by Jack Heggie
One of the problems that confront beginning skiers is learning to walk around in ski boots. A few people feel so insecure when they first put on boots that they can barely stand up without support, and the prospect of actually dealing with skis and snow in addition to the boots is almost terrifying. Thus, they feel hampered before they even start to learn. You can see these poor souls at ski areas, walking down stairs backwards, one step at a time, while holding tightly onto the hand rail.
What they don’t know, or rather don’t feel, is that the ski boot is heavy enough to affect the dynamics of walking. In the human body, with its vertical stance, balance is of crucial importance in moving about. When you take a step and swing one leg forward, the motion of the leg must be counterbalanced by a motion in the opposite direction of an equal weight, or you’ll be pushed off balance. This counter-balance is provided principally by the shoulders and arms. In order to learn to walk easily in ski boots, you have to learn to fee this hip/shoulder connection and how the added weight of the boot affects the shoulder motion. Here is a way to do this.
Find a place where you can walk for several hundred feet in a straight line. As you walk along, focus your attention on your right foot and hip. Pay careful attention to the motion of the hip and try to decide exactly how the hip moves with respect to the rest of the body as the right foot steps forward.
After a little while walking, you should be able to notice that as the right foot steps forward, the right hip moves forward a little. The pelvis twists about a vertical axis in such a way that the right hip moves forward while the left hip moves back. Continue to walk along until you can clearly feel this hip motion.
When this movement becomes clear, focus your attention on your right shoulder and hip at the same time. Now try to determine exactly how the right should moves with respect to the right hip as the right foot moves forward to take a step. After some more walking, you should be able to feel that as the right foot and hip move forward, the right shoulder moves backward.
When you feel this walking motion, try to exaggerate it. That is, as your right foot steps forward, consciously twist at the waist so that the right shoulder moves back and the right hip moves forward much more than they usually do. continue to walk along like this, moving the right shoulder back and the right hip forward as the right foot steps forward. Then reverse the motion as the left foot steps forward and so on. The relative motion of the hips and shoulders will be larger and easier to feel.
Now try something different. Lock your shoulders in place so that they do not move relative to the hips as you walk. Now as the right foot steps forward, the entire right side of the body, the right hip and shoulder, will also swing forward. As the left foot steps forward, the left hip and shoulder will swing forward.
Now walk some more in your usual way and see if the motion of the right side of the body is clearer. Then continue walking, but now pay attention to the left side of your body. Try the above exercises again, this time focusing on the motion of the left hip and shoulder as the left foot steps forward. Finally, try to walk along and shift your attention from the left to the right side of your body and back again without interfering with the rhythm of your walk.
When you have played around with these exercises for a while and think that you have a good feeling for the hip/shoulder connection, put on your ski boots and try them again. As you do the exercises, try to feel how the added weight of the boots affects the shoulder motion. After you have spent some time with the exercises, try walking along without any special effort and see how much your walk has improved. Do not try to imposed a particular motion on the shoulders, but rather let go of them. Let them move as they will. When this feels comfortable, put your hands in your packets and continue walking. What does this do to the shoulder motion?
At this point you might be asking yourself, “What good is all this?” After all, ski boots are made for skiing, not walking, and at many areas you may only have to walk a little ways to get to the lift. If your walk isn’t all that it could be, so what?
Well, there is an important lesson to be learned here that can be applied directly to the process of learning to ski. When you learn to ski, you find that the requirements of executing a good parallel turn force you to use your whole body in a way that’s very different from the way you usually move. If you only think of your skis, feet, and knees and continue to use your upper body in the same way you would without skis, you won’t learn to ski very well.
Learning to walk easily in ski boots, which should only take an hour or so of easy motion, can provide us with a real taste of the kind of learning needed to ski well. If you don’t hold yourself back, but just let go as you did earlier with your shoulders while walking, you’ll find that with a little practice the turn will come without effort, almost by itself. It’s quite a feeling.