While there are a number of variations, there are two primary ways that a monoskier will typically fall during the course of groomed slope skiing. They are the Low-Side fall and the High-Side fall.
The skier falls up the hill relative to the fall line. This fall is the result of a sudden decrease of ski friction with the slope. The skier falls over onto the slope and his (or her) speed is rapidly reduced as he slides to a stop as his bucket and monoski frame creates high friction with the ski slope. This fall has a low impact force since the skier falls over onto the incline which is angled close to him while simultaneously siding away from it with his entire body. Therefore, assuming no outrigger entanglements, elbow/shoulder strikes, etc., the Low-Side fall is unlikely to produce bodily injuries.
The skier falls down the hill relative to the fall line. This fall is the result of a sudden increase of ski friction with the slope. In this case, the skier falls a greater vertical distance since the slope is angled away from him. This fall has a high impact force since the skier’s downhill momentum adds to the impact created by the gravitational fall. The skier also rotates into the slope which results in either a sudden stop or a barrel roll. This fall is sometimes referred to as a “mousetrap” where the skier is the metal bar of the trap that suddenly smashes into the mouse (ski slope).
The much greater impact created by the High-Side fall leads to a higher likelihood of injury. This threat of injury causes many monoskiers to fear this type of fall. Fear of the High-Side fall leads many monoskiers to favor the Low-Side fall. In other words, a fall to the Low-Side is not a fall to the High-Side. Therefore, less skilled monoskiers are likely to ski in a manner that will result in a Low-Side rather than a High-Side fall. Their skiing psychology is defensive. One problem with defensive skiing is that it is likely to lead to a greater incidence of falls which tends to encourage a greater defensive psychology, thus creating a spiraling feedback loop.
Falling, whether to the High-Side or Low-Side is the result of a confluence of a number of risk factors. Sometimes, these factors combine in a manner to create a fall incident. Therefore, reducing the likelihood of a fall requires reducing all the risk factors involved. Therefore, changing one aspect of your skiing will not solve your falling problems. The skier must first understand all of the risk factors involved and then take steps to mitigate them systematically.
Falling Risk Factors for a Low-Side Fall
A ski orientated such that it’s direction of travel follows the ski tip creates the least amount of friction and the degree of friction is least effected by ski edging. Whereas, a ski orientated such that it’s direction of travel is perpendicular to the ski tip (sideways) creates the most amount of friction and the amount of friction generated is greatly affected by the ski’s edging angle. When the ski’s edge is up, the ski creates lower friction by scraping the slope. When the ski’s edge is down, the edge drives into the snow creating a large and sudden increase in friction.
Therefore, for the sake of argument, a skier that goes straight down the hill unlikely to fall to either side since there are minimal sideways forces. Whereas a skier that slips sideways down the hill is at higher risk of falling either to the Low-Side or High-Side due to the possibility of a sudden change in friction due to changing ski edging angle, shape of the slope surface, and/or snow consistency.
When a skier is not carving turns, he or she is turning by making skidding style turns. These turns greatly reduce the skier’s speed because the skidding action serves as a brake. A Hockey Stop is effectively a sharp Skid-Turn that ends in a rapid stop. But whenever the ski is skidding, it has a downhill sliding component that increases the risk of either a High-Side or Low-Side fall.
A skier who is skiing defensively will tend to use Skid-Turning to reduce speed and thereby increases his/her risk of falling High-Side/Low-Side. Defensive skiing raises the risk of falling, but it reduces the speed at which the fall occurs. Unfortunately, even slow speed High-Side falls can be painful. Therefore, the psychology of defensive skiing will cause the skier to favor factors that increase the likelihood of a Low-Side fall.
• By leaning into the hill and raising the height of ski’s downhill edge above the snow, the likelihood of a catching an edge and taking a High-Side fall is reduced.
• By leaning into the hill and moving weight (Center of Mass) to the inside of the turn, the likelihood of Centrifugal Force throwing the skier to the outside of the turn and causing a High-Side fall is reduced. But this same action increases the likelihood of a Low-Side fall occurring from a sudden loss of friction which reduces the Centrifugal Force. Thereby resulting in the skier falling over to the Low-Side.
For these reasons, a defensive skiing psychology increases the likelihood of a Low-Side fall in an effort to reduce the likelihood of a High-Side fall. This is an emotional response to the threat of a High-Side fall.
