The knees (aside from the head) are arguably the most important parts of the body when it comes to proficiency on skis or snowboard. For skiers, they are the most injured parts of the body and often cause the injured party to give up altogether, suffer months of painful rehabilitation, and/or undergo surgery.
As coach John Whitmore says on the Peak Performance website: “A skier’s legs are his suspension, and flexible knees with sufficient free movement up or down would seem advisable. The most frequent technical instruction ski instructors give is ‘bend zee knees’, in response to which skiers tend to adopt a fixed bent position, which gives rise to stiff suspension and poor ski grip. The instruction was technically correct, but the effect of giving it was counterproductive. This paradox is often unrecognised by conventional sports coaches, who repeat their commands ever more fervently. The most effective way to achieve the desired soft suspension effect is to ask awareness-raising coaching questions, such as: how much do your knees bend; when do they bend most in a turn; what happens when they are most bent, etc?”
Supposedly, the “Bend Zee Knees” phrase was coined by an Austrian skier/racer instructor back in the 1980’s – I remember it well. Bending the knees alone will invariably encourage a backward sitting motion towards the ‘lavatorial position’ as described in some circles, and throw the body out of line. Modern day ski instruction and the equipment that goes with it has come a long way since then – thank goodness.
On the subject of ski-related injuries to the knee, in my second season at Winter Park, I suffered an injury to my medial collateral ligament which caused me to miss the final 5 weeks of the season (thereby ensuring I only skied 105 days that year) and consigned me to the depths of the laundry department in the establishment for whom I worked. There are two great websites for those wanting to read more about knee injuries while skiing, and how to avoid them. Go see Dr. Mike Langran’s article which also has many great links, and Dr. Michael Reilly’s advice from the Center for Knee, Shoulder and Hip at Broward Orthopaedic Specialists.