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There's more to balance than you've been told

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
There's much talk of "balance" around ski slopes and Internet forums, from both instructors and students alike. But what does this term being schlepped around so freely really refer to, and how can coming to understand and gain competency in the area of "balance" benefit the average Joe and Jane skiers out there?

Much of the balance talk you will hear focuses on optimal balance. That is, trying to maintain oneself in a state of balance the affords the most control of the ski, while providing the strongest stance and exploiting the best use of the foot's innate abilities to keep us standing upright. Typically, optimal balance consists of having weight distributed along the entire base of the foot (on both heel and ball), and the majority of ones weight assigned to the outside ski/foot.

Unfortunately, limiting focus to only that which is "optimal" can represent a major impediment in the attempt to aspiring to truly high level skiing. Quality race programs around the world have known for years that the key to overcoming improvement roadblocks and realizing individual potentials is not only focusing on optimal skills, but also developing the ability to perform at high levels of proficiency in the whole spectrum of less than optimal states of balance too.

Developing the ability to execute as desired, while in any state of balance, provides skiers with many benefits.

1) First, it allows skiers to experience, and become keenly sensitive to, the sensations associated with existing in various states of balance. Developing such sensory awareness allows a skier to self evaluate on the fly, and make any desired adjustments.

2) It develops the skill to quickly and easily make these adjustments deemed necessary in #1

3) It allows skiers to micro and macro modify the state of balance they employ, in order to exploit specific equipment performance differences related to those balance adjustments

4) It provides the confidence to venture more freely out of former execution comfort zones, knowing that if in the attempt to perform a new skill he/she is jostled out of an "optimal" state of balance, they have the skill to confidently carry on skiing in that unintended balance state, and the ability to quickly return to the desired balance state. This type of confidence has a HUGE influence on how fast one climbs the improvement ladder.

5) And finally, it allows skiers to continue on unaffected when unexpected terrain, surprise circumstance, or the occasional misstep thrusts the skier into unexpected situations or body/balance positions.

As an example I will post a couple such instances I found in a couple videos HeluvaSkier has submitted here for MA.



(CLICK ON SCREEN FOR LARGER IMAGE)




Greg is an excellent skier, but even the best of skiers, in their attempts to push the performance envelope occasionally find themselves in unintended states. In the above slow-mo Greg gets a bit inside and his outside ski goes funky and leaves the snow. The result is a complete fall on the inside ski barely past turn apex. But Greg has spent significant time developing his non optimal balance skills, so he simple finishes the turn on his old inside ski, then rolls it over to initiate the new turn, which returns him to an optimal state of balance. All this is done in the blink of an eye, and without conscious thought on his part,,, and the result is a turn that when viewed in full speed flows without skipping a beat, making barely visible the balance bobble it contains.






The ability to continue and correct as Greg has done here is a direct result of the long dedicated effort he has put into developing a broad range of both optimal and non-optimal balance skills. I'll conclude with one more example of non-optimal balance skills put to use. In this clip release energy gets misdirected and launches Greg's skis off the snow, leaving his CM behind. A quick pivot, a tail landing, and a quick adjustment gets him quickly back to an optimal. It looks a bit spectacular in slow mo, but for Greg it was not a big deal because he simple got thrust into a position his training has taught him to ski in quite effortlessly.







So there you have it, folks. There's more to balancing in skiing than learning how to ski in one mold, and trying to stay there. Work on developing the ability to perform at a high level within a broad range of non-optimal balance states, and you just might experience your skiing prowess improve in rapid and exponential proportions.
post #2 of 24
Expanding our range of possible recoveries was the center of a lot of the drills the Mahres did in their clinics years ago. Which made the student learn their limits along with how to recover from the willfully unbalanced stances. An added benefit is that the overall range expanded as the student gained the confidence to explore the limits of that range.
post #3 of 24
Great points. I'd only add that as someone pointed out, being a good skier is the ability to adjust when things start to break down. So not necessarily being in perfect balance all the time but the ability to recover quickly and function when adverse surfaces and unexpected obstacles arise.
post #4 of 24
Cool topic! One thing I find interesting when looking at the physics of the turn, is that the speed and turn radius has a huge effect on balance. When we ski in a turn, there is an acceleration inward towards the center of the turn (centripetal acceleration). This is the main reason we can get our CM very far out of whack with the ski edges and not topple over. Extreme cases are racers going around gates at a very high speed and short radius, where their CM may be very far to the inside of the turn and well away from the ski edges. Statically, they would topple over like a domino, but because of the dynamic motion, aka acceleration, they are in remarkable balance.

