One of the key ingredients of a successful slalom course pass is cross-course direction. You must maintain direction to maintain speed in order to reach the next buoy. This may seem blatantly obvious, but far too often skiers inadvertently overlook the keys to achieving this crucial element of successful course skiing.
Let me start be laying out some of the more obvious concepts in slalom:
1) In order to reach any buoy in the course, you must establish a direction that opposes the boats path (otherwise you follow the boat down the lake and watch buoys pass by on either side). That’s pretty simple and obvious, right?
2) In order to create that direction you must make a movement with the core of your body in the direction you want to go (and remember the ski must go with you...hence the reason for initiating the movement with your core). Core can be defined as your Powerhouse (as my wife Mary Ann calls it when teaching us Pilates). It is comprised of your abs, hip flexors, and other muscles in that general area that serve as the basis and center of all bodily movements...will have some instruction regarding this in later "Tips of the Month."
3) In order for the core to make any sort of effective movement, there must be a connection to the rope (which is your ultimate energy source in any towed watersport...without it, you sink!)
Now, so far we have talked about initial movements (really having the initial pullout for the gates in mind). The initiation of movement at the turn-in for the gates follow these principles as well (and if you didn’t know that, consider this a free "tip within a tip." It is about the time you pass the right hand gate ball where I want to focus this tip. This is where most skiers "Lose their Connection." You must power through your transition (or edge change depending on your terminology) in order to keep direction. IF you do so, you dictate your own fate into the ball, but if you let the boat take your position and connection away from you, you will fly into the ball with what I like to call "uncontrollable speed" which is speed down the lake rather than across course.
Now let’s back up to find some of the possible roots of this type of problem. Let’s go back to that initial core movement on the turn-in for the gates. It is at this point that people start the cycle of shoulder leans in many cases. If you initiate the turn-in with your shoulders, then you load hard without efficient angle/direction out of the ski. In most cases (and especially at your more difficult passes) the load is too much to maintain (whatever you take from the boat in the way of leaning, the boat eventually takes back from you). At this point the boat pulls the handle and consequently your connection to the handle away from you...thereby resulting in a complete loss of direction...hence, "Lose your connection, lose your direction."
In order to prevent this from happening and also maximize your angle after second wake (where it is most important), follow a few simple rules:
1) Use your core and lower body to initiate all movements in the course. If you accomplish this, you will find that you have more strength and balance which will enable you to maintain control in the transition which equates to keeping outbound direction.
2) Resist the urge to overload out of the buoy (at the finish of the turn). The lighter you are on the line the easier you can build progressive power so that you may power through your edge change with a tight connection to the line.
3) Be conscious of keeping your elbows connected to your core through the second wake and the transition/edge change in order to really capitalize on the power from the boat and to achieve maximum angle out to the buoy line.
Hope some of this may help your skiing.