January 2002
Legs together?
Feet apart?
  Of all the recommendations I make in my new book, none is likely to be more controversial or to raise more eyebrows in the ski teaching establishment than my suggestion that if you really want to become an expert skier, you are going to have to abandon a wide stance. I want to explore this idea with you in detail, and I think you’ll see that I have my reasons — not one but multiple reasons — for this advice.

True, I take great pains every time the subject comes up in these Pages to caution you against what I consider an old-fashioned and counterproductive version of a narrow stance on skis. I don’t want anyone to jam one foot next to the other or worse yet — the sin of all skiing sins — to jam one knee in behind the other. I am proposing a functional, relaxed, and dynamic narrow stance: balanced primarily on one foot with the light foot actively keeping the other ski more or less near, more or less parallel, to the ski you are standing on. But why? Why this stress on a narrow stance when most instructors, most ski schools, have been trying for years to get skiers to spread their feet and skis? And succeeding, I might add.

What we are facing here may well be, as Cool Hand Luke said in the movie, a failure to communicate. A failure to accurately describe the way the best skiers ski. Paradoxically, when we watch great skiers, like World Cup racers, making high-performance turns at high speeds, we can say that they are skiing with feet apart, but with legs relatively close together. This is not as big a contradiction as it seems.

Take a look at the accompanying illustration and you will see a skier leaning in to counteract and balance the lateral forces that build up during a high-speed turn. The skier’s hips are well to the inside, and the skier’s legs meet the snow at an angle, not perpendicularly. This is exactly the same inward lean experienced by cyclists and motorcyclists in fast turns. In this tilted-over position, the skier’s inside leg needs to flex more than the outside leg, to keep weight and pressure from piling up on the inside ski. And this in turn draws the inside foot and ski away from the outside foot and ski.

The two skis always have to spread apart when the skier tilts over like this. But the skier’s legs themselves haven’t spread. In relation to each other, the skier’s legs are no further apart than they were before the skier begins to lean in to the turn. I confess this is a fiendishly tricky point to make in words, so take a careful look at the illustration above * and double-check my assertion that a skier’s feet can seem to be spread while the legs aren’t spread at all. This is, in fact, the opposite of a wide stance.

Like most ski pros, I love watching World Cup racers. But I try to see more than just how far apart their two skis are. The skis-apart phenomenon in high-level, high-speed turns that I have just described tends to produce an inaccurate visual illusion of wide-track skiing - a notion that has been widely and uncritically adopted by the ski teaching establishment. But it ain’t necessarily so.

So much for misconceptions. There’s more. How about the plus side of a narrower stance? What’s the advantage? A narrower stance makes it easier to shift our weight from foot to foot, from ski to ski. You can try this at home. Stand with your feet only a few inches apart and gently shift or rock from one foot to the other. Easy, right? But notice how little your body has to move. Now. spread your feet apart, say a little wider than your hips, maybe a foot or two apart. And again, shift from balance on one foot to balance on the other. Quite a difference. Notice how much more you have to move your body. In particular, how much more your hips, your center, must move from side to side. It takes a major effort, and the movement is so exaggerated that you aren’t likely to arrive in a strong balanced position over the new foot. See what I mean?

That’s the crux of my argument. Forget any preconceived notions about form, about looking graceful on skis. When you move easily from one position of balance to the next you are graceful — which is worth a lot more than trying to look graceful. Relatively narrow-stance skiing allows you to move effortlessly and smoothly from ski to ski. More result for less effort. Wasn’t that our original goal?

[a short excerpt from chapter 2 of Breakthrough on the New Skis]

* If you are familiar with my Breakthrough on Skis videos, you will doubtless recognize Harald Harb in the illustration above, taken from my third video. Harald's dynamic form is equalled only by his deep understanding of modern skiing — read more about Harald Harb on my Resources page.

 January 2002
Photo at top of page:
Harald Harb in action,
filmed by Edgar Boyles
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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.