The ankle joint

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The ankle joint

Postby JimG. » Mon Dec 27, 2004 10:21 am

This weekend I forgot to switch my AT boots from walk mode back to ski mode after lunch. So, my first few runs after lunch felt a bit sloppier than usual. Instead of thinking it through carefully, I adjusted my focus to my ankles and soon found myself feeling very balanced and fluid.

So, you can imagine how good I felt after I figured out that I needed to lock my boot cuffs back to ski mode. I was right on top of my skis and attacked everything with abandon.

You'll hate me, but try it. Unbuckle your boots and ski with them loose. Go ahead, try some bumps too; now you're really cursing me. OK, after 3-4 runs go ahead and buckle your boots again.

Still hate me? Let me know what you think.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby knotty_ski » Mon Dec 27, 2004 2:01 pm

Yah, I've heard that helps with balance. I think I'll try it this week. I should be focusing on my ankles when I do that?
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re: The ankle joint

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Dec 27, 2004 2:04 pm

I am in the habit of undoing boot buckles in lift lines or riding chairs to minimize compacting boot liners with my thin ankles. I now tend to leave them undone when skiing a short distance like from the top of Chair 1 or 2 at Mammoth to the base of Chair 3 or 23. For a short low intermediate cruise like that it seems to work OK for me.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby JimG. » Mon Dec 27, 2004 2:35 pm

Knotty-yes, the ankle is the focus in this exercise; it's a good drill for balance because the ankle is the key balancing joint in skiing. Alot of skiers don't even think about their ankles, mostly because they're locked into that stiff boot. Stiff boots make for stiff ankles, so we're gonna set those ankles free by unbuckling the boots. Now, you're gonna have to use those ankles because you won't be able to get any leverage against that loose boot...your ability to balance will be dependent on your ability to adjust with your ankles.

Tony-intermediate runs? No cheating! Seriously, unbuckle the boots and try skiing something steep and flat...forget bumps for the time being. You've mentioned before that you feel your coordination isn't the best, and this drill may help you discover that part of that feeling is actually a skill you can develop and control. Ankles rule!!
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re: The ankle joint

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Dec 27, 2004 5:12 pm

I'm in complete agreement that the ankles do the "fine-tuning" in ski motions. My more coordinated son Adam has occasionally skied unbuckled for practice. And this also ties with his telemarking to sharpen his balance further.

The other drill (which he learned from his Snowbird friends who raced in high school) was skiing on one ski. The 3 of them started fooling around with this on Chickadee at the end of the day when the other lifts were closed. Eventually they were doing it for half an hour or so on Wilbere groomed runs with more pitch. Despite learning early on to put nearly all weight on one ski's inside edge when turning (except in powder) I am not able to execute an outside-edge-only turn on one ski. A monoski might be a good transitional exercise for this.
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Re: re: The ankle joint

Postby Chromer » Mon Dec 27, 2004 7:28 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:I am not able to execute an outside-edge-only turn on one ski.


This can take a lot of practice. It is a movement pattern that you don't normally do, so it feels very unnatural at first. A good skill to have though. Especially on icy trails, where if you lose the edge on your downhill ski you have a solid backup with the inside ski.

It may be easier to start with a one-footed turn where all your weight is on the outside ski, and then transition to a turn in the other direction on the same ski. Lots of skid, don't worry about carving it. It's also easiest to leave the tip of the other ski just brushing the snow by just lifting the heel of your foot a bit - makes it very easy to put your foot back down just in case that way, and doesn't mess up your balance.

It can also be an alignment issue, of course -- if your boots are improperly canted it can be almost impossible to do it smoothly.

As for the ankles -- it's a lost skill with stiff alpine boots and locked heels. For a while I was switching back and forth between alpine and tele, and I was always more centered on my alpine gear after skiing tele for a couple days. The lack of heel retention forces you to stay very centered and finesse the skis through the soles of your feet, IOW: strong ankles.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby JimG. » Tue Dec 28, 2004 8:55 am

All excellent feedback. I liked the one-ski stuff which I rarely ask students to do for liability reasons. However, it's great to hook up with a crew of good skiers and play around with some one legged skiing for a run or two as a warmup. This is the best way to get that soft inside leg that Chromer mentions that allows you to briefly add more edge pressure to that inside ski on icy terrain.

