Tips from the Olympians
By Eugene Buchanan
Tips from the Olympians
by Eugene Buchanan
In Steamboat Springs, you’re as apt to run into an Olympian at the grocery store as the lift line. But you’re never likely to have enough time to hit them up for pointers so you can emulate them on the slopes. Fear not. We’ve made it easier by rounding up tips from our own medal contenders. From skate skiing to carving the ‘Daze, they’ll help us all ski like our hometown heroes.
Slalom, 1964 (silver)
Round ‘Em and Link ‘Em
POWDER ... NOT KNEE DEEP, because in Steamboat that’s just a heavy frost, but deep powder — up to your waist, chest, chin, even cowboy hat! How do you ski it?
There are three simple rules. The first is round turns. This is the most important rule in powder. Your skis don’t skid sideways in powder so take your time and make round turns. Number two: Keep your weight on both skis equally. Keep your hands out for balance. You never see good powder skiers with their hands in their pockets. Keep them out like a tightrope walker.
Number three: Link your turns. When you make a turn in powder, centrifugal force pulls you deeper in the snow. When you finish your turn and go across the hill the snow pushes you up out of it. So, link your turns and keep your rhythm so you’re making “S” turns down through the powder.
Finally, if you’re skiing Steamboat’s trademark Champagne, bring a snorkel. We have some of the lightest, fluffiest snow in the world and even if you perfect all three rules above, sometimes you still can’t see or breathe. And this year is shaping up to be so great that we might need scuba gear.
Snowboard Cross, 2006 (Canada); 9-time X Games athlete (three-time silver medalist)
IT’S TOO EASY TO GET CAUGHT UP IN what is happening right in front of you; especially when you’re trying something new or riding in unfamiliar terrain or sketchy conditions. Look farther ahead and you might find that your snowboard will take care of the stuff right in front of you.
If you’re on a wide open groomer, look far ahead while you ride, scan for the best rollers or banks, note where other skiers and riders are, and try to plan a creative line down the hill. If you’re in the trees, look at least three trees ahead, try to focus on the “white areas” between them and don’t zero in on the “green areas” (also known as trees). If you’re hitting a rail or box in the park, look at the end of the rail, not the ramp, and visualize your exit from the rail before you even get on it. If you’re hitting a jump, no matter how big or small, approach it with your eyes up, look past the lip into the air, and then once you’re airborne look for that landing and beyond. In the pipe, as soon as you land, look for the lip on the wall in front of you and then while riding up, look for a spot higher than you expect to get, whether it’s on the wall or in the air. Let your snowboard and body do their job, let your eyes and brain make the plan.
Moguls, 1992; Head Coach Canadian Ski Team, 2002, 2006
and shin pressure
BEFORE YOU EVER GET TO THE MOUNTAIN, step into your boots. Do you have some forward lean? It’s imperative to have your knees over your toes, or at least close. Too many skiers have boots that don’t let them get in the right position to ski properly. If yours don’t, go to a ski shop and ask them to put some “wedges” in the back of your boot, between your liner and the shell. This will get you in a good athletic stance from the start and let you pressure the front of your skis with powerful drive from your hips, which transfers to shin pressure (or pressuring the tongues of your boots). Then, when initiating your turn, drive your legs forward and in to start the turn with your legs, keeping your feet about shoulder-width apart. Have an assertive stance; keep your body square to the fall line and perpendicular to the hill. Most of all have fun playing with it.
Downhill, Super-G, Combined, 1998, 2002
EVEN AFTER MY SUIT-WEARING DAYS, it seems that skiing is often over-thought and complicated by too much technical jargon. The simple cure-all: stand up!
If you keep your hips up and over your feet, things will be much easier. It will even give a much-needed break to those burning legs and aching knees.
The biggest misconception we have as skiers is that the harder we press, the deeper we bend and the lower we sit the more powerful we will be. But the strongest position is to have your knees slightly bent, hips stacked up over your feet and upper body upright and relaxed. It’s that simple. All extra movements are just a distraction and increase fatigue.
For those who aren’t sold, try to squat down nice and low with your hips hovering oh-so-close to the floor. You can even hunch your upper body into a tense position. Now hold this position for a few minutes How’s it working out? Now try a more upright, relaxed position. Your knees should be slightly bent with your hips stacked over your feet and your upper body upright and relaxed. Visualize dropping a string from your hip bone down toward the floor; it should line up with the arch or ball of your foot. In your skiing stance, if you notice that your hips are dropped back behind your feet, you’re not in an optimal position. You’re also in a constant battle with gravity, which will continue to pull you back. This lessens your ability to pressure the ski and stresses your joints. Conversely, a more upright, stacked position requires less energy and is equally effective. It’s skiing made easier.
Giant Slalom, 1984 (gold), 1988
OK, ALL YOU RECREATIONAL SKIERS. Even you can have something in common with Lindsay Vonn or Bodie Miller ... or even the junior racers at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. And that’s a common technical focus.
Whether you’re a World Cupper, junior racer, black diamond skier or lower intermediate — strive to maintain equal ankle flexion in your uphill and downhill ankles.
