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Curing the backseat blues

marzNC

Angel Diva
#2
Good list!

The two that resonate with me are:

3. Watch your hands: Your hand position has a direct impact on what your skis do. If you drop your hands by your hips, they will likely pull you into the backseat. Your hands should be level with your belly button and slightly wider than your hips, as if you are holding a tray of hot drinks. You’ll know your hands are in the correct position if you can see them at the bottom of your vision when you look straight ahead.

4. Keep your torso tall. Bending at the waist to move your weight forward has the opposite effect, moving it back. As your chest drops, your butt sticks out more behind you. It’s also a lot tougher to roll your skis on edge and be agile if you bend a lot at the waist. Tighten your buttocks and keep your core engaged and strong through each turn, to cure the habit. You’ll know your torso is in the correct position if your chest points forward rather than at your ski tips.

Have had more than one instructor keep telling me to "stand UP!" One of the Taos instructors did a demonstration while the group was not skiing, but just standing on the flat, of how much more control someone has if not bending at the waist.

Occurs to me that checking whether or not these ideas apply to someone is relatively straightforward with a video clip. Assuming the video includes a segment taken from the side as the skier passes the camera.
 
#3
Hmmm . . . . I've got some major problems with some the ideas in this article. See my comments in red.

  1. Widen your stance: If your feet are too close, you can’t roll your skis on edge very far because your ankles, knees, and hips can’t move laterally. As a result, as you arc a turn, your hips naturally drop back pulling your weight back. Your feet should be at least hip-width apart at all times, wider as a turn progresses on steeper terrain and at faster speeds, and your knees should not touch. You’ll know your stance is correct if you leave “railroad tracks” on the snow on the flats, and you can step off your downhill ski at any time on the steeps. I'm mostly ok with this except it shouldn't be titled "widen your stance". The hip width idea is a good one - in other words, where your feet normally fall when you are standing or walking. But for some people that might mean they need to narrow their stance.
  2. Flex more at the ankles: As a turn progresses, your ankles should flex more and more. If they don’t, the centrifugal force of the turn will pull you onto your heels. It helps to loosen the top buckle of your ski boots. Ankle flex is also your primary shock absorber. Expert skiers are constantly using their ankles to make micro-adjustments to the terrain and snow conditions. You’ll know if your ankles are working correctly, if your shins are against your boot tongues 24/7. There is some good stuff here but some of it is contradictory. I love the idea of loosening the top boot buckle and using ankles as primary shock absorbers and micro adjusters. But if your shins are constantly against your boot tongue you are LIMITING the range of motion available to you in your ankles - i.e. when you open and close your ankle. My shins are on (ankle closed) and off (ankle open) the cuff while skiing. Lots of ankle ROM . . .
  3. Watch your hands: Your hand position has a direct impact on what your skis do. If you drop your hands by your hips, they will likely pull you into the backseat. Your hands should be level with your belly button and slightly wider than your hips, as if you are holding a tray of hot drinks. You’ll know your hands are in the correct position if you can see them at the bottom of your vision when you look straight ahead. Hands can be used as a nice cue/reminder, but it is critical for students to realize that where your hands are is not necessarily related to avoiding the backseat. You can have your hands out there in front and be totally in the backseat (I see this all the time). You can ski with your hands clasped behind your back and be totally "forward". I do drills specifically to drive that home for students.
  4. Keep your torso tall. Bending at the waist to move your weight forward has the opposite effect, moving it back. As your chest drops, your butt sticks out more behind you. It’s also a lot tougher to roll your skis on edge and be agile if you bend a lot at the waist. Tighten your buttocks and keep your core engaged and strong through each turn, to cure the habit. You’ll know your torso is in the correct position if your chest points forward rather than at your ski tips. Aarggh. I couldn't disagree more! We don't want to crouch of course, but one of the most common problems creating backseat skiing is a torso that is too vertical!!! Flexing at the hip to bring your shoulders forward is essential. The spine angle should approximately match the lower leg angle. Any instructor who is recommending constant shin contact with the boot cuff (forward slanting shins) AND a more vertical torso at the same time is creating a perennial backseat skier. Flexing in the hip socket does NOT make your butt stick out (!!) because it does not affect the position of your hips relative to your feet (knee bend, on the other hand, does). A possible cue here is "shoulders over toes" but see my overall comments below.
  5. Love the fall-line: Many skiers subconsciously fear the fall-line, that point midway through a turn when the skis point down the hill. As a result, they pull back instead of moving forward into each new turn. In the transition between turns, as your feet pass under you, your hips should move forward toward the new arc, re-centering your weight. You’ll know you’ve re-centered correctly if your ski tips seek the fall-line, making your turns easier to initiate. Like this one.
  6. Plant your pole: With so much happening with your feet, it’s easy to forget planting your pole just before each turn. If you don’t plant your pole, you’ll likely carry your hands too high or too low. Both hand positions pull you into the backseat. A correct pole plant should be about half way between the toe of your binding and the tip of your ski on the downhill side. The steeper the terrain, the more you should reach down the hill, both for timing and to help move your weight forward into the next turn. You’ll know you’re planting your pole correctly if it helps you turn easier, rather than hinders it or seems like an extra motion. Hand position does not put you in the back seat. The pole touch she recommends only works for long radius turns! The position of the pole touch needs to change with turn size. So especially in steeps or bumps, where we are likely using shorter radius turns, the pole touch should be down the hill a foot or two and behind your heel! Now . . . talk about your butt sticking out . . . . it actually will if you "reach down the hill" in steep terrain.
IMHO, the two most common causes of backseat skiing that I see are: 1) too much knee bend relative to the amount of ankle flex, and 2) a torso that is too vertical.

