I love to tell the story about how I earned the nickname Crash. My first season training with the Rabbit Hill Ski Club in Edmonton was a trial by fire. Prior to that my training had taken place at the largely volunteer run Brazeau Race Club at the Drayton Valley Ski Hill. I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time to catch up to my team mates. I routinely blew out of courses in a dramatic fashion with a lot of snow spray and equipment flying everywhere but this was not the reason for the nickname. Once day training GS with my team mates on a weekend camp I was the last to make my way down the pitch. We were practicing a drill that involved high speed large radius turns. I really liked this type of turn because it was fast and you could feel the force build up in the skis and when it would release the snap back would shoot you across the hill. The skis are designed to bend and rebound not unlike the fabric of a trampoline. If you have ever jumped on a trampoline and accidentally lost balance in the air causing you to land at an angle you have likely experienced being shot precariously off into a direction not of your choosing. This same is possible in skiing. If you load up the ski in a misaligned way you are going to be shot out of the turn with little control over where you go.
I had a really deeply ingrained habit of making this turn happen by counter rotating meaning turning my upper body opposite the direction my ski tips were pointing. Counter rotation causes the hips to move inside the arc of the turn increasing the degree of edge angle between the skis and the snow. The ski edges bite into the snow increasing the friction and slowing down the feet meanwhile the centre of mass or the hips want to keep traveling with gravity downhill. The resulting force is Angular momentum often referred to as centrifugal force. That same force you experience on a mery-go-round that allows you to tip your body inward without falling. There is a lot of pressure at this point causing the skis to bend like bananas but due to their construction the skis will eventually need to snap back just like a trampoline. This is when it get's interesting if you happen to be misaligned. In the skiing business we have some excellent descriptive metaphors for what happens in this event. Words like rodeo, bucked, slingshot, and my favourite; rocketed. You get the idea.
Back to my story, I loved the sensation of being rocketed. I had come to associate that with proper technique because like much of alpine ski racing it felt a little violent, very fast and exciting. Unfortunately I had very little control over the rocket due to chronic misalignment. The radius of my Salomon Equipe 9100 GS skis was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 21 meters. That means I needed at least 21 metres of downhill travel to complete one turn relying on just the sidecut of the ski. With my awesome counter rotate and rocket technique I could tighten that up slightly but not predictably.
The last of my team mates to head down the piste practicing my GS turns everything was going quite well until I approached my group. All bunched up watching my approach first with indifference then fascination that quickly gave way to horror as it became apparent I had badly misjudged my approach trajectory and speed. I rocketed myself right towards the group and was forced to chuck my skis sideways to try to stop in time. In the process of doing this I completely lost my downhill edge and turned from rocket to missile, my team mates the terrified targets.
I just wrapped my arms around my helmet closed my eyes and held my breath. Body's went flying everywhere! When the snow settled I was absolutely mortified. A mess of bodies and equipment lie in my wake. Thankfully no one was seriously injured, all the same they were none to impressed with me. If doing that wasn’t bad enough I did the exact same thing just a few runs later earning me forever the nickname Crash and the not so generously intended honour of always being made to go first while performing drills.
My team mates suggested that maybe I might need to get my eyes checked to make sure I can perceive depth. I was hopeful that this could vindicate me. Proclaiming great concern I convinced my mom to take me to the eye doctor hopeful there was a perfectly logical explanation for the whole thing. Imagine my upset when I learned I had perfect vision!
The hard truth was that by counter rotating and dropping my hip to the inside of the arc so aggressively as a way to start the steering effort I was crippling myself in a hopelessly misaligned position. I could not have steered with the lower body even if I knew how, which at that time, I completely didn't. For that reason I had no control over my direction and hence destiny on the mountain. I was operating on the belief that racers need to get their hips on the ground. I felt validated that my technique was correct because it felt like I expected it should feel. I became so attached to the notion that my ideas about performing high speed carving turns were correct that even in the face of incredible evidence to the contrary i.e. crashing into my team mates not once but twice because I couldn't steer, I was willing to consider my eye sight was to blame before considering that perhaps the way I was turning was to blame.
Now here I am all these years later I am very satisfied when I consider how much I have improved since those crazy rocket turns. And yet, as I reflect on my experience at this seasons CSIA Level 4 course, I realize I am still learning and refining my understanding of ski technique. In fact, I realized on the course that some of my ideas about alignment and pressure control have changed. Therefore, I have decided to hit pause on publishing this 26 part blog series to allow time to reflect on these new insights. I must confess there is a little excitement in my fingers as I type this. I love the process of research and experimentation. So that is what I am off to do until the rest of the season.
Stay tuned for the second half of Samadhi On Snow next season!
Christine Davidson is a Ski Instructor, Yoga Teacher and Peak Performance Coach on a mission to make humans awesome!