COLUMN: Spread your arms, embrace the mountain

Hands forward! Get your hands out of your pockets! Sound familiar? My coach used to shout this.

The above drill will challenge your pole planting

The last column was focused on our getting our hips up at the transition and this week we will focus on hand position.

Hands forward! Get your hands out of your pockets! Sound familiar? My coach used to shout this in a regular attempt to create forward boot pressure and to ensure our hand position wasn’t becoming a nuisance.

Did it work? Eventually, but with other consequences along the way, including unwanted rotation and poor separation while looking like a group of Frankenstein monsters careening down the mountain. Let’s take a different approach and spread our arms wide and open our upper bodies to the fall-line. Embrace the mountain.

While I ski with my arms wide I am filled with an appreciation for the natural surroundings that we have at Whitewater.

Then, once the morning powder rush subsides I find myself sitting on the chair noticing the flocks of birds as they systematically remove last year’s seeds from the spruce trees, and how the trees have been shedding their dry snow load this season with a whump and a swirl of snow crystals that are in no rush to settle back down.

While our busy modern civilization has placed the lifts here, the chairs travel through a world that continues to live within the delicate balance of nature.

Now be careful, because tree hugging while skiing can be disastrous.

Before I get too carried away, let’s get back to hand position. We use our hand position to plant our poles, maintain balance, and help position our upper body. Think about where you plant your poles when skiing steep terrain. Do you plant them up at your ski tips? Below your boots? How about back at the tails of your skis?

If you are planting your poles out at your ski tips then you are rotating and are square to your skis, not the fall-line. If you are planting your pole below your boot, great! This means that you have upper body separation and are committed to the fall-line.

Here is a drill that will challenge where you plant your pole while skiing.

1. Find a steep groomer and look down the slope and open your arms as wide as you can as if you were giving a big hug. Then, start sliding sideways directly down the fall line with one pole directly over your tips and the other over your tails. Now stop, and plant the pole that is back by the tails.

2. Leave the pole planted and let your skis rotate under you so that they are pointing across the hill in the opposite direction. Arms wide!

3. Slide sideways again and repeat with a stop right when you plant your pole. Notice that your upper body was facing down the hill the whole time! Now bring it off the groomer and try it on the real steeps.

The goal with skiing the steeps is to control your speed while doing short radius turns that fit in between the trees and rocks. If your body rotates with the direction of your skis, your ability to change direction will be much slower, meaning that you will go faster with less control. If you can maintain having your shoulders facing the fall line with a strong pole plant then you will be able to throw your skis around much easier.

Now, go and give your mountain a hug, and your liftee while you’re at it!

Dylan Henderson is the head coach for the Whitewater ski team. He’s a certified development level coach with the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation and a Level 1 ski instructor with the Canadian Ski Instructors Association. His goal is to give you something to keep your skiing fresh every week even if the snow is not.

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