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Finding Good Fore/Aft Balance on Skis

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
I have typically had a tendency to be a little bit back on my skis. I can feel this. I can also feel when I am more centered and "on top" of my skis as my control of the skis and the ability to do what I want with them is so greatly enhanced. Nevertheless, until recently I felt like I was achieving good fore/aft balance a relatively small percentage of the time (30%?). Very recently, I have made, what I consider to be, a very big change in my skiing related to this topic and I hope to relate that experience. Also, for those who don't read any further I will totally credit Mosh for helping me make this discovery. Also, if you want to skip the all the preliminary discourse I am writing and just see the exercises I am talking about, just jump down a few paragraphs. While this is a long story, my hope is that it has great potential value for many skiers and instructors.

In previous reading about this topic and talking to instructors and other skiers I have heard people describe various muscle activations, joint movements or combination of movements that are required for this purpose. I have heard people talk about the cue of feeling pressure on the boot tongue, although while this is an outcome of being properly balanced fore/aft it certainly doesn't guarantee that you are. However, I have never heard or seen of an approach to fore/aft balance that can work almost instantly in the way that I recently experienced. Certainly, good instruction leads in this direction, but I will reiterate that I have never seen an approach to fore/aft balance that works as effectively as what Mosh showed me.

As a side note - there is also the relationship of total ramp angle, boot alignment, and binding mount position that affect fore/aft balance. For purposes of this thread I wish to exclude these considerations. I hope this thread will stay focused on what you can do through muscle activation, joint position, posture, and movement.

So the story is that while I was in Aspen I was working with Mosh on foot balancing as I have related in a previous thread, Alignment Experience with Mosh's SBS System. After my first consultation we skied a couple of runs together (Mosh is a really fine skier as well as being an instructor and trainer in Aspen/Snowmass). At the end of the day we skied another couple of runs but as we started out Mosh asked if I would like some suggestions about getting better centered on my skis. Thankfully, I said yes.

His first comment was that most skiers never recognize the muscles that they need to activate to move forward to a centered position over their skis in the fore-aft plane (or maintain such position) and that instead of telling me how to do it he wanted me to feel it for myself. So, we stopped at a flat spot where he got behind me and told me he was going to push my skis forward by pushing with his poles on the back of my binding (without telling me when) and I should try to stay in a fixed balance position over my skis. On the first push my skis shot forward out from under me and I had to perform a substantial recovery. As we repeated this a few times I was soon able to hold a reasonably stable position. We then briefly discussed what I felt and what I had to do to find that stability. He then took off his skis, knealed in front of my skis, and pushed my skis forward and back, again asking me to maintain a stable position over my skis. We then repeated our discussion. With that alone I had consciously discovered the muscle activation that I used to stay balanced over my skis.

For further emphasis we made a turn down a moderately steep slope turning the tips up hill, then carved the skis backward to turn the tails uphill, and repeated. He did this so I could feel and note what I did to find good for/aft balance while carving backward downhill. It further emphasized to me the activations I needed for proper fore/aft balance.

Well, after these few exercises I felt transformed in my skiing. Instead of being well balanced fore/aft 30% of the time I felt like it instantly become 70% (or more?). The next day I focused on this all day on my own and was surprised as hell to find that I could willingly find and maintain better centering on my skis that ever before. At the end of the day I had mild soreness in my hamstrings, pelvic muscles, and lower back unlike most days but I didn't have any in my quads!

The next day I skied with Wigs. His comment, the previous night in the bar, was that we would probably spend considerable time on fore/aft balance based on a few, early morning runs we had taken together in two previous seasons. I told him I though I had made some recent progress in that area and he said "We'll see."

Well, immediately after the first run he commented that I definitely had made significant progress in my fore/aft centering and that it would not need to be a priority focus. This was especially surprising to me, given that I had only skied with this newfound awareness and ability for a day. Interestingly, throughout the day I found I was able to maintain improved fore/aft positioning even though we were working on very different thinks (the effectiveness of which were obviously greatly enhanced with my improvement in fore/aft position). While I did find that it took a little extra conscious effort, I was surprised and unbelievably pleased with how much of it was happening on its own (skiing in better balance is obviously very self rewarding). Also, as the day progressed I found the levels of co-activation of muscle agonists/antagonists were noticeably reduced as I discovered that I didn't need the initial, higher levels of activation I had been using.

