Post-Modern Ski Racing Technique
by Tommy Kirchhoff
Modern Ski Racing
In Modern Ski Racing Technique, the optimal turn is accomplished with parallel
skis carving cleanly (no skidding) with matching radii. The technique for
this type of turn centers on weighting and committing to the downhill ski,
while the racer tries to match the angle of the uphill ski and leg by “sucking” up
the uphill knee.
Over the last 50 years, ski racing has changed again and again. But still,
the core principles of ski racing have not changed, and probably won’t.
The principles are:
- Posture or Stance
- Edging/Carving/Edge Angle Control
- Power Release
Balance is quite difficult to define; in fact, the only way to define balance
is to compare it to imbalance. Science tells us that balance can be improved
a number of different ways.
Stance would seem to be an obvious concern. Keeping the limbs bent to absorb
shock and a lower center of gravity are ubiquitous to athletics. Depending
on the specific sport, different body stances are used to gain a mechanical
advantage. In Modern Ski Racing, athletes learn “skeletal stacking” to
cope with the monstrous forces they will be influenced by. Modern ski racing
also emphasizes matched angles of the legs and de-emphasizes leaning (banking
can be beneficial, but there is a thin line separating the two).
Control also spans the athletic spectrum. There is physical control of one’s
self; possibly physical control of an opponent; and only recently tapped, mental
control of one’s self and his or her opponent.
Sensitivity is emphasized in many sports, but few as acutely as alpine ski
racing. The delicate implementation of skis requires almost a sixth sense;
racers often attempt to boost this capability by erroneously tightening their
Power, or strength and its timed release are simply built in training, and
corrected through repetition on the racecourse.
The problem with committing to the downhill ski is two fold: the centrifugal
force “loads” the ski, reversing its camber; this stored energy
can be difficult to control especially considering the variable conditions
or "open environment" of ski racing; because the racer is relying
on this centrifugal radius for his balance, any fore/aft balance mistake can
result in “launching” the racer forcefully in an undesirable direction,
which requires recovery. Also, committing to the downhill ski requires a lot
of edge angle; even the tiniest bit too much edge angle causes the ski to skid
or chatter (both are friction, and slow you down).
A New Way: Waist Steering (Patent Pending)
I began Tai Chi in October 2004 because it seemed as though a great deal
of its physical tenets could be amalgamated with skiing and ski racing. Tai
Chi Chuan is a 5000-year study of the human form, its capabilities and how
it can overcome force with the most efficiency. At its core, Tai Chi is a philosophy
about harmony, balance and the nature of change. Tai Chi Chuan (the martial
art based on Tai Chi philosophy) emphasizes the same, and manifests these
concepts in posture, relaxation, physical balance and dynamic movement.
After intensive study with one of the greatest Tai Chi masters alive, (and
a great deal of practice) I now realize the depth and applicability of this
art. Tai Chi Chuan is such incredible technology of the human body that most
of its principles will supercede athletic form (non-specific); in other words,
athletic forms (such as 60 years of ski racing technique) are merely short-term
trial and error efforts compared to the postures, movements and breathing techniques
of Tai Chi Chuan—which after 5000 years could be largely considered “physical
law” rather than “physical theory.”
To introduce these physical concepts, we’ll begin with Rooting Exercise (Tai Chi’s Chuan’s version of human balance). Begin with your feet
just slightly wider apart than shoulder width. With your feet flat on the floor,
press outward with your feet as if you mean to slide them laterally away from
one other; twist your legs slightly outward, mainly at the knee; your feet
feel like they want to supinate (roll to the outside), but keep downward pressure
on each big toe and the ball of each foot. You should feel like you have increased
balance both laterally and sagittally (fore/aft). Nowhere in Tai Chi does one
pronate (roll a foot to the inside), twist a knee to the inside, or angulate
a knee or ankle to the inside (the ligaments on the inside of the knee are
very weak, while the ligaments on the outside are much stronger). In Tai Chi
Chuan, pronation is considered "wrong."
Without getting into too much detail on the learning progression of Tai Chi
Chuan, suffice it to say that the optimal body posture is specific to a hollow
chest (shoulders forward), pelvic tilt (genitals curled up with the tummy tucked)
and the head held very straight (the chin is held back, and an unforeseen force
pulls upward and lengthens the spine). When viewed from the side, the back
appears to be all flat (because the vertebrae are stacked vertically).
Like the skeletal stacking Modern Ski Racing athletes use to bend and carve
a ski, Tai Chi Chuan emphasizes “structure” instead of strength.
Thus, a very slight athlete can be just as powerful as a muscular athlete if
he uses his skeleton and muscle coordination correctly. Even Modern Ski Racing
Technique emphasizes skeletal stacking over brute strength.
