Effective Slalom Technique
Effective Slalom Technique by Seth Stisher
There are many theories on what is right and wrong in regard to the most effective slalom technique. It happens in every sport. I remember reading articles in Golf Digest — when I thought I might stand a chance of being a decent golfer — where the tips in one article seemed to contradict the instruction in another. In slalom skiing, it’s even more apparent because there are so many things changing throughout a pass. If you’re reading this, you’re probably hoping to discover the truths about slalom. However, it may not be so simple.–By Seth Stisher
1. We accumulate buoys/points when our ski rounds a buoy.
2. The boat travels a constant speed on a predetermined straight path.
3. We round buoys on opposite sides of the boat in succession.
4. The rope has a fixed length on each pass.
5. The boat is the driving force that allows us to build momentum and move from one side of the course to the other.
BASED ON THESE TRUTHS, THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS WE MUST ACCOMPLISH:
1. Stand on the ski in a way that limits the amount of drag on the water so we don’t unnecessarily waste energy.
2. Find a way to athletically change directions on the ski in a manner that doesn’t create so much pressure that we can’t maintain an efficient stance.
3. Allow the force from the pull of the boat to create pressure on the bottom of the ski, which results in acceleration in our desired direction — this is basic physics, where force exerted on an object will create pressure; a ski is designed to alleviate that pressure by accelerating in the direction it is pointed.
4. Find an effective way to move out of this pressure sensitive position without losing the speed and direction created. This is commonly called the “edge change” but is more appropriately named the “transition.”
5. Once you have moved the ski out of this pressured position, the release of that pressure should cast it out onto its turning edge in order to be able to ride the ski back into the same situation heading in the opposite direction, aka the turn.
Now, the debate and confusion is usually based on hard-and-fast rules that coaches and skiers create and adhere to blindly. These rules often overlook the simple task list of things to accomplish. Most of these “rules” are effective for certain skiers who may be having a specific issue in a particular phase of their skiing. Let’s touch on a few quick examples.
For many years, the buzz was about “trailing arm pressure” (the arm that is last to cross the wakes or the left arm when crossing the wakes to the right), which was most commonly discussed as the skier approaches the wakes. Trailing arm pressure helps keep the body aligned with the pull from the boat and allows the skier to efficiently swing of the centerline of the boat without losing valuable outbound direction.
Lately — although the physics of slalom skiing have not changed drastically — the argument has been raised that “leading arm pressure” (this would be the arm that is first to cross the wakes or the right arm when crossing the wakes to the right) is the thing to do. This concept is based on the idea that a skier who gives up his leading arm pressure is basically giving in to the boat and therefore losing direction. The answer is that both are correct. Different skiers must focus on a different arm versus what they currently do in order to make positive change. Both arms play an active role in harnessing the boat’s power and using it to your advantage.
Many skiers argue that since we’re carving a path behind a moving boat, we aren’t actually swinging on a pendulum. However, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that we’re swinging back and forth from the pylon, a fixed point. So does slalom skiing work like a pendulum? The answer, of course, is yes and no. We must manipulate our ski and body through the turn in order to harness the energy of a pendulum, but we also have other forces and elements involved in our wake crossing. Ski design, body position, timing or your transition, to name a few, are all factors that make slalom skiing slightly different than the simplest version of a pendulum, but the similarities still remain.
So what does this all mean? The true value comes when you open your mind and give up the notion that there’s one right way to accomplish what we desire on the water. Look at the task at hand and decide what principles may guide you to become more effective, but don’t let those principles own you.