From the Ground Up: Getting Centered

Instruction
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Instruction

Getting Centered

Think of your center as an imaginary "bowling ball" that sits in the pelvic cavity between your hips and just behind your belly button. You can twist it; you can turn it; you can raise it; and you can lower it. You can shove it forward. You can pull it back. You can also slide it left or right. Do any of these things-alone or in combination-and you profoundly influence how your skis relate to the snow. Sometimes you need to make big movements with your center-in thick snow or to recover your balance, for example. Other times you need to keep your center as still as possible. Your skill level, the terrain and the snow conditions will determine how you work it.

The Center
Your source of real power. How to use it well...and wisely.

When you move your center this far to the inside, how do you avoid standing on your uphill ski?

Cause And Effect
How you move your hips matters-here's why:Turning (or, in instructor-speak, rotating) your hips to turn one or both skis is a natural movement. Almost every Newcomer instinctively does it. All-Mountain Experts even resort to it in tough snow conditions.

Turning this largest body part delivers so much torque to the skis that you risk "overturning." And turning with the hips takes you out of position for the next turn because your belly button ends up pointing uphill instead of down. Hold this power in reserve, but most of the time try to finesse turns with your feet, ankles, knees and legs (see Part I, November 1997).

Delaying (countering) your outside hip amplifies the positive moves you make in your lower body (notice how the feet steer, the knees drive and the legs rotate). But making your outside hip lag behind, or even turn away from where the skis are going, is not natural. So counter movement is something you have to learn.

The hip controls the tail of the ski. When you twist it, the tail breaks loose-too much, too early-which causes you to overturn. Hold your hip in place by keeping your belly button facing down the fall line, and you'll counter the tail's tendency to suddenly skid out. Your reward: a predictably round, edged turn, and ideal positioning for the next one.

Sliding (angulating) your hips sets you up to deliver enormous pressure to an edged outside ski. At slow speeds, if you move your hips too far inside, you will end up with all your weight on the inside ski and may fall. Successfully sliding your hips across the skis requires a fair amount of speed.

To make a carved turn, slide your hips away from the ski you want to pressure (called a "crossover"). Natural turning (centrifugal) forces throw G-forces toward that edge, making the ski arc. Moving your hips inside lets you keep your outside leg straighter, which allows your bones to brace against the edged ski much like spokes in a bicycle wheel. With your hips to the inside, feel as though you are reaching for the snow with your outside foot.

Know Where Your Center Is
Moving your "bowling ball" changes the character of the ski.

Hanging Hips
Thrusting your hips out in front of your feet shifts your center forward, applying pressure to the fronts of the skis. When in this stance, you feel pressure on the boot tongue, and you're ready to make short, quick turns in tight spots because you can pivot the tips and skid the tails. The skis become short-turning tools.

Forward pressure.

Neutral Hips
Here your hips are directly above your feet so that the "bowling ball" is centered over the skis. Because this is the stance from which you have the most options, it should be your "normal" stance. With neutral hips, the entire ski-tip, waist and tail-is at your command. With this stance the skis are a medium-radius turning tool.Feel pressure along the entire sole of your foot, but mostly over your arch.

Pressure along the entire sole.

Low, Driving Hips
As your hips slide to the inside to give you maximum power a carved turn, your center will naturally move slightly aft as your skis accelerate through the turn. The skis become long-turning slicing implements as you apply a bit more leverage to the tails. Stay in balance by driving your upper body forward to counter the forces pulling you back. Feel pressure between your arch and heel.

Pressure over the sweet spot of the ski.

The Midbody As Universal Joint
Your hips can tilt, slide and twist. Each move serves a purpose.

Pelvic Tilt
As you traverse a steep slope, your downhill hip is lower because your pelvis matches the angle of the hill. Your uphill ski, foot, knee, hip and shoulder naturally lead-the steeper the hill the greater that lead. Pelvic tilt lets you balance solidly on the top of your thigh bone, ensuring weight on the downhill ski. If you fight pelvic tilt (as many do by trying to level their hips), you will feel awkward and unbalanced because you'll lose the pressure on the downhill ski.

Hip Angulation
When you slide your hips to the inside-so you have the leverage to deliver power to the outside ski-you create an "angle" at your waist if your shoulders stay level. As your confidence in shaped skis builds, you will ski more dynamically, showing more angulation at the hips and less at the knees.

Counter Rotation
In most skiing situations, you should keep your hips pointing in the direction you want to go. Counter rotation happens when you turn your hips away from the way you're heading. For example, if your skis are fairly flat on the snow, and you abruptly twist your hips to the left, the tails of your skis will immediately pivot to the right (or vice-versa). Use counter rotation where it is steep and slippery or when you need to make a sudden stop.

Where Do Your Hips Belong?
The size of the turn determines whether your center is aligned with your upper or lower body.

The Hips As Part Of The Lower Body
Your long cruising turns can be faster, less skidded and more accurate if your hips work with your feet, ankles and legs. As your skis turn, let your hips turn at the same speed, following their lead. Keep your pelvis comfortably perpendicular to the direction of travel. Feel yourself flow with the skis.

The Hips As Part Of The Upper Body
Shorter, snappy turns require quicker edge changes and more angulation in your lower legs. Your hips should now lock in with your upper body. Your shoulders, chest and hips face straight downhill while the skis turn beneath them. You will feel a "countering" of the hips as you finish each turn, but it's not something you force. It just happens if you keep your hips quiet and pointing at the fall line.

Leap Of Faith
Daring to thrust your center away from the hill pays big dividends.

It's human nature to be tentative on steeps. The best defense is a good offense, so be sure to start each turn with a positive move at your center. To do otherwise invites a sloppy, off-balance descent. Finish each turn with plenty of edge and knee angulation. With this much leg flex, you feel your center drop closer to the snow (see A).

Transfer pressure to your uphill foot, and extend your uphill leg. This lifts your center away from the snow and out, away from the hill. It's a leap of faith to throw your midbody into space (see B), but by moving your center down the hill-across your skis-you automatically change edges, pulling your skis into and through the fall line quickly. At the bottom of your turn your center again drops closer to the snow, and you'll feel rock solid.

Weighing The Conditions
Sometimes your hips are your anchor, sometimes they're your buoy.

Snow conditions determine how you use your hips. On ice, keep your hips very quiet. Slippery snow demands discipline. Don't twist or move your center side to side. You should feel as if your hips are pressing down, so that your lower body can work beneath them (see A). Attach your hips to your upper body. Your feet swing beneath you like a pendulum (see B). Your feet and legs will move out from under your hips without the hips sliding sideways. Your hips must stay down, keeping steady pressure on the skis (see C).

In tricky crud, free your hips. Rotten snow requires flexibility and versatility. Move your hips sideways, if necessary, to edge (see A). Press them down to pressure your tails (see B), or raise your center quickly to unweight your skis (see C). When you need to be agile, light and quick-in moguls for example-your hips can't be locked into your upper body or lower body. You need to let each work as an independent unit. your hips to your upper body. Your feet swing beneath you like a pendulum (see B). Your feet and legs will move out from under your hips without the hips sliding sideways. Your hips must stay down, keeping steady pressure on the skis (see C).

In tricky crud, free your hips. Rotten snow requires flexibility and versatility. Move your hips sideways, if necessary, to edge (see A). Press them down to pressure your tails (see B), or raise your center quickly to unweight your skis (see C). When you need to be agile, light and quick-in moguls for example-your hips can't be locked into your upper body or lower body. You need to let each work as an independent unit.