None of these tips and cues are guaranteed to keep you out of the backseat. But that said, we each possess the ultimate measuring tool to understand precisely where our weight actually is at any moment while we are skiing - our feet. Become sensitive to the bottom of your feet. They should be relaxed and flat on the sole of the boot. But how you flex your joints (ankle, knee and hip) relative to one another will cause you to feel that your weight centers over one portion of your foot - - - heel, arch, ball or tippy toes. And changing the relative flex of these joints can move that place on your foot where you feel the most weight. I'm a big advocate of having your weight centered over the ball of your foot as your home base. Other instructors disagree. But regardless of where you center your weight, it is the bottom of your foot that allows you to diagnose your fore-aft stance for yourself. That is the primary tool. The ideas listed in the article should be considered secondary.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#4
Keep your torso tall. Bending at the waist to move your weight forward has the opposite effect, moving it back. As your chest drops, your butt sticks out more behind you. It’s also a lot tougher to roll your skis on edge and be agile if you bend a lot at the waist. Tighten your buttocks and keep your core engaged and strong through each turn, to cure the habit. You’ll know your torso is in the correct position if your chest points forward rather than at your ski tips. Aarggh. I couldn't disagree more! We don't want to crouch of course, but one of the most common problems creating backseat skiing is a torso that is too vertical!!! Flexing at the hip to bring your shoulders forward is essential. The spine angle should approximately match the lower leg angle. Any instructor who is recommending constant shin contact with the boot cuff (forward slanting shins) AND a more vertical torso at the same time is creating a perennial backseat skier. Flexing in the hip socket does NOT make your butt stick out (!!) because it does not affect the position of your hips relative to your feet (knee bend, on the other hand, does). A possible cue here is "shoulders over toes" but see my overall comments below.
I didn't read the concept of "tall" as being vertical. More that bending at the waist is not a good idea, as opposed to working at "flexing at the hip." That's based on comments during lessons I've had with very experienced instructors from more than one ski school in recent years.

I'm a visual learner. So I when I read technique tips, that serves to reinforce points made during in-person lessons. I find written descriptions of drills or stance or whatever very hard to use as the start for working on technique.
 
#5
Gotcha. But whenever I hear an instructor telling a student to be "taller", or to "stand up", the first thing I see students do is move their shoulders back and straighten their torso. I think it's better to be more specific about which body part to move. I usually talk about "undbending your knees" (to get taller). I only address the angle of the torso if someone is really hunched over, and then mostly because it's generally an uncomfortable way to ski.

With regard to waist bending vs. hip flexing, I'm not sure it even matters. If thinking about bending at the waist does the trick for a particular student to get their shoulders forward, I'm all for it. Whatever feels more natural. In all honesty, if you try to bend at your waist without using any hip flexion, you don't really command much range of motion for the torso position.
 
#6
@Skisailor I’d never heard of loosening the top buckle to get more ankle ROM. Are we talking about just the top buckle, what about the power strap? I thought you wanted all of this to be snug. Is this just for drills to get more feel for flexing the ankle more, or how you would recommend buckling in general? I’ve been working to try and flex my ankle more while not bending the knee so much which I think has the tendency of pushing my butt back especially with my leg anatomy, so interested in any tips here!

