Autumn 2002   
soft skiing
down hard slopes
part two

  lYou look up and spot a remarkable skier cruising down the slope. You know she’s a great skier because you saw her earlier on a double-black-diamond run, skimming over giant man-eating bumps as thought they were a groomed playground. But now you’re baffled. How on earth is she turning? She’s simply turning, or rather her skis are, and you can’t see any particular actions, any special technique, no stepping, no weight shift, no nothing, just perfect parallel turns, both skis tipping and turning together, by some kind of mysterious remote control.

I know you’ve seen skiers like this one. Skiers so polished and so subtle in their technique that it’s far from obvious what is triggering their turns, what’s keeping them going. Now it’s time to pull aside the veil and introduce you to the most enjoyable and the most mysterious form of weight shift I know. And very useful too, I hasten to add. I’m talking about passive, or soft weight, shift - or, to say it another way, weight shift through relaxation. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to describe, or to do, than it is to see because this subtle form of weight shift, perfect for steep slopes, for very short turns, for some bumps, and for lazy relaxed cruising too, is all but invisible. Are you ready?

If I demonstrate this on a ski slope, traversing down the hill on my downhill ski and then simply relaxing that downhill foot to trigger a turn, my students can’t see me do anything at all, but they will see my two skis begin to turn; that sudden relaxation of the tight downhill foot allows all my weight to simply flow over to my other foot, which, so to speak, catches me and keeps me from collapsing totally. The same thing will happen when you try this - on a green slope first, please.

You slide across the slope, standing mostly on your downhill foot, then you relax that foot completely, suddenly, totally, letting your foot go limp and squishy inside the boot (like a rag doll’s foot), and voilà, your skis start to turn because this relaxation is just a subtle form of weight shift. I generally refer to it as soft weight shift.

Soft weight shift, or weight shift through relaxation, is very special and very versatile. Lots of expert skiers use it most of the time. And the fact that it is so hard to spot, to observe and understand, at least from the outside, has led many ski schools and many ski instructors to assert that a lot of the best skiers aren’t shifting weight at all, but actually skiing balanced equally on both skis. Wrong!

In my new book, Breakthrough on the New Skis, I investigate soft weight shift and its multiple variations in detail, and I suggest a number of very practical practice patterns to make it your own. But let me point out another curious aspect of this gentle, all-but-invisible form of weight shift. But here's a promise: this is a genuine breakthrough, one of the biggest, triggering your turns by "letting go," by releasing muscle tension, rather than giving it the old one-two and trying too hard, as so many skiers are prone to do. Soft weight shift is a real liberation. Play with it this winter.

This short piece is adapted from Chapter Four of my recent book, Breakthrough on the New Skis. I plan to pursue this idea in several more issues of my web site. Stay tuned.

 Autumn 2002  
photo sequence above:
skiing by relaxation; here Kim McDonald, an artist on skis and off, relaxes gracefully from one arc to the next.
as filmed by Edgar Boyles
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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.