This gets into a very interesting balance scenario. I think it's cool how we can use our muscles to control and fine tune balance in these situations. Good skiers can do it with very little muscle input -- they let their body get into the proper state of balance to whiz through the turn in a relaxed state, and naturally change balance and transition into the next turn just by juggling turn shape, radius, speed, CM position, and the weighting of the skis. There is a huge amount of stuff going on here, more than you can describe with simple equations of physics, yet the skier's body/muscles can control it with infinite finesse.

One other interesting point -- the only time balance comes down to simply wieght on the skis is when going straight or in the exact middle of turn transition where you go from one turn (say right) to the next turn (say left) and are going straight for a split second. You may recognize this when skiing as the point where your skis cross from one edge to the other, and you'll feel a sort of "toggle" in your body motions. There we are going from dynamic balance (weights, accelerations, etc) to static balance (weights only) and then back to dynamic balance. It's really cool to think about, and the physics are something you can actually feel while skiing.
post #5 of 24
Great post Rick. I think it's a great beginning for a potentially valuable thread. Here are some of my perspectives from my own experiences:

One of the most important points:

Quote:
it allows skiers to experience, and become keenly sensitive to, the sensations associated with existing in various states of balance
Over time I suspect that many skiers develop the ability to recognize various states of being in the back seat, leaning uphill, excessively clinging on to the outside big toe edge for security, etc. This recognition, though, is not necessarily sufficient for dynamic correction of the type you show in the videos. We can work hard to avoid these situations but if the keys to correction haven't been learned, most of the attempt it will be just that, hard work with limited success. There are areas of muscular contraction that are needed in these situations that a skier may or may not be able to discover for themselves. A key here is what a coach or instructor can do to help them make these discoveries. For example, I know that Mosh uses some simple drills that are very effective:

http://forums.epicski.com/showthread...816#post825816
http://forums.epicski.com/showthread...634#post827634
http://forums.epicski.com/showthread.php?t=55157

Given the great beginning I hope that you and others will provide more of these drills and exercises that can help skiers find for themselves the muscle activations and movements that underly "balance" and "balance correction." As those are discovered then a whole new pathway is opened up in learning - applying them throughout one's entire range of skiing. I know I started a thread on this a long time ago but I have to say I was disappointed in the fact that most posts when broken down, were descriptions of the goals of good balance not so much about how to help people discover how to get there (like the references to some of the things I've learned from Mosh that are linked to above).

A second issue critical to balance is alignment. If someone's alignment is far enough out, the discoveries mentioned above are very difficult to come by and if made, can be almost impossible to effectively implement. A great thing for this thread would be links to some of the better threads on balance and alignment. Perhaps one of our better coaches/boot fitters would consider doing that?

Finally, a third critical issue is PERCEPTION. Everyone has ingrained perceptions and fears that affect balance. Perhaps for some it takes speeds of 80+ mph (i.e. World Cup competitor) while for others it's anything over 5 mph; a 50 foot huck or just having the skies loose contact with the snow; a 55 degree chute with multiple cruxes or just the idea that another skier may ski in front of you. Not like I am any expert on this or anything but I wrote an article published in the Professional Skier that is reprinted here on Epic in the Premium Article Collection. (I can't link to it since I asked to be downgraded from Supporter to Member).

Here also, it would be great to link to other previous posts on this topic as it relates to balance. I know that there are other good references here on Epic that could be linked to.
post #6 of 24
Rick, great article.

Here are a few drills that I use to develop balance on all four edges:

1) Balance on the downhill edge of the outside ski. Start by taking a shallow traverse across a gentle slope. Pick up and tip the inside ski and keep the outside ski on its inside edge as you traverse the hill. With each new traverse point the skis about 10 degrees more towards the fall line. Keep this up until you are starting in the fall line.

2) Balance on the uphill edge of the inside ski. Start by taking a shallow traverse across a gentle slope. Pick up the outside ski and keep the inside ski on its outside edge as you traverse the hill. With each new traverse point the skis about 10 degrees more towards the fall line. Keep this up until you are starting in the fall line.

3) Upside down: Same exercises as above but the traverse starts on the other side of the fall line (this gets the ski carving the high C portion of the turn) and this time you add 10 degrees from the fall line (in other words you start the traverse near the fall line and progressive move away from it, keeping in mind that you are starting with the skis upside down).

4) One footed skiing. Link turns while skiing on just one ski (the other ski is lifted and held off of the snow).