I had a lesson this past weekend where the instructor talked a lot about flexing the ankle, and then when I asked about flexing my knees as well he said that his ankle is the only joint he actually flexes whereas the knees he lets sink into position and leaves loose to absorb terrain. There was a bit more to it than that, but it really clicked with me combined with what else we were doing in choppy snow and bumps. Made a big difference in going through stuff with more ease than I usually feel, when I could get it right. Something I’ll be working on in my stance going forward for sure. I was pretty amazed at what a difference skiing with less tension in my body made, I tense up a lot more than I realized.
 

sevensaes

Certified Ski Diva
#7
As a terminal intermediate who has been trying hard to fix my stance (and other!) issues, I am appreciating this discussion! My most important breakthrough this season has been, as @Skisailor says, to focus on the feeling under foot to know when I am in balance. On easier slopes, this (combined with reminders to self about ankle flex and good hand position) works great. On steeper slopes though, I still turn into the classic "bending at the waist" skier. It has been a challenge to eliminate this habit.

When I am bending at the waist, it clearly feels "wrong". My torso is facing more down than forward, butt sticking out, weight is over my heels, and my skis are difficult to turn. It just feels out of balance. OTOH when I practice the hip hinge (at least when standing on dry ground, still can't do this consistently on snow), the feeling is very different. Weight is over front of foot, lower back is straight instead of curved inwards, torso is facing forward, and core is engaged. I'm wondering if the last (keeping core strong) may be the key to being able to maintain this stance out on the snow especially when the terrain gets beyond my normal comfort level.
 
#8
I'm wondering if the last (keeping core strong) may be the key to being able to maintain this stance out on the snow especially when the terrain gets beyond my normal comfort level.
I agree. In the lesson described above, I was told the only points of tension I should concentrate on in the body are ankles and core, while everything else should be relaxed and able to absorb. I think keeping the core engaged is huge, especially notable to me in heavy choppy snow where a loose core can sometimes cause me to fold at the waist when I hit something wrong and lurch forward when speed changes suddenly etc. It’s also hard to lean back or have my upper body too upright when my core is engaged.
 
#9
@Skisailor I’d never heard of loosening the top buckle to get more ankle ROM. Are we talking about just the top buckle, what about the power strap? I thought you wanted all of this to be snug. Is this just for drills to get more feel for flexing the ankle more, or how you would recommend buckling in general? I’ve been working to try and flex my ankle more while not bending the knee so much which I think has the tendency of pushing my butt back especially with my leg anatomy, so interested in any tips here!

I had a lesson this past weekend where the instructor talked a lot about flexing the ankle, and then when I asked about flexing my knees as well he said that his ankle is the only joint he actually flexes whereas the knees he lets sink into position and leaves loose to absorb terrain. There was a bit more to it than that, but it really clicked with me combined with what else we were doing in choppy snow and bumps. Made a big difference in going through stuff with more ease than I usually feel, when I could get it right. Something I’ll be working on in my stance going forward for sure. I was pretty amazed at what a difference skiing with less tension in my body made, I tense up a lot more than I realized.
It depends on a lot of things. How well you flex your boot; Your shin length; the temperature; the terrain you’re going to ski; etc. But as one strategy, I do recommend, at times, loosening the top buckle and the power strap as a means for gaining more range of motion in your ankle.

In a 4 buckle boot I keep that 2nd buckle down VERY tight as that is what locks your ankle and heel down. I keep the top buckle and power strap looser. But I tighten the top buckle and power strap more in heavy powder or crud and in warm weather, for example.

When I ski crud I keep my ankles loose and ready to absorb all the little shocks. My shins, in other words, move foreword and backward a bit within the cuff. This keeps those shocks from moving up my body and throwing me around as much.

With ankle vs. knee - I think about the ankle. The knee will then flex correspondingly. If I think knee first, I get too much knee bend relative to ankle bend and it puts me back.
 

Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
#10
I agree with most of what skisailor is saying except the top buckle loose. Look at the picture of nopoleskier I took at Tremblant. (Working on wrong computer, no file) Her top buckle is undone. She has waaay too much flex in the ankle.

Using as a tool to understand flex yes, but not as a way to ski. If you ski like that, you will eventually get shin issues, be it bruises or actual rubs. I know because I did it for years. Was at a clinic a couple of years ago and the first thing that Kathy P said was buckle up your boots.

Also widening your stance is coming from old school skiers. Lots of people like Skisailor states need the opposite.

Hands up - that won't necessarily get your of the back seat. It helps.

Torso tall - well not too tall. I've told my students that your stance should be similar to bouncing a ball like dribbling in basketball or ready position in tennis. Even a golf swing...Ursula showed up this if I remember. Straight back like a dancer...no.

Pole plant (aka pole touch) is subjective to the turn radius and steepness of the hill. Steeper pitch, more downhill. One of the issues with steeps. Once you reach that pole plant downhill more, things flow so much better.

