The Importance of Fundamentals in Skiing

In the ski-racing world there has been a lot of coverage lately about the fact that clean and tidy looking skiing is not the fastest in racing. The main emphasis and talk is about using strength and power along with big ‘stivoting’ angles at the top of the turn in order to take the fastest line.

Someone like Ted Ligety has spent most of his junior career and 1000’s of hours of practice learning the proper fundamentals of skiing.  He is also a full time athlete who has incredible power to weight ratio and developed excellent motor control skills. Ted Ligety can do the amazing things he does because he has put in his time.

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My point is this: all young racers build fundamental skills from the beginning. They spend time developing all sorts of skiing skills that most ski instructors don’t spend enough time on.

In my experience instructors (as was I) are seduced by the goals of passing the Eurotest and end up running gates before they are ready. This can lead to seasons upon seasons of missed eurotests and repetitive training with little gains.

BASI and most instructor qualification systems talk about the importance of fundamentals. If you take BASI’s fundamentals for example they are a nice and simple way to look at all things that build a good skier. But do instructors spend enough time on them? Can they really maintain it in all conditions and regardless how steep the slope? Lets face it: skiing at slow speed when there is powder is a little tedious!

To me, the key characteristics of instructors who have rushed in to gates too early are:

  • Popping – not moving enough laterally and managing the pressure by standing too tall to initiate and then sinking back down ‘dumping’ all the pressure at the end of the turn
  • Not working the ski as it should be worked. If you look at the skier from the ground up, the instructor who is not ready for gates would be getting large edge angles at the end of the turn along with ski judder and rotation, with no pressure/grip at the top of the turn. In short: using ankles, knees and hip at the wrong time.
  • Taking a too straight line and not ‘arc-ing’ the turn. This makes the performer unable to control speed and line and so missing gates etc.
  • Developing bad habits and creating psychological barriers.

If you really want to be fast and accurate in the gates then spend a bit more time developing solid technique and skills before entering the gates. Here are a few tips when working on fundamentals:

  1. Ski slowly! If you cant make all the correct movements at the right time in the right place at a slow speed then it is unlikely you will make them at a higher speed. It is also one of the best ways to identify faults. I had the privilege of working with Dave Ryding and coach Tristan Glasse-Davies this summer who spent 2 months breaking down Dave’s left footed turn at excruciatingly slow speeds!
  2. Drills have their place. Some coaches like them, some not so much. I think it’s important for the learner to know why they are doing them and making sure that they are mastered properly. It is also important to find out what works best for you. Check Mikela Shiffrin’s tips on drills:

  3. Take lots of video and spend time analyzing it. Plan a way you are going to change your mistakes. Visualization can play a big part in this.
  4. Ski on ice. Hero snow is lovely for feeling grip and confidence but ice will separate the wheat from the chaff. Prep your skis well and learn to ski on ice; it will highlight all your weaknesses in one run, probably more than a week of skiing on hero snow will!
  5. Challenge those fundamentals. The use of many different types of brushes courses, corridors, hopping, Swedish turns, Cormayeur shuffle, corridors, GS in bumps, different skis, slalom turns etc. I know it’s a bit cheesy but become one with the environment on any slope/condition so you are ready for anything.
  6. There is no magic wand. If you want to change your ski performance then you must put in the hours. So many hours! Look at things more long term, set reasonable goals rather than poking a little here and there while hoping you’ll become a world cup skier in a week!

Writtten by Tom Waddington, BASI ISTD

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Cameron Lumsden says:

    Completely agree with all of this. Thanks for the tips!

  2. verticalarts says:

    This may call for a rebranding of terms for many teachers. To me, “clean and tidy” means (or should mean) what the skis are doing, and inescapably so in racing. And since the physics are inescapable as well, it follows that winning competitors have only always been doing it, with perfect body position being more the result of balancing actions to create a perfect ski in the snow, rather than the cause of fast skiing. I’m hoping that the current trend will invite coaching progressions that at least open the door to the student having the space to do “whatever it takes” to keep the skis clean and tidy, rather than the other way around: the skis doing whatever they have to do to keep the body in order.

    1. Dave says:

      Good to see Tom Waddington’s article. It is well-written such that people who don’t already understand can follow it.
      To:-verticalarts :
      The point is that “Clean and Tidy” *isn’t* always the fastest. Trying to be ‘perfect’, as you suggest sometimes prevents winning performance. But obviously it takes exceptional strength as the forces increase by the square of velocity. (Maybe us instructors should focus on the accuracy after all.)
      It’s just like the old Russi/ Klammer story from 1976, but re-warmed.
      Clean and tidy *is* the fastest? That was the doctrine espoused in 1976 by Bernhardt Russi of Switzerland (And who wasn’t going to believe him. He was Olympic Champion in DH with two world Championship DH Golds on his CV.) You were expected to perform downhill in a perfect ‘egg’ position.
      But flirting with the hairy edge of control was shown to be faster. Ask Franz Klammer. He started 15th in that downhill and beat the perfectly formed skiing of Bernhard Russi in a helter-skelter performance that even now has the viewer gasping. All the more so because his boots were soft, the skis were more like today’s shop skis, and the athletes themselves were not the heavily-muscled powerhouses of today. Nevertheless – in his day, he was one of the first to be getting his COM well inside the line of his skis.
      Have a look:-

      I have been experimenting with my free-skiing training – allowing myself to go a little bit faster than being in complete control, and just rolling and relaxing with it – then on a last run, pulling the performance back again. I think it really works.
      We should recognise, though that DH is the least technical of the race disciplines. In BASI we focus on the slower, intensely technical GS, where letting it all hang out can get you off-line in a hurry.
      Training at slow speed is probably even more difficult – because the forces holding you up are much smaller.
      Here’s Klammer in later years. I especially enjoy his “Dancing” analogy. Quite the opposite of a focus on up-tight technical perfection:-

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