5) Extra credit: Same exercises as above but done in off piste conditions.

These drills don't mimic the forces at play in a high speed carve but they start building balance skills on all four edges which are needed in the recovery movements demo'd by Heluvaskier.
post #7 of 24
The CSIA have 5 skills. I heard it once said: "The sixth skill is recovery." Sounds like it has some merit.
post #8 of 24
Very interesting thread. Gives new breath of life to the old but discarded adage that if you are not falling you are not learning. Not that I really agree that crashing as a way of learning. If I hear Rick correctly, then situations that come close to crashing are beneficial because they teach performance in suboptimal conditions.

What I would like to ask, then, what are some drills or exercises that focus on suboptimal conditions?

Perhaps
post #9 of 24

Test for Balance

In line with Rick's discussion, I like to say that "optimal balance" is great for "optimal conditions." Since optimal conditions can be very fleeting, especially in a race course, it's essential to be comfortable with a much wider range.

Here's a theme that can be used effectively at pretty much all levels of development:

How do you know if you are in balance? Ask yourself, did you fall over?

--> if Yes, you were out of balance.

--> if No, you were in balance.

Similar to BigE's comment, the CSCF talks about 5 planes of balance:
* fore/aft
* lateral
* vertical
* rotational
* recovery
post #10 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by josseph View Post
Very interesting thread.
What I would like to ask, then, what are some drills or exercises that focus on suboptimal conditions?
A. On the hill:

1. On non-steep, non-crowded terrain, turn both directions balanced on one ski, the other ski lifted off the ground, tail higher than tip. After 6-8 turns, change skis. Teaches you a recovery turn on the inside ski, and works toward staying reasonably forward despite 1-footed balancing.

2. Pressure the tips early, the tails late in aggressive turns, then try to get forward again after your skis jet out from under you, leaving you in the back seat. (Warning: Exaggerated juicing of the ski is actually a bad habit.) Teaches you (A) tail pressure recovery turn; (B) fore and aft balance skills; (C) radical recentering after getting back.

3. Snowboarder turns: On turny (slalom 11-12 meter sidecut or cheater 17 m sidecut) skis, touch your inside hand down on the snow each turn, then rise up again. (Warning: falling in is a seriously bad habit.) Teaches recovery from falling in, use of obliques, and using the snow punch/touch as a balance aid.

4. Bootlegger 360s: On relatively flat uncrowded hill, pivot turn so that you're skiing backward, then, after a few seconds spin again so that you're skiing forward. Teaches balance, light edges, backward skiing and recovery from catching an edge. As you progress, learn how to ski a slight wedge backwards for speed control. Like almost everything else, this drill is easier if your skis are beveled so that there's a 1 degree base bevel.

5. Jet/hop turns: On turny skis pop into the air between turns and lash out a quick series of pivot entry radical turns. Dynamic balance, unweighted redirection of skis, and emergency carved turns after a "hop" on to the immediately loaded edge.

6. See Rick's extensive beginning of the season jump start progression of on-hill balance drills, posted both somewhere around here and at

http://forums.modernskiracing.com/in...p?showtopic=46

for a much more systematic progression of general balance exercises.

B. Off-hill/dryland: Literally hundreds of exercises. Those involving juggling or catching and throwing a medicine ball while on a balance aid (bosu, balance disk, bongo board, trampoline, pillow) or dynamic movement with dumbell or medicine ball through multiple planes (lawnmower pulls, haybailers) while on a balance aid, or jumping (leaping back and forth on two bosus, round side up) tend to promote dynamic recover balance skills, not just stability balance.

Of course (1) always ensure that any balance exercise you do on the hill can be performed safely for you and other riders AND IS DONE NOT NEAR LIFT TOWERS OR AT THE EDGE OF THE RUN NEAR TREES, and (2) balance is a progressive skill, and always make sure that any balance exercise you do--on-hill or off--is done in a safe location and is appropriate for your current level of balance skills and doesn't present a significant injury risk.

Why the all caps shouting? Because getting back or wrong-footed on a relatively flat trail well within your ability, at speed, and then going into a tree is exactly the profile of the most common kind of skier fatality, and thus should not be deliberately replicated.

SfDean

(A balance freak, by necessity. One coach described one of my runs as a series of linked recovery moves.)
post #11 of 24
Great topic.

At the end of the day, isn’t skiing really an exercise in moving in/out of “balance” and reacting to the terrain being covered. …the “dance”.