In order to reduce the likelihood of these Low-Side falls, the skier must do the following:
• Instead of leaning into the hill, he or she must use angulation and raise the height of the ski’s edge above the snow. The use of angulation will allow the skier to increase his edge angle and downward pressure by placing the Center of Mass over the ski. This action will reduce the amount of skidding (sliding) and reduce the likelihood of a Low-Side fall from a sudden loss of friction causing a wider radius turn and corresponding loss of Centrifugal Force. It will also reduce the likelihood of a High-Side fall from catching an edge.
• The less the ski edge skids and the more it cuts into the slope, the more it turns by carving with its side cut combined with ski flexing. The more the ski carves on edge, the less it skids and therefore, the less likely it will create a High-Side or Low-Side fall.
Therefore, increased angulation reduces the likelihood of falling by reducing skid-turns, but it has the effect of increasing (or not decreasing) the skier’s speed (since speed is not scrubbed off). Since, the defensive skier wants to reduce speed, he or she will tend to skid-turn, resulting in raising the risk of falling. The more the skier falls, the more defensive he or she is likely to get, creating a spiraling cycle of skidding turns, leaning, and falling into the hill.
Monoskiers with Ample Trunk Control
Given proper technique, a monoskier with ample trunk control is able to create on demand, the angulation required to make carved as opposed to skid-turns. The more a skier can angulate, the slower he or she needs to be moving in order to carve a turn since less Centrifugal Force is being utilized as part of maintaining the balance of forces. Therefore, this type of skier is able to learn to carve turns on gentle slopes and is less likely to feel the need to depend on skid-turns to reduce speed. Such a skier is also able to more easily balance his/or monoski either on a flat ski or on its edge due to trunk muscle control. All of these factors combine to reduce the likelihood of defensive skiing psychology. On the other hand, monoskiers with minimal trunk control are another story.
Monoskiers with Minimal Trunk Control
Monoskiers with minimal trunk control (MTC) are much more likely to engage in defensive skiing psychology. In order to provide upper body stability, this skier is strapped into a high backed bucket seat. As a result, he or she has limited ability to bend sideways and easily angulate. Available angulation is generated by exact body positioning of the head and shoulders. But this amount is limited in comparison to a skier with ample trunk control.
Lack of trunk control makes upper body stability a priority. The MTC skier will depend on seating restraints and his (or her) outriggers to hold him or her up. The flatter the ski is, the easier it is to balance. Therefore, the MTC skier will tend to flat ski and depend upon skid-turns. As explained previously, skid-turns tend to create a defensive skiing psychology that is difficult to break out of. With reduced ability to angulate, the MTC skier requires high speeds in order to learn to carve turns which is incompatible with defensive skiing.
All a result, many MTC skiers never learn to carve turns. In fact, many of them don’t even realize that they are skid-turning as opposed to carved turning. If they haven’t experienced what a carved turn feels like, how are they to know that they are not doing it? Defensive skiing psychology seems to feel “normal” to them.
The Catch 22 for MTC Skiers
A carved turn is essentially skiing on the edge of the ski which means balancing the monoski on the edge of the ski on the slope. Balancing requires moving your Center of Mass in a responsive manner to the ski’s edge angle and Centrifugal Force (as well as bumping/bouncing movements) such that you don’t fall over. The act of bodily balancing is NOT a conscious process that you can think about and achieve. Balancing requires utilizing the nonconscious processing of your brain. Your nonconscious learns by repetition of the action and feedback.
In other words, you learn by successful doing. If you have difficultly putting your ski on edge due to minimal ability to angulate in the first place, then you don’t have the opportunity to practice balancing on a ski edge. Not spending time on an edge means you never develop the ability to balance on a ski edge. Therefore, you don’t learn to carve a turn. This unsuccessful cycle is the Catch 22 faced by many monoskiers with minimal trunk control. The able-bodied analogy is slacklining (or bicycling). If you can’t get up on the slackline without falling, then you are stuck and cannot progress. But once you develop the ability to spend a few moments balancing, your skills begin to rapidly progress as you fall less and less as you spend more time on the slack line (or bicycle).
Monoskiers with MTC who are able to successfully carve turns almost always have spent a considerable amount of time skiing under exceptional instruction. They get a lot of practice time skiing. In addition, when snow conditions are soft, less angulation is required to carve a turn. Therefore, the ideal place in the United States for Monoskiers with MTC to learn to carve turns is out West where there are plenty of wide groomed trails with forgiving packed power. On the other hand, the unforgiving icy and narrow slopes of New England make it more difficult to achieve successful carving.
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate how the psychology of falling effects skiing performance and to highlight some of the difficulties faced by Monoskiers with MTC. Having a better understanding of these issues will enable skiers and instructors to devise training methods to overcome them.