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By Kimberlee Hutcherson
If you are female — and you ski — this week’s column is for you. There are a few things women should know about their anatomy and how it affects their skiing.
First, a woman’s center of mass is generally lower than it is for a man. Also, it is set further back than the typical man. If you watch a woman ski, it appears that she is skiing with her weight in the backseat. Well, that’s because it naturally is. (Backseat being the center of mass behind the heel of the boot.) If you have ever taken a lesson, chances are you have been told to get forward, bend your ankles and press to the front of your boots. This is an attempt to get us women more centered over the middle of the skis, which is essential to getting the skis to perform optimally.
Second, a woman’s lower leg bones are approximately one inch shorter than a man of equal height. This is why I much prefer to use women-specific gear, especially boots because the cuff on a man’s boot will reach too high, causing her to have trouble flexing her ankles, thus adding to the problem of being in the backseat. The high cuff on a man’s boot can be painful to a woman’s leg by cutting off circulation and pinching the back of the calves. There are women-specific boots for all levels of skiers. More aggressive skiers will want a high performance boot, which will be stiffer but still designed for women.
The last thing I want to address concerning women’s anatomy as it relates to skiing is what I feel is the most important thing to consider, that is the “Q” angle (quadriceps angle), which is the angle of the femur going up from the knee to the hip. Because of women’s wider, childbearing hips, the femur bones are set further apart at the pelvis and then draw closer together at the knee. This causes a quadriceps angle in women that, in general, men don’t have to deal with. As a result, women have a more difficult time keeping our legs in alignment squarely over our skis. The “Q” angles vary from woman to woman. Some have a profound angle. Some women have virtually none. Just because you might be thin or narrow-hipped doesn’t mean you won’t have a “Q” angle. To check to see if this is an issue for you, stand in front of a full-length mirror, feet hip distance apart. Bend your ankles and knees, flexing down about 6 inches. Now straighten up. Watch the direction your knees go as you flex down. Do your knees come together? Even if they don’t touch — chances are they come closer together as you flex.
So, why is this a problem? Knock-kneed stance makes it hard to tip the skis on edge. The skis tend to skid out from underneath because of lack of edging. Also, it makes finishing a short-radius turn very difficult because the skis are tipped to the inside edge, causing the tips of the skis to cross. This can be very frustrating for women, particularly in the bumps.
Women-specific boots, skis and custom foot beds can all help with the “Q” angle, but if you are on rental equipment, you might not have the benefit of women-specific gear, so here’s a trick I like to use with my female clients. This seems to really help get those skis on the corresponding uphill edges quicker, which is what you want in a short-radius turn.
Focus on your knees. Imagine you are making a quick, short turn to the left. Your weight is primarily on your right foot as you guide the ski through the turn. Now here’s the trick — take the knee on the left leg and be very deliberate about tipping the knee uphill as you finish the turn. This gets your knee out of the way and keeps your skis parallel through the turn, eliminating the chance of the ski tips crossing. It’s the short, quick turns that are required in bump skiing and narrow trails in trees that will quickly show if you struggle with your knee getting in the way as a result of “Q” angle. Lead the turn with the knee. Trust me, this really works.