Something not very widely known regarding lifting the toe, as a ski maneuver, is that it is actually a spinoff manifestation stemming from the original technical maneuver that was commonly in use with 18th century firewalkers. While firewalking is mostly known in regards to the the mind - body connection, proper technique was a benefit to firewalking success. Ancient firewalkers learned that the ball and heel of the foot were relatively immune to the heat as opposed to the much smaller toes. While lifting the toes was initially considered to benefit the toes from burning, it was much later discovered by guru firewalker Tolly Burkan (along with a modern knowledge of human physiology) in 1975, that lifting the toes also kept the firewalker’s weight forward thus helping to keep the walker’s center of mass smoothly propelled forward over the hot coals. It literally blended one step into the next and reduced any unnecessary disruption in forward movement and something very beneficial to crossing a menacing fire pit. Burkan soon began the promotion of firewalking with this technique in workshops to customers from the modern day competitive arenas of professional sports and business in America and Europe.
In 1976, an Italian ski racer, Gustav Thoni (also Thoeni), experimented with firewalking to improve the mind-body connection for his use in ski racing competition. He was taught all the technique and maneuvers required for success. What he felt was the most significant piece of advice was also something that helped him with his skiing. It was the forward position benefits of the toe lift maneuver that allowed Thoni to more naturally maintain pressure on the shovel of the ski throughout the first two phases of a turn. Thoni went on to place 6th in the 1977 overall Worldcup standings that same year. After retirement, Thoni became a ski school director in Italy where he integrated much of his firewalking technique into the school’s curriculum. The rest is history.
As a side-note, another firewalking technique transferred to skiing by Thoni was the phase three sphincter contraction and release. Another commonly used technique for firewalkers also benefitting ski technique through building stability in one’s core progressively throughout the turn and reaching maximum squeeze capacity upon reaching the end of turn phase three. Next is the release maneuver of that contraction timed with releasing the edges into the “toilet seated” position of the transition. This move did not take as well into ski technique due a simple happenstance of Thoni’s experience teaching this maneuver to several students who had just recently shared a meal in the lodge that was suspect of food poisoning. The uniquely random chronology of these two events resulted in severely humiliating event for most of the students. Many, upset, complained to management. The sphincter contraction & release maneuver was, right there and then, never taught again. Who would’ve known?
Below is a video of Thoni in a SL and GS, bee-lining the Hahnenkamm and beating Klammer on a dual course. Although both the toe lift and sphincter contraction/release are maneuvers not visible to the naked eye, the great results are evident in his technique.