Essential of the Day

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Essential of the Day

Postby Harald » Sat Oct 28, 2006 8:55 am

Essential of the Day
I thought I?d make this a regular post for ideas and thoughts that stay with me after a day of skiing. We all know there are important things to remember when we ski and I write about them in my books and in my posts all the time. But sometimes something comes along that really makes an impression. That one thing might be something obvious that we all already know, but might take for granted. Like tipping the feet for example.

You know it, I know it, we all know it, that tipping the feet is very important in skiing. Yesterday, while skiing, my first day on snow, it?s amazing how aware you are on the first day, because everything has to be revisited. It?s like rebooting an old computer, it has to fire the processors and ready the programs etc. I am the same way every year, at the beginning, when I start out.

So as I was just skiing along and kind of reminding my self of the important things, like flexing and counter balancing, things seemed to be working OK, but I wasn?t normal yet. By normal, I mean I wasn?t feeling automatic, I was still thinking instead of just skiing. About two hours into the process I was skiing along on some evenly groomed hard snow, when I decided to lay over my ankles further into the boots so I could bring the skis to a higher angle. This was like super charging my skis. The skis came alive, they arced more sharply and bent further and produced more spring at exit. I realized all that time (three months) off the skis made me lose my lateral tipping effort. I needed to increase the effort more than I normally do during the season, when it's so second nature.

So the Essential for today is, even though you think you are tipping your boots and skis, tip you ankles inside the boots further then you thought you needed to, for added ski performance. Try this on smooth hard medium terrain. Try to increase the tipping until the skis are only leaving thin little lines, not wide brush marks.
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Postby Harald » Wed Nov 01, 2006 4:09 pm

One of the biggest controversies in skiing is still whether you should be using stiff, flexible or medium flex boots. Most of the PMTS coaches use a boot that is at least a 130 flex equivalent in a Doberman. Diana and I use a 150 flex, boots which is the Head RD, World Cup.

Over the last 10 years Diana has evolved from a better then average full-cert PSIA instructor level skier, to a top masters racer, as well as a competitive USSA racer, competing with the junior ranks.

During this period of time there has been a definite evolution in her ski boots. I use Diana as an example, because I was able to observe the transition and improvements of her skiing based on boots. I have always used stiff boots so there is a biases toward stiff ski boots. So it isn't fair to use me as an example for evaluating or comparing.

In the past years Diana has moved from Dolomite to Dalbello and now she's in a head RD 150 World Cup. Every time we made a boot change, the boots got stiffer and narrower, both laterally and fore/aft.

We know Diana has improved her performance. It is based partially on boots, mental attitude and also technique. Stiffer, tighter boots have made the difference for her mechanically, because she has a very loosely constructed foot, what we call a pronating foot.

As I said in the first post, the first day on snow is a great opportunity to understand and have insights about your skiing movements that you might not notice in the season. One of those movements is pulling the feet back and keeping the hips above or in front of my boots. The first day especially, on steep slopes,it is not unusual to have your skis run out in front of you. I think this is what skiers are talking about when they say they have difficulty staying forward. I understand what it's like to have my feet move forward when I don't want them to, this always seems to happen on the first day or the first few runs of the first day. So I make an adjustment to my fore/aft position, this adjustment involves physically using the hamstring muscles and pulling the feet under the body and keeping those hamstring muscles under a certain level of tension. If that tension disappears, the feet shoot forward. This is why I try to keep pressure at the back of the heel bone, as I pull my feet back that pressure increases.

Now let's connect pulling the feet back and holding the hips forward, to stiffness of boots. I do feel comfortable with my hips up over my boots or in other words, my feet back under my hips. I notice that using the front of the boot to give me an idea of where I'm standing over the skis, is a great help. Although I do not lean on the front of the boots, I do feel constant touching or pressure on my shins. If I were in a boot that was soft, every time I would pull my feet back, and try to stay in a forward position, with my seat over my feet, a soft boot would flex forward and away from me.

When you are trying to establish a consistent fore/aft position in a soft boot front, it is not a very reassuring feeling, as its hard to really know where you are standing when the boot cuff is moving.

