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Hand position: boxing the mountain

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
I just stumbled upon another little self-coaching tip that I found helpful. If I have this completely wrong - if this is the first step in a progression to ultimate failure (learned bad habits) - I welcome any advice from the professionals in here.

My goal here is to keep my hands still and in front, to find a way to kill the habit of waving my arms wildly and getting my trailing hand behind me. I'm looking for that calm upper body and good pole plant that is so important to good skiing.

The problem starts on the easiest of groomers. While zipping causally along on a cat track or green groomer, I find my hands in the typical "hands at waist, poles parallel to the ground" position. This isn't so bad: why be that concerned about hand position on unchallenging terrain? As I transition from the easy to the harder, though - as I jump off the cat track onto a challenging run - I noticed that my front hand would come up nicely, to reach for my new turn, but the back hand would generally stay low and back. As a result, I would enter challenging and difficult terrain in a poor position, and, for the first few turns, would be fighting to get into proper position. The bad habit on the easy terrain carried over onto the difficult terrain.

I compensated by changing my hand postion from "hands at waist, poles parallel to the ground" to "hands at chest, poles parallel to the body." When I did, I realized that I had assumed the relaxed rest position of a boxer. When you step away from your opponent, out of range of his punches, the hands and arms will relax. However, when a boxer relaxes (and, I suspect this holds true of most forms of martial arts), his hands do not fall to his waist. His elbows drop to his body, and his hands come in closer to his chest.

And, the counter move to this relaxation is to raise the hands a bit higher, and move them away from the body. You move your hands towards your opponent.

After recognizing the similarity of the two moves - the hand postion of the boxer and the hand position of the skier - I began trying to translate the boxing move more completely into my skiing. When relaxed, I allowed my hands to drop to my chest. As the terrain became more challenging, I raised my hands, moving them further away from my body. At all times, I tried to keep them up, forward, and in sight, between me and my opponent (in the case of skiing, my opponent was the arbitrary target I had chosen to ski towards, that tree or sign or rock that I was trying to keep chest and shoulders facing towards at all times). And, as the hands come up into a more aggressive position, the body would crouch a bit, and the shoulders would square up on the target. I found that I didn't have to fight to get my trailing hand up, that my back shoulder was already forward. It worked: my upper body was much more still, and my pole plant was vastly improved.

The two lessons I took from this are that we should always be on the lookout for techniques from other sports that translate well into skiing, and that bad habits in difficult terrain are no less bad habits on the groomers (even if, on the groomers, we don't feel the same effects of those bad habits as we do in difficult terrain). My new goal is to never let my hands drop below my nipples, no matter how easy the terrain. This way, it will always be an easy matter to reach up and forward as I move into the crud.
post #2 of 3
I like the idea of how you want to have your hands/arms in a ready position. But I think maybe you have taken it just a little to far.

Rather than a boxer, think tight rope walker, with a balancing pole. They want to be in a position where they can move their arms in any possible direction, as needed. Up and down, fore and aft, side to side, wider and narrower, tipping, and twisting. These are the same planes we deal with in maintaining balance on skis. The tighter the arms are to the torso, the less flexible and ready you will be.

Another change which may help is to think of the elbow position, rather than the hands. I want my elbows to be in front of the frontal plane of the torso. If I'm only thinking hands, I still may not reach my desired outcome. I can have my hands in front of me, and the elbows can be behind me. Is this what I want? NO WAY!

A couple of ideas that might help you understand the position I'm advocating ....

#1- Start by placing your ski pole tips on the ground, right at the boot toe. Extend your arms fully, but relaxed. Lift the pole tips, while leaving the arms still. This is a general placement.
#2- Place a pole between your chest and the triceps. Allow the arms to be relaxed, but not limp. Keep the hands high enough to swing a pole without it hitting the ground.

In the end, don't forget that skiing is dynamic... So do not get the impression that your hands and arms must remain perfectly still. For if they actually do, you are out of balance! Quiet or calm, great, but not rigid!
post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 
The only quibble I have with the tight rope walker image is that it's too reactive. As the tightrope walker's center of balance shifts, he moves his hands/pole to reposition. I view the action of a skier's hands differently: to a large degree, they lead the CoB. As you said, the hands and arms are dynamic. It seems to me that a skier wants to be fairly aggressive in using the hands/arms/poles to lead into a turn, to keep the body facing downhill. to anchor a turn, etc.

Personally, I think of skiing as a contact sport (I've certainly had more injuries skiing than I ever did boxing or playing rugby). I have trouble visualizing it in terms of dancing or tightrope walking: I've never seen a tightrope walker have to fend off a tackle (which is essentially what is happening when you hit an unexpected drop or compression). Skiers have to react to strong external forces being unexpectedly exerted on the body, and need techniques to recover from forceful surprises. Descriptive language that captures the physical nature of the sport work better for me.

There's my "I've been skiing for four seasons and I know everything" speech. Take it with a huge grain of salt.

That said, thanks for the advice. Every little bit helps, and I like getting advice from those who have been doing it longer and better than myself.

(Show me a boxer who keeps his elbows behind him, and I'll show you a boxer who gets knocked out a lot.)
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