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"Tuck your tail" - and other misguided advice/tips?

#1
Just had a minor revelation that I thought merited its own thread: What *wrong* advice have you been given that's taken time to unlearn?

I've been told by many (mostly male) instructors that my back is arched out the wrong way when I'm skiing - that when I flex my knees & ankles I end up with my butt sticking out + have always been told to "tuck my tail" to compensate. (Other variations have been to ski with rounded core/shoulders like I'm hugging a barrel, or when the instructor punches you lightly in the chest to get you to round forward slightly.) Any of this sound familiar to the rest of you?

During the North Face camp we did video analysis on day 1+ I saw my butt was sticking out, so I resolved to be mindful of it and try to round my back etc etc etc. (My instructor said "I don't know what's going on with your butt, let's just work on getting you to poleplant more proactively & assertively.") On day 2 I found my left calf was developing a sore spot on the outside. So I told my pilates instructor about it and she figured out "tuck your tail" and similar advice was totally counter productive for me - when you're standing with knees flexed and you tuck your tail or round your back, your legs swing open from the pelvis and that puts pressure down the outside line of your leg. She had me get into an active stance and then try to zip up between my belly button and pelvic floor (i.e. active core but visualize it originating from under my belly button) and it made all the difference!

I had been so smug during camp, thinking "my quads don't hurt, I'm skiing so much better than before" - because usually when my quads hurt it's due to being in the back seat and then having to use leg power to compensate. Pilates instructor had me work through flexing and showed me that I wasn't getting enough flexion in the hip area relative to ankles/knees - which is a whole other area I've been told to work on!
 

mustski

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#2
Good thread. In my case, it’s usually a miscommunication more than bad advice. I tend to receive information differently than others. When I was taught “long ski, short ski,” I was heavily bracing everything against the downhill ski and not flexing!
 
#4
I was told once to really reach my poles down the hill, which caused me to have far too much pole action and threw off my stance. Took me a while to unlearn that.
Years ago I was told the same thing. Reach down the hill esp in bumps.
First thing my Taos instructor commented on was that I was reaching far down the hill and didn't need to. @nopoleskier agreed.....
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#5
I had an instructor tell me once when I asked how to become an expert, that "it all depends on how far forward you're willing to get." I had another instructor, actually a race coach formerly on the Canadian national race team, tell me that if I ever got "forward" I'd be scary (she meant that as a complement). I remember those two sets of words exactly. So I got farther and farther and farther forward, on the balls-of-my-feet, heels light, leaning waaay out there, the whole thing, pressing the shovels down into the snow. I did this for years.

What I didn't know, and what they didn't tell me, was a lot. First, there is such a thing as too far forward, and that's where I got. Second, I did not understand how to get forward without lifting my heels. My understanding of getting forward was totally off. As a result of these two things, too far forward and lightened heels, my tails washed out at the end of turns for years. I simply could not advance with those two things going on.

Problem solved now.
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
Here's what I do.

Bend forward at the ankles with heels solidly and firmly planted on the boot sole.
The whole body hinges forward at the ankle, which is the pivot point for this hinging.
The shins press into the boot cuffs, and the stiff boot therefore presses the shovel of the ski down onto the snow. The body's weight hovers over the shovel; its weight is what causes the shin-tongue pressure, not muscular pressing against the cuff.

Keeping the heel firmly planted keeps the tails from washing out, from swishing around at the top of the turn and from washing out downhill at the end of the turn. It keeps the whole ski engaged on the snow.

The trick is to keep the ankles "closed" as you flex and extend one or two legs. The ankles want to naturally open when you get taller or extend one leg. You have to teach them to stay closed. When you extend with both legs, aka stand tall, and keep the ankles closed (which is what needs to be trained into muscle memory), your body moves upward along a diagonal determined by the forward lean of your boot cuff. You will be tilted forward. That means the body's weight stays forward when you stand tall instead of moving back.

When you lengthen/extend one leg by itself, if you keep that ankle closed and that heel firmly planted, your hip on that side ends up ahead of the foot below it, while the whole ski presses into the snow. This is good. If you open that ankle, the foot slides forward relative to the hip above it.

