by Eric DesLauriers (ESki)
Footwork is the real key to success and the big focus of this article. If your skis do the right thing on and/or in the snow, balance comes naturally and, with new skis, your skiing can become effortless, controlled and all-mountain versatile. Here is the key: in conjunction with proper upper body position and stance, when your feet do the right things, much of your balancing takes care of itself.
Let’s first consider this medium radius, groomer turn. As you are coming through the end of a turn the g-forces are maxing out, and you’re good to go into your next turn. Most of your weight is supported on your outside ski, your inside ski is at a matching edge angle tracking parallel to the outside ski. Your shoulders, hands and eyes are directed at the middle of your next turn.
Here’s the ticket: to release your turn, plant your pole and simply take weight off your support (dominant outside) leg by relaxing that foot and leg. This immediately draws your upper body down and into your next turn, transfers weight to the new dominant turning ski and triggers the edge change. Guide your skis to flat and then focus on leading your edge change flow with the light, new inside foot (the same one you were supporting with in the last turn). This is the link between your turns.
Once your skis are flat to the snow surface and your upper body is directed at your next turn, focus only on getting you inside ski lightly tipped up onto its new turning edge. Do not twist your skis towards the fall-line up high in the arc, be patient and “let em’ drift” on to edge and into the turn. The radius of your turn is controlled mainly by how fast you move feet in the release and transition.
Regarding the flat point. In linked turns with speed like we all ski at, you pass right through transition and flat with no hesitation. There is a smooth link for sure like you described. The link is the continuation of the release of the outside foot and then continuing the move with the same foot leading the edge change. It also controls the draw of the CM into the new turn. Great flow to create "snaking" rhythm. It is my contention that if and when your feet do the right thing a lot of the balancing happens naturally because in order to do the moves you have to be in balance. It seems simplistic, but think about it.
Also, everybody is a little a different, but if you can lighten and tip you outside ski you must be balanced. Otherwise you really could not not do it. When you enter the turn with your inside foot light, your balance is naturally centered on your outside foot--where you want it.
The Release Move
Yes, you trigger by relaxing / taking weight off the outside foot AND tip/flatten it to the snow and into the new turn. The rate at which you do this can determine your turn radius as well. The key is to make the move when you still have G's on the skis otherwise you're forced to double clutch in the transition.
Further, when you release and transition as described above, there is no real additional move which breaks the flow. It is the same continuing through transition and when you get your skis to do the right thing, the CM balancing takes are of itself most of the time. The most important thing for the upper body is to keep it square and facing the middle of your next at the end of each turn and through transition.
I might also add at this point that to promote a smooth, efficient and versatile transition (or entry to the next turn, i.e. early stage of when the skis engage in the new turn) there must also be a moment of patience just as the skis go from flat to rolling on edge. Sometimes one or both of the skis may not be on the snow here. But, either way, there is brief period of time and space where one must resist the urge to spin them towards the falline. With a good release, good upper body position (shoulder level and facing the middle of the turn; countered if you will) then this is where the skis seek the falline without much additional movement, focus, and/or effort.
This is especially true in powder or crud and is definitely hard for many to achieve in steeps because the brain wants to get through the top of the turn and into the safety of the bottom of the turn.
But when the release is well timed (not too late) this action can happen easily and efficiently as a continuation of the initial release and tipping of the old outside foot. This release action also reduces the need to focus on the continued active tipping as the skis pass though neutral and onto the beginning of the new edge angles.
For really good skiers and racers, the "flat" phase, the point in transition when the skis are flat to the snow surface, comes and goes without any hitch. This flow of the skis from one set of edges to the new turning set, is seamless in high speed skiing.
What I'm really trying to get at is the release movement of retraction triggered by a controlled relaxation is like isometrically giving in and reduces the the G's created by you standing on your skis as they are arcing through the turn. As I said before, this draws the upper body into the turn AND releases the skis and feet to flow under the CM and into the engagement of the next turn. It is seamless and easy to control. If you have good timing and release the G's when you are still loaded up at the end of the turn, these forces combined with your defined and intentional movement pattern will throw your feet and skis to the other side faster then you can move your feet on their own. I hope I'm making this clear: It would be like if you're jumping on a trampoline and instead of extending your legs to jump high, you actually flex your legs and absorb the rebound of the trampoline; you will almost hit your jaw with your legs. In other words we the skiers create the forces and we release the forces. You can release by relaxing and guiding(either fast or slow movement of the feet even with varying speed from slow to racer fast) the feet from one turn and onto edge in the new turn and by leading the edge change with new inside foot. How much weight you leave on this foot is up to you depending on the situation, snow condition etc.
Variable Snow Conditions
Even in crud it is good to maintain snow contact in transition it easier to do with the skis closer to the snow surface, so again the same movement pattern is appropriate. This is why, to me, it so cool. This core movement pattern I described initially works across the board. Just for advanced skiers the flat phase is very quick, with no break in the flow.
I ski the same way on and off piste. The same core movements of linking turns from a square athletic stance. I agree that skiing at speed becomes more innate. You have good technique and when you're in the groove you're cruising with less conscious thought.
Another difference between groomer and off-piste high speed turns is the need to have your legs act a shock absorbers at any time in you run. You need to able to handle variable snow and terrain changes with your legs. A slightly lower stance with your feet just a touch ahead of your hips while your shoulders counter this by being a little forward is good stance adaptation to accomplish this. Then the same core movements to link turns apply.
But the main consideration for handling varying snow conditions and speed is really skiing on a one-foot or two-foot platform. The movement pattern of transitioning or of linking turns is really the same for most turns in these varying conditions, no matter the speed. The angles you create at speed are greater and the rush is bigger but the technique can be the same.
Wade Holiday and Eric DesLauriers put the words of this article into action at Squaw Valley--enjoy!