Let’s face it, whether you free ski, are just learning the course, or compete in tournaments, slack rope at the finish of the turn can seriously take the fun out of your slalom skiing. The big hits you take when the slack line goes tight not only destroy all your skiing rhythm but also take a toll on your arms, back, neck and hips over time. Chances are, you can avoid those huge yanks without really changing anything you do in your turn. In fact, controlling the line and keeping it tight actually depends more on what you do before you get to the finish of the turn. With that in mind, we’ve concentrated on four zones: the hardest load, the second wake out, the reach and your vision. We’re sure that if you take full advantage of your position in these four zones, skiing slack-free won’t even be an issue.
I. The hardest load.
Chris Rossi: When people use the term ”pull,” they are referring to the time from the finish of the turn to the edge change. I like to think about a pendulum. When you are on a swing, where do you ”pump” to generate more height? The answer is the bottom quarter of the downswing. In waterskiing, this would be from the finish of the turn to the point directly behind the boat. Because you’re traveling very fast into the wakes, make your hardest pull at the first wake to actually get it behind the boat. Do you know what happens when you ”over-pump” on a swing? When you get to the top, the chains come loose and you feel like you’re falling. The chains then yank tight and you do all you can to hold on. This is the most common mistake I see in slalom – skiers pulling too long and then getting loads of slack in the turns.
Terry Winter: Remember, this is not a tug-of-war. Pulling directly against the boat will get you nowhere, except maybe sore muscles and blistered hands. The objective is acceleration across the course. The faster you can get across the course, the more time you will have to make your next turn. The acceleration should begin immediately after the buoy, and the speed should increase progressively until the middle of the wakes where the edge change happens. It’s impossible to pull the boat down with the speed control systems, so don’t try. Get in a good body position out of the turn; leverage against the boat just slightly so your ski rolls onto edge and just hold that position. You’ll be amazed at the minimal effort it takes to get the needed acceleration and speed. One thing to look for if you are trying to help coach someone is the muscles in their face. If you can see teeth and all the veins on their forehead, then they are trying too hard. Relax and keep the body calm. Utilize proper body position to get the needed leverage and speed, and keep all of the other muscles out of it.
II. The second wake.
Terry Winter: We’ve all heard it time and time again – hold on long with two hands. However, have you ever stopped to think that you could be hanging on long with two hands, but your hands might not be anywhere close to your body? And, as you can imagine, if you have two hands on the handle but the handle is out away from you, the boat is probably pulling you to your inside edge. The optimal position off the second wake requires level shoulders, knees coming up towards your body and a ski that is moving out in front of you. Staying compressed and tight like this off the second wake will pretty much guarantee that your back arm is in close to you. What you don’t want to do, however, is attempt to keep the handle close by pulling in on your arms. Focus instead on moving your hips and midsection towards it. Optimizing this position is a sure way to keep the line tight at the finish of every turn.
Sequence – Bill Doster, Skier – Terry Winter
Terry Winter: Slalom skiing is dynamic. It is full of constant movements that should all flow smoothly together. Right at the center of the wakes is the area where your body is most compressed. As you are making your edge change, your knees should be coming up towards your body, allowing the ski to transfer from behind you out to the other side. As the ski swings out, you should begin rising up on top of your ski by bringing your hips forward over your front foot. It’s critical to keep a strong body position throughout the edge change so that you get a good approach to your turn. You should feel a connection between your elbows and hips, but you don’t want to be pulling on the rope with your arms. Keep the arms relaxed and think about keeping the hips centered over your feet. As the ski continues to swing out, the legs are going to extend to reach maximum width. This is not bad! Having straight, relaxed legs will allow your ski to reach its full arc. Many assume it is necessary to approach the turn with bent knees, but this only takes away from your body’s extension. Let the ski swing out naturally.
III. The Reach.
Chris Rossi: If you have focused on step two, this stage should be easy. When you let go with your outside hand, just think, ”stand up tall” (extending the legs) and reach with the handle in a more forward direction. At the apex of the turn, just let your body relax and fall toward the handle that’s out in front of you. When stage two is not done correctly, the skier will feel like they have to make the ski turn by pushing it around and falling back. Also, most skiers reach with the handle facing the wakes. This is a result of pulling too long and/or letting your arms fly out away from you too quickly after standing up.
Sequence – Bill Doster, Skier – Rhoni Barton
Rhoni Barton: Since we just spent so much time talking about having the handle close to our bodies as we leave the second wake, what we do with the handle as we begin our reach is obviously critical. The most important thing I can tell you is that you should never reach (i.e., throw the handle out towards the course). If you do step II correctly, you will actually ski up to the widest possible point beside the boat with two hands still on the handle. When you can’t get any wider, it is time to let the handle out slowly and slightly in front of you, feeling a little tension at all times. The speed that you’ve created through steps one and two should allow you to simply ski back around to the handle. Be sure to ski back to it at the same speed you left it. If you do it correctly, you will feel like your free hand, the one you let go with, will gently reunite with the handle after the entire turn is completed and you are already skiing in the opposite direction.
Rhoni Barton: This is still where I struggle the most. It seems too easy to whip my head across the lake to try and get going in the opposite direction quicker. The only problem with this is that my upper body gets ahead of my lower body. When this happens, I accept the pull too soon off the buoy and end up pulled out of position as I hit the wakes. However, if you’re anything like me and looking down the lake seems impossible, here’s a good way to get started. Pretend that the handle and rope form a wall. Remember that we just said you should always reach slightly in front of you. Now, don’t let your eyes or head for that matter cross the wall. Instead, initiate the turn by dropping your lower body to the inside. It may take a little bit of practice, but if you commit to keeping your eyes to the outside of the line in the turn, we’ll guarantee that a tight line turn is just around the corner.
Sequence – Bill Doster, Skier – Chris Rossi
Terry Winter: When turning to the left, keep the eyes to the right side of the rope. When turning right, keep the eyes to the left side of the rope. The idea is to keep your upper body facing down the course, or towards the boat. Your vision is crucial because the upper body tends to follow the eyes. If you are turning to the left and you turn your head in that direction your shoulders will follow your head. When you rotate your shoulders, the hips are unable to complete the turn and the hips actually determine where your weight is positioned. Your body weight should be over the front of your ski, and to the inside of your turn ready to move in the desired direction of acceleration. To have leverage against the boat, you need your body’s weight applying force to your ski so it will roll onto its cutting edge. As you continue to arc the turn and begin accelerating, keep your eyes facing in the direction of the boat. When you reach the middle of the wakes, then you can look across and spot your next turn.