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Ski Racing Basics

Compiled by Tricia Pugliese 


Are you thinking about taking up ski racing or looking to improve? Here are some basic tips from the EpicSki community that will get your budding career started. 


1.  How to choose an optimal line?

To choose an optimal line you must first understand the concept of the rise line.  Just as there is a natural fall line going away from the gate, there is a natural rise line straight up hill from the gate.   No matter if you ski a high, middle or low line, the key is to start the turn at the rise line and finish the turn around the gates, as shown in frames 9-11 in the photo to the right. 



2.  How do you figure out which is the best place to turn, when looking at the gates from above?

Aside from applying the rise line concept, learn how the course is set before the race. Don't try to memorize the race course, but pay attention to the spacing of gates with particular emphasis on any major direction and rhythm changes, terrain features, unusual course sets, and, of course, sun exposure, especially moving from sun to shade.



3.  How do you set up for an offset gate?

Get in the practice of looking ahead at least two gates -- for example, if the next gate is blue, look ahead at the red one. If the red gate is offset from the blue gate, you will need to take a high line on the blue gate and delay the start of the turn until after the rise line to go wide around the blue gate and finish the turn high enough to make the red gate. If you go too straight at the blue gate, you will finish the turn too low to make the offset gate. This photo shows Ted Ligety taking a high line on the blue gate in a similar situation:





4. What happens when you start a turn too early?

When you start a turn before the rise line, you will arrive at the gate too early. The goal, again, is to engage your tips to begin turning at the rise line and to be completely finished with the turn by the time you pass the gate.



5.  Is an edged ski faster than a ski riding on the base?
Generally speaking, yes, an edged, purely carving ski is faster than a skidding ski.   



6.  If two racers are skiing the same line, is it fair to assume that the fastest skier will be the one who skis it cleanest? 
Yes, the "cleanest" line will involve more carving and less skidding. However, the horizontal offset of any set of gates will dictate this. The farther the offset, the more likely that your skis will skid somewhat from start to finish.



7.  How does "pumping" fit into the picture?

Pumping is pushing down on the ski to engage the ski's camber to make it push back in order to maintain speed or accelerate. Pumping is a good way to avoid losing speed on the flats and is a great technique to work on for your racing experience.



8.  Don't stop racing!

When you see the finish line, keep focused on what you've been focused on during the race.  Too often racers see the end and either blow up or quit skiing too soon. The end may be in sight but its not over until you're clean through the last gate and have crossed the finish line.




There's a lot to ski racing, but this video of Ted Ligety training on the Olympic course at Sochi illustrates all of the basics discussed above better than a thousand words can ever do!



This article owes its existence to the thread Racing Basics and the excellent contributors there, with special thanks to Atomicman, Bob Barnes, Zentune and patrickjchase.

Comments (8)

I've said this in the thread as well, but...
The montage of Bode Miller next to the "What happens when you start the turn too early" section does not show an early turn. It shows a stivot, which is an intentional steered skid between gates for speed control. If the sequence went for one more frame you would see him reverse out of the skid (pivot his skis clockwise) and carve the turn.
The montage in question is from the 2003 Park City World Cup GS (it came from Ron LeMaster's site), and Bode won that race. Rookie mistakes like turning too early don't win at the World Cup level.
One other comment: For the section "How do you deal with an offset gate", the usual rule of thumb for offsets and delays is to:
1. Approach the entrance gate somewhat higher than normal
2. Delay the turn initiation until 1 ski length *past* the rise line
There is an excellent example showing both at 0:28 in this video. This is actually a dogleg (change of course direction) but the technique is similar to that for an offset/delay. Note how Ligety approaches the blue gate higher than normal, and goes fairly wide due to delaying his turn until well past the rise line. This causes him to travel a longer distance above the gate, but sets him up on the proper line for the subsequent gate series. Ligety won this race (a "classic" World Cup GS that's been run for decades) by a record margin, and his high line on this gate was a significant contributor.
OK, one more correction: An edged ski is not necessarily faster than a flat one. The pecking order looks like this from slowest to fastest:
1. skidding ski
2. carving ski
3. flat ski gliding in a straight line (no skid/pivot or carving, just running perfectly flat)
Watch a World Cup Downhill some time, and watch what the racers do in straight sections. They try to get off their edges and get this skis running flat on the slow as quickly as possible. If a carving ski were actually faster their tactics would look very different. See for example the first starting and finishing straights here: http://universalsports.com/video/2012-alpine-world-cup-womens-downhill-lake-louise-lindsey-vonn-wins-11th-career-dh/
Thanks, Patrick. I took your edits and am now looking for a good example of starting a turn too early.
Well, it is called Ski Racing Basics, so I don't know that talking too much about stivoting would be necessary patrickjchase...although if anything, I think a more common error to starting early would be to begin too late...sort of like angulating--most will not have enough, few will have too much.
Regarding flat vs. skidding, yes, a gliding ski running straight will be fastest of all, but most newcomers will start of in GS or slalom and will not spend much time gliding (hopefully). A pivoted entry on the steeps will not be detrimental because it is steep, and the time spent not on edge is very brief...but again, maybe we should follow KISS here...
Looking at the first image, the rise lines are on the left and right i.e. blue and red. The middle (black) line is for a gate that is below and outside the picture. The skier in the photo starts the turns way before the relevant rise lines (transition in frames 5-7). Same with the second turn.Probably not the best image to make the point you are trying to make unless I am missing something.
There's a lengthy discussion of this in the referenced thread, where turning is described as starting when the tips are engaged.
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