Every time you want some resistance to establish your stance the boot flexes away. A continually flexing boot doesn't support stance over the center. If you do not go to the front of the boots while skiing you are back of a centered position. The boot should not only support where you want to stand, but be an indicator for your fore/aft balanced position. If your skiing involves a large range of fore/aft movement and the forward movement especially is quick or sudden, you will take a beating in a stiff boot. The question arises, is a better to continue to use a soft boot that does not support a centered stance or is it better to deal with a back stance with a soft boot to absorb your sudden movements? Will you ever find a comfortable attainable centered stance in a soft boot?

A soft boot will reinforce a back stance because it does not allow you to develop the confidence to move your hips up or your feet back, as support at the front from the ski boot isn?t there to hold your mass. A centered position is one where the hips are extended and the legs are extended. Skiers believe flexing is part of skiing as a position not a movement. Skiers should by extended through more of an arc then flexed. Flexing should only happen at the point of release. Most skiers don?t get out of the flexed position.

Back to the first day on skis, after skiing for an hour or so I began to notice I was not losing my balance to the rear chair position. While this was happening, I was analyzing the difference in my stance, the new one that allowed me to stay balanced. I definitely noticed that my hips were projecting into the front of my skis and boots as an extension of my legs. This may sound confusing, but it is part of how I describe how I stand on my skis.

The forward lean angle of my shin out of my boots, when they are touching the front of the boot, is the correct leg angle. What does go wrong from here, is that skiers are too flexed in the legs at the knees, which puts the hips low and in a rearward position. Our ability to apply pressure to the front of the skis and boots comes from the area around your seat or your hips. If it moves back or flexes down, your ability to apply pressure forward is totally gone.

If I lose the contact pressure over my boots, especially the contact to the front, and to the side of the boot, I know that the front of the ski isn?t biting the snow. So I am constantly looking for this pressure in and to the front side. Once I find it, and establish that?s where I want to stay, I don't have to think about getting forward. The sensations of skiing in fore/aft balance include an upright feeling on the skis, feet behind the hips and of the hips driving toward the boots.

The upper body also has a role in fore/aft balance. If you watch, especially the taller world cup racers, they are often bent forward at the waist near the end of the turn. This gives them more mass to work with over the feet, to lever or to pull the feet and skis back under the hips to begin the next arc.

Unfortunately fore/aft balance has limited movement awareness, identifiers. And moving forward in skiing is very specific to the sport, few other activities include this movement in daily life or other sports. I hope this post helps to bring awareness and motivate skiers to spend more time on learning what fore/aft balance really means.
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Postby jbotti » Wed Nov 01, 2006 9:20 pm

Wow awesome post. It is what I worked on mostly at the end of last season. When centered over the skis with the shins against the front of the boot, high C, High G turns at speed seem easy. I had never considered the flex of the boot being a factor and obviously it may be a key. This is the perfect thought and focus for my first days out in 10 days.
Balance: Essential in skiing and in life!
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Postby dewdman42 » Wed Nov 01, 2006 9:34 pm

Yea, I agree..it was enlightening.
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Postby john heath » Thu Nov 02, 2006 10:12 am

i think the 'controversy' could have come about because a soft flex is preferred by non-pmts coaches because there the focus is not to pull the feet back, but to pressure the inside ski tip by the knee tracking forward over the foot, with a lot of flexion of the inside knee and ankle as the inside leg bears weight. certainly that seems to be the approach in austria. i've read some thoughts from nicola (spiess) werdenigg, who appears to have at least an ear very close to the wc circuit, on this subject, where she has talked about pressuring the front of the ski in this way, and of a general tendency towards softer flex in world cup boots. (she implied a - much - softer flex was desirable outside of racing.)
presumably some forward flex is necessary, combined with a close fit, harald, if you don't do up your top buckle and use a booster strap instead? could you clarify here?
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Postby Harald » Thu Nov 02, 2006 11:27 am

I can't believe nicola (spiess) werdenigg is writing that stuff. I know her and her brother Uli, both ex-WC skiers. She has to be pandering to a ski company that makes soft boots. I know what boots the WC guys and women are skiing on and they are anything but soft. One example, Jenny Lathrop, US B Team, about 5-3 inches tall, can?t weight more than 115lb, she is in the stiffest Salomon made. She wins Europa Cup and Nor Am races.