And as marzNC stated, she's a visual learner, so just by eading something for some people, they are not going to get it. Nothing beats a lesson from a pro.
 
#11
It depends on a lot of things. How well you flex your boot; Your shin length; the temperature; the terrain you’re going to ski; etc. But as one strategy, I do recommend, at times, loosening the top buckle and the power strap as a means for gaining more range of motion in your ankle.

In a 4 buckle boot I keep that 2nd buckle down VERY tight as that is what locks your ankle and heel down. I keep the top buckle and power strap looser. But I tighten the top buckle and power strap more in heavy powder or crud and in warm weather, for example.

When I ski crud I keep my ankles loose and ready to absorb all the little shocks. My shins, in other words, move foreword and backward a bit within the cuff. This keeps those shocks from moving up my body and throwing me around as much.

With ankle vs. knee - I think about the ankle. The knee will then flex correspondingly. If I think knee first, I get too much knee bend relative to ankle bend and it puts me back.
With how warm it's about to get here, I might not need to loosen too much then, but I do have a tendency of really really tightening the power strap no matter what so that is something I can play with. I also tighten the second buckle down a lot and tend to have the upper one looser comparatively, but it could probably be even more so. I think it'd be a great thing to experiment with for me to really feel the ankle being able to flex though and to play around with next season.

Yes on the knees! I was already concentrating on my ankles I thought, but I'd also actively bend my knees. Once I focused more on the ankles and just let my knees follow without actively trying to bend them, it made a big difference in how light I felt on my skis and more balanced as well. This all is really making me want to go to one of those indoor ski slopes where you can see yourself in a mirror and it's kind of like a treadmill. I think that would be so so helpful in getting visual feedback on my stance in realtime and what subtle changes do.
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
In the lesson described above, I was told the only points of tension I should concentrate on in the body are ankles and core, while everything else should be relaxed and able to absorb. ....
....My shins are on (ankle closed) and off (ankle open) the cuff while skiing. Lots of ankle ROM . . .
....it is the bottom of your foot that allows you to diagnose your fore-aft stance for yourself. That is the primary tool....
Instructors do disagree with what to do with the ankle. Try keeping it tensioned for continuous shin-tongue contact along with your core, and allow the joints above to absorb (my preference and what I teach). Then try keeping it opening and closing, losing tongue-shin contact with each turn, and absorb with all your joints. See which gives you more sense of solidity and control.

There are numerous ways to self-diagnose skiing aft.
--One is strictly keeping your underfoot pressure in a particular spot felt by the foot. Instructors disagree on this one too. Some are ball-of-foot people, others are whole foot or arch people (what I teach). Some say start a turn with underfoot pressure at the ball-of-foot and end the turn with pressure under the front of the heel. Try all three and see what the differences are for you.
--Another way is to teach yourself to perceive the under-ski pressure beneath the front half of your ski. If it's floating above the snow or lightly on it, you certainly are aft. Being able to perceive this will tell you whether ball-of-foot, whole foot/arch, or rocking fore-aft works best for you.
--Another way is to attempt to lift the tail of the inside ski while keeping its tip on the snow. You don't have to lift that tail far; a couple of inches will do. If you can't lift only the tail because the darn tip keeps lifting despite your concentrated efforts, you certainly are aft.

There are many reasons why instructors disagree about these things. Trust that what they like works for them, with their anatomy, their skis, their binding placement, their boots, their conditions, their technique and tactical choices, and the terrain they choose to ski on. There is no One Right Way.

By the way, some instructors even say keep the pressure under the back of the arch, right under the tibia. Feeling pressure here does not mean you are aft, even though the spot on the ski under the back of your arch is behind the center of the ski. If you maintain continuous shin-tongue pressure and if you can feel the pressure your shovel feels from the snow, you can then adjust where your upper body hovers over the ski to keep that shovel pressed strongly down. This is how I ski, but I don't teach it because it asks too much of the novices and lower level intermediates that I end up teaching. This process works very well on the hard snow on New England's trails. It also works well in the bumps.
 
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contesstant

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#13
A cue for me to get out of the back seat is to "open my chest", which also helps me to look ahead more. My BF is BIG on "stand up" (and he is a beautiful, tall skier) but I've told him that cue doesn't always work well for me, especially in flat light. I think that different cues work for different body types.

As to top buckle and power strap--I will have them a few twists looser depending upon conditions. That being said, they are NEVER loose. Oh, and a Booster strap is a golden tool to have a power strap that is responsive and flexible.
 

