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The Magic of Dynamic Balance

In the last episode of this article series we started form the head, or to be more precise from the mind, and we have shown that understanding plays a key role in learning efficient ski technique. This time we will focus more closely on one of the essentials of skiing fundamentals – correct balanced stance on skis.

How do we stand? Or are we moving?

Often we hear the term “basic skiing position” which gives the impression that it is something stable, static and immobile. Moreover claiming that we are trying to build up this position while skiing and by establishing it we will find ourselves in stable balance emphasize this impression about static character of skiing alignment even more. But is this really true?

Let’s try to find together the answer to the question whether we should stand properly on skis or rather move correctly on skis to end up in balanced alignment. One of the cornerstones of great skiing is the ability of skiers to balance on their skis together with a concurrent access to wide range of movements allowed by our body. Let’s simply begin from the idea what balanced alignment means and how it can be achieved in a constantly changing environment. This understanding could be facilitated by two technical terms: Center of Mass (CoM) and Base of Support (BoS).

Take one ski pole and place its tip on your palm. Our goal is to keep the ski pole in a steady upright position. What do we have to do in order for the ski pole not to fall? One option is to keep your hand in a stable horizontal position and place the ski pole exactly parallel to the plane of your palm. Given the effort to keep the hand steady muscles in your whole arm are in tension. The best result of this experiment is very short achievement of balance and that only if we place the ski pole very precisely. If, however, we maintain the ski pole’s balance by moving the hand constantly under the ski pole in a way that the palm is constantly placed underneath the ski pole’s handle it is going to be much easier.

Handle of the ski pole here represents CoM and your palm BoS. Balance is a result of the relationship between CoM and BoS. If we try this simple exercise, we realize that our muscles must be way more relaxed in later approach than in the former. If there is too much tension in muscles they are unable to function properly. It is very same with any other movement. Let’s imagine that we are running on the flat surface and try to recall exactly what are we doing and in what condition is our body, especially muscular system. And then add to this idea of relax running a sudden clench in all muscles so that they will end up in cramp tension. What will be the result? Most likely a fall.

On the contrary if all muscles in the body are totally loosened it won’t be any better. Balanced position on skis is analogically a combination of loosening to allow mobility and strengthening that to maintain stability to cope with constant changes through the arc.

While aiming for balance on skis we are required to be constantly moving. Skiing is a dynamic process. The position of skis towards the hill is constantly changing and with it also the required fore-aft position. If we desire not to fall while skiing we have to be all the time adapting ourselves to the external conditions. For this reason it is necessary to maintain muscular system ready to respond. The pursuit to maintain any given positions, however right it might appear when compared to a static photograph, cannot lead to the intended goal of maintaining balance in a dynamic process.

And how to do it in practice?

Move the theoretical reasoning little further and start working on improving the balance on skis in more practical manner. We can begin even before we will get on skis on the start of the season. Take a gym ball and sit on it. As long as your feet are on the ground everything is very simple. However, if your intention is to practice ski balance indoors, lift your feet off the ground and aim at maintaining the balance.

Do you feel core muscles and constant need to make small movements? If you do than you are on the right track. Now, try to kneel on the ball and keep your balance again. Are you doing well? Then try one last step towards the training of dynamic balance. Stand on a gym ball so that your feet are about shoulder width apart and recall the exercise with ski pole. Upper body represents the ski pole and lower body your palm.

Forget your hands and arms and perceive your upper body as set of muscles in the abdomen, spine and pelvis. We are trying to keep this area strong and by activating the movements in lower body we keep upper body in balanced position. And how do you stand on skis now? Take the advantage of the very first day on the snow and try to test your balanced position with small jumps throughout the arc. If you manage to keep jumping in linked turns without need to stop, congratulations! You are moving on skis very well and you are also continuously well-balanced.

[originally published in the SNOW Magazine Czech Republic, Issue 84]