If you took a ski lesson and were lucky enough to land an instructor who also happens to be an orthopedic surgeon, you’d pick up good form, while also increasing your chances of staying injury-free. Of course, the likelihood of that happening it pretty low. So, we tracked down the foremost—and perhaps only—orthopedic surgeon ski instructor in America, Dr. Kim Hewson, to find out the secret to smart skiing biomechanics. “People often measure skills on the slopes in hours spent on the snow,” he explains. “But if you don’t understand the nuances of how the human body works, all those hours don’t mean that much.”
Dr. Hewson’s test lab happens to be one of the most revered schools in the country, the Telluride Ski & Snowboard School at Telluride Resort in Colorado. In fact, using his methodology the school has transformed its own curriculum by incorporating his rules of ski biomechanics—students are expending less effort, skiing more efficiently, and, most importantly, reporting far fewer injuries. The Telluride Ski and Snowboard School even offers a ski biomechanics camps each winter, but Dr. Hewson’s wisdom can be applied wherever you ski. He says it’s as much about choosing the right equipment as it is body alignment—here are his top tips for finishing the 2016 season strong.
1. Stack your skeleton
Vertical alignment, from the bottom of your feet through to the top of your head is the foundation of Dr. Hewson’s “stacking” theory. To get a feel for the right alignment, stand on the floor in your bare feet and try to place equal weight on the balls of your feet and your heels—this is your most balanced and the easiest position from which to turn a ski. On the mountain, try to simulate this while clicked into your skis, stacking your skeletal frame in a slightly crouched position. Your muscles do the least work this way. “If your body isn’t aligned properly and you have trouble ‘tipping’ the ski to set its edges on the snow,” says Dr. Hewson, “you’ll tend to rotate into the turn with your shoulders and upper body instead, which takes your body out of alignment.”
2. Rent right
Rental ski boots are usually a standard stiffness and Dr. Hewson says they can often be so stiff that they don’t allow the ankle to move into a flexed athletic position—which is essential for proper alignment and stacking (and for making a good ski turn). If your rental boot feels too stiff for this movement—or if you have short lower legs—ask the rental tech for the softest flexing boot they have.
3. Forego expensive footbeds
Dr. Hewson says that unless a footbed solves a very specific issue for you, consider skiing without one. “If your foot is normal and you are comfortable with your skiing without a footbed, less is more,” he explains. “In fact, rigid or improperly fitted foot supports can interfere with your foot's function in ski tipping and turning.”
4. Match your skis to your skiing
In the past 10 years, fat skis have taken the ski industry by storm, but they’re specifically designed for skiing powder. As much as we all wish we were always skiing light and fluffy snow, most of us spend 90 percent of our time on groomers. “Using fat skis in groomed conditions can cause ‘Fat Ski Syndrome,’” explains Dr. Hewson, “This puts the outside ski leg muscles under strain because the force needed to tip the wider skis on a firm surface puts more stress on knee joints, resulting in tendonitis and bursitis.”
5. Let gravity do the work
Allow your skis to go flat in a neutral position between every turn, controlling your speed through large round, symmetrical C- or S-shaped turns as you move down the fall line, rather than constantly shifting from edge to edge to keep balance. “Some skiers are so eager to edge the skis that they overuse their muscles and never let the skis go into a paused neutral position, which is optimal for tipping in the next turn,” says Dr. Hewson.