VTsnowflower

Certified Ski Diva
#14
But if your shins are constantly against your boot tongue you are LIMITING the range of motion available to you in your ankles - i.e. when you open and close your ankle. My shins are on (ankle closed) and off (ankle open) the cuff while skiing. Lots of ankle ROM .
Instructors do disagree with what to do with the ankle. Try keeping it tensioned for continuous shin-tongue contact along with your core, and allow the joints above to absorb (my preference and what I teach). Then try keeping it opening and closing, losing tongue-shin contact with each turn, and absorb with all your joints. See which gives you more sense of solidity and control.
My understanding is that you want to have continuous shin-tongue contact. The range of motion comes from the degree of flexion, ie how much pressure the shin is putting on the tongue (based on what the rest of the body is doing), as it increases and decreases. For those who prefer to lose the contact with each turn- is that possibly related to lack of overall flexibility, muscle strength, boots too stiff, slower speeds?
 
#15
My understanding is that you want to have continuous shin-tongue contact. The range of motion comes from the degree of flexion, ie how much pressure the shin is putting on the tongue (based on what the rest of the body is doing), as it increases and decreases. For those who prefer to lose the contact with each turn- is that possibly related to lack of overall flexibility, muscle strength, boots too stiff, slower speeds?
None of the above actually. Backing your shin off the cuff at times and learning how to stand on your feet in a ski boot without always resting on the equipment has a lot of benefits. It actually maximizes ankle range of motion (beyond your ability to just flex the boot) and is a very efficient way to ski, requiring less large muscle group input to manage the forces during the high G force part of each turn. And because it maximizes ankle ROM, (and thus the shock absorber/micro adjuster aspects the ankle can provide) it facilitates higher speed skiing in off piste terrain such as bumps and crud.
 
#16
There are many reasons why instructors disagree about these things. Trust that what they like works for them, with their anatomy, their skis, their binding placement, their boots, their conditions, their technique and tactical choices, and the terrain they choose to ski on. There is no One Right Way.
I don't disagree with much of your post, but I do have a different perspective on the above.

I place aLOT more trust in the experience of senior instructors who have taught what I have discussed above in this thread for decades (I carpool with 3 instructors who literally have more than 150 years of teaching experience between them - not kidding!! :smile:). I don't think they teach what they teach just because it works for them personally - their particular anatomy or equipment or terrain or location. They've taught all over the country (and in Europe), in all types of terrain and conditions, and students of all shapes and sizes and abilities on all kinds of equipment. They have watched ski technique change over the years and come full circle in many cases. And there are a few "truths" that they believe they have discovered about our beloved sport.

So these ideas are much more universal than we might believe by viewing them within the context of what is being advocated by our current crop of national demo team members.

I absolutely agree that there is no One Right Way to ski. For sure!! If you're out there having fun and getting safely down the terrain of your choice, who are we as instructors to say that something is right or wrong??!!

But, IMHO, there ARE objective differences in both the effectiveness and efficiency of different techniques.

Ultimately, it is fun to be exposed to different ideas from different instructors and to try them out on our own and cobble together the things that work for us.
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
@Skisailor, I know you think your way is right and my way is wrong.
Or, your way is efficient and my way is inefficient.
Or, your way is effective and my way is ineffective.
You always take time to explain this.
I can live with that. Others reading just need to figure things out on their own.
 
#18
I think keeping the core engaged is huge, especially notable to me in heavy choppy snow . . .
My Taos instructor for the more advanced group this season told the group more than once about keeping the core engaged for chopped up snow. Or situations when there was solid but uneven terrain under new snow, meaning hidden bumps on ungroomed terrain. She also talked to me more than once during that Ski Week about "standing up" more. But it was clear that she didn't mean to the point of being vertical.
 
#19
@Skisailor, I know you think your way is right and my way is wrong.
Or, your way is efficient and my way is inefficient.
Or, your way is effective and my way is ineffective.
You always take time to explain this.
I can live with that. Others reading just need to figure things out on their own.
Definitely everyone needs to figure out on their own what makes skiing the most fun for them!

But no, I don’t personalize the discussions the way you seem to. I was speaking much more generally about ski technique and what I have observed in my life as a ski instructor so far with regard to the many different things that are taught by ski instructors.
 

Fluffy Kitty

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#20
@Skisailor and @liquidfeet, if I may butt in, would you consider taking this conversation private? I respect both your opinions a great deal, and generally appreciate having a diversity of views. Still, as much as I would like to see a public debate, I'm sensing there is something that may be better resolved in private. You can then come back to us with your "agree to disagree" bullet points? That would be helpful for the rest of us.