On the Slopes: A look at contemporary skiing technique and the dreaded ACL

Northstar photo

Northstar photo

We've discussed skis, snowboards and boots, poles and helmets for snowsporting, but we haven't written about the technique of skiing. Riding is another subject, which we'll hit on later.

For right now, with most skiers riding on shaped skis, it may be helpful to hit on the best way to take advantage of these skis.

The shaped ski concept was introduced by ski maker Elan, who called the style parabolic. Catchy name, mostly discarded now. The idea is the side cut of the ski - the curve cut into the edges - can do a lot of the work of turning for skiers. But to effectively use this design, skiers must get their skis on their edges. Once done, the ski will pretty much turn on its own (well, you've got to put some muscle into it).

And that's what the "contemporary ski technique," as Rusty Crook at Mt. Rose calls it, does. The best way to pick up on this is with an instructor, particularly if you've skied for years rotating the shoulders to initiate the turn. Younger skiers already have moved into the new style.

Much of the contemporary style actually is a throwback to the "reverse shoulder" days of the '60s when Stein Erickson introduced it. Instead of using rotation to bring the shoulder around outside of the radius of the turn, he preached bringing the shoulder inside the turn. So the move is to keep shoulders parallel with the surface of the snow, with the center of the body ("the center of mass") mostly on the fall line, facing downhill.

A way to check this, is to get on a nice, wide blue run and hold the ski poles vertically up on each side of the body. Then pick an object, tree or whatever, and ski toward it, keeping it centered between the poles while making turns. That keeps you on the fall line.

Serious edging is required to get the skis carving into the snow. Many skiers, particularly seniors, tend to skid or smear their turns, using little edging. To get the edges to carve into the snow, you have to keep the hands well forward and the body leaning downhill, weight on the tips on the skis.

Sound familiar? It should, because the contemporary technique really builds on those old beginner lessons where the instructor would yell, "Bend the knees! Hands out front! Look for where you want to make your next turn because where you look is where you're going to go! Push the knees to the inside of the turn!"

There is no substitute for a lesson on the hill if you are still skidding or smearing on new shaped skis. You paid for the technology, so learn how to use it. Rusty Crook, one of the Sierra's outstanding instructors, teaching at Mt. Rose holds a class most days of the week for seniors 50 and over where he shares his knowledge of the contemporary technique for just $10. He starts out early so get there and on skis by 9 a.m.

Rusty speaks with a strong tongue so don't be surprised at how he says what he says.


Back in the old days of skiing before current binding technique came into use, broken legs were common. Today's bindings have largely reduced that problem, but in the process introduced something else - the ACL or anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The ACL is a ligament that helps hold the knee together and can be turned by falling the wrong way. Is there a way to fall safely? Not completely, but there are some simple steps you can take to avoid this injury:

• Always make sure your hands are out front. Don't ask; it's just good skiing technique.

• Stay forward, and if you are going into a fall, stay forward. Sitting back is when the ACL gets stressed.

• Keep your weight on the downhill ski; if it's on the uphill ski, that ski can runaway from you.

These simple steps are recommended by Vermont Safety Research, which filmed hundreds of skiers' falls and found that skiers who were in these positions suffered the least amount of ACLs. Many ski shop and ski schools have copies of the 19-minute video tape showing what the researchers found. Or contact me, I have a couple of copies.

Slopes are opening up for Thanksgiving

Not all of them, of course. Diamond Peak is to open Dec. 10, but Heavenly, Squaw, Northstar and Boreal are spinning on a limited basis. Mammoth is also running and Alpine Meadows will probably be operating this weekend. Little early for Sierra-at-Tahoe yet, and no word from Homewood. Kirkwood oddly enough isn't open yet. Personally, I'll spend Thanksgiving in the Bay area, fattening up for Utah and Colorado later in December.


As a token of appreciation to their faithful skiers and riders, Squaw Valley is offering $25 lift tickets to everyone who lives and works in the Reno-Tahoe area on Dec. 3, Jan. 7, Feb. 4, March 4, and April 1, 2010.

To purchase, merchants and employees should bring a recent local pay stub (dated after Nov. 15, 2009) and a valid photo ID to Squaw Valley's "D" ticket booth (next to adult ski school), between 8:30 and 11 am.

Squaw Valley opened for skiing and riding for its 60th Anniversary Season Nov. 21. The up-to-date resort conditions, operation schedules, events and live mountain cams are available on www.squaw.com.

• Contact Sam Bauman at 841-7818 or sambauman@att.net.


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