) as I see it, and left it as an exercise for the student (Dr. Liz) to figure out the possible results of this problem, as well as suggest possible ways to fix this problem.

Given that, I challenge you to look at the pictures, assess my description of the error being presented, and then assess Dr. Liz’s effect/solution part of each example. Needless to say, this exercise is limited by the fact that these pictures are point-in-time examples – not having video, it is difficult to accurately assess what happened before the picture, and nor can we guarantee the described result – the picture may be of a good skier have a bad moment, or of a bad skier having a good moment. Ultimately, the goal is not to pass judgments on the skiers themselves, but to gain a better understanding of specific situations, and how to address them.

Inside Ski Dominant

This is absolutely the most common mistake of the intermediate- to low-advanced racer. Heck, it even happens to the world cuppers (it did to Schlopy in the montage shown in the post above, except he corrected it in two frames!). Inside Ski Dominant happens in two ways, 1) never rolling to the outside edge of the inside ski (the OLD “A” frame) or 2) Over committing to the inside ski and though you are on the outside edge, getting too much weight on it and losing your outside ski (again, Schlopy in the above post).

Example 1: Inside ski dominant

Error recognition/Cause: Here is the classic “A” frame. The skier has dropped his inside hip and shoulder, accentuated by breaking at the waist. This probably started back at the transition where I guarantee you there was a sequential edge change, and the commitment to the outside edge of the inside ski just never happened. Most intermediate skiers feel much more comfortable bracing on their inside ski while using their outside ski for edging.

Effect: Because of the angle of the inside ski, the ski is skidding, causing more friction (i.e. slower speeds), and will likely result in the skier hanging onto the inside ski longer than is desirable. Because of this, the skier will be late in the transition to the next turn, turning below the gate, rather than above, and will force him to take a straighter line at the next gate (which will likely enhance and compound these problems further down the race course). This position will work acceptably on most Nastar courses but will spell doom on the advanced Master’s courses. It is difficult (if not impossible!) to ski the line necessary to negotiate the speed and offset on steeper terrain.

Correction: This racer needs to get his body squared up and allow the center of mass to move over the outside edge of the inside ski. Not breaking at the waist as severely as seen here will allow the racer to move the hip and shoulder forward. This, in turn, will allow the skier to engage the inside ski, while result in the ability to make an earlier transition to the next turn – in other words, making the turn early and high (before the gate) rather than late and low (after the gate).

Example 2: Getting closer, but still very inside ski dominant

Error recognition: This racer is railing on his downhill ski and will likely get hung-up on his inside ski. Unlike the last picture, this skier has good hands, square shoulders and the racer’s head is fairly square to the torso.

Effect: This will make him late and low in the turn and will delay the transition to the next turn. Furthermore, hanging on the inside ski will create unnecessary friction that will slow the skier down, and will contribute to the delayed transition.

Correction: If he moved the outside hip a bit more forward, the racer could extend the outside leg more, creating even more edge angle on the inside ski, giving him more confidence to roll that inside knee over further throughout the progression of the turn. Again, this is the result of a sequential edge change further back up this turn. Additionally, the racer may be looking too much at the next gate inside of one gate ahead here, however.

Example 3: Getting closer!

Error recognition: This racer’s hands are too low which will keep the racer back on the racer’s heels and she exits the turn. The low hand also has the racer bending too much at the waist and allowing the inside shoulder to counter a bit towards the outside of the turn. She is about to get too inside ski dominant by being over committed to the inside of the turn. Both skis with close to the same orientation to the snow and the inside shin almost in line with the outside thigh.

Effect: Note that this skier is still turning past the gate, and is not yet set up for the next turn – yet another late and low transition, requiring a more abrupt adjustment as the next gate approaches.

Correction: Bringing the hands up and forward will forced her to stand taller (i.e. will not allow her to break so much at the waist) and will square up her hips and shoulders. Furthermore, bringing the hands up and forward will allow her to get off her heels and make a faster transition to the next turn.

Sequential Edge Transition

I’ve looked and looked and only have a few pictures of this. Here is one of me back in the ‘80’s.

