Interview: Kristian Saile, US Ski Team

BOYNE Racing recently caught up with globe-trotting Kristian Saile. He is a coach with the US Ski Team and was gracious enough to offer a few insights on what our nation’s best skiers are working on this season.

In addition to coaching ski racing all over the world, Kristian also the co-founder of UP Overland, an adventure company that allows travelers to “visit, experience and share the unique natural and historical sites in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in a responsible and ethical manner.”  www.upoverland.org

Ben Crockett: What is your position with the US Ski Team?

Kristian: Women’s Development Team service and assistant coach

BC: Which athletes are you working with?

Kristian: I work with the Women’s Development Team which specifically includes all of
the junior aged athletes named to the USST.  For this season it is the
athletes that were born in 1990 or younger.  This year’s D Team consists of
Julia Ford, Felicia Byers, Devin Delaney, Greta Byrne, Vanessa Berther,
Anna Marno, Rose Caston, and Lauren Samuels.

BC: Could you describe new technical or tactical concepts that the US team
is focused on currently?

Kristian: We spent a lot of time this season focusing on tactics as we discovered that
some of the girl’s tactics were so bad that they couldn’t ski technically
well in the gates.  What we worked on was really quite simple in concept.
Give room at the gate.  If you watch the best skiers in the world in giant
slalom they are not bashing the panels.  If they touch them at all usually
it is very lightly.  The idea is to give the feet enough room off the panel
to allow clean passage by the gate without impeding the strong body
position.  Probably the number one issue across the country tactically is
pinching, or starting the turn too early and crowding the gate.

To work on this we used two primary drills.  1st off in the prep period we
would set a brush corridor for both slalom and gs with the instructions of
do not begin the turn untill you cross the brush line, make the arc outside
of the brushes and be completely done with the turn as you cross the line
again going back into the corridor.  Along with that, the goal was to be
fluid and move through transition and begin rolling the ski onto the new
edge but being patient to wait for the other side of the corridor before
pressuring the ski and allowing the tip to carve into the turn.

Secondly, we would paint blue lines in gs and slalom vertically above the
gate and below the gate.  While running the course the athletes were tasked
with waiting for the blue line before starting the turn and being
completely released off the outside ski as they crossed the blue line under
the gate.  These drills if done properly will help put the turn in the
correct place as well as provide space at the gate to be strong.

Along with the patience for the rise line, the concept of not skiing too
high of a line was critical.  On average most athletes seemed to be running
an entirely too high of line.  We tasked the athletes with pushing the line
down the hill and running a low apex as well as a direct line towards the
next rise line.  Just by playing with the line we would see variations of
up to 2 seconds in some athletes in a 40 second gs.  This was with the top
juniors in the country.  Proper tactics can singularly find the most time
for an athlete in a course.

Technically we worked on some simple concepts as well.  The biggest issue
we see with junior athletes nationally is the tendency to counter rotate
the hip to start and move through the turn.  We spend a great deal of time
teaching the athletes to square up the hips, that is, have the tips of the
skis, the feet, the knees, the hips, and the shoulders all “match” each
other facing forward.  Overly countered hips (what we refer to as being
“hippy”) prevents the athlete from being able to pressure the ski
correctly, be strongly connected to the outside ski, and be able to deal
with terrain.  We spent alot of time going very slowly doing drills and
teaching proper stance.

The other big technical concept was of releasing the outside ski early.
Watch an World Cup athlete in slow motion and watch the point in the turn
where they release the outside ski.  Often times it is just below the apex
of the turn well before they pass under the gate.  If you are in a good
position, using good tactics, then you will be able to create a tremendous
amount of pressure at the top of the arc (between the riseline and the
apex) which will allow you to take pressure or “soften” the outside ski
soon after the apex as you transfer weight onto the “new” ski which is the
inside ski.  The key with doing this is keeping good ankle flexion and
passing through transition in a good, flexed position with the hip, knees,
and ankles versus popping up and extending vertically.  By remaining
flexed, it allows the athlete to use a subtle extension move at the top of
the arc to create that early pressure I talked about earlier.

