Wow--here's another age-old discussion that keeps coming around again and again!
It's important to understand that all these words--inclination, angulation, and banking--describe movements that simply happen in skiing. Some would make this into an argument about fundamental philosophy or suggest that they represent distinctly different techniques, or that one is inherently preferable while another is to be avoided.
But such is not the case, and this argument is really almost as silly as debating whether your right foot or your left foot should be ahead when walking. Any answer to that question, other than "it depends," is nonsense, isn't it? What's right in one case may be very wrong in another.
For those interested in understanding these concepts, let's take a closer look. For starters, here are some time-honored definitions of the terms:
- Angulation. Suggesting the formation of angles, "angulation" refers to more-or-less sideways bending at various joints, particularly feet/ankles, knees, hips, and spine. When we angulate in any of these joints while maintaining balance, it changes the edge angle of the skis on the snow. In general, the more angulation, the higher the edge angle (again, assuming the skier remains in balance).
The feet, hips, and spine can bend sideways by design. The ankles and knees are not meant to bend sideways (much), so what we call "knee angulation" and "ankle angulation" are more complex then they may seem. "Knee angulation" involves normal fore-aft flexing of the knee, combined with internal rotation (turning "in") of the leg in the hip socket. "Ankle angulation" refers more to movements of the complex collection of bones in the foot, below the true ankle joint (which is strictly a fore-aft hinge joint).
- Inclination. Meaning simply "lean," inclination in skiing refers to tipping your body into a turn for balance, something we do in many activities of motion--riding a bicycle, skating, even walking and running. More specifically, it refers to a movement of the center of mass toward the inside of a turn, with no implication as to the relative positions or movements of any parts of the body. In other words, you can incline while tall or short, and while angulated or not. Yes, we can talk about inclining specific parts of the body--shins, for example--but unless otherwise specified, "inclination" in general refers to the lean of the whole body (center of mass).
- Banking. Banking is the special case of inclination without angulation, when the entire body leans into the turn while remaining more-or-less straight. Often considered an error, in fact banking can be the best move at times, especially in high level, high performance skiing where leaning into the turn (inclination) alone often produces sufficient edge angle.
Clearly, angulation and inclination both affect both edge angle and balance. I prefer to think of inclination as primarily a balancing move and angulation primarily as an edge control move, for several reasons. First, we incline in many things where edge angle is not an issue--riding a bicycle, for example, where we obviously lean into turns for balance. Second, while inclination on skis certainly affects edge angle, it is not
something we can control or modify directly to adjust
edge angle. For a given moment in any turn, there is only one degree of inclination that results in balance. I am compelled to lean that certain amount into each turn if I want to keep my balance, and I have no choice in the matter! So to me, "inclination" is best thought of as a balancing move.
I think of angulation,
on the other hand, as primarily an edge control movement.
adjust my degree of angulation at will, at any time, without losing my balance. For example, if you are simply standing upright and still, and you decide (for some reason) that you need to tip your feet and skis on edge, you will need to angulate. You can use any combination of feet/ankles, knees, hips, and spine, but the key is that as one part moves one way, another moves the other way to maintain balance.
Some knowledgeable skiers prefer to think of inclining the feet and lower legs as the edge control movement, and angulation as the movements of the upper body in the other direction to balance or counterbalance--an equally accurate way to look at the concepts. No conflict, as long as we understand the different effects of creating angles and moving the center of mass and remain consistent in our use of the terms. Beyond that, it's semantics and personal preference.
So what? What really matters, of course, is to know "so what the heck should I do?"
Simple question, but the answer, naturally, is . . . "it depends!"
Need more edge angle? Angulate. Need less? "De-angulate" (bank). Out of balance? Hmm. . . could be could be either one. The key is to develop the skills and natural instincts to move as needed, to control both edge angle and balance continuously throughout turns.
Not long ago, when skis were long and straight, things may have been simpler. More edge angle was (almost always) more better, so banking usually was a fault. Today's skis respond much more sensitively to edge angle, and more edge angle is definitely not
always better, even when simply trying to get the skis to hold. Today's skis change their behavior dramatically with even subtle changes of edge angle.[Technical diversion for those interested; skip to the next paragraph if you're not!]
A modern slalom ski with a 12-meter radius sidecut, tipped 30 degrees to the snow, will "want" to carve a turn slightly more than 10 meters in radius. Tip it to 45 degrees, and it will carve a turn of about 8.5 meters. At 60 degrees, it will "try" to carve a turn half its sidecut radius--6 meters. At 75 degrees to the snow surface--easily possible for strong skiers--that same ski will bend to an arc just over 3 meters! (Yes, for those curious or just argumentative, these numbers are somewhat simplified, and they assume very hard snow and sufficient and accurately distributed pressure to bend the ski into full "reverse camber" in each case. They are based on Tom "PhysicsMan's" simplified formula that carving radius = sidecut radius x cosine of edge angle on the snow. In real skiing, there are more variables that affect ski performance--snow conditions, sidecut shape, flex pattern, torsional and lateral stiffness, and so on.)
In any case, today's skis are hypersensitive to edge angle, and great skiing involves precise communication between skier and ski, with constant, fine control of edge angle for optimal ski performance. Tip a ski too far, and it will "try" to carve a turn tighter than you want, resulting in a less
clean carve at best, sometimes skidding completely out of the turn. Many advanced skiers blow out at the bottoms of their turns due to too much edge angle--not too little--especially on steeps, where the hill angle adds to the edge angle, and where forces at the bottom of the turn become especially intense.
So arbitrary tips like "angulate more," or "keep the shoulders level with the hill," or "reach down the hill with your downhill arm," or "lift your uphill hip," all intended to create more angulation, may be good ideas to practice as exercises. But they do not necessarily describe good skiing!
Sometimes you want the minimum edge angle that still allows your skis to hold--meaning banking with just enough ankle tension to keep your skis on line.
Think about this: Edge angle on the snow is the sum of the degrees of inclination and angulation (and also affected by the slope angle). The higher the speed in a given turn, the greater the inclination required for balance, so the less
the need for angulation. That's why downhill racers going 80 mph often bank a lot. It's good skiing--not a fault. Nevertheless, a recreational skier on the same line at a third the speed will incline less and need more angulation. Banking for the recreational skier, in this case, would
be a fault.
Like I said, it is much more complicated than simply saying "don't bank." Arbitrary advice like that is simply wrong! Imitating the positions and movements of World Cup racers at insane speed rarely leads to good skiing at 20 mph!
As I often do, I urge caution about accepting dogmatic advice about how you "should" look or move on skis. Great ski technique is situational, fluid, and responsive to the ever-changing forces that arise from varying speeds, conditions, terrain, turn shapes, ski performance, and skier intent. Great ski technique starts in the feet and moves up--"my feet tell me what to do," says Keystone instructor Peter Krainz (Austrian and PSIA certified). I like that! It does not start in the head as conscious directions that we try to enforce on our bodies regardless of the situation.
Sometimes you gotta bank. Sometimes you gotta not bank. Practice both, as exercises and drills, to develop skill and feel. But let your body--not your head--choose how to do it when skiing!