Example 1: 1980’s skiing

Error recognition:There is the good old “A” Frame with a downhill ski release. I am getting ready to step“out” to the right ski to initiate my new turn. Just like Spyder Sabich!

Effect: Actually, given the equipment (and the, erm, “period clothing” – and I won’t even go into the sunglasses/no helmet issue… different era, I know…) this is a pretty advanced turn. Gary has a very round line, and is coming up under the gate nicely, but look to see how loaded up (bent) the downhill ski is – the equipment was not designed to withstand those sort of forces, and so the ski was naturally going to skid in this position.

Correction: What’s funny looking at this picture is the if I only had my inside ski on the snow and the inside knee rolled over I’d be there (chicken!). Of course those were 205 Rossi 3G’s, heaven knows what would have happened if I tried that – gulp! (yeah. Really. The skis weren’t designed to do that. And knee surgeries weren’t as advanced at that time, either….!) This is about 1986 or so.

Example 2: Sequential transition in the modern era

Error recognition: A current junior racer just before making the transition. This will be a classic sequential transition! The racer’s upper body is already “inclinated” towards the new turn (good) but the hips have stayed back (bad) and is causing the weight to stay on the inside edge of the old turning (downhill) ski rather than having already rolled to the inside edge of the new turning ski and the outside edge of the old turning ski.

Effect: The downhill ski is still being pressured but starting to “rail” due to the rotation of both the upper body and the hips downhill (towards the inside of the new upcoming turn), the converging skis, the railing downhill ski makes it harder to cross over to the new turn.

Correction: For this skier to get to the inside edge of his/her left ski, the racer will have to weight the left and move the hips “Up and over” rather than simply moving this hips forward and through the turn during the transition to get off the railing downhill ski. The railing ski will likely cause the skier to lose his/her line, forcing a more drastic correction further down the course.

Dr. Liz’s comments: I’ve been working through these pictures as an exercise for myself, trying to see if I could identify the problems, and offer suggestions as to how to correct these problems. Truthfully, though, this picture flummoxed me. I looked at this picture from all angles to Sunday and for the life of me, couldn’t see Gary’s perspective on this. To me, the picture looked like the person was still in the old turn.

Much of this has to do with the split-second timing of the photo, and the technique of the skier. I was convinced from looking at the skier’s skis that this skier was still finishing the old turn (going to the viewer’s right). Gary, on the other hand, was vehemently advocating the idea that this skier was starting the new turn (going to the viewer’s left). *Yeah. I know this is the definition of a transition. In the MSRT however, the transition is not a combination of the old turn and the new turn, but a specific move that is made to bridge between the two turns. But…. Let me explain where my confusion came from. And why neither of us was totally wrong. Or totally right, for that matter!*

I puzzled over this picture for quite a while, and Skidor’s (and even Woody’s) visual depictions didn’t really help a whole lot. I COULD NOT see how this kid was starting a new turn – it just looked like his upper body was way out of position. Until I went back and looked at some pictures from the previous post, and it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t entirely wrong. But neither was Gary. We were just looking at different zone of the kid’s body.

Take another look at the Herman Maier montage.

After looking back at this, it was clear that the kid in the picture above was sort of split between ‘frames’ of the Maier montage. The kid’s feet are in frame 3 of the picture (still finishing the old turn) while his upper body is in frame 5 of the montage (starting the new turn).

Having recognized that this picture is taken at that exact point in the turn (especially for this racer) where the upper body is committed to the new turn, but the lower body is still committed to the old turn, I am less flummoxed by the picture. But I still have to look at it closely to understand that my perspective is not completely off – this kid is STILL finishing the old turn. He’s just already committed to the new turn. Eesh. It’s sort of the skiing version of the the picture where you see a vase, while your best friend sees two faces looking at one another.

Example 3: Another view of the sequential turn

Error recognition: This racer is about to transition to his right. See the pole plant. He has already started rolling his uphill ski to the new edge but is still hanging on the down hill ski edge. His hips are too far back to allow him move the hips forward and through the turn.

Effect: Much like the above picture, the skier is in a classic ‘A frame’. The old downhill ski is still carrying weight, forcing the downhill ski to rail while the skier is trying to move into the new turn. This railing ski will again cause the skier to end up late and low in the turn.

