Your brain might fight this counterintuitive technique at first, but your body will thank you.
West Coast slalom has generated a lot of momentum in the past two years. With a professional title tucked securely under the belts of Marcus Brown and Terry Winter and a feature-length instructional DVD produced by the movement's innovator Mike Suyderhoud, West Coast slalom is quickly gaining undeniable legitimacy. Skiers from West Palm Beach, Florida, to British Columbia, Canada, are claiming West Side in an attempt to emulate the speed and efficiency that Marcus and Terry take to the course. But as more people ski their “style,” more mis- interpretations and uncertainties surround their craft than ever before.
To fully understand the nature of their movement, you must first examine its roots. Its origins date back 15 years, spawned from the creative mind of famed coach Mike Suyderhoud. “The idea for this new brand of slalom actually came to me while working with jumpers,” Mike recalls. Noticing that turning hard and digging in failed to create the type of explosive speed Mike was looking for, he began to rethink the movements required to create acceleration. “I had the jumper attempt to turn less and keep his body mass ahead of his feet all the way into the ramp.” In the same way that a sprinter allows his body to fall forward out of the starting blocks before ever moving his feet, Mike began to realize that a sideways jump cut or slalom lean also needed to have a forward component to efficiently create speed. While keeping countless pages of notes, Mike began to experiment, searching for the most effective way to capitalize on his new technical goals. Introducing his theories to Marcus Brown and Terry Winter, Mike's approach to slalom began to materialize, and together they analyzed and attempted different movements that coincided with the physical laws governing mass and acceleration.
Mike is the first to admit that his approach to the sport is not one that can be fully grasped overnight. “It is far more than a slight twist on the typical approach to slalom,” he says. In an attempt to encapsulate the foundation of his approach, Mike explains the most essential components of his West Coast technique: “The forward lean required to accelerate leads to counter-rotation, or being open behind the boat. In turn, this open stance calls for lower-body lean and a step-behind counter-rotation through the edge change. This will keep the skier headed on an earlier path into the pre-turn and, subsequently, earlier for the buoy,” Mike explains. “Next will come a step-ahead counter-rotation to keep your by another step-behind rotation at the apex of the turn.”
Initially, Mike's explanation seems a bit overwhelming. “My approach to slalom is based on counterintuitive moves that need to be practiced, timed and perfected. However, once mastered, this technique is a lot gentler on your body and is much less frustrating to perfect than a more traditional approach. As opposed to facing physical limitations, skiers will instead be facing mental ones, as this new approach to skiing requires far more focus but significantly less guts.”
Knowing that his technical theories were far too complex to grasp through simple explanation, Mike developed his own instructional DVD, appropriately titled West Coast Slalom. With assistance from his two most formidable students, Marcus Brown and Terry Winter, Mike walks the viewer through each phase of his revolutionary technique, using teaching methods such as split-screen skier analysis and computer- animated modeling. Mike has confidence in the validity of his theories. “This is far more than a few new moves added to an old-school approach,” he says. “Physically and scientifically, it just makes sense.”
THE SUYDERHOUD RULES
In essence there are two leans that take place in slalom during acceleration. One lean sets more ski edge (lower body lean) and the forward lean moves the body mass ahead of the feet. When a body is accelerated, it has to lean into the direction of the acceleration to stay in balance. West Coast leans the lower body ahead and keeps the upper body vertical (no shoulder lean) and directly above the midsection, which moves the body mass ahead of the feet. This creates a greater forward shift in mass, allowing for greater acceleration, and also a much safer position.
This lean sets more ski edge in the water, or leans you further away from the boat. Old-school technique leans the whole body over, putting the shoulders down and hips up. This creates a good amount of leverage but not nearly the amount of ski- edge lean as West Coast. The West Coast low-hip and high-shoulder position allows more ski edge in the water with less rope tension (because the shoulders are not falling away from the boat) and will result in a tighter turn and cutting radius.
Counter-rotation in general refers to rotating the whole body in the opposite direction that the ski is turning. For years I taught this. More recently, I have learned that instead of counter-rotating around the center axis of the body, it should occur by rotating around one side of the body with the other side. For example, when accelerating out of a left-hand turn, the trailing (right) side of your body would start rotating behind the lead (left) side in a clockwise direction. This not only creates the counter but also moves the mass in an inward direction toward the wake. When done on land, it forces you to move one leg and step behind the other one to keep from falling over. Hence I call it the step-behind counter-rotation.
This movement gives the ski the best opportunity to arc out wide and allows for the best position to begin the step-behind counter just prior to the apex of the turn. For example, just before the hand is released from the handle in the pre-turn when turning to the right, the right side of the body that has been rotating behind the left side now needs to rotate in a counterclockwise direction and get ahead of the right side. This brings the mass forward (instead of having to lean forward) and keeps the upper body from getting pulled to the inside of the arc.
5 WEST COAST MYTHS
“West Coast slalom is a style of skiing.”
While it has been dubbed “West Coast style,” Marcus says it is a technique and not just a style. “This is a purely mechanical approach to slalom. It's based on undisputable physical laws and therefore should not be categorized as a simple 'style' of skiing. It's so much more than that.”
“I'm not advanced enough to ski West Coast.”
Many skiers feel that this new approach to skiing is far too technical for their current ability level. “It's really not like that,” Terry says. “It's probably the most basic way to approach slalom. Our technique is made up of fairly simple movements that work with the boat and with your ski, as opposed to working against them.”
“My gear is too old to ski West Coast.”
Slalomers often feel that their older, more traditional ski will work better with an older, more traditional style of skiing. “This couldn't be more wrong,” Winter says. “Regardless of your ski — if it's new, old, shaped or standard — skiing with a more efficient technique will be beneficial to you.”
“It's all about dropping your hip.”
One of the most frustrating things for Marcus is the frequency with which he hears this comment. “The funny thing is, it is the exact opposite of what we are trying to do,” he says. “Moving your hips away from the boat and creating a bunch of load is not our goal.” Instead, Marcus says, the hips, or the center of mass, should always be moving forward toward your direction of travel and never dropping away.
“Their theories are far too technical for me to grasp.”
nical? Definitely. But the parameters of this theoretical approach to slalom skiing are anything but complicated. “It's really the easiest way to ski,” Brown states. “If you can forget some of what you already think you know about slalom, our theories will make simple sense to anyone. It really is just basic physics.”
To learn more about West Coast slalom: westcoastslalom.com