BC: How about equipment… are there any new products or processes that are proving to be fast?

Kristian: The equipment is the most crucial link to performance.  You can have the
best position, tactics, and strength but if your skis are not sharp or your
boots not aligned correctly you will not be able to bring it all together.
Sharp, sharp, sharp!  For all conditions except for chalky, aggressive,
grippy snow I make the edges as sharp as possible.  If the skis aren’t
sharp then they will not be able to hold the tremendous forces that are
being put upon them.  In general for my athletes I make the skis razor
sharp tip to tail only detuning the tips above where they make contact with
the snow.  On downhill and super g skis I detune them back slightly on the
running surface.

I run 3 degree side bevel for everything.  For base bevels it varies a bit
more. I run as little as possible in slalom and gs and between .75 and 1
degree for speed.  The idea is to have enough base bevel to allow the skis
to glide comfortably but also not too much to impede the speed to engage
the edge.

All of my skis get tuned every time they touch the snow and waxed each time
as well.  The biggest mistake I see with junior athletes is their lack of
equipment preperation.  They train all week on skis they don’t tune or wax
then go to the races on the weekend on a freshly tuned pair of skis that
feel nothing like what they have been training on.  Keep the trainers sharp
and waxed, keep the race skis sharp and waxed.  Spend time working on your
skis since they are the link to you and good performance.

Boots.  There is alot of different theories out there to what boot setup is
the best.  Here is what we are doing.  We carefully measured all of the
girl’s boots early in the season and had the soles ground so that the boots
were at 0 degrees.  For reference, most boots come 1 to 2 degrees out which
means that when you are standing straight, they are on edge slightly.  Most
athlete’s setups are overly edged.  They can’t roll the ski up onto edge
while waiting for the riseline to start the turn because the ski wants to
hook up too quickly.  Try putting duck tape strips on the inside of the
bindings and alot of times it greatly helps with a better engagement at the
top of the turn by allowing the athlete to use the body to create more
angles.

In general, you want to find the boot that fits you the best.  Everyone’s
foot is different and finding the boot that works for you usually takes
some experimentation.  Most of the national team athlete’s boots are built
from scratch taking many hours of grinding, punching and fitting to make
them work.  Having a comfortable good fitting boot is key. The old idea of
cramming your foot into the smallest possible size shell is not ideal.
Having cramped and cold feet do not help in a sport where feel is crucial.
Having good circulation will also help prevent frostbite in those
unavoidably cold Northern Michigan races.  Frostbite is no fun and can
prevent you from racing.

BC: Are you placing any bets for the Olympics? Who is your money going on?

Kristian: Hmmm, well I’m not a betting man but here is what I think:  Lindsey’s shin
bruising is a bummer.  She really was in a position where she could have
easily medaled in every event other than maybe gs.  I think she was smart
and taking the time off this past week will definitely help.  I spoke with
her in Munich last weekend as we were flying back to the States on the same
flight and she seemed pretty confident that she will ski through any pain
she will have.  She has an extraordinary amount of pressure on her right
now but she is good at dealing with it.  Expect her to be in the hunt.
Maria Riesch is primed to be in the medal hunt as well.  For the US,
Chelsea Marshall and Leanne Smith skied well on this track last year in
speed and could be top tenners.  Alice McKennis was on the D Team last year
and debuted on the World Cup tour this year.  She has scored two top ten’s
already this season and been in the points all but one event.  Alice could
be the big underdog and really mix things up.  Plus the fact that she is
racing on the skis I put alot of time and love into last year, well, I’m
really rooting for her!  Schlepper and Mancuso will be top ten contenders
as well.  All I know is that it will be interesting!

On the guys I think for the US Bode and Ted have been ramping up to the
Olympics well.  Bode really wants it so again, its going to be interesting!

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