Throughout my week in Aspen I was able to maintain this advancement and that alone is reason enough for me to post. But there's more. Later in the week I skied with my surgeon who did my first hip replacement (I was at a joint replacement conference). He is a marvelous man (67 years old) who is about a level 5 or 6 skier and has taken numerous lessons at a variety of western resorts. I usually ski with him for a couple of hours at this conference and really enjoy it. He is very open to suggestions for improving his skiing.

I went through the two exercises described above that involve pushing and pulling the skis. While he improved substantially with repetition he still couldn't maintain great stability of his upper body over his lower body and skis. We then went off to ski. During the day his ability to stay more forward, centered over his skis, improved dramatically. We were enjoying working on this so much that we just skied together for the whole day. Interestingly, as the day progressed, his skiing speed increased at least 50% and up to twice as fast at times. This happened without any intent. He noticed it for himself and was just amazed that he could ski so comfortably at speeds he had never previously even tried to achieve. Also, much more so than in previous years, he was able to take suggestions and implement them with noticeable improvement of his skiing. The transformation in his skiing was probably more significant than mine. His comment was that this was the best he had ever skied and perhaps the most fun he had ever had on skis.

Anyway, these exercises made a tremendous difference in my skiing (I am a relatively advanced skier) and similarly in that of a 67 year old advanced intermediate. I suspect that they have broad applicability especially for early season when we are all trying to regain our skiing balance.

I am very thankful to Mosh for helping to enlighten me in this fashion and hope that perhaps he will make a few comments on this area where he clearly excels, both in his skiing and his coaching.
post #2 of 12

That push pull thing is something I've wanted to try in my lessons. I've been thinking about using it in my first timer lessons, but I only taught one first time ski lesson this season. Glad to see it worked well for you. Thanks for sharing.
post #3 of 12

Thumbs up for making a breakthrough and another for sharing it with us. It shows that to change something, many times you have to be a different kind of learner than your perferred type. You became a feeler and it not only worked for you, but it stuck with you.

Keep on rippin'

post #4 of 12
Hi Si!

Thanks for sharing that great for/aft balance exercise. I can't wait until next season to try that out!

post #5 of 12

Great to hear this is working for you. And yes, there was a noticeable difference in your stance after your time with Mosh.

Now that the season is winding down and most of us will be hanging the skis up for the summer months, one thing that I do when the snow flies again is number one, am I standing on my skis like I did at the end of last season? If not, get there.---Wigs
post #6 of 12
Some good ideas. I took some notes for stuff to try next season.

I may posted this already in another thread but here's my favorite balance exercise--

With a spotter looking out for you on a wide open relatively easy pitch, dark green to light blue with no traffic, practice doing some side-slips with your eyes closed. Next, try doing pivot slips with eyes closed. You also might try some falling leaves eyes closed. After a bit of practice, open your eyes and then just try skiing some turns.
post #7 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Wigs View Post

Great to hear this is working for you. And yes, there was a noticeable difference in your stance after your time with Mosh.

Now that the season is winding down and most of us will be hanging the skis up for the summer months, one thing that I do when the snow flies again is number one, am I standing on my skis like I did at the end of last season? If not, get there.---Wigs
Thanks Wigs. I am very lucky to have skied with both of you. It was quite fortuitous that I was able to make these changes before skiing with you as it set me up to be able to garner much more insight and make further gains from my time with you. It also didn't hurt that it made it much easier on my ego when I could better implement the ideas and suggestions you were giving me. As I know you agree, improved "centering" over your skis opens up the opportunity for many new discoveries.

I had a lot of fun skiing the rest of the week on my own playing with the ideas you gave me. I can guarantee you I will be doing further exploration with them, while working on getting "centered" more of the time, at the beginning of next season. I hope I can find a way to ski with you again next season.
post #8 of 12
Thanks Si, these are very useful ideas.

Something I have found useful for fore/aft (which I hope your thread topic definition will allow!) is the intuitive experience of skiing a relatively easy and safe run in very poor light conditions, nearing white out. You have no option but to start to 'think' through your feet. This doesn't actually entail any specific drills, just trusting your feet to take charge and for you to go with them.