The forward angle of the shell is enough to get the knees forward. Unless you push your inside foot forward, then you need a soft boot, plus you are already out of balance.

Look, I weight 150 pounds, I'm 58yrs old in June and I ski a 150 flex WC boot. I don't bend the boot, it would be ludicrous to think I can bend or try to bend a WC boot. There isn?t a skier under 230lbs who can even try to bend a boot that stiff, especially in the cold. You use the boot to balance against, not as a conditioning apparatus for the flexing muscles.

Even Benni Riach doesn?t bend his Atomic boots, he just finds the extremes of the support and uses them to get back to balance, if he needs to, other wise the boot helps keep you where you need to stand. Why do you think the WC skiers bury their boot shells in snow before the start? So they can be stiffer than what the manufacturer can produce.

I?m not advocating this kind of boot for recreational skiers. There is an happy medium to be reached and this depends on many things, such as foot size, relative to leg length, physical conditioning, and proficiency, to name just three.

Whatever their agenda is, it?s not based in adding performance. My evaluation again is biased, as I ski with over 200 skiers a year and I take careful note as to which boots help their skiing and which boots compromise skiing. The final note is that you fit skiers according to their wishes and needs for skiing, not to some expert?s opinion.
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Postby Harald » Thu Nov 02, 2006 11:43 am

There are many ways to adjust a ski boot that has nothing to do with the buckles or the limitations of material flex.

I use a booster strap, on cold days to help adjust the boot. On those days I do not close the top buckle on my boots, I do clip it on the first notch. I use the booster, which is fixed on the back of the boot and is placed higher then the top buckle, to regulate and fine tune forward lean and cushioning.

When skiing steep powder or bumps like at Fernie last year, I also use this technique. If I ski this way on hard snow, I find I have too much movement before I get energy transfer, so I buckle the top buckle in addition to the booster. There are many techniques with which you can manage your boots and fine tune them to your needs and to the day.
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Postby john heath » Thu Nov 02, 2006 12:23 pm

thanks for that explanation harald. in my only foray into austrian race coaching (nothing to do with werdenigg by the way) the coach implored me to loosen the boot fastenings so i could get forward pressure, he insisted my top buckle was too tight. i was thinking at the time, "if i pull my feet back, I'll pressure the tips." maybe that's why i didn't get the idea of holding the arms forward towards the tips either.

in nicola werdenigg's defence, my comments were based on what she writes in a web forum, i don't know her, and i could have misinterpreted her explanation, but that's how i recall it. and i also recall her saying she skis a very old boot herself, so i don't think she is in a new soft boot. i hope to ski with her this year, i find her comments about movement patterns and learning very interesting.
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So how does temperature affect performance

Postby fredm8 » Fri Nov 03, 2006 3:46 pm

The more I read of Haralds posts, the more I begin to understand the science of skiing.

Harald. Can you expand your comment about WC skiers burying their boots in snow before competing.

What other effects does warmer or colder temperatures have on the equipment ? Boot shells softer / stiffer obviously, so what adjustments would an intelligent skier make to counter the conditions ?
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Postby Ken » Fri Nov 03, 2006 8:44 pm

Some boots have a forward lean adjustment.

Harald, do you have any tips for someone to know the correct forward lean adjustment for themselves?


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Postby Icanski » Sat Nov 04, 2006 9:35 pm

This is very interesting indeed. I was using my Lange boots at Fernie and you said they were not allowing me to pull my feet back sufficiently since they had such a strong forward lean built into them, if I understood you correctly. If I get a more upright boot, like the RS 96, is it the flex of the boot that lets me get it far enough under me, or is it moving the upper body over the feet? It's hard to describe. If the boots are really stiff, how can you move the feet back without having to really push?
Perhaps some side view shots would help with the discussion. YOur comments regarding the knee not being too flexed are helpful. In my Langes, I had to flex them just to stand in place, it was exhausting for the quads after a few hours, or runs, on the big mountains. Is it also about moving the hips forward and being more upright with the feet under the hips? I often felt that because my shins were tipped so far forward in that boot, that my hips sat down a bit to "balance".
I'm interested to learn more, also about tuning boots under different conditions: like using the booster strap you mentioned, or doing buckles up or loose, etc. That's the kind of thing that's not in any manual, and you get from people who really know what they're talking about like here.
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