By Dan Balkin
HoliMont SnowSports School
I want to give you the upper hand on the ski slope. Indeed, your ski turns will not get out of hand if you accept this hands-on advice. I’ll admit, I have probably spent an inordinate amount of time reading books about ski technique. One night, while reading and savoring a Scottish beverage, I had an epiphany. I asked myself, what is the one great constant that ski coaches have always returned to? In the thirty–odd years I have been reading these books, one answer played right into my hands. To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the hands, stupid.”
One of my favorite ski books was published in the 1970s by a Frenchman named Georges Joubert. Joubert was a skiing visionary. His influential book, Skiing: An Art… A Technique, was light years ahead of its time. To this day, many of the technical terms ski coaches employ were coined by Joubert. Most intriguing for me, however, was a paragraph from this book that forever became imprinted in my mind. In short, Joubert said that 50% of all errors in ski technique can be traced to poor hand position. Really? Really. Some skiers might reject this notion out of hand – but I don’t.
Study the best skiers at HoliMont, and you will note differences in their styles. Some stand taller, others prefer a more compact stance; some like to rip short turns, others like powerful Giant Slalom inspired turns; some skiers use more edging, others prefer to purposefully allow their skis to be looser and freer under their feet. Despite these differences, there will always be one constant that marks an expert skier: Their hands are in front of them, and their hands are steady and “quiet.” In other words, they do not allow their hands (and arms) to flail around while they ski and they do not allow their hands to drop to their side. I am quite certain that if we took a show of hands among ski coaches, they would all agree that good hand position is vitally important.
Many skiers think it is natural to keep their hands in front of them while they ski – it is not. Part of the problem is the action of planting our poles, which can cause our hands to move in inefficient patterns. It is easy to plant our ski pole and then let our hand drop to our side. This creates two problems: Once our hands drop to our sides, we tend to get back on our skis and our upper body can rotate up the hill (in all phases of a ski turn, the upper body should always be orientated down the hill – for that is the direction we are headed). In Ron Lemaster’s book, Ultimate Skiing, (Lemaster is widely considered to be one of the most foremost authorities on ski technique today) Lemaster often mentions how great skiers constantly work on keeping their hands in front of them and quiet. These are skiers skiing at the highest levels of the World Cup circuit. Even these skiers admit to letting their hands drift out of place if they do not train them to be quiet, steady, and in front of them. So, if the greatest skiers in the world work at this – we should to.
I have a few simple suggestions that may help you take this matter in hand:
#1 Before you start a ski run, drop your hands to your sides and look straight ahead. Then raise your hands until they appear at the bottom of your field of vision. This is where your hands should be when you ski – in front of you and just barely visible.
#2 Try to plant your poles using by gently flicking your wrists, not by making large motions with your arms. In other words, your arms should not move up or down or flail about as you plant your ski pole.
#3 Take a five foot long section of yarn, and tie it into a circle. Place the circle of yarn over your wrists (it will now look like an oval), and go skiing. To do this exercise properly, you need to maintain gentle pressure against both ends of your yarn oval. If you feel the oval is “sagging” or dropping, your hands are moving out of position. Done properly, the yarn will remain in a taught oval that remains in your field of vision. Why use yarn? – it can easily snapped if you need to extricate your hands for any reason – such as forking over a $20 bill to one of your children. Remember, don’t throw up your hands or wring your hands when practicing better hand position, with a little practice you will become an old hand at making great ski turns.