Correction: All this racer needs to do is push that right hand forward as he moves his right shoulder downhill (towards the new turn) and get his hips up over his feet, flattening the old downhill ski and allowing him to easily roll onto the new edges.

Example 4: Yet another example of a sequential transition

Error recognition: This is an exaggeration of example 2. Much like that example, the upper body is already inclinated toward the new turn, but he hasn’t quite convinced himself to get his feet moving in the same direction as his upper body.

Effect: Committing the upper body into the new turn before committing the feet automatically results in the hips ending up behind the feet. The downhill ski is flattened before he rolled his right knee, so he is not on either edge. He is also mssing knee bend and ankle bend here on his inside ski.

Correction: Again, like example 2, but in a much more exaggerated motion, the racer is going to have to move his hips up and over his center of mass to get off that downhill ski (which is now flat and skidding) and commit himself to the new ski. To get his feet and knees committed to the new turn, he is going to have to aggressively move his hips forward and downhill, creating knee and ankle bend, getting his weight more forard, to the fronts of his boots.

Losing your Knee and Ankle Bend

Example 1: Flexing at the waist, rather than at the knees and ankles.

Error recognition: This racer is bending at the waist, and dropping the hip to compensate for having stiff knees and ankles. (Yeah, the fact that it is probably about –20F likely has something to do with it. Still…) Sure looks cold out there, ugh. Unfortunately no matter how cold it gets you still need to be able to flex your ankles and of course first bend your knees! By dropping the hip and bending so severely at the waist, it is almost impossible to roll the inside knee and extend the outside leg while getting good forward pressure on the outside boot. You can see that her skis are at a very shallow angle to the gate.

Effect: This position makes the racer take a very straight line toward the gate. A straight line will likely result in being late and low in the turn.

Correction: Because her hips are already back, she will have to make a drastic forward (up and over her feet) motion to get her hips back over her feet for the next turn. Rather than relying on the large muscle motions of the hip flexors, however, if this racer relaxed (i.e. not as stiff) her knees and ankles, she will be able to achieve more edge angle and greater control by rolling her knees and ankles into the hill, and she will be able to make a faster transition to the new turn, without finding herself on her heels (and again being late and low in the next turn).

Example 2: More edge angle, but still stiff knees and ankles

Error recognition: This racer has achieved pretty good edge angle on both skis, however you can see that there is more angle on the outside ski than on the inside ski. The skier is banking into the turn to get edge angle, and therefore, he cannot get his skis any further out to the side ofh him. If he rolled his knees and ankles, he could get his skis further out to the side of him. Once again, due to the bend at the waist coming into the apex the racer has lost the ability to get his knees rolled in and has lost the pressure on the front of the boots to really crank those Big Edge Angles, again running to straight at the gate. My bet here is that the turn will have to been finished well beyond the gate leaving him a bit later on each subsequent turn.

Effect: Again, while the skier is not in a bad position, his line is very straight, and it is likely that this racer will finish this turn far beneath the gate, leaving him in a position to make a late transition to the next turn. If this same problem continues, he will be more and more late as the race continues.

Correction: If the outside hip was moved forward a bit into the turn, and if the lower back was straighter, he would be able to crank that outside knee and get more forward pressure making the skis hook up even better than they already are. This would allow him to finish the turn sooner, and would allow for a faster transition to the next turn. Also, if the skier were looking further down the course (rather than at the next gate), it would help him move his hips forward, and allow for a greater ankle and knee roll.

Example 3: Hip angulation, but strong edge angle

Error correction: And here is it, a strong Junior or Mid Racer using hip but by keeping those shoulders square to the turn (driving the outside hand and shoulder and keeping the outside hip pressing forward even though there clearly is hip Angulation being used) allowing (I suspect this is a female racer) her knees to angulate and getting forward pressure on the boots. Notice that the inside ski is arcing nicely as is the outside ski. Also notice that she is coming up under that gate and not crashing into it- ah, the round line! I’d like to see that inside hand up and forward a bit but generally a very nice turn!

Effect: Umm. Dr. Liz here. I really don’t have anything to say about this. Heck. I’d be happy to ANY of my turns look like this.

