You're right, Ant. Hips are critical, but very hard to get your mind around. My belief is that this is so because:
- The role of the hip structure--tending to include the pelvis and the head of the femur and some very strong muscles--is quite complex. For example, it is deeply involved in alignment, angulation, working as an initiator of other stuff, working as a universal joint to transmit other stuff, etc.
- The language around what it does is hopelessly imprecise and metaphorical. "rolling the outside hip into the turn", "huge angles...with their hips as the apex". These are all hard to grasp precisely.
- The role of the hips has changed over time--many times for many reasons.
- The muscles are so big, that it is easy to exaggerate, with ridiculous consequences, the movements of the hips.
My response to this is and has been:
- To always be extremely tuned into what they are doing. A famous old racer named Andre Arnold told me once (about working with young kids) that if he could get the hips right, everything else would fall into place. (Only, he never would say exactly what "right" was! I guess it's like porn--hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.)
- To be very careful about generalizing, but rather to be very individual and specific and collaborative with individuals to try to mold the right pieces together. The answer is very different for different people because of there unique structures--easily seen most dramatically as the difference usually seen between men and women.
- To really try to tie down my language relative to hips, by using kinesthetic cues to relate to exactly what I'm talking about, and being very specific about what part I'm dealing with (femur, pelvic basin, waist, muscles, etc.)
- To allow the body's natural intelligence to find the coordination of the hips with the rest.
- To not get hung up on old technical issues and distinctions (rotation/counter-rotation)
- To not be dogmatic about the hips
- To not talk about it too much. (although this is a little chicken!)
Some things I now believe about this stuff:
- Big angles formed by tipping outward at the waist while keeping the pelvic basin level (hip angulation) are often excessive these days--and highly over-rated. Not that it doesn't/shouldn't happen, but it's often way too much, where a little movement toward banking (the racer guys call it "inclinating") is not such a bad thing (understatement) for power and balance in the face of the pull to the outside of the turn. This is also true at very early levels.
- The hips need to move within the range of square to slightly down the hill--which means that the pelvis should be more or less aligned with the ski tips more often than not, and that if it is not, it will face slightly downhill. Also, there is a tendency to go past square in certain high performance situations--what we would call a slight rotation. But mainly, the days of facing the pelvis down the hill before the edge change are pretty much over.
- The whole structure moves forward aggressively at the edge change.
- The whole structure flies over the snow to the inside of the arc the skis make. In more high performance turns, I feel like I'm there when the hips are over the snow, inside of the inside leg.
Very cool and tricky subject. And I guess I'm just skimming the surface here. Your aussie mates are right to work on it a lot, and I'm sure there's lots of controversy in those discussions--mainly because of language issues, but partly because of valid differences of opinion regarding different goals of the skier and the skis.