You can see who is skiing this way when you ride the lift. Look at the shin's tilt to the ski. If it's less than 90 degrees pretty much all the time, that skier is doing this. Most recreational skiers don't do it. Racers do. Bumpers do. From this kind of stance you can still move your weight fore-aft. You adjust the weight distribution over the ski by opening and closing, aka bending, the knee and hip. The ankle stays closed.

Keeping the ankles closed has to be trained deliberately; it does not come naturally. Going up and down like an accordion with all joints opening and closing is what the body would prefer to do because it's used to walking and running and standing in our normal life. It's the default movement that keeps us upright and vertical -- like the trees. But when we ski we need to be tilted downhill, not upright like the trees. The closed ankle does that.

There are those who disagree about the ankle staying closed, and some of them may be quite verbal here on this forum. I suspect different anatomies determine who this approach works for. Not everyone is built the same.
 
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Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
#8
For years and I mean years, I've been told to get my feet apart. 3 years ago I took a one day seminar from a course conductor I'd never met. I'm proud to say that I was the best skier in the group, but I know I need improvement. He lead me through an exercise just for me. It involved keeping the knees apart and moving the uphill knee first to the turn.

OMG - revelations. So everyday I remind myself it's not my FEET, it's my KNEES! This year I've really been working on this constantly.
 

SkiBam

Angel Diva
#9
I recall being told (in CSIA clinics) to "extend" my legs through the turn. I finally figured out that this was not helping me (and now that I think about it, I don't believe it was good advice at all), but was causing me to push on the outside ski and lean into the turn. Once I started to think about unweighting the new inside ski (rather than trying to extend the outside ski) and to shorten the new inside leg - and at the same time to pull the new inside foot back a bit - I gained a ton of control and have skied better ever since.
 

SallyCat

Moderator
Staff member
#11
Instructors like to say: "Let the ski do the work." But that doesn't tell me anything useful. If I knew how to get the ski to work I wouldn't be paying a hundred bucks for a lesson. (Because a hundred dollars is a lot of beer).

More helpful were ankle-rolling drills and hand position critiques, because then I could actually feel the ski working its magic and then apply it directly to my skiing. And those helpful drills and feedback came from nice people on the lift who offered to take a run with me and give me advice, not instructors. And I say that not at all to bash instructors, because they are great, but that it's good to get feedback from anyone who's willing to provide it because you never know which way of explaining things is going to "click" for you.
 
#12
I have had all kinds of bad advice over the years about proper fore-aft balance.

Here is something to consider with regard to strategies to stay "forward". Can we think of any other sport that we play as humans where we do not open and close the ankle to at least some degree? Where we flex the ankle and then keep it constantly static? I can't. And for me, skiing is no exception.

Skiing with a constantly closed/flexed ankle limits our overall range of motion and our ability to make balancing movements, absorb terrain, and generally respond to the forces at work while we are skiing.

PSIA has taught for many many years that we "flex and extend out of three joints" - the ankle, knee and hip. So the concept that we would close one of those joints and hold it there unnaturally, making it static, is outside the main stream as I understand it. I would be curious to know what CSIA teaches in this regard and would love to hear from Ski Bam and Jilly on this.

For me, based on what I have learned from @Ursula, we can accomplish this even with a relatively open ankle and our calf pressed against the back of the boot (if we bring the shoulders forward by flexing in the hip socket). Similarly, we can close/flex the ankle and mash our shins against the boot cuff and still be totally in the backseat (if we are too open in the hip socket - shoulders too far back).

You don't have to take my word for it. These are things you can try yourself. And I would also heartily recommend watching the video Ursula created for the Ski Divas about fore-aft stance. I'll find it and post the link.

I agree that individual anatomy will absolutely affect how we achieve our fore-aft balance. But it does so only by influencing the relative amounts of flexion/extension we need in our 3 joints to be short, medium or tall while still centering our weight over the balls of the feet.

I disagree that there is any variation in the normal range of human anatomy that would prevent a skier from being able to use an active ankle joint while maintaining a forward stance in all parts of a ski turn.
 