Correction: Other than moving that inside hand forward (again, this is a point-in-time picture – hard to tell what happens 1/100th of a second from here), I can’t see anything too wrong with this. (Hey. I’ve got that same helmet. Can I just pretend that this is me? :wink: Okay, I guess not. *sigh.)

Where you don’t wanna be

Learning how to enter the transition phase and get through it IS the thrust of the MSRT, Recreational Racing to Win. My suggestion is that we all learn how to ski a round line and minimize the transition period to no more than 7 to 10 feet of each GS turn. We all may slow down a bit practicing this, but after a while we will all learn how to carry our momentum using the rounder line and actually ski much faster (more MPH) which will more than offset the slightly longer line. Running too straight can make many bad things happen, skidding, jamming, the distraction of gates knocking your teeth out and goggles off and so on. Likewise, getting back and inside can cause the same results. In fact, it is our practiced opinion that if you find yourself back and inside, you should just bail out of the course. Not doing so can cause some ugly results (just ask Dr. Liz about this – we’ve got some great pictures if you need graphic incentives!).

The transition is the key to making the apex of the turn in the right place. Furthermore, skiing the transition smoothly is the key to having the time to “see” the course unfold in front of you rather than have it blur by you as if playing in fast forward mode. (Think about it – everyone has had at least one run in a race course that has happened much faster than you had hoped for – that is, the gates came at you faster than you expected, and not that you skied it faster than you had expected!)

Example 1: You don’t want to be this racer

Error recognition: While this racer is not terribly out of position, the racer can be getting in trouble real fast from this position. Everything is pretty much in “The Template” except you can see both tips are off the snow, the racer’s hips are getting too far back. This racer’s saving grace is that both hands are in good position and can be used to “pull them hips” back over the feet, saving what could be a very ugly situation. Because this racer is NOT hinged at the waist and the hips are pretty close to the feet at this point there is a very good chance of getting the skis entirely engaged within a few feet.

Effect: The results from here could be VERY ugly. Getting on the tails of a race ski is not an experience that is quickly forgotten (the bruises tend to heal much sooner than the video stops replaying in your mind – trust me on this one!)

Correction: Move those hips forward. Now. Sooner than now. Yesterday, even. If the racer has a strong core (aka Bode Miller, for example), he could pull this off fairly well by thrusting his core (hips, stomach, and shoulders) forward and over his feet as he comes over the breakover, re-establishing control over the skis. (Note that the downhill ski is splaying off a bit – again, a quick movement of the hips and shoulders might save this, but an equally passive response could result in something ugly, blowing out of the course being the least of the evils.)

Example 2: You REALLY don’t want to be this racer

Error recognition: A good racer in a bit of trouble. It is these positions that can lead to injury. This racer's biggest problem is the outside hand back with the inside hand back and down. As you can see the outside ski is starting to rail as the inside ski is still carving into the turn. The ski tips are not parallel - his hips are not parallel. You can see from the amount of spray coming off the tips of the skis that there is a lot of skidding and that the tails are probably light (not using the whole ski).

Effect: Eesh. And double eesh. I don’t even want to think about the possible effects of this position.

Correction: Eesh. The whole right side needs to be driven forward in the turn to recover or he needs to make an uphill ski release while throwing the body downhill. Gah. I’m hesitant to even suggest pulling the hands and hips forward at this point. Just abort this turn and hope for the best. (This would involve praying to the deity of your choice at this point. Let’s face it, you might not find religion in a foxhole, but I can guarantee that you’ll start looking up the phone number of your local deity when you find yourself in this position!)

Example 3: You really, really don’t want to be here

Error recognition: We would all probably die from this position (Aamodt probably did just fine here). The MSRT Progression will be designed to help reduce these almost unrecoverable positions from our skiing and skiing racing allowing us all to build confidence and find speed through skiing a better rounder line and carrying our momentum from the top of the course through the finish.

Effect: Aamodt probably pulled this off. But I have no idea how. (Well, okay, those huge legs of his, as well as his incredible athletic ability… I can’t see anyone who isn’t super-human surviving this without team of surgeons at the ready.)

Correction: Avoid the World Cup circuit. Stick to Nastar courses and the occasional Masters race.

Good Racing!