Kinesologically, the “Serape Effect” is the greatest athletic
energy the human body is capable of. In essence, the Serape Effect is the coordinating
of the waist/trunk with the extremities to maximize force with a minimum of
effort and balance. This allows a baseball pitcher to throw a 90mph fastball,
or a tennis player to smash a 100 mph serve. This waist movement is echoed
in many athletic forms, but it is typically only trained in its specific sport
capacity (form). In Tai Chi Chuan, energy for all movement comes from turning
of the waist, and elasticity and resiliency of the waist are paramount for
physical action. Although a pitcher's throwing form cannot be easily converted
to something useful for swimming or running, Tai Chi’s waist training
can be applied to most other sports.
Also emphasized in Tai Chi Chuan is breath control. Most ski racers have no
concept of this at all. Waist turning and the Serape Effect are chiefly due
to the very strong contractions of muscles like the Iliopsoas and the Sartorius
(aided by other muscles of the trunk). The Iliopsoas muscle and the diaphragm
both connect to the Thoracic 12 vertebrae, and can coordinate. You read that
correctly—the predominant muscle used to bring air into the lungs is
connected to the muscle which chiefly creates the awesome power known as the
Serape Effect. Tai Chi Chuan is one of the only ways to coordinate these two
In Tai Chi Chuan, it is very important not to use force directly against force;
instead, it is more important to yield to force and redirect it with minimal
effort. It is said, “Use four ounces to overcome 1000 pounds.” Think
of an arrow flying quickly through the air; the tiniest tap on the side of
its shaft will send it careening off in a different direction.
The Tai Chi Chuan practitioner develops “Ting Jing,” or “Listening
Energy.” This takes a lot of repetition of the forms, but one develops
such a heightened physical sensitivity that it could only be compared the lateral
line nerve receptors on a fish. A Tai Chi practitioner becomes far more sensitive
to outside forces than even the most highly-trained athletes.
Now observe this photo:
The Modern Ski Racing Team brings you the first major revolution in
skiing technique. We're in the business of making you ski faster.Proudly sponsored
by:EpicSki.com forum thread:
"Waist Steering Revisited"
Possibly the largest technical ski thread in the world (now locked)
Nastar forum thread:
Master Liang’s weight is on his left leg, and he is turning his waist
to the left to demonstrate the movement called “Strike Solar Plexus.” Most
movements in Tai Chi Chuan assimilate this: when the weight is on the left
leg, the waist turns left and the form opens to the left side (obviously, the
opposite would be true if the weight were on the right leg). This type of posture
and movement takes the greatest advantage of the natural balance you felt in
the rooting exercise. No where in Tai Chi Chuan does a practitioner rotate
either leg (especially the knee) to the inside, nor does he weight the extended
leg. The legs are always pressuring the outside of the knee and the outside
of the foot with constant pressure on the big toe.
In this photo, Master Liang’s right leg is extended, and only has about
30 percent of his weight; we call this the “empty” leg because
it can easily step, kick, or pivot. If Master Liang were on alpine skis, he
could be making a left turn by weighting the uphill ski; his balance is excellent
in this posture, and the right leg can easily match the turn radius of the
left leg simply with a turn of the waist (the left leg is more like an outrigger
than a balance platform). Weighting of the downhill leg and ski in “Modern
Ski Racing” relies on the edge angle and the centrifugal force; as many
racers know, sometimes the downhill ski edgelocks and does not reverse-camber.
Weighting the uphill ski through the apex of the turn is much more controllable;
however it requires specific movement of the pelvis. This movement is very
difficult for racers accustomed to banking, “bonestacking,” or
angulating against the downhill ski.
When the uphill ski is weighted through the turn, the body weight can drop
almost straight down, providing a low center of gravity and excellent balance.
The pelvis must simultaneously rotate the direction of the turn. This reduces
the edge angle, but allows for more edge pressure and “steering.” It
also enables the downhill ski to mimic the angulation and turn radius of the
uphill ski without centrifugal “loading.” (The downhill leg can
remain bent, which is better for sensitivity and shock absorption) The downhill
leg becomes more like the drawing leg of a geometry compass; it merely follows
in accordance with the waist rotation.
On steeps, I find that the uphill ski tracks beautifully across the fall line;
then the waist can turn slightly the other direction to roll the ski over.
The uphill ski becomes the “outside ski” or downhill ski, and with
a small shake of the waist, can PIVOT to slide across the fall line. Slightly
holding the waist turn to the outside de-angulates the ski, and allows the
uphill ski to advance, creating something like a telemark turn (with one foot
advanced, the length of ski edge sliding across the fall line can be roughly
1.25 times the length of one ski). As the outside ski begins to track straight
down the fall line and accelerate, the waist can rotate (with breath control)
into the turn and the athlete can simultaneously shift weight to the uphill
ski to again carve across the fall line and cross under. Any loading of the
downhill ski can be comfortably controlled because the athlete is not relying
on it for his platform.
You many laugh at this example, but it is realistic to ski racing. The uphill
ski can be effectively weighted to create a clean carving turn with parallel
skis and matched (yet reduced) edge angles. If you imagine a short radius turn
could not be accomplished this way, imagine that Master Liang turns his waist
more to the left, and that the right ski tip is directly downhill from the
left ski tip; this would put both skis downhill from his mass and center of
gravity, making him carve directly across the fall line. Hence, the turn can
be as short radius as you need it.