How many times have you fallen forward at the finish of the turn and blamed it on the ski? Or a "bad turn"? You'd better stop assigning blame: The problem could lie in your pre-turn. This phase is essential to smooth slalom, as it sets up your turn, the proceeding pull and ultimately, the following turn.
Realize too that an effective pre-turn is dependent on your previous lean (pull). For example, a smooth, controlled pre-turn will be difficult without having generated some angle and acceleration beforehand. This can be done by utilizing the body, not the biceps. Maximizing angle at the wake (or "work zone") is the preparation for setting up for a smooth pre-turn. Leverage against the boat is key here, as your entire body should strongly resist. This means having your hips up to the handle or underneath you (not trailing), arms straight and knees slightly bent. This position will generate more acceleration and angle with less inefficient upper-body effort, getting you to the other side of the wakes (or course) quicker and making the pre-turn easier. It is important to lean through both wakes, however, even though you will have an increased sensation of speed. Letting up at the wakes will allow your ski to go flat and bounce, causing you to lose the angle and make your pre-turn more difficult.
The edge change flows into the pre-turn and allows deceleration, which sets you up for a smooth, efficient turn. When initiating the pre-turn, a common mistake is to begin to reach immediately. Much of the valuable angle will disappear, and you will quickly begin to get too narrow. Instead, by continuing with two hands when beginning the pre-turn, you will continue on your established trajectory. This will prevent you from getting narrow and breaking forward at the waist. In addition, your knees should be slightly bent and your head upright and square with the shoulders. If you feel like you're going too fast, you might be letting up on your lean too soon - keep both hands on the handle. This will help you to finish the turn with your chest up, in a "ready position."
A properly executed pre-turn will set you up for a controlled and effortless turn. Most important, remember that the pre-turn is a combination of aggressiveness, quickness and patience. Rhythm will be achieved when these phases flow together; it's what sets the great skiers apart from the good ones.
Ken Autore is a six-time national slalom champion and three-time national record holder. He can be reached at 407-568-2750 for personal instruction.