The Slalom Ski “Return Principle”

When assessing any sport where a direction change is necessary, the basic principles seem to be similar across the board. The way I see it, if you make a move that is initiated with your shoulders or upper body, that better be your last move. For example, in football when a receiver dives for a pass, it is a one shot deal…catch it or the play is over. When a defensive player dives to tackle an offensive player, if the tackle is not made the defensive player is out of the play having fully committed to a movement in one direction. The idea is that once we lead with our shoulders we have sacrificed our AGILE BASE and therefore have no ability to make an immediate subsequent direction change.

Moving Center of Mass

Moving Center of Mass

Why does this matter to us as slalom skiers? Well, the most obvious answer is that slalom skiing is filled with continual changes in direction. In the course, just about the time we get settled into a powerful position to make the wake crossing through the gates, it is time to get prepped for the next turn or the “return” to the other side of the course. This gives us an extremely justifiable reason to keep our upper body on top of our base in order to be able to make a direction change after we cross through the wakes. This is what I refer to as the “Return Principle.” IT is the idea that if we are going to have to begin to make a move that puts our ski onto a turning edge in order to make each subsequent turn, then we need to make sure we don’t set ourselves up to get lean-locked or stuck on the cutting edge as we approach and pass through the wakes.

Jamie keeping shoulders level and moving into the center of the course

Jamie keeping shoulders level and moving into the center of the course

One of the most common moves in slalom skiing is to lead with the head and shoulders through the turn. In fact I even read an article this year where someone encouraged the idea of leaning heavily on the back shoulder which is often a direct result of leading the turn with the head and shoulders. I am not saying that the bulk of that article was wrong, however most skiers have enough load on the back shoulder (referring to the shoulder furthest away from the boat and not to be confused with what is commonly called the trailing arm) that we don’t really need to encourage it.

If the shoulders lead the way and are consequently slightly ahead of our hips and lower than our hips, then we basically BLOCK our lower body from being able to make any sort of transition to cast the ski out to the turning edge. In turn, we then have to give up power and our precious tight line in order to make a transition or edge change. This results in down course speed and makes it difficult and often times impossible to make the next turn in a timely, efficient, and controlled manner…therefore diminishing our success bit by bit as we make our way through the course.

The Answer:
If we can maintain semi level shoulders and a balanced stance through the turns, we can move our center of mass/our entire body through the turn such that we finish the turn in a position where our shoulders aren’t blocking the lower body from moving. This will allow us to dictate the timing of the transition in order to move our ski and lower body out in preparation for the next turn.

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Sunday, November 13th, 2011 Current Tips Comments Off

Working with Kids-and a great video!

Yeah, sure, this is a water ski website, but as a coach, this video caught my eye. Of course part of it was because the kid (Jordan McCabe) was seemingly so talented, but most of it was an understanding of the hardwork that goes into developing a skill set like this kid has! Congrats to both this kid and his Dad. Amazing! We could learn a lot from his dedication.

Now, none of this is to say that we need to go out and push our kids to be this good at anything. But if they want to excel at something and express a goal to you, then by all means share this video with them and let them know that it takes a lot of hard work to reap big time rewards and develop great skills.

Enjoy the video…I did!

–Seth Stisher

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Monday, January 17th, 2011 Current Tips Comments Off

Super Bike Movements verus Slalom Movements

For years I have talked about the movements of the guys who ride super bikes as the maneuver through turns and transition from one turn to the next. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to simply show you a video of these guys and describe how it relates to us as slalom skiers.

TURNS: Checkout how their Center of Mass moves into the direction of each turn while their upper bodies stay fairly upright. The head and shoulders stay level with the horizon.

TRANSITIONS: Checkout how there bikes move under them as much or more than they move up and over the bike in transition from one turn to the next.

Also, pay attention to their gauges as they are 1/4 of the way into most turns (you can also listen to the sound of the engine). You will see they begin to accelerate through the turn like any racer. Our error as skiers is often decelerating all the way through the finish of the turn by diving into the turn and focusing on the turn itself instead of the path out of the turn.

Anyway, you don’t have to over tweak about it…just take a look and convince your self that the movements and the speed maintenance is very similar.


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Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 Current Tips Comments Off


There has always been a little confusion among skiers and coaches regarding the connotation of the word “speed.” I have found over the years that often as a coach and a skier alike I have failed to differentiate between the speed of what we, as skiers, do and the resulting speed created on the ski relative to the course. Well, it’s time to spell out the difference.

The Slow Gate…????
I have heard skiers tell me for years that they are trying to get a slow gate. Whether their buddy, another coach, or their own observations have guided them to this is always a mystery, but I believe there is a little bit of a misconception here. While I will agree that slow movements on the turn in for the gate are important, I also know that in order to make these slow movements, the ski speed must be relatively high as you prepare and begin to turn in for the gates…so depending on your focus, the gate can be fast or slow…slow movements, with high ski speed.

Skiing too fast downcourse…or at the buoy…
Oftentimes, people describe the approach into the buoy as being too fast, usually meaning they are approaching the buoy in a very direct manner. This frequently comes from losing direction through the transition from the cutting edge to the turning edge of the ski as you pass through the centerline of the wakes/course.
Here is where the confusion lies. You actually need more speed to be able to maintain direction and ski away from the centerline of the course and stay tight against the rope. This additional speed can feel like it is actually slower due to the increased control factor and the fact that you are not skiing a direct line toward the buoy.

