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. ski racing tips : "Cross-Block Not Always The Best Junior Tactic" 1 - 07 December 2005 - 11:08
by Gregory Gurshman

"To cross-block or not to cross-block?" During the past decade, many ski racers and coaches have pondered this question of gate-clearing strategy. Which technique is faster, the cross-block (i.e., clearing the gate with the outside arm) or the inside clear (i.e., clearing the gate with the inside arm)? When is each technique most efficient? At what age should junior racers be introduced to the cross-block technique? What are the consequences of introducing it prematurely?

There are no direct answers to these and many related questions. However, I will attempt to clarify this controversial subject and help coaches and athletes find the right answers for their particular circumstances. I will also recommend universal criteria that should help coaches in the decision-making process.

A Look At Gate Clearing

By 1989 most of the top technical skiers in the world had adopted the cross-block technique. However, there were a few exceptions. One was Marc Girardelli, who was still using conventional inside-arm clearing. Many people were surprised that he won the slalom at the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships by a fairly big margin. His victory made coaches and athletes realize that there is more to fast slalom skiing than a particular method of clearing gates. Girardelli demonstrated excellent footwork, perfect timing, and an aggressive line as well as other technical elements that made him ski faster than the others.

At about the same time, Herman Nagler, who had coached the best slalom skier ever - Ingemar Stenmark - commented on the cross-block technique in junior ski racing in an interview on European television. "Slalom skiing at the junior level is on its way to a great disaster because junior racers concentrate only on hitting slalom poles and getting them out of the way. They don't learn how to use their feet properly," Nagler said.

Ski racing at any level is about speed. What exactly generates the most speed, however, has been somewhat unclear. In general, I believe in a very basic approach to ski racing. I study a racer's speed in the course as a result of the interaction between only two key components: (1) the line of descent and (2) the carve of the ski.

One may wonder how a racer's speed depends on these components. The answer is simple: The racer who can carve turns most cleanly while holding the tightest line throughout the course will have the most speed. Therefore, all the technical elements of ski racing, including gate-clearing techniques, should be geared toward the line of descent and carving.  

This article is reprinted from The Professional Skier. All copyrights apply.

Gregory Gurshman is head coach for JI and II racers at Mount Snow Academy in Vermont. He was formerly the downhill coach for the Russian National Ski Team.

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