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Releasing: Methods to Start a Turn (1/2)

The Phantom Move

From the onset, my initiative to write ski articles and books came from my desire to make sense of skiing movements and terminology. I saw too many complicated words and concepts bantered about in discussions of skiing technique. In many ways, elaborate terminology opens up the opportunity for misinterpretation rather then developing clarity and easy understanding. In discussing PMTS Direct Parallel technique, we often describe actions. For example: changing edges finishes one turn and begins the next turn. In the process of changing edges we release the edges, change balance and re-engage the edges. This simple description of the transition between turns can be summarized as “RTE” - release, transfer and engage.

Sometimes it’s necessary to be more detailed about how the turn transition is made. It’s important to realize there is more than one way to effect the transition. The challenge, then, is to determine how many ways are there to change edges and to describe them without becoming complicated and overly technical. Can we use regular language, avoiding jargon, so that any skier can understand and learn the required actions?

I watch skiers on the slopes of Colorado, in Canada, and in Europe – skiers from all around the world. These skiers share a similarity. Most skiers change edges with a stem, which is a move from one inside or big-toe edge to the other. The stem is an entry-level edge change. Skiers who use this method must push one ski away from the other in order to shift their weight and balance onto the new big-toe edge for the upcoming turn. Essentially, this method uses only two edges of the skis – the two inside edges. In the stem, the skier moves one ski to the side to transfer weight onto that ski.

In contrast, when we change edges in parallel skiing, the body moves from one side of the skis to the other, moving over the skis. The skis stay under the body and don’t move to the side unless the skier pushes them sideways, while parallel. A phrase I use to convey the efficient movement pattern is, “edges are born under the body, not to the side”. In other words, tip the skis on and off edge while they are under your hips.

With this efficient movement pattern in mind, let’s look at the different ways we can change our edges to perform a turn transition.

In Direct Parallel technique, we have the tried and true “Phantom Move”. The phantom move combines lifting (or lightening) and tilting the old outside or downhill ski near the end of a turn. The lightening of the old outside ski takes away the base of support, thereby transferring balance and weight to the other ski. The tipping of the free foot helps to move the body toward the new turn and also helps to change edges. The forces created through the motion of skiing also respond to the change in the base of support. These forces help to move the body into the new turn. This is an example of one way to perform the transition from turn to turn.

Although the phantom move sounds simple enough and thousands of skiers have enjoyed the immediate benefits of performing it, not everyone is doing it correctly. Fortunately, even an incorrect phantom move yields positive results. Where do skiers go wrong with this release, and what can they do to improve their performance?

If we read again the description of the phantom move, we see that the tilting action of the foot does not cease once the foot is lightened. The tipping action with the free foot should continue through the whole turn. To convey this, we often say, “Start tipping at the beginning, tip more toward the middle of the turn and tip the free foot most at the end of the turn”. This continuous tipping action is important – it sets you up for a series of quality turns. When the inside ski is tilted toward its little-toe edge at the end of a turn, weight and balance can be transferred to it while it is tilted on its little-toe edge. This is the parallel beginning; the end of one turn creates the desired beginning of the next turn, avoiding the stem and making a smooth series of linked turns.

Many skiers lift or lighten the downhill ski to begin the turn. As soon as the turn begins, they cease any action with the free foot. Let’s discuss what happens when the tipping of the free foot is weak or nonexistent through a turn.

In absence of tipping the free foot, which tilts the skis and pulls the body into the new turn, the skier must do something else to make the skis turn. The focus necessarily shifts to the outside ski, and rotation and skidding are often the result. Many skiers will ask, “How will the rotation and skidding occur if the skier is trying to edge the outside ski?” Well, if the free foot stops tipping it remains relatively flat to the slope. If the outside leg and foot are trying to edge that ski, they will do so without creating a significant body angle to the slope. Actively edging the outside ski doesn’t move the body inside the arc of the turn – it creates only “knee angulation”. As the knee tilts inward, the thigh rotates with it, tending to twist the ski.

If the skier continues this outside ski dominance through the end of the turn and then attempts a phantom move, the lightening and tilting will transfer weight onto the new downhill ski, but this ski will be flat on the snow rather than tilted toward its little-toe edge. This is not a parallel turn – the skis are not at the same edge angle, and they will likely splay apart into a stem. The lack of continuous tipping effort with the inside foot is why many skiers do not achieve a clean parallel transition between turns.

If, instead, the inside ski is tipped toward its little-toe edge at the finish of the turn, we get the transfer onto that edge and the clean parallel transition we discussed above. The skis match each other’s edge angle at transition and throughout the turn. With more tilting efforts of the inside foot, skiers would experience a good release. As skiers develop more awareness of tilting the inside ski, they ski with higher edge angles, more control, and rounder turns.

(Part 1/2)