Yes, the ankles are often ignored and it's a shame...they are the key to high performance skiing of all types. When I was younger I wanted my boots to be so stiff that I could barely move. Then I grew up and realized that good lateral support is essential, but that as much fore and aft ankle flex as possible was most desirable.

When I'm using my ankles properly I feel like I can ski anything with ease.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby Jay Suds » Wed Dec 29, 2004 5:03 pm

Interesting discussion.

Two weeks ago, after the Saturday rain storm, I felt like I was skiing in sneakers - mostly because my boot liners were soaked from sweat and probably a good deal of rain getting into them. Even so, I took them to the boot fitter and said "fix it" - they did so by adding some C pads to my ankle area to fill up some volume.

After this modification was made, what I found was that I really no longer had to really tighten my buckles down nearly as much as I did before. In fact, when I did ski with my boots tightened down, I skied worse then with my boots half buckled. So now, I ski most stuff with my bottom buckles left undone and I ski better than before, with less pain :)

To make a long story short, I agree that ankle flexability and mobility is a must to good skiing.

On the subject on single ski skiing, I have never been very good at this. Interestingly, I've seen one fellow out on the mtn quite a few times this year who must ski on one ski all of the time - because he never even wears a ski boot on the non-ski foot.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby knotty_ski » Thu Dec 30, 2004 10:31 am

Thanks for the discussion on this. I have been having trouble this season in making my inside leg "softer" and engaging that uphill edge more. I find that I'm losing shin contact with the boot on that leg as I move through the turn and I believe that the ankle focus and the one'legged skiing might just bring those things into focus. I'll try it tomorrow.

A funny story from last year (my first year instructing):

I had a woman bring her husband to learn to ski. She said her skiing career was on the line; if he enjoyed it he would ski with her, if not she wouldn't be there in the winter. He didn't want to ski from the start and he finally found his excuse after about an hour of work.

I said, "you just need to flex your ankles to bring your weight over the center of your ski and I think you will find turning easier."

He said, "my ankles don't bend."

I was at a loss. He gave up and went in, I gave his wife a private lesson for the remainder of the time. Maybe they should have saved their money.
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Re: re: The ankle joint

Postby Chromer » Thu Dec 30, 2004 12:44 pm

knotty_ski wrote:Thanks for the discussion on this. I have been having trouble this season in making my inside leg "softer" and engaging that uphill edge more. I find that I'm losing shin contact with the boot on that leg as I move through the turn and I believe that the ankle focus and the one'legged skiing might just bring those things into focus. I'll try it tomorrow.


In order to maintain equal shin contact you may need to bring your inside foot back a little from it's habitual position in relation to your outside foot.

I'm afraid I don't understand what you guys mean by a "soft" inside ski though. Can anyone expand on that?
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Re: re: The ankle joint

Postby JimG. » Fri Dec 31, 2004 8:59 am

Chromer wrote:I'm afraid I don't understand what you guys mean by a "soft" inside ski though. Can anyone expand on that?


Not soft inside SKI, soft inside LEG. When starting a new turn, alot of skiers forget to flex their "new" inside leg first to get it out of the way as they start the new turn and begin to extend the new downhill leg. It's why you see skiers hold onto turns too long. Then, when they do turn, it becomes an immediate back seat, chasing the skis down the hill type of turn and not a centered, balanced, flowing turn.

Keeping that inside leg soft helps you direct the ski and modulate the edge pressure.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby JimG. » Mon Jan 03, 2005 11:02 am

Inadvertently took my own advice this weekend...forgot to lock my AT boots into ski mode again and skied the entire afternoon with unlocked cuffs.

