Q: Here in the east we have had very limited snow and have been racing at Alpine areas. The descents have been quite difficult. How to go fast downhill? Talking about situations in which skiers are essentially on alpine grades at very high rates of speed.
A: As a whole, Midwest skiers suffer from these same problems due to a lack of terrain. There is a very simple answer- go ski some downhills.
The best downhill skiers (on cross country skis) aren’t masters technicians, they are simply more comfortable on their skis. This part of skiing can certainly be learned, but it can’t really be taught.
Our suggestion would be to go to an alpine area with your cross country skis and simply ski for a day. Take the lift up the mountain, ski down (but stick to the easier trails). You will certainly get some odd looks (and maybe a few black and blues) but by the end of the day you will have gained a very important trait, confidence.
General downhill technique reminders include bent and supple knees, staying forward on your feet (towards the balls), and using your arms to generate balance and flow.
Without getting too into physics, drag is affected by many things — the fluid you’re going through (air), how the fluid is approaching the object, friction between the object and the ground, length of the object, frontal surface area of the object, shape of the object, velocity and probably some other things.
You can’t really change the fluid, but you can change other things. Getting out of an aerodynamic tuck changes your body shape, and generally increases the frontal surface area and body length — which should slow you down. A snowplow will increase friction and decrease velocity as well. So, those are things to consider — getting more upright will slow things down.
On a more practical (and maybe less “yeah, no kidding” note), keeping your body and mind relaxed helps greatly on sketchy terrain. Definitely keeping the legs supple and relaxed is very important. Though it sounds stupid, while mountain biking, someone once told me that if you whistled to yourself when you’re tense, you’d relax — you can’t do it when your jaws are clenched, and if you’re grinding your teeth, you’re probably tight in your legs. Whatever the reason why it works, I’ve used it to good effect on descents. If you keep your knees and ankles relaxed, and your weight slightly on the ball of your feet (basic athletic position), you usually are able to react when things get out of control.
Practice breeds success. Good luck!