Hips Don’t Lie

Written by Jon Ahlsen.
Jon is a BASI trainer and coach for the New Generation Verbier BASI level 4 ISTD training programme as well as being involved in New Generation Residential Verbier BASI 1 & 2 ski instructor training.

There’s a saying in skiing that should be more known:

“We turn with our legs. We balance with our upper body.”

Of course that’s not the whole truth, but it’s roughly true. What are the implications of this rough truth? That the hip – the border town where legs and upper body meet – is key.

What I want to get across is this. In good skiing, the tilting of the skis onto their edges should mainly be done by the leg joints (femoral and ankle joints) – this is the difficult to execute “roll”. However, I’m sure you have all experienced that a ski on edge is not enough. It needs to be pressured to get purchase in the snow – to get grip. This is where the balancing with the upper body comes in. And this is where position of the hip comes in.

In my mind the position of the hip is the mixed result of the tilting of the skis onto their edges – done with leg movements – and the balancing of the upper body – executed with your core muscles.

The hip’s position in the work phase of a turn is the result of how you went about releasing the old turn and starting the new turn. Four aspects are important. Below each aspect is illustrated by images, in which red indicates bad and green indicates good. The pictures are painful to for me to share. I hate my left footed turns.

Fore and Aft

If the hip is not centred, we’re not in a position to effectively engage the length of the ski (usually the front of the ski, because the hip is too far back).

Learn how to do this on your ski instructor training and you are laughing

A rare occasion when I move forward and set the hip up over my outside foot.

Ski instructor courses coach Jon Ahlsen working on his own skiing

A more common turn when I hang back and have to use other, less efficient movements to turn the skis.

Lateral

If the hip is tilted too much or not enough, our center of mass will not be balanced over the inside edge of the outside ski.

Jon working on his lateral separation while skiing

On the left, I have put the hip over the inside edge of the outside ski (roughly…). On the right, I have moved it too far in, and tilted it too much. As a result, I’m balanced over the inside ski.

Pelvic Tilt

If the hip is tilted forward or backwards this will affect your balance. Key indicators when looking for this is an arched, straight or rounded lower back.

Getting rotational separation right in skiing is key

On the left, my hip is neutral. On the right, the lower end of my pelvis has rotated forward (because it’s too far back) and I’m over compensating through the spine to get forward.

Rotational

If the hip follows the ski too much, or actually leads the turning effort, you will not have grip at the end of the turn.

Jon fighting to keep his hips pointing the right way

On the left, I have maintained some rotational separation in the hip. On the right, I have allowed it to square up completely and I’m no longer in control of where the outside ski goes. Oh, the left-footers… the left-footers…

That’s all fine and well. Sounds easy. But how do we control where the hip ends up? There’s obviously a technical aspect of this: moving the right parts of your body the right amount at the right time.

Of more underestimated importance is core strength. Balancing over a moving platform tilted on its edge while travelling on changing terrain at high speeds require lots of muscle strength. It is no coincidence that you see World Cup skiers warm up their core with bungees before the start of a race.

Also, here I have noticed a difference between men and women. Women (obviously not all) have a tendency to rely too much on lower back and not enough on the front and side core muscles, which results in an arched back (top of pelvis tilted forward). Men (obviously not all) have tendency to rely too much on the front muscles and not enough on side and back muscles, which results in a “gorilla” stance (top of pelvis tilted back).

There is some confusion around these issues. In races, you often see World Cup racers do some of these moves that I’ve marked red. The reasons are the incredibly difficult courses and the ice they ski on. When they free ski, you don’t need to draw red arrows.

Read hips don’t lie part 1 here.

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