I’ve always thought I had pretty good balance. It’s just one of those things I was born with. Some people are naturally musical, some people can draw. We all have our talents.
So when SkiA asked if they could send me their ski balance trainer to review, I figured it’d be a piece of cake. After all, I had the balance thing nailed, right?
Well, maybe not. Because there’s balance – as in not falling down when you’re standing on your head (yeah, I can do that) – and there’s balance – as in being correctly positioned over your skis for better, more efficient skiing.
The Sweetspot Trainer is designed to help with the latter. It’s a device you clip onto your boots and use off the slopes, in the comfort of your own home. The idea is to get you accustomed to locating the optimum balance point in your feet – the sweetspot – so you can maintain it unconsciously, thereby letting you ski better and more efficiently.
I asked the developer of the Sweetspot, Martin Breach, to tell me how he came up with the trainer:
“The idea was inspired by training that I had with Hugh Monney of the British Alpine Ski School in 2008. I had signed up for his ‘Performance Breakthrough’ course in Morzine, France. The first thing that he taught us on the first run of the first morning is that the point to press on (to make skis turn) is in the center of the foot.I’d always believed that I had to press with the ball of my foot – so I was absolutely astounded to be told that, after 20 years of skiing and goodness knows how many ski lessons.
It was true, of course – I could feel that on the next run.
The great thing was that my feet could relax, which meant that I didn’t have to use muscles in my calves or thighs necessarily. It was also really stable, really because I wasn’t trying to balance on my toes. And of course, I wasn’t trying to fight the design of the skis any more.
Anyway, we spent the next 5 days working on this, and it changed everything.
Hugh recommended balance training, and over the summer I bought a wobble board. One day I wondered what would happen if I could fit miniature ‘wobble boards’ onto my boots at exactly the point of the sweetspot. With a bit of experimentation, I had the first prototype.
It then took just under 2 years to take the idea to market. My background is medicine – I’m a family doctor, with an interest in sports and musculoskeletal medicine – so there’s been a steep, but extremely enjoyable, learning curve. It’s not just me – there’s a small but growing team involved, and there’s been expert support and advice available.
We launched in the UK in January 2012, and in Australia /New Zealand in June. We’ve sold trainers worldwide, but we have just launched in the States.”
So what is the Sweetspot Trainer?
Imagine a child’s roller skate – the old-timey kind where you step onto a footplate. It’s sort of like that, but made of heavy- duty plastic instead of metal, with two adjustable straps: one at the heel, and one at the forefoot. And instead of wheels, there’s a spot on the bottom where you can click in an interchangeable balance block. The trainer comes with four sets of these, diminishing in size from the widest (green) to the narrowest (black). The manual advises beginning with the green and moving on to the other blocks, as your balance improves.
Incidentally, big kudos to SkiA for their manual. It’s extremely well done, with clearly written, detailed instructions on how to set up and use the trainers, as well as recommended ski drills to make the most of your new balance skills.
Side note here — my favorite instruction in the manual: “The trainers should not be used under the influence of alcohol.” Given how you have to balance on these things, I can’t imagine what they’d be like after a few drinks. But we move on…..
How it works
The first thing you have to do is adjust the trainer to fit your boot. Although this is easy to do, I could’ve used an engineering drawing or photo of some kind to sort things out. Really, this is the manual’s only drawback. On the whole, it’s very easy to follow. Two thumbs up, SkiA.
And that’s it — you’re ready to go. Simply strap the trainers onto your ski boots, balance for a few minutes, then take them off to let your body recalibrate. Repeat.
Once you’re able to maintain a centered balance, you can vary the height of your stance from a crouch to a more upright position. You can also practice edging with small lateral movements, as well as making rotational, or pivoting, movements. This is a great way to transfer your new balance skills into the dynamic movement you need on the hill. But as the manual emphasizes, it’s important to master the balance of one block before moving on to the next.
My take on the Sweetspot Trainer
One of the best things about these trainers is that you use them wearing ski boots, so you really get a sense of how your foot should feel while you’re skiing. They’re also not hard to set up, though if you want to share them with someone (like I do with my spouse), you have to re-set them with each user. Or buy another pair.
At the manual’s suggestion, I started out with the largest, or the green, balance block. This didn’t take long to master, so after a short time I moved on to the next size, the blue. Now we’re talking: this was definitely more of a challenge. I wobbled a bit here and there, but found myself getting better after each use.
And then I went skiing.
Did my work with the trainer translate to improvements on the hill? To be honest, I think it’s still too soon to tell. To get maximum benefit, I’m going to use the Sweetspot Trainer routinely and progress up the chain, to the smallest balance block (I’m currently using the red, the second smallest). That’s how training works. It takes time. The concept behind the trainer is to get you to the point where your body assumes the correct stance unconsciously. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I definitely found myself thinking about my fore/aft position a lot more when I was skiing. And thanks to the trainer, I have a much better idea of where I should be.
So yes, I have to say that I indeed recommend SkiA’s Sweetspot Trainer. It’s easy to use, and I think, over the long haul, it’ll help any skier who wants to improve her stance, and therefore, her skiing performance.
Right now the Sweetspot Trainer is available only at SkiA’s website, though that could change in the future.To order, go to www.skia.com The trainer sells for $72.50 a pair.