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The Widetrack Myth

By Lito Tejada-Flores - October 4th, 2001

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You've heard it a million times, ever since you started skiing. "Assume an athletic stance, a ready position, like the tennis player waiting to return a serve, the line backer ready to move in any direction, feet apart, legs flexed, torso slightly forward..." That good old "basic athletic stance." Only trouble is, if you close your eyes and try to visualize the stance I've just described, it looks suspiciously like the posture of a nervous beginner, sliding down a baby hill in a wedge, ready for... well, ready for anything except a graceful turn.

Skiing is different than, say, tennis. You don't need to push off and quickly run from one side of the court to the other. You do need to balance, subtly and securely, on one foot, as first one ski and then the opposite ski bends into an arc along its sidecut, and guides you gracefully around the arc of a turn. And this, in turn, means skilled skiers need to shift their weight easily and gracefully - but not suddenly and brutally - from foot to foot.

Think about it. If your feet and skis are relatively close together, beneath you, you can shift from foot to foot with minimum motion and minimum disturbance of your center of gravity. If, on the other hand, your feet and skis are widespread, it takes a big lurching movement of your center of gravity (your hips) to move from ski to ski. And even then, the move is seldom effective, because when a wide-track skier turns, it is almost impossible to keep weight off the inside ski: it catches, the outside ski slips away, and what should have been an elegant efficient carve, finishes as an awkward skid.

Of course, I'm not talking about jamming one's feet and skis together. Such a stance is old-fashioned, artificial and pointless. We have two legs, independent suspension, as it were, and we should use both legs independently. But I am talking about keeping your feet comfortably close together. Not only does an narrow stance facilitate easy and complete weight shift, it is also absolutely indispensable in certain advanced skiing situations. I'm thinking especially about bumps and powder. If you try to ski bumps with your feet apart, you will find that one ski drops into the trough of the bump while the other rides high on the flank of the bump - a recipe for trouble. Far better that both skis encounter the same bumpy terrain at the same time. Likewise, if you can maintain a narrow stance in deep snow, both skis will hit the same drifts at the same time. A narrow stance will make it easier to maintain that special powder-skier's even weight distribution, and both skis will tend to float equally, rather than go their separate ways.

But if a wide stance is such trouble, how come so many skiers adopt it? Why do so many instructors advocate and push it? I think ski instructors have been impatient and lazy. We are looking for instant success, and we don't want to spend a lot of time helping our students up when they fall. So from the very first day on snow, instructors are constantly telling their students to spread the skis in a wide-track stance. And it works, skiers in a wide stance seldom fall. It is very similar to attaching training wheels to your child's first bicycle. When a narrow bicycle is, in essence, transformed into a broad-base tricycle, the young child has no further problems balancing and doesn't tip over. By encouraging wide-track skiing, instructors make their students more stable. But it's a Faustian bargain. By spreading your skis, you are trading mobility for stability. And seriously limiting your future performance as an expert skier.

Don't let it happen to you. Don't buy into the myth of the wide athletic stance. Don't spread your skis as a sort of security blanket. Instead, take the time to develop an efficient narrow stance on skis, with your weight primarily on one foot or the other. Develop your balance rather than relying on training wheels. It will pay off handsomely.


Lito Tejada-Flores is a ski writer, a ski instructor, and a skiing filmmaker. First and foremost, however, Lito is a skier and still in love with snow after all these years. His maverick book, Breakthrough On Skis, How to Get Out of the Intermediate Rut, has sold over 100,000 copies. And his "Breakthrough On Skis" videos are considered innovative ski-instruction milestones. Lito is the creator of an alternative on-line ski publication, www.BreakthroughOnSkis.com, which showcases his personal non-commercial writing about skiing.


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