Sure, none of this is earth shattering, but the one thing it points out as that you need to be certain you know what you are hearing from your coach and what you are saying when you ARE the coach. The interpretation can vary enough that you produce the opposite result with your mildly ambiguous words.

–Seth Stisher

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Sunday, November 7th, 2010 Current Tips Comments Off

Coaching and Skiing at LAke Cabo in Hackett, Arkansas

Checkout one of my favorite sites and groups of skiers.

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Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 H2O News Comments Off

Slackline backflip 360, etc.

Although these aren’t our videos, I thought you guys needed to see this. Since we spend a fair amount of time on the slack line at the H2Oz Training Center, I thought you might want to see how the pros do it. Here are a couple of videos. WOW!!!! The first one is an amazing slack line stunt, as are the 2nd and 3rd, but the last one shows some amazing ways to TRAIN on the slack line. Check it out!

And another…

And one more…

Here’s the training version…

See you at Oz…maybe you can try it too!

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Monday, September 6th, 2010 Anecdotal Thoughts, Current Tips Comments Off

Interview with “John Horton”

So, on a recent trip out to Southern California, I was able to put together a brief interview with John Horton…at least this guy told me he was John Horton…seemed a bit young, but sounds a lot like him, so I guess it must be him. I was entertained by his authenticity. If you don’t know John…maybe you shouldn’t watch. Enjoy regardless.

–Seth Stisher

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Sunday, August 1st, 2010 Anecdotal Thoughts, H2O News Comments Off

Blog is Alive and Well

So, it’s been a while since I have updated the water ski tips blog. I apologize for that. I credit this partly to being crazy busy (thankfully) and part of it to being a little disorganized with my internet-based efforts. Problem solved now! Stay tuned for updates here on this site that include, but will not be limited to:

  • waterski tips
  • H2Oz News
  • anecdotal water ski thoughts
  • driving tips
  • tips on coaching others
  • and anything you let us know you’re interested in.

So to get us rolling, here is a video of Brooks Wilson who I have been training with in preparation for the Global Invitational. He is a solid skier and much younger than me (meaning that his potential is yet to be fully realized even though he already rips). Enjoy! Hope your season is going well!!!!

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Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 Current Tips Comments Off

Sometimes you just gotta keep going!

One of the things I have always focused on with slalom skiing is technique. There are two major reason for that in my opinion: 1-Proper technique makes for less work (so more efficient), and 2-Proper technique can prevent injury (so longevity of career whether hobby or job).

Over the years with my won skiing I have had seasons/years where I focused heavily on this, but I have also had seasons where I really just tried to “give it hell”. I have had success with both and failures with both. These trends in my training have invariably followed trends in my overall attitude toward life.

I say all of this in order to step out of my typical coaching character for a moment. Being a coach that spends a lot of time preaching the value of proper mechanics married with great rhythm, I think it is important to admit that sometimes you just gotta go for it. When you have been skiing for years and know your way around a slalom course no matter what level you ski, you need to occasionally recognize that you are good enough to run a PB on any given day while skiing on what you might call and “brutal” form of autopilot. I see my competitors do it quite often and even find myself getting pats on the back for “looking great” and having “beautiful technique” only to go home with something like a 15th place finish. These experiences along with my more honest training partners have insured over the years that from time to time, I just ski the pass and keep skiing no matter what happens. We have watched Andy Mapple (the legend) ski through several mistakes for years and literally crush his competitors. In fact 98% of the pro skiers who run 39 and go deep at 41 aren’t making it pretty when they get to their max pass.

I was sent the video below by my good friend and occasional training partner Srdjan Dragic. He sent it to me to pound home the idea that I was good enough to run 39 even on my worst day (a fact I am not altogether aware, but if he says so…). Anyway, watch the super-sloppy 39 I run below (well, I lost the handle at the exit gates) and tell me you don’t agree that it doesn’t always have to be pretty (pay no attention to the fact that someone tried to do me a favor at six ball with the boat…but perhaps a little late). Enjoy, and when you’re done…just go ski for a set or two!

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Monday, March 8th, 2010 Anecdotal Thoughts, Current Tips Comments Off

Making Changes

Jim McLaughlin from Houston, Texas sent me this quick tip/thought and I felt like it epitomized some of what we all feel when it comes to truly training. I know that I have caught myself in this rutas often as not. Thanks for the thought Jim.

So, why can’t most people make the desired changes in their games to improve? According to Vic Braden, it’s because the pain of making a specific change is greater than the pain of losing to the same people over and over again that they perceive as better players than they are. And, the deepest psychological reason for not making the change seems to be that students are afraid of being even “lousier” than their current playing level and that they would lose any self esteem they previously possessed.

The obvious realistic solution would be to tell the players who are going through changes to think of their 8 weeks of change as their time to be a member of a “mistake center.” Research indicates that when people have fun making changes in their games, that they’ll be more easily able to develop the right motor program in less time.

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Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 Anecdotal Thoughts, Current Tips Comments Off