Why should you care? Because it will give you greater control of your skis. It is common knowledge in ski technique to avoid “sitting in the back seat” or leaning on the backs of your boots while maintaining a posture as if sitting in a chair. What people don’t commonly understand is that maintaining equal flex in both ankles will help a skier maintain the proper alignment. For instance, if a skier twists his or her body from the hip a common occurrence is for the uphill foot to squirt forward. When this happens, ankle flexion is lost. Also, some skiers shuffle their feet — one forward to turn and then the next — this is a no-no! Shuffling also causes you to lose ankle flexion and if that happens you become stuck, forfeit athletic options, and get back. Bottom line, you won’t be operating from an efficient stance for proper balance.
Moguls, 1988, 1992 (bronze)
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS you can do to improve your skiing is to keep your hands forward. By that I mean to reach out ahead of you and in the direction of the fall line for every neturn. Here are some techniques to work on:
Before you even make your first turn of the day, lift your hands away from your pockets. Have your arms up and forward from your body, and straighten out your elbows a bit. When you begin to weight your downhill ski for a turn, reach your downhill hand out and in the direction of the fall line. Swing the tip of your pole in front so it’s leading the way. Then lightly plant your pole just before you complete your turn and begin a new one As your pole tip hits the snow, quickly drive your hand forward so that the top of the grip ends up pointing towards the fall line. Complete the same motions for both turns equally, always reaching out with your downhill hand.
Especially in moguls or steeper terrain, when our hands get out of position is when we ski into trouble. Some common mistakes are dropping your hands down towards your pocket or having them be pulled back behind you. So be conscious of where your hands go immediately after each pole plant. Remember to keep your hands forward, lead with your basket and reach out for every neturn.
Nordic Combined, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 (three silvers)
Swing your arms
ONE THING SKIERS OVERLOOK when it comes to cross country technique is using their arms. First off, after you finish poling, swinging your arms hard and quickly back up helps your legs. By swinging your arms, you’re throwing your weight forward and using the momentum from the swing to help with your kick. The faster you can get your arms up and moving forward the better. It helps on the flats and provides tempo on the hills. This makes you more efficient and faster. Also think about where you plant your poles. Try and get them in line with your toes on your leading leg. The more perpendicular to the ground they’re planted, the more your body weight propels you. I use the full weight of my body to come down on the poles, but this only works if the poles are planted straight up and down. If they’re planted behind your feet or behind your center of balance you won’t get any power transfer. Add this to a good forward swing and before you know it the hills will get smaller.
Super GS/Downhill Combined, 1994, 1998
Get a Tune
NO, NOT AN ITUNE, a real tune for your skis or board. It’s amazing how unimportant people think tuning is. Not having your skis waxed is like not having oil in your car engine. Wax is the only thing that allows it to slide/glide on the snow, like the oil in a pan while cooking or the cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich. Get my point?
Next comes your edges; they should be sharp and smooth, not a serrated knife edge. Base bevel 1° and side bevel 1 to 3°. Do you like to carve turns and have a nice, acute edge grip on man-made snow? Do you ski faster than most, roll it on edge and like to hook up your turns? You need a 3° side bevel. If you’re into powder, all-mountain riding and groomers without setting a solid edge, go with a 1° side bevel. Not sure? Go with a 3° because you’ll feel it and can knock it down if it seems too aggressive (which it won’t).
Good edges and a wax job will make you ski better and enjoy it more, so give your equipment some love.
GS, 1992 (and four-time National Champion)
Practice Fore-aft Balance
SKIING TAKES A LOT OF STRENGTH — especially if you are out of balance or leaning back. Try to get more efficient and keep your strength all day by improving your fore-aft balance. One thing that helps me is to roll my ski up on edge and feel the pressure through the ball of my foot instead of the heel. By doing this, you’ll also add pressure to the front of the ski and help it bend. This will help you maintain better edge control, help you make better turns, and do it all while maintaining your strength. It’s difficult to feel the pressure through the ball of your foot and sit back at the same time. Do it right and you’ll use your skeleton instead of your thighs and be able to ski all day. Note: I didn’t finish my event in Albertville, in part because I was out of balance.
Nordic Combined, 1988, 1992
Skate your turns
EVER GO DOWNHILL SKIING on your skate skis? It can be good training, but it’s not easy. Why? Skate skis are narrow, there’s very little side cut and no metal edges. Bottom line, they were made to skate and not turn. And that’s why, whenever possible, you should skate your turns. Done correctly, a skate turn will accelerate you around the turn and offer better balance by keeping your feet moving. Coming into the turn, keep a loposition with good shin angle and stay in a tuck if you can. If you get into trouble or need better balance, just push your hands low and forward. Enter the turn wide, staying outside the “rut” made by others trying to skid a parallel turn. At the apex of the turn, skate tight to the inside and slingshot yourself around. This will also keep you on snow that has better traction. When skiing a turn on flatter terrain, double pole and push to the outside with your outside ski on every stroke. Use your inside leg only to re-set your outside leg for the next push. Make shorter, quicker strokes for sharper turns. Practice your skate turns on flat terrain with no poles in a figure eight of different sizes.