In the evolution of alpine skiing a lot of changes have applied over a long period of development. Since documented early racing, the goal was always to navigate through a given course, over time. Every innovation in the sport was made with one thing in mind: to “shave” time and make it faster. In that process, grossly neglected safety procedures went through necessary innovations to help prevent injury. Skis, poles, bindings, gear and the course safety protection experienced a long and dramatic development.
The only remaining element of alpine skiing is the physics of the turn and that did not change whatsoever. In fact, it cannot change because its fundamentals lay in universal and unchanging rules of physics and mechanics. In 1978 Georges Joubert wrote the most compelling manual of physics of Alpine skiing. This manual is as current today as it was 43 years ago and the same physics have applied since the fixed heel binding.
Described by Isaac Newton in the 17th century, the Universal law of Gravity has existed since the origin of the Universe. In skiing, we can apply and benefit from gravitational forces if in control (acceleration) or become a victim of them if out of control (crash).
Human anatomy permits us to do physical tasks only a certain way, and in the presence of gravity we walk, run and jump the same way as early inhabitants of this planet. Even the Fosbury Flop is just a slight modification of standard rebound, followed by sending the body into space.
Parallel lines, corresponding to the phase of the turn and the terrain profile, have always been fundamentals of proper technique execution. Shoulder, hips, knees and ankles—in formal or semi-formal alignment—are cornerstones of the Alpine technique, and are largely taken for granted as long as the skier goes through standard technical development.
In slalom, the introduction of breakaway gates seriously challenged “standard” development. If neglected, bad body habits can become incurable handicaps and obstacles in the quest for speed. The athletes who at an early age stopped turning around the gates and started attacking them often compromise proper pelvis inclination and body alignment. In the dynamic execution of the turn, shoulder rotation transpires down to the hips and swings the center of the mass out of the turn. This rotation compromises the available physics, causes the body to lean, and limits the flexibility of the skier.
In adult skiers the bad habit is hardly noticeable until it becomes an issue at the least convenient time. In a tactical crisis of low or late line due to muscle memory of rooted instinct, instead of pelvis inclination, body rotation becomes the “survival” move. Lots of adult program coaches can attest to the hopeless task of trying to cure something that is incurable. Four years of college eligibility might even be too short to take care of the problem.
The 2020 H.S. Championship offered a very frightening example of this technical problem. More than 50% of otherwise reasonably well trained skiers rotated to the point of “no return,” with coaches’ silent approval. All four pictures demonstrate the same problem—a rotation and consequent lean. The lean is not a dynamic motion, but rather a result of improper technique to resist forces. Any degree of counter rotation would allow the hips (center of the mass) to move inside the turn to resist the forces.
Yet, there is a relatively easy way out. Though it is often overlooked and underestimated, a panel slalom course is the ultimate cure. A couple of runs in a panel course before a slalom training session can help to establish good habits before going into a single pole slalom. If the athlete can not clear the gate without rotating he/she should be urged to use a classic turn execution, skiing around (not through) the gate.
It has been done before
Over time, smart coaches have realized the importance of this phenomenon. In 1990, two weeks of summer camp with the US women’s WC team in Chile had one overarching goal. These were mature elite skiers and yet the main daily training goal was to preach the parallel lines. Nothing else! These ladies were the best skiers in the US and very competitive on the World Cup level and yet, everybody agreed on the benefit of this basic focus on alignment.
Below are a variety of parallel line demonstrations from very different eras (1936-2021) and training including skateboard, in-line skates, wooden skis with no side cut and modern skis. The dry land training pictures (in line skates/skateboard) emphasize counter rotation and potential for hip angulation. The 1936 and 68 GS pictures demonstrate good old parallel lines. The SL pictures show, in ‘68 technique in the of absence of breakaway gates, and in 2017, correct execution in breakaway gates. All share one common characteristic: “Parallel lines.” Nothing has changed!
The World Pro Ski Tour
The most mature and experienced racers, sometime referred as the “over the hill gang” come mostly from National Teams or as specialists with very defined skills in technique and tactics. The parameters of the courses are similar to FIS slalom (13m vs. 14-15m), except with paneled gates. Motivated by potential profit, pro skiers use all available means to be faster than their opponents. Yet, very few are cross blocking and when they do it is only selectively, where advantageous. The majority of the field uses a clean and classical execution, dictated partially by the conditions of the course. For good reason—it is faster!
Now is the best time
Spring training on snow is usually a relaxing time dedicated to a variety of drills. Coaches please, do not forget the value of this routine visit to a “chiropractor” as a way to establish fundamental skills. A couple days of running panel slalom courses would give your skiers proper body alignment. As an extra tactical benefit the ski line will naturally move up above the gate. Not a bad bonus!!!