You may have heard a coach or instructor yelling at you to maintain a quiet upper body…
But what does that mean?
Well, watch any expert skier and it appears as if they are always in control. The upper body remains relatively inactive while the legs are going crazy underneath.
So what’s the secret?
The secret is turning with the lower body of course, which just means using the legs and feet to initiate the steering of the skis.
Many people learn to ski by twisting the upper body either at the shoulders or the hips. This can be an effective way to turn and may be easier to learn right out of the gate, but it leads to many problems down the road. It is one of the biggest reasons for people getting stuck at the intermediate plateau. In order to maintain balance on your edges, initiating turns with the lower body is a must.
The major turning effort should ideally come from the legs with the femur bones turning in the hip sockets. This takes some time to master for many people as it is not a natural movement pattern that we use in everyday life.
To help you get a feel for this, sit down on the edge of a chair so your butt can’t move. With your legs out in front of you try turning them from side to side. If you are doing it correctly your hips and shoulders will remain facing straight ahead while your knees and feet point in another direction to one side. This is known as upper and lower body separation.
Some separation while skiing allows you to create much bigger angles in your body segments which in turn will allows you to balance on your edges much more effectively. It also makes it possible to create much larger edge angles with your skis on the snow when necessary.
How much separation do I need?
This is a question I receive often. The answer is dependent upon a number of factors including the equipment you are using, the snow conditions, the speed of travel, ski performance etc, however the biggest factor is the size of turn you want to achieve. If you turn the legs only a small amount, you will create a long turn. If you want to make a shorter turn you will need to create a much bigger steering angle. This means the skis are turning much more against the direction of travel resulting in a lot more separation of the upper body.
Think about a driving a car at night. The headlights are facing straight ahead towards the direction the car is traveling. When you turn a sharp corner it is the wheels that turn towards the new direction while the headlights will still be facing the direction of momentum. In skiing, facing the direction of momentum at any given time tends to be the strongest position to deal with the physical forces involved. Balancing in this way also allows for much quicker movements to adjust or change directions.
Turning with the lower body can also involve the feet, however if you try to turn your foot with your socks off, you will notice that it also has a tendency to supinate (or roll outward while turning inwards). This will decrease your edge angles on the snow, which is often not the desired effect. It can come in useful in some situations however, especially where some skidding is needed.
Now go skiing and have some fun!
The Ski Nerd