Balance, Balance: Phil Mahre

Balance, Balance: Phil Mahre

Taking a ski lesson is often the quickest way to improve your skiing. Unfortunately, when you sign up for ski instruction, you could be told two, three, or four different things.

Over the past 25 years, Mahre Training Centers have used the same simple basic fundamentals to teach people to ski with less effort and more enjoyment. The only way to improve your skiing is through feelings and sensations. I equate this to eating an apple or an orange. If you can’t taste the difference, it doesn’t matter which one you eat. If you can’t feel the difference between being in or out of balance it’s difficult to improve your skiing. There are three fundamental balances: First is foreaft, and then come lateral and vertical. By skiing at a slower pace and concentrating on feelings and sensations, along with proper technique you will improve your skiing. Keep in mind that everyone has different body builds and physical traits. In theory, we should all ski technically the same but look different while we ski.

When you’re standing in your living room or on a flat surface, you are in balance with gravity. In sports, we must be in an athletic stance. Think of your position when you’re on the tee box getting set to drive a golf ball or getting ready to return a serve in tennis. Your knees are slightly bent and you’re balanced on the middle of your feet, or better yet, a bit forward on the balls of your feet. These are both great stances for skiing. When you’re standing on your skis, you must always be in balance with them in the fore-aft direction. You should always be perpendicular to your skis. So, in the middle of a turn when you’re in the fall line, you will be leaning forward (not in balance with gravity). Also, think of your skis as your feet. The tips forward of the bindings represent the balls of your feet, the middle underfoot is your arch, and the tails behind the bindings are your heels. As you’re skiing, you must be aware as to where your weight is on your skis. Ideally, whether traversing or turning, your weight should be somewhere between the arch and forward.

A couple of good exercises to work on fore-aft balance include skiing on gentle terrain: make a traverse and playfully rock fore-aft, leaning forward and leaning backward out of balance on your skis to feel the difference. Now make some turns leaning forward and then some leaning backward. As you do these exercises, you must feel two things:

  1. What does it feel like physically? Where is your weight on your feet? Balls, arch, heel?
  2. How do the skis react? Tips float, tails float? Etc.

This is the apple and orange sensation. If you find your quads burning, chances are you are sitting back out of balance. You must in this case move your hips up and forward. Let your skeletal structure support you.

Lateral balance. No different than when you’re walking, every time you take a step, you make a definite weight transfer. If you were to stop in mid stride, you could balance on that foot because you have committed your weight to it. The same applies in skiing; during each turn, there should be a definite weight transfer from one foot to the other. Also, when traversing the hill, your weight should predominately be on your downhill ski. Take into consideration, if you’re out of balance fore-aft, then lateral balance is that much more difficult to obtain, as well.

To work on your lateral balance, while making a traverse, lift your uphill ski off the ground and balance on your downhill ski. Look back at the track your edge left in the snow. Is it a crisp line or kind of smeared? If crisp, you’re probably in fairly good balance, if smeared you need to work on this some more. Keep adjusting your foreaft balance while balancing on one foot until you can make a crisp edge set in the snow. To make it more difficult, lift the downhill ski while in a traverse and balance on the uphill ski. Look at the track your edge left in the snow. You be the judge: Are you in balance?

Phil Mahre Olympic MedalThere’s another thing to think about with regard to lateral balance. At one time or another I’m sure you have been told by someone, whether an instructor or friend, to always face the fall line. This is great if you’re making short swing or slalom-type turns. But, if you are making rather large- or medium-type turns you need to square up or follow your skis. Think of it this way: If I was on one side of a trail and you were to traverse over to join me, you wouldn’t push off and face down the hill as you traversed. You would simply face me and follow your skis across the hill. This being said, to be in proper lateral balance, your downhill shoulder should be lower than your uphill shoulder. In a traverse, try to match the level of your shoulders to the slope of the hill. This will make you lean downhill and position your weight over the downhill ski. You’re probably thinking, “Lean downhill, are you crazy, that’s a long ways to fall, I’ll just hug or lean up the hill!!!” Trust me, you’ll feel much more secure with the more weight you commit to your downhill ski.

Vertical balance is the one ingredient most people lack in their skiing. This is also called flexion and extension. This movement pattern should be natural. If you were to go straight down the hill, you would start off fairly tall and as your speed increased you would most likely spread your feet apart and lower your body position for stability. When you enter a turn, your speed will increase as you turn into the fall line. Therefore, your natural reaction should be to lower your body position. By standing up to start a turn three things are accomplished: 1) It completes or ends the previous turn and helps you transfer weight from the old turning ski to the new turning ski. 2) It unweights your skis and allows you to move into the new turn easier. 3) It gives your muscles a chance to relax and take a break. By sinking or flexing as you move through the turn you’re able to create edge angle and also monitor the pressure on the ski as it builds. As you move vertically make sure to use all three joints, ankles, knees and hips to stay in proper fore-aft balance. I say ski in a circle, not a box. Make these vertical movements fluid and not quick.

As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Remember, to improve, a couple of things must happen. You must be your own worst critic. You can always do better. And the old adage, “practice makes perfect” is not that good, because if you practice something wrong, you become very good at doing it wrong. “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Most important of all is have fun!!!

[title size=”3″]Bio Phil Mahre:[/title]

The first and only U.S. skier to have won the Overall World Cup three times, Phil Mahre was also a strong defender of “tradition” in ski racing. Mahre’s accomplishments include:

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  • Gold Medal- Alpine Skiing- Slalom 1984 Olympics
  • 1980 Olympics, Silver Medal, SL
  • 27 World Cup skiing victories
  • Two overall Giant Slalom World Titles
  • one overall SL World Title


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