Modern super G: USST coach Jim Tracy discusses the keys to competing in this hybrid disciplineSuper G has taken quite a few turns, so to speak, since its inception in the 1980s. It was designed to bridge the gap between giant slalom and downhill, to attract more spectators and to minimize the impact on the resort holding the event. Initially, super G drew some skeptical reactions from coaches and athletes alike, who doubted that alpine skiing had room for an entirely new discipline.
During the past two decades, however, super G has weathered the storm and has become a great event to watch, coach and compete in. It’s also a great learning tool — or stepping-stone — for the development of downhill skills.
The basic components of super G, presented below, are fairly straightforward and easy to understand, but the execution of these components takes a great deal of patience and effort. As most ski racers and coaches know, super G features the speed and some other elements of downhill and the technical aspects of GS; a thorough understanding of the basic fundamentals of skiing is therefore necessary. Additionally, coaches must know the abilities and limitations of their athletes and must provide a safe environment in which athletes can learn, improve and build confidence.
Your boots will always be the link between you and the snow. To have a balanced, centered position you must have the proper fit, alignment and canting. Every year at the first camp the athletes receive new boots and spend two to three days fitting and testing to see if we can do some small thing to make em’ faster! It makes no sense to start the training period (i.e. reviewing basic skills) and then get into gates without your boots being aligned properly.
The basics of GS skills — critical to good super G — are well documented. On the World Cup, as well as FIS races, there are course setters who will set more gates on the turny, GS side and some who will be more on the faster, DH side. The most common issue I have seen is that in the more technical sections, racers fail to release the skis quickly enough into the fall line and as a consequence, lose speed once they reach the faster gliding sections. This could be a result of poor inspection or not having the confidence or ability at this point to send it down the hill.
Gliding skills and tucking
Gliding skills are definitely the most difficult set to master. I’ve seen the best technical skiers in the world frustrated beyond belief because they’re slow in the glide-turn sections. In seeking answers racers should first look at their boots. Second, the athletes must realize that a tuck position does not guarantee they will be fast. I’ve heard athletes complain, “I was in the lowest tuck, so my skis must have been slow.” Most of the time this reasoning is false.
Instead, knowing when to use a high or low tuck and how you release out of your tuck — while still keeping an aerodynamic position into turnier sections — influences gliding. Racers must also maintain ski-snow contact through undulating terrain with the least amount of edging and still hold an aerodynamic position. To master these elements one must remember that proper re-centering (keeping the body balanced over the middle of the ski) can be the most important factor.
I’ve seen that with higher speeds in some sections, inclination (banking to the inside) can be more efficient. This is not to say we’re promoting tipping or leaning in. You can use this technique in some sections and in others use a more level-shouldered approach.
Another component of modern SG is maintaining a parallel stance (edges, shins, knees) throughout the turn. This can be tricky and can lead to more pressure on the inside ski, thus sending the outside ski somewhere the groin muscle does not want to go! Again, balance and timely re-centering are key. Arm and hand positions are key: on the U.S. Ski Team we work on keeping the hands in front and arms slightly more extended while in the tuck position, thus creating a windbreak and, more importantly, achieving a more efficient, aerodynamic transfer into a technical, non-tucking section.
Proper jumping skills are some of the easiest and most fun to learn if done in a safe and logical progression. The athletes can quickly see and feel the improvements. A basic jumping progression might include starting with GS (relatively lightweight) skis and hopping over bamboo poles on the ground. Then, move on to whoop-de-do’s and finally on to the jumps themselves. Coaches must be patient with the athletes and not progress too fast. Make sure athletes understand the importance of:
1. A balanced, even takeoff;
2. Keeping the heels up and the hands down and forward; and
3. Maintaining an aerodynamic position in the air.
The third principle is key because it is relates to safety, which comes first when jump training. An athlete will build confidence quicker in a safe environment than in one that makes him or her feel uncomfortable.
As discussed earlier, aerodynamics is obviously important, but knowing when and where to maintain the aerodynamic position is critical. Anyone can tuck and go straight, but to be fast one must be smart and maybe not tuck in situations when making a proper turn is more important. On the other hand, if you can tuck in sections with great execution in technique and tactics, you’ll be fast. Having the time to learn is the only factor.
In super G, inspection is and always will be the main element between winning and losing. I’ve seen too many great results thrown out the window because of a poor inspection. This must be learned at a early age and evolve through experience to the point where at the highest level an athlete can judge speed and apply the correct tactics at the right time in the proper sections of a course to win. If there were one element to spend as much time with the athletes as the basic skiing fundamentals, it would be inspection. I often see athletes spending too much time inspecting easy sections and not enough in the transitions, such as flat to steep with blind gates or steep to flat and knowing when to let the skis go and carry speed onto the flatter sections.
Super G is a complex discipline. It can be very frustrating at times and there are also weather, visibility, and snow conditions to consider, all of which must be trained in to establish a base of confidence to succeed. Confidence breeds confidence and athletes will learn to trust their own ability if these components are practiced.
Editor’s note: Jim Tracy is the head women’s downhill and super G coach for the U.S. Ski Team.