The first thing any skier learns is how to stop! The next is how to control speed coming down a hill and then turning skis to provide direction in what at first feels like a very awkward, sometimes out of control and for most ultimately exhilarating experience!
Positioning the skis in what is called a “snow plow” is what most beginners learn and both inside edges of the ski (medial under the arch of the foot) are used to slow, stop and turn the skis. Essentially the feet need to evert to create resistance on the snow with the tips of the skis close to each other but not crossing and the tails of the skis wide apart. This looks a little like a slice of pizza to most youngsters (and oldsters!) and we say “get into your pizza wedge”. In this snow plow position, if a skier leans over to the right side, they will turn left and visa versa.
Learning how to parallel turn means both skis turn together everting and inverting at the ski boot. Since the boot doesn’t allow for frontal plane movement of the ankle joint, frontal plane to evert and invert a ski will need to come from the hips and knees. The feet and ankles sense frontal plane and actually determine direction of the ski. (Well the brain actually runs the whole show but needs feedback from the periphery!) In fact, part of skiing well is termed “skiing in your boots” or having a good proprioceptive sense as to what your feet are doing, sensing and directing while sking.
Sagittal, frontal and transverse plane awareness, repositioning and training can enhance not only skiing technique and enjoyment but performance as well.
It doesn’t take much of a decline on a ski hill for a person to go faster than they are used to when walking or running. The ability to manage and be controlled without falling even at high speeds is always a goal with skiing. There is no shame in falling and even the best fall but the potential for injury increases without awareness and control of all three planes.
There are many ways to fall but one of the biggest culprits is leaning back or extending. However, especially with many recreational skiers, if they come upon a steeper hill than they are used to, the tendency is to lean back out of fear of falling or inability to control speed on a steeper hill. Training a person to push forward into their boots, bend their knees and reach forward with their arms helps to keep the center of gravity over their boots.
The standing wall reach is a prime example of a repositioning technique that trains a person to flex at the knees and the thorax, internally rotating ribs with exhalation and retracting a ribcage with inhalation. Reaching forward is exactly what needs to occur in skiing to stay centered over your skis so you can anticipate changes in terrain and speed.
Another way to fall is while skiing on a steeper hill, instead of staying over the “down hill ski” with your weight, you lean into the hill, loose edge control and start to slide and fall. Remember this can happen on a right turn more easily than a left because you need left inside edge control ( Left stance phase) that only comes from having a femur that can adduct and internally rotate. You also need weight driven over into your left hemisphere or thorax so you can set that edge into the snow while your uphill leg (right leg) is inverting for outside edge contact and to some degree control. The left leg needs to be in Left AFIR with FAIR to “crank that turn” and the right leg needs to be in Right AFER and FAER in a synchronized fashion.
Another way to fall is turning from the left to the right. If an individual has the inability to have a neutral left oriented pelvis, go into left AFIR, drop a left shoulder over their ski with abdominal control and achieve a ZOA so they can reach forward with a left hand and right counter trunk rotation, then the transition from a left to right turn can be an issue. Oh and don’t forget, their posterior mediastinum still needs inhibition while the lower trap on the left needs to help with left frontal plane control of a left hemisphere! Whew! So, they are stuck in an extension moment as they attempt to get onto their left leg to turn right and as they do so they lean back and have a tendency for an extension rotation fall.
There are about as many ways to fall as there are types of snow and skiing conditions! These three are not an exclusive list for sure.
In PRI we all know that sagittal plane control and maintaining position is key to our rehab and performance goals. Without a neutral pelvis we are inhibited in achieving adduction of a femur especially on the left with Left AFIR and the ability to turn right as well. Without a neutral pelvis, a ZOA is not possible especially on the left. Without a ZOA you soon run into the painful limitations of end range loading and excessive torque in the spine, hips and knees.
If you watch an advanced or expert skier they are almost always reaching down hill with flexed knees and a rounded back. Are they neutral in their pelvis and thorax? Well, no, if they haven’t been introduced to PRI! But I do know that some of the really good skiers I’ve skied with over the years and learned from, tend to fight nagging back and knee issues. (Excluding knee injuries!)
Performance skiing for recreational skiers who just want to have some fun to the more serious competitor or expert skier could combine PRI principles through a strong foundation of a pelvic floor for starters. A strong pelvic floor and a neutral pelvis drive the femurs and knees forward into the feet and ski boots to flatten that arch shaped ski for edge control and the ability to turn at will. A neutral pelvis with equal AFIR/FAIR of a provides right turns as well as left turn ability and strength. Being able to counter rotate a ribcage over a right or left oriented pelvis allows for efficient transfer of weight right to left side for edge control and quick turn transitioning. Reaching forward down the hill engages the abdominal wall, serratus anteriors, lower traps all in a harmony to provide a neutral thoracic curve with a retracted ribcage maintaining center of gravity with bent knees right on top of your feet a driving forward through the shins into the ski boots.
It is my humble opinion that PRI principles can help any skier of any ability, especially turning right as well as turning left! See you all on the slopes. We have a great winter just starting!