I watched some freestyle coaches work with a group of teen girls over the weekend. A relatively steep seeded mogul field was groomed out after the first kicker and four deep rollers trenched in with the till below the landing area. The girls were forced to run the bumps, hit the kicker, land, and then straight run the rollers without airing them. Took them a while, but with focus and letting go of mental blocks, they were rocking by the afternoon. They went from wild and on the edge of control to solid and confident with their landings and charging into the rollers. Was fun to watch. Watch being the key word.

For my own challenge and fun, I grabbed a very stiff 150 SL ski to ski the entire mountain after three fresh snow days in a row last week. I had a blast. In many ways they are easy to ski, but in others they’re a handful. They don’t float without speed. With speed, one wrong move and you get punished. In 5” of fluff on crust, I rode under the fluff and on the crust a lot. Transitions float, but "mid" C is on edge. Once chopped up things got real fun. The next day another 8” was added on top. Less bottom running, but still some (mostly at apex) – even more attention to detail needed for the unexpected. The third day it was knee deep everywhere and it was all float in the trees and natural trails. On occasion, recovery from being thrown back and shot forward into knee deep again was a little hairy, but a rush. The fourth day I strapped on a snowboard for the first time ever. Talk about a rude awakening to balance skills. I stupidly thought I’d have that board up on its edges without any issues. HA! I did improve and even had a few fall-free runs on gentle terrain, but when I want to challenge my balance skills I now know a perfect way to do it – make sure I can’t step out of trouble.

I’d like to make THE perfect turn as much as the next guy, but throwing road blocks in the way is all part of the fun.
post #12 of 24
Basicly any good turn bad turn exercise will set up a learning experience that will focus on balancing. Some not so obvious drills would include inclinating only, angulating only, combinations of both, one ski skiing, snowblades, switch skiing, park and pipe skiing, etc...
post #13 of 24
Thread Starter 
Sorry, guys, for being so tardy in tending to this thread I started. I'm currently immersed up to my eyeballs in a major ski related project, and spare time has been a very rare commodity for me lately.

Ok, about the drills and training steps needed to develop the out of optimal skill base Greg displays in the clips. The steps are well defined and time tested,,, but they're also vast, and quite beyond what can be shared effectively within the limited context of an Internet forum. The number of drills involved in the process of refining ones out of optimal performance capabilities would surprise most people. The parameters that encompass out of optimal are very broad, and it takes a dedicated devotion of time following a precise training course to develop high skill levels across the entire spectrum.

This is what quality race programs have been doing for years. Some people think racing is just about going fast, but those who've been fully exposed to the training practices involved understand that being able to ski at race speeds with the precision and control needed to win requires the broad based skill foundation I'm talking about here.

I'd suggest that is probably one of the key differences between the learning that takes place in the ski school lesson environment, and that which happens in race training. The general public takes the occasional 1-2 hour lesson, and then go on their way, hoping to garner great improvement from their short period with an instructor. Ski schools understand that student expectation, and try to cater to it by focusing on optimal skill development. While improvements can unquestionably made in this manner, the reality is that the resultant skill base remains rather narrow, and as long as it stays narrow barriers will exist to experiencing truly great skiing prowess, and realizing personal potentials.

Full time race training is more intensive. Coaches are blessed with the time and continuity needed to help their students develop a much broader skill base. The broader the base, the taller the technical structure it will support. Take for example Greg's clips. Played at full speed, the bobbles are barely visible because his skills are so broad based he just proceeds on in less than optimal states without skipping a beat. In fact, until I pointed out the inside ski bobble in the first clip to him, he didn't even realize he'd done it. A skier with a narrower skill base, thrust into the same less than optimal state Greg found himself in, would most likely be eating snow. The bobble would be very evident, as they would be tumbling across the snow. For Greg it was just another day at the office, skiing in an out of optimal balance state that he'd already refined his skills in through long and dedicated training.

So sorry, guys, I'm not trying to be evasive here. I just have no clue how to provide all the information and drills you would need to develop the skills I'm talking about here via the limitations of an Internet forum. There's so much to tell, I would have to write you a book, seriously, and even then you would only be afforded textual descriptions. Far from useful for most learner types.

Please bear with me, everybody, I'm working on a resolution. Recreational skiers deserve a means of access to this type of information, knowledge and training too.
post #14 of 24
Thread Starter 
Dean, thanks for providing the link to my article. It's the tip of an iceberg
post #15 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by medmarkco View Post
Great topic.