Skier31

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#13
I have had all kinds of bad advice over the years about proper fore-aft balance.

Here is something to consider with regard to strategies to stay "forward". Can we think of any other sport that we play as humans where we do not open and close the ankle to at least some degree? Where we flex the ankle and then keep it constantly static? I can't. And for me, skiing is no exception.

Skiing with a constantly closed/flexed ankle limits our overall range of motion and our ability to make balancing movements, absorb terrain, and generally respond to the forces at work while we are skiing.

PSIA has taught for many many years that we "flex and extend out of three joints" - the ankle, knee and hip. So the concept that we would close one of those joints and hold it there unnaturally, making it static, is outside the main stream as I understand it. I would be curious to know what CSIA teaches in this regard and would love to hear from Ski Bam and Jilly on this.

For me, based on what I have learned from @Ursula, we can accomplish this even with a relatively open ankle and our calf pressed against the back of the boot (if we bring the shoulders forward by flexing in the hip socket). Similarly, we can close/flex the ankle and mash our shins against the boot cuff and still be totally in the backseat (if we are too open in the hip socket - shoulders too far back).

You don't have to take my word for it. These are things you can try yourself. And I would also heartily recommend watching the video Ursula created for the Ski Divas about fore-aft stance. I'll find it and post the link.

I agree that individual anatomy will absolutely affect how we achieve our fore-aft balance. But it does so only by influencing the relative amounts of flexion/extension we need in our 3 joints to be short, medium or tall while still centering our weight over the balls of the feet.

I disagree that there is any variation in the normal range of human anatomy that would prevent a skier from being able to use an active ankle joint while maintaining a forward stance in all parts of a ski turn.
Agree!

I prefer to think of being "centered" as opposed to forward. We want to use the whole ski. The notion of "pressuring the shovels" is not necessary for solid skiing, especially for beginners/intermediates.

I went to a clinic a few weeks ago led by Brendan Doran - former Olympic ski jumper. We spent alot of time on moving the ankles throughout the turn. Ankle flexion/extension controls fore/aft balance and is extremely important. I know that the current PSIA demo team mantra is "ankles pressed against the front of the boot". I know several Rocky Mountain examiners who think otherwise.

I watched the men's Olympic downhill traning videos. NBC did a great job of showing the vids in slow motion. It was amazing to watch the ankle movements of the skiers.
 
#15
PSIA has taught for many many years that we "flex and extend out of three joints" - the ankle, knee and hip. So the concept that we would close one of those joints and hold it there unnaturally, making it static, is outside the main stream as I understand it. I would be curious to know what CSIA teaches in this regard and would love to hear from Ski Bam and Jilly on this.
CSIA also promotes ankle opening and closing. I remember being told to "unlock" my ankles, and I must confess it took me a while to figure out how. Falling leaf is a good exercise for this as it requires a weight shift fore and aft - tough to do without flexing or extending the ankles.

I'm about to embark (next week for five days) on a CSIA Women's Edge Camp (at Sun Peaks in B.C.). This is for women and by women (level 4s) so I'm looking forward to it. Will try to glean any useful info.
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#16
I strongly believe that while some suggestions from friends and colleagues truly are off the mark, the problem often has to do with what the message's intention is, and how it is actually understood by the person receiving it. Long leg short leg as a movement has never worked for me either, however, looking at racers I fully understand the concept. Extending my legs works, but only when done into the trough or apex of the turn. Straightening the femur works better for me.

In response to the original post I believe that most of us are skiing just fine without rounding our backs out. What is anatomically true is that without rounding throughout the range of motion of the hip, in other words how far can we bring the more flexed leg into our torso, is limited. Wind resistance is not the only reason downhillers tuck, as they could do the tuck with a flat back and be even more flush, I do think range of motion is part of the discussion. But, most of us, are not looking to go fast in 30 meter radius turns, so unless it is hindering, I suggest not getting hung up on it.