Afternoon conditions on 1/1/04 went from springlike to sugar on top of boilerplate in the span of 3 hours. All the while I'm wondering why I'm feeling a little sloppy on my skis. Figured I ate too much for lunch.

Finally, at about 3:15pm, I get my stance corrected and ski 3 runs like a dream. Felt totally centered and upright, skis are moving smoothly beneath me on snow that is firming up to frozen with each passing moment.

Thought I had one of those breakthrough moments until I was taking off my boots and saw that they were in walk mode. Then I realized I apparently did correct the "old head down, bending over" bad habit once again.

Now I can't wait to get out on snow again!
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re: The ankle joint

Postby Ryan » Mon Jan 03, 2005 2:35 pm

I have a good workout for everyone on this one.....


We call it tripples because everything is counted in sets of 3 turns.

Start on your dominant ski and on that one ski turn inside edge, outside edge and inside again.
For me this is the right ski. making the turns
left-right-left
Then switch to the other ski (left for me)
and turn inside edge, outside edge, inside edge again
for me right-left-right turns.
Then make 3 turns on Both skis making the turns left-right-left
we are now back to the right ski but because of where we are in the progression it makes for outside edge, inside edge, outside edge or right-left-right
Then back to the left ski outside-inside-outside. (this is the tricky part because you have to go outside edge right ski to outside edge left ski.
Finally make 3 turns on both skis and you are back to the beginning of the progression. Start over.


Try reading through this and doing a demo with your hands. It is wierd to explain but makes a lot os fense when you try it. It is a great exercise to work on edging and balance.
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Re: re: The ankle joint

Postby JimG. » Wed Jan 05, 2005 8:42 am

Ryan wrote:I have a good workout for everyone on this one.....


We call it tripples because everything is counted in sets of 3 turns.

Start on your dominant ski and on that one ski turn inside edge, outside edge and inside again.
For me this is the right ski. making the turns
left-right-left
Then switch to the other ski (left for me)
and turn inside edge, outside edge, inside edge again
for me right-left-right turns.
Then make 3 turns on Both skis making the turns left-right-left
we are now back to the right ski but because of where we are in the progression it makes for outside edge, inside edge, outside edge or right-left-right
Then back to the left ski outside-inside-outside. (this is the tricky part because you have to go outside edge right ski to outside edge left ski.
Finally make 3 turns on both skis and you are back to the beginning of the progression. Start over.


Try reading through this and doing a demo with your hands. It is wierd to explain but makes a lot os fense when you try it. It is a great exercise to work on edging and balance.


Good drill Ryan! This is a great exercise for advanced/expert skiers. Know why? Because they can listen to this, which is very complicated, and process in their mind what to do with their edges, then do it. But only because they already have the skills to do so. Try this with a class of strong intermediates and you'll get yard sales and mass confusion. But I think you agree this is not an intermediate drill.

I keep it very simple if I have a class of strong intermediates willing to do one-ski drills. Go up to the top of a beginner slope, then have everyone in the class remove one ski and leave it up top. Doesn't matter which ski it is. Now ski in a straight line across the hill; repeat in the other direction. Repeat the other way again, then come back. Now do some side slipping facing one way, then again facing the other. The verbal focus you want to achieve is telling your students to keep that leg soft and flexible.

Now try the straight runs across the hill with a turn to a stop. Please, not too much pitch! Keep repeating. Once there is some decent turning going on, switch the ski to the other foot and repeat the process. Only after these baby steps are achieved do you go to the top of the slope again and try linking turns.

By that time, your class will have bought into what you are trying to achieve and you should see at least half making some decent linked turns even if they are a bit off balance. Even those who haven't linked turns yet know the focus and understand the feeling you are trying to achieve. They will go off and practice this.

I got more requested private lessons from skiers who did these drills with me one day who wanted to continue the process the next day than from any other drill I taught.
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re: The ankle joint

Postby BigSpencer » Wed Jan 05, 2005 8:52 pm

Good topics JimG,
I hear ya' about using the AT boots in walk-mode...!
One very quickly know when you've slipped back a wee bit... Did my skiing good.
8)

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