At the end of the day, isn’t skiing really an exercise in moving in/out of “balance” and reacting to the terrain being covered. …the “dance”.
Absolutely, medmarkco. And learning to dance in so many ways.
post #16 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by josseph View Post
If I hear Rick correctly, then situations that come close to crashing are beneficial because they teach performance in suboptimal conditions.
Pretty much, josseph.

I guess I'd clarify it by saying that one learns in small steps to perform in control and comfort in states of balance that before were beyond their capability to do. Thereby expanding personal parameters of what represents "close to crashing".
post #17 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Si View Post
Finally, a third critical issue is PERCEPTION. Everyone has ingrained perceptions and fears that affect balance. Perhaps for some it takes speeds of 80+ mph (i.e. World Cup competitor) while for others it's anything over 5 mph; a 50 foot huck or just having the skies loose contact with the snow; a 55 degree chute with multiple cruxes or just the idea that another skier may ski in front of you. Not like I am any expert on this or anything but I wrote an article published in the Professional Skier that is reprinted here on Epic in the Premium Article Collection. (I can't link to it since I asked to be downgraded from Supporter to Member).
This is a great point to raise, Si. One of the benefits of developing broad based skills is that confidence on one's skis is greatly elevated, and with it the perception of what is scary lessens. It allows one to venture into new frontiers of skill development that before were too intimidating to breach.
post #18 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick View Post
This is a great point to raise, Si. One of the benefits of developing broad based skills is that confidence on one's skis is greatly elevated, and with it the perception of what is scary lessens. It allows one to venture into new frontiers of skill development that before were too intimidating to breach.
Mental composure=relaxation=recovery ability.
post #19 of 24
Balance isnt about staying in balance, its about seeing how far we can take and still recover

great post Rick
post #20 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick View Post
This is a great point to raise, Si. One of the benefits of developing broad based skills is that confidence on one's skis is greatly elevated, and with it the perception of what is scary lessens. It allows one to venture into new frontiers of skill development that before were too intimidating to breach.
That's pretty much the basis of the article I wrote, Rick. It's very difficult if not sometimes impossible to control your reaction to a perception of falling, fear of speed, etc. It's only when it's perceived as something else (skiing) that these negative reactions stop occurring. That confidence of control comes through the development of skills and experience.
post #21 of 24
Skiing on one ski and skiing bumps are two excellent on-hill methods to improve balance and recovery from loss of balance.

For dryland training, core body strength and flexibility exercises are very good for maintaining balance and recovery of loss of balance. For the last two months I have been taking yoga classes as cross-training. Most of the exercises involve core body strength, flexibility and range of motion, and also balance, which, surprisingly, I am finding very difficult in the early stages.

I have also worked a little with a large exercise ball, which is good for all three. I used to do the more standard gym exercises like ab crunches, which will also improve core body strength. Standing on a balance board with a wooden log under it is also good.
post #22 of 24
This is a very interesting thread. I hope it is OK if I interject my 2 cents worth. I certainly agree that there is an over-emphasis in the ski world on an idealized "perfect stance" or "perfect balance." I see balance as something that lasts an instant and that we must constantly chase after in our skiing. I see stance as a mere moment in time that we pass through in that constant search for balance. When you stop moving, stop searching, you will never find it.

But although balance is ephemeral, I believe that the idea of Optimal Balance is still the ultimate objective. That is where you are going to get your best performance and have the most fun. But I whole-heartedly agree that you have to train specifically to be able to move to that state from an infinite number of "less-that-optimal" states of balance.

There are a few posts on my blog that begin to explore my ideas on balance and how to refine the skill. If you are interested, I invite you to check them out. They are just the beginning of a series of posts I have planned on the subject of exploring balance.

Strategy #1: Use movement to create structure

The Sweet Spot Part 1 - The Balancing Act of Skiing

Sweet Spot Part 2 - Good Vibrations

Cheers,
Adam
post #23 of 24

Key?

It is my experience that a key to "balance" is to place a soft visual and mental focus as far ahead as possible.

At our athletic best, we are attitude oriented, using the sensations of the inner ear and the stimulus of our frame and muscles to control and accomodate our enviornment. Challenging situations often leads to shortening our focus. Shifting the significant balance stimulus to visual inputs. This can then lead to events that seem to come at us a bit too quickly. Balance gets bumped out of wack.

Aging can lead to the same shortening of focus.

Keep your head UP!

CalG
post #24 of 24
wow - that stuff is really cerebral but I think you're really onto something.

Thanks Adam for that.
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