Most of us, maybe more the beginner skier, may think that since our foot/ankle is in a ski boot our ankles do not play a role in how we ski. Well that isn’t 100% true.

When we ski we want good “ankle flex”. What?

Ankle flex refers to how the joint flexes and extends to transfer power and leverage to the skis. This becomes extremely important when we begin to work in bumps, rougher terrain and weather-related conditions like strong winds. First, let’s review the anatomy of the lower leg to have a better understanding of these muscles and their importance in skiing. There are four muscles that are responsible for ankle flexion, or dorsiflexion of the foot – the action of pointing the foot and toes to the sky, whilst standing. The muscles of the posterior of the lower leg and the calf control the opposite action, known as plantar flexion.

Dorsiflexion is mainly done by the tibialis anterior. There are three other muscles that flex the toes which are the extensor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus and fibularis tertius.

Plantarflexion is mainly done by the gastrocnemius and these other muscles also aid in the action too - soleus, fibularis longus, flexor hallucis longus and fibularis brevis
Now let’s go back to this concept of Ankle Flex. This has to do with our stance. By having a stance where my body is “stacked”, “centred” or perpendicular to the centre of my skis, this allows you to have a good base of support. This is where the proper boots and skis play a huge role. With the proper equipment, you can actually create some nice “flex” within the boot which will transition to how the skis move/shift down the slopes. But you also have to have some skill here because your center of gravity will change as well.
This is where balance comes into play.

We all know that our core helps to keep us centered but as our weight shifts as we turn to go down the mountain is where we need to have good “flex”. Think of it this way. If we are skilled enough to engage the correct muscles at the opportune, split-second moment while staying balanced you will be able to generate the desired performance from one’s equipment and thanks to proper biomechanics of the entire kinetic chain.

There are 5 skiing skills, 4 of which use all the joints in the kinetic chain. These are:
  1. Stance & Balance - the skier makes small adjustments in their stance to stay centered and balanced
  2. Edging - the engagement of the skis’ edges by “rolling” the knees and angulating the hips
  3. Pivoting - rotational movement of the “ball n’ socket” joint to steer the feet in the desired direction
  4. Pressure Control - the use of the 3 major joints of the lower body to manage the forces acting upon the skis and the skier
  5. Timing & Coordination - the blend of all the skills that go into good skiing
Based upon these 5 skiing skills, you should start to recognize that having strong, flexible and mobile ankles will make an overall difference in your ski performance.
But if it’s still unclear let’s break it down a little bit further...

  • Pressure Control - the ankles need to be able to flex and extend here. This allows you to move your stance & balance forward and back.
  • Pivoting - the ankle joints themselves move with internal rotation of the outside leg and external rotation of the inside leg allowing you to increase or decrease the steering angle.
  • Edging - the eversion & inversion of the ankles will affect the rotation at the hip as your body mass moves forwards and goes downhill Obviously, our ankles play a role in our overall ski performance.
Obviously our ankles play a role in our overall ski performance. Attached is a demonstration video that goes through a progression of balance exercises designed to help enhance these 5 skiing skills all the while increasing ankle flexibility/mobility and strength.

As always here’s to a great ski season everyone!