By Joshua Duncan-Smith
I am a full time ski instructor and training towards my trainers certification with the NZSIA. Over the last 2 seasons I have become aware both in myself and with colleagues training for full certification, and with competitive level athletes, that there can be moments where you are stuck/static while demonstrating dynamic high performance skiing. In this essay I will explore my concept of ‘eliminating the dead spot’, with an explanation of what I think the ‘dead spot’ is and how you might overcome it.
THE DEAD SPOT
My concept is that the ‘dead spot’ is something both physical and mental that holds a skier back from reaching and demonstrating the next level of ability.
Eliminating this ‘dead spot’ or impasse is what separates good skiing from great skiing. In this essay I am focusing on eliminating the physical ‘dead spot’, primarily looking at the transitional phase between turns. When developing this area of your skiing you focus on being patient, slow and progressive it is a precursor to the meat or fall line phase of the turn. In many cases, this way to approach the transition is appropriate for skiers of a certain skill level, to develop an ability to stack or align oneself between turns. My idea about the dead spot is focused on a higher-level skier who is trying to develop sometimes a seemingly impossible step up in ski performance.
In the past few years the sport and its technique has progressed immensely with skiers such as Ted Ligety, Marcel Hirscher and Anna Fenninger to name a few. One of the main things you notice when watching these top-level technical skiers ski is the amount of ski performance and force that is generated between their equipment and the snow. At the speeds these skiers travel at, there is often no time for hesitation, and therefore there is no dead spot; during a race it can often be a series of linked recoveries or on an ideal pitch a beautiful display of symmetry with lines being carved into the snow and angles of the body.
With these skiers in mind and the idea that you are trying to make symmetrical round dynamic turns at a consistent fast speed down a pitch, lets look at the transition between turns. You can make two different moves when transitioning, crossing over or crossing under, the names for these different moves relate to the height of the centre of gravity as it passes across the skis. In a cross under you let the skis pass underneath your centre of gravity by flexing at the knees and at the hips as opposed to a cross over, where you extend at the knees and at the hips. Keeping the aforementioned high-end skiers in mind, as you can see in the image (above), on average they adopt a cross under manoeuvre that allows for a quicker edge change at a greater speed. Also at this speed crossing under keeps your centre of gravity closer to your base of support (your feet and skis) so you can incline while staying balanced on the outside ski giving you grip with the snow. Crossing under helps to eliminate an up and un-weighted dead spot when you have so little time to make decisions that if made incorrectly could cost you a run (LeMaster, 1999).
What I propose is a four-point plan to help an individual work towards eliminating the dead spot in their skiing. I plan to work on this myself during the upcoming season.
HOW TO ELIMINATE THE DEAD SPOT:
1) Stay low in the transition: As you leave the completion phase and move into your next turn you must maintain a level of flexion in the knees and hips to allow the skis to cross under the body, keeping the centre of gravity at a low and dynamic height. Making a movement vertically up in this phase through extension of the lower joints (knee, hip) will cause a moment of lightness or ineffectiveness as the centre of gravity moves away from the skis; in this ‘dead spot’ you are unable to effectively tip the skis onto their edges and get good purchase with the snow at the top of the arc.
2) When moving the centre of gravity inside the turn get as close to the snow with your pelvis as possible: From the control phase to the completion phase, continued lateral movement with the centre of gravity in crucial. To get this continual movement you need to access strong rotational movements from the legs, adducting the outside femur in its hip socket, abducting the inside femur in its hip socket. With these rotations at the legs you will continue to move laterally, you cannot move any closer to the snow! Having a stable pelvis and not rotating or tipping is important to keep the body aligned and maintain good balance as the force pulling you out of the turn (centrifugal) builds along with the force pulling you into the turn (centripetal). This area of the turn can also be a dead spot in someone’s skiing. Visually it appears static when they cannot access this lateral movement; in this dead spot the skier is riding the side cut of the skis and not manipulating the turn radius for themselves.
3) Strength training: To ski at a high level consistently, we need to look at what professional level athletes do to stay in shape and prepare for the competitive season on and off the snow. Starting with ‘off the snow’, it is important to work on making yourself stronger and fitter if you want to become a top-level skier. If one thinks of the G-forces that the competitors get up too on the world cup, then strengthening your body to handle the forces is a must. There are a number of different training methods such as weight training, cross training, cardio training and balance training to name a few. Power, stamina, body control and core stability is what any skier needs to take his or her skiing to the next level. When you are training and are asked to perform a new move and you struggle, ask your self if its because you are not skill full enough or because you are not fit enough? On the snow, it comes down to repetition of movements, taking time and working on the fundamentals is important. Exercises like power plough, pivot slips, 1 ski skiing, roller blade turns and speiss are just some of the exercises that you need put in time to master.
4) Understanding to become confident: True learning is discovered not taught. If you think about that then building your understanding of the sport in every aspect from the 4 movements to ideal technique and the equipment you use will be one of the best training tactics you can employee. As you pass through each of the skill acquisition phases; cognitive, associative and autonomous, you will gain deep understanding and in the end, if enough time is spent learning, have creative application of the new movements studied. As you start to understand more you can take it and apply it on snow then your skills develop with repetition and as a result your confidence builds. Watching lots of video of great skiers and video of your self is a great tool to use when trying to develop your own abilities and understanding of what’s going on.
Also if you are focused intently on improving your own skiing the likely hood is you will remove any mental obstacles and self-doubt about progressing onto the next level.
In conclusion, whether we call it the dead spot or not, there are times when you watch people ski and when you yourself ski that there is … call it a spark, missing from the run. When you get down to the chair lift or at the end of a pitch, you know which were your better turns and which were your lazy turns and acknowledging that a dead spot crept into your skiing. Keeping focus and clarity of desired outcomes is what I am going to be working on this season myself and with my colleges talking about how to achieve consistent movement throughout every turn.
LeMaster, R. (1999) Ultimate Skiing. Champagne: Human Kinetics