Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS): Angulation
by Weems Westfeldt
One of the people asked me to elaborate on ankles and angulation from Bonni's KISS post. Here are my thoughts, and I don't pretend either science or dogma here. This is just my feeling and observation.
I understand angulation as a movement that anticipates and/or compensates for lateral movement of the ski. Call it lateral balancing--just as you move forward on a forward moving ski, you can move sideways on a sideways moving ski (or a ski that is about to move sideways) while still maintaining effective edge angle.
I think there are a couple of effective ways to do it, depending on who you are and how much you need and how fast you're going. I also think the simplest way to see it is to see an angle between two axes in the body--lower leg and upper leg axes can create an angle at the knee, etc.
For simplicity let's just say the body can tip in and an out at the major joints of ankle, knee, hip, waist, and neck (forget about elbows here). I'm not going to get into the biomechanics--like you have to rotate your femur to bend your knee inwards--I get that.
If I'm properly aligned in my boots, I believe the angulation will be available to me through all of these joints, but will primarily be in the knee, hip, and waist for skiing.
The ankle is a poor source of angulation because it is all wrapped up in the boot, and might as well just keep being involved in the idea of tipping the skis to their edges to penetrate the snow and create the carving platform. To try to angulate with them (create a lateral angle between the lower leg and the foot is a bit of a hard thing to do--even out of the boot). To do so, in the boot, would have the effect of of trying to make the actual boot angulate which is pretty much non-sense.
The neck is involved, because no matter what amount of tipping the body does, the head has to stay level for any hope of good skiing. But I think this has more to do with inner ear balance and vision than biomechanics--although I wouldn't defend this belief.
So the knee, waist, and hip are the primary joints, and the conventional wisdom says that the waist and hip carry the big loads and the knees are for fine tuning. However, Ron LeMaster recently told me, and I think I see this, that hot skiers these days are creating pretty fierce angles at their knees, especially at the initiation. Try it. It's pretty cool and aggressive. It gets the edges singing early without rushing the body into the the turn.
Three other points:
- All most people need to think about is to keep the torso vertical and shoulders level as the legs edge. (Here's the KISS)
- There is not nearly as much angulation as there used to be. I really don't think I ever tip the plane of the shoulders downhill, with the exception of very steep turns from a traverse, in order to prepare for a quickly accelerating release of edges downhill. Occasionally with a student who leans inward, I'll try to create that sense of "pinch" on the downhill side of the waist, but not so often. (Although I do know great ski instructors who spend a lot of time with this.)
- Angulation changes throughout the turns and with different types of turns. It seems like there's more angulation in short turns--or at least the torso stays more upright while the legs tip in. In long turns, I believe the plane of the shoulders can be tipped inward at the start and begin to level through the middle and belly of the turn. I agree with Martin Bell, who said at the academy that "angulation is definitely not dead". (Also, notice that when the plane of the shoulders is tipped inward, and therefore so is the torso, the outside arm usually goes up and outward. I think this is to compensate or "cover" for lack of angulation at that moment.)
One thing for sure, the angulation you need is not a set amount. It is determined by the edge angles you hold and it is a movement which accompanies edging and pressure variations rather than precedes them.
I wouldn't say to use angulation so much sparingly, but rather appropriately -- only as much as is needed to balance on the edge. At the initiation of a longer high-speed turn, it doesn't take much to balance on the edge, and you're setting up for loading the ski.
I think in a high performance turn, the forces shouldn't be stronger at the end. At that point, you want to start unloading the edge progressively. Otherwise you won't get to use the energy you've built up in the middle of the turn to fire the skis across the hill. (They sort of get bogged down instead.) At that point, I think you have to increase angulation precisely to keep from overloading the edges (at that place it's like a bicycle wheel on sand on pavement) and sliding out. Additionally, I think your angulation is increasing there as you start to come across to the next turn--the torso getting ready to support the next turn while the skis finish the previous one.
Yeah, good body position: hands, hips, elbows--there are a lot of pieces that need to be coordinated and disciplined to hold well. Angulation is a very important part, but nevertheless, just a part. And I still want to emphasize: it's not the same thing the same way the same intensity the same angle in every turn. It's as variable as the speeds, angle, and pressures in each turn.
Regarding Modern Racing
I have no race coach credentials. I'm just an observer. What I observe is in slalom the angulation is more pronounced--especially on steep icy courses. In GS, as I've said, the initiation has a lot more inward lean to it, followed by a leveling of the shoulders towards the finish.
I'll refer you to just one series of Ron LeMaster stuff--a picture of Daron Ralves that is fairly typical:
but if you go to his website you can see dozens of examples of this. And this has been going on for years. This is nothing new.
Certainly angulation is important, but it's not always just the same throughout each turn and each event.
Two sources of less angulation in the modern era:
- The hinged gates.
As soon as racers did not need to duck the gates and stick their back into them, they stopped the artificial angulation that they had developed to get by. I remember race coaches on that era saying that slalom was starting to be like GS in that you could ski "through" the gates.
- The new skis.
Better side cuts, better forebody (for initiation), and better torsional stiffness meant that the skis were going to hold better, and therefore, less angulation was possible, since the inevitable drift was not so inevitable. This in turn allowed the skier's body to be better aligned at the start of the turn, allowing more pressure to be applied to the skis.
My understanding is that, as the need for angulation diminishes, rigid adherence to a certain type of angulation becomes excessive, and actually takes away from the ability to load the ski. And this is the point: I can load more into the ski if I'm not sucking it away in the angulation. In a more inclined turn, the load is distributed throughout the whole suspension system--like right up to the armpits--while in the angulated turn it kind of loads up on the hip and back. The key is to angulate, yes, but only as much as you need to for each phase of each turn.
About ten years ago (and I think I noticed it late), I started noticing--especially in GS and faster--that racers were entering the turn with a slight inward tip of the torso--evidenced by the plane of the shoulders being tipped inward, often accompanied by a reach outward with the outside arm, followed by an increasing angulation from the middle to the finish of the turn.
When Katie Fry (PSIA Demo Teams Manager) came back from a summer camp with the US Ski Team, she gave us a presentation in which she said that the coaches there told her the same thing--that there is a "leveling" of the shoulders within the turn, rather than the shoulders stay level throughout. This means that the angulation is less at the start and more at the end.
There's always a bit of angulation, but the idea that the shoulders stay level throughout, or that the torso is vertical throughout, or that angulation hasn't changed (except in most slalom situations) is fairly old school.
Weems Westfeldt is the author of Brilliant Skiing, Every Day and the Director of EpicSki Academy.