After all, few skiers have 'backseat' problems off the mountain when walking; it is often a psychological fear experienced when sliding and stimulated by the multitude of visual cues the hill provides -you just don't trust yourself to stay forward/centred. Cut some of these cues as in poor light and the body's natural abilities can come to the fore and you then get to remember the feeling. The 'blind' skiing exercises of course are doing something similar.
post #9 of 12
New instructors often get told that fear is a major reason for being in the back seat. Experienced instructors certainly do see that most of the back seat skeirs are also displaying fear in their body language. But I'm becoming more and more convinced that the majority of the back seat issues are coming from what Mosh has suggested: failure to move with the ski. If you watch first timers falling when they get off the chair, the sequence is unmistakeable: stand up, skis start sliding, upper body starts falling behind relative to the skis, skis slide faster .... crash. Many intermediate skiers are centered just fine on the flats until their skis enter the fall line on a pitch. Then the skis speed up and they don't. Then they park in the back seat and pivot their turn entries because it's the only way to get the turn started with their weight over or behind their heels. Plus, once you've started to pivot your turns, having your weight in the back seat makes it easier to keep doing it. Of course, getting pulled by your skis down the hill is bound to generate defensive body posturing. So is fear causing the slide into the backseat or is the slide into the backseat causing the fear?

Beginning skiers have trouble learning this "centering" movement because so few instructors actually demonstrate it, it's almost impossible to see in "normal" skiing and it's almost impossible to see or feel in low end skiing. If you look at the difference between the "average" level 2 and level 3 certified instructor doing wedge turns, this is one area where you will be able to see a big difference if you have a trained eye. The level 3 pro will have a much more noticeable extension into the new turn that flattens the inside ski and keeps the CM centered over the ski as it accelerates into the pitch. The level 2 pro will typically force the inside ski flat with the feet and use more muscular tension to stay upright. For wedge turns on flat terrain, the acceleration from turning into the fall line is so slight, that there is no NEED to stay with the ski because the forces are so small that can be readily dealt with. So it should not be surprising that many people learn to ski with muscular tension holding them upright instead of moving with the skis. Of course, as soon as you turn the pitch up, the forces increase past the point where muscle power alone can keep you centered and you end up in the back seat.

Well, that's my theory anyway.
post #10 of 12
I teach first time beginners to turn by first stepping around the turn in a slight wedge shape. This activity keeps them centered and moving with the ski. When they first slide around the turn, they keep the centered position and know to move with the equipment.

TR, a former D team menber and examiner trainer that I ski with on a regular basis breakes back seat skiers into two catagories. She also believes that fear is the issue that drives them into the defensive posture. The catagories are either head retreaters or gentilia retreaters, depending on what they value more. When people are afraid on skis, it shows up by streighting joints, some streighten their ankles (gentilia retreaters or aka runaway garbage trucks) and compensate by bending at the waist, or ankles and legs (head retreaters) and compensate by belly forward, head back and hands high. Fear is the cause and the posture is the effect. Which comes first, I don't know, maybe it is a viscious cycle. Most of the time, the skier is so used to skiing like that, they are desenitized to the fact they are fearfull of something.

As an instructor, there are different remedys and verbal cues for the 2 cases (HR or GR). Quite often, Iif they are given some activity to do while skiing, the symptoms seem to dissapear until they are left to their own devices. The real cure is to have them feel and expierence a balanced stance and use good turn funtimentals so they have control.

post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Ron White View Post
...The real cure is to have them feel and experience a balanced stance and use good turn fundamentals so they have control.RW
Absolutely, and I agree that there is huge interaction between fear, control, and the backseat. However, even when a skier can find good centering and control some of the time they may not have adequate activation of the right muscles to maintain a centered stance when challenged or the ability to regain it when they are moved back (whether from a terrain perturbation, fear, or a combination thereof). That is what I believe these exercises are about, giving someone a conscious feel for what they need to do to stay centered or regain a more centered position.
post #12 of 12
Thanks si,

Hey I think the coolest thing is that you were able to repeat this with your surgeon, this is real proof. I feel that often what is often talked about simply scratches the surface on the balance topic. I was talking to a friend who happens to be on the current D team last night, we chatted about this topic and how miss understood this whole subject is. The biomechanics of balance is often simply glazed over and never gets the attention that it deserves to truly affect any change in student’s basic position on the ski. The reality of balance is that until you have created the skills that actually get you into "the zone". No amount of edging, turning, or pressuring can be done with any amount of accuracy. The secret to all these drills are that they are done in a way that allows the person to pay attention to the dynamic needs in a non-threatening way. The difficult part is that fear and balance are so intertwined. They are often dealt with as separate but need to be dealt with, as they are which is intimately connected.

Thanks for sharing my progression with the epic crowd I hope that it will inspire those that is struggling with balance to try some of these drills and share them with friends.

I am working on video versions of these exercises for the web page stay tuned.
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