My worst tip came from a colleague who suggested I make room between my knees, in an attempt to widen my stance, for the very large head of another crazy colleague of ours! Needles to say, my knees and thighs came together like magnets instantaneously. What were they thinking? :rotf:
 
#17
Worst interpretation of advice was by a friend who learned to ski by taking lessons at Massanutten. Early on an instructor had said that if going too fast then fall to stop. While that can work for an adult on a green trail, she got that stuck in her mind. Followed the idea when going way too fast on the black (3 min for an advanced skier) from the summit. Ended up in the ditch at the side of the trail and broke her leg badly.
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#18
Worst interpretation of advice was by a friend who learned to ski by taking lessons at Massanutten. Early on an instructor had said that if going too fast then fall to stop. While that can work for an adult on a green trail, she got that stuck in her mind. Followed the idea when going way too fast on the black (3 min for an advanced skier) from the summit. Ended up in the ditch at the side of the trail and broke her leg badly.
I think this is a very interesting scenario. Did she not in between beginner lessons and her being ready to ski blacks learn other methods of speed control and stopping? I definitely teach my students during their first lesson or two that if they are trying to turn, and for some reason it does not happen, nor does a wedge, and they get going too fast down the hill, to sit to the side and intentionally fall before they hit a tree or a person full speed. It is not rare for a person to possess good balance, remain standing, and be incapable of turning in the early stages.

I assume she forgot how to turn, wedge, or skid in order to slow herself down on the black run. I have seen it happen, common with people over terraining themselves before they are ready. What if she had not gone in the ditch and proceeded to go even faster before going into ditch or hitting tree or person? An injure is a terrible outcome, but possibly better than hitting any of the aforementioned obstacles head or chest first, which is how many skiers die on blue and black runs. I find it hard to believe that from greens to blacks, her only way of stopping when going too fast was to fall.

My only point being that I think the advice was possibly legitimate, but the way in which it was interpreted by the recipient a total fail for her. The big question is how could the instructor have relayed this information in a way that made more sense? I doubt that the lesson did not include pizza to a stop, turn to a stop, and later in her progression a hockey stop, as the ideal methods for speed control and stopping. Somehow, her fear must have led her to always go to the fall as her first option...should probably be the last, but still a valid one in some situations.
 
#19
. . . My only point being that I think the advice was possibly legitimate, but the way in which it was interpreted by the recipient a total fail for her. The big question is how could the instructor have relayed this information in a way that made more sense? I doubt that the lesson did not include pizza to a stop, turn to a stop, and later in her progression a hockey stop, as the ideal methods for speed control and stopping. Somehow, her fear must have led her to always go to the fall as her first option...should probably be the last, but still a valid one in some situations.
I agree that the advice given was appropriate at the time my friend heard it from an instructor. The failure in this case was that it was still part of her thinking after she started skiing steeper trails. She had heard the advice in a beginner lesson from an instructor three seasons before the injury. She was not a cautious intermediate because she liked speed in general. Grew up racing in a variety of ways having nothing to do with snow. Moved reasonably from greens to blues to blacks at Massanutten in the first two seasons but wasn't skiing that many days. Tended to go fast on blues before she went to ski the black with her teen daughter.

At a small mountain in the southeast with <100 acres of almost all groomed terrain, it's common even for someone who bothers to take the beginner lesson package to not take any further lessons. What is taught to the never-evers are wedge turns and stops. While the kids during full day ski school are taught hockey stops pretty early on in the progression from the teaching zone to the easy blues, I can't remember when adults doing a Adv. Beginner/Intermediate group lesson learn that. And very few adults bother with more lessons once they start riding a chairlift. Most people ski <10 days a seasons, perhaps only 4-5 days. It's a very, very different situation than at a destination resort at a big mountain.

In contrast, another friend who continued to take group lessons went through a solid progression. Even though she only skied during the holiday weekends for four seasons (4-6 days per season), she was ready to handle long greens and easy blues at Alta making nice round turns to keep her speed down. With the help of a few group lessons that turned out to be solo lessons with a very experienced L3 instructor, she was skiing the easy blues with confidence and fully in control by the end of the ski vacation.
 

snoWYmonkey

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#20
Marz NC, thank you for your clarifying reply. It sounds like what I suspected more or less. More importantly I hope she has recovered physically and emotionally and still enjoys skiing. Yikes!
 

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