Downhill Ski Racing Techniques
World-class skiers often win downhill racing events by a fraction of a second. Ski coaches train their racers to use event-specific strategies. Their best racers have the ability to determine the fastest and most efficient line down the slopes and the technique to adhere to that line. These competitors realize that minor miscalculations may account for the difference between a gold and a silver medal. Although many of these strategies are unique to the specific type of race, some universal techniques apply to all types of ski racing.
If you look at any picture of Hermann Maier or any other world-class ski racer, you will notice that they have a wide ski stance. This improves their lateral stability, making it easier to create a higher edge angle. Racing coach Ron LeMaster advises racers to keep a shoulder width stance.
Inclination and Angulation
An article on the "Ski Magazine" website details the secrets of ski racer Bode Miller's success. The author explains that Miller uses extremely high edge angles, which indicate his superior balance skills. High edge angles facilitate clean, tight turns needed for slalom, a type of race characterized by its tightly placed gates. Edging requires inclination and angulation. Inclination involves tipping both skis, so that the edges carve the snow, and angulation involves bending your knees, hips and ankles in the direction of the turn.
Ski racers sometimes use a position called the "tuck," which is an aerodynamic position that minimizes the slowing effects of wind drag. The tuck is particularly useful in the downhill, an event that involves minimal turning and maximum speed. Racers place their hands in front of their face and lower their hip until their butts are level with their shoulders. Giant Slalom racers also use the tuck at some parts of the race. Giant slalom is similar to slalom, but the gates are further apart. Racers may use the tuck to gain speed in between gates.
Early Edge Engagement
Recreational skiers can get away with starting their descent with a traverse, or going across the hill, but this method wastes precious time in slalom or giant slalom events. The most efficient ski racers get their skis on edge while they are still facing down the fall line. Racing coach Greg Gurshman explains that racers should have about 70 percent of the turn completed prior to reaching the gate. This requires early edge engagement.
Downhill event courses often have rises in the snow, which require the skier to jump. They must maintain their speed before approaching the jump and aim straight towards the rise in the snow without turning. Their legs extend when they are airborne, but their knees must bend and their hips must drop during the landing for shock absorption.
Sugarbush Resort recreational racing director Doug Lewis advises slalom and giant slalom racers to keep their heads up and focus two gates ahead. This tactic keeps racers aware of changes in the course and allows them to make the appropriate adaptations.
Weight on the Downhill Ski
Novice skiers often lean into the slope, keeping their weight on the uphill ski. This is a fear tactic. Ski racing requires courage. Racers form faster, tighter arcs by keeping their weight on their downhill ski.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.