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Gate Clearing 101 (In-depth guest post)

Gate Clearing 101
John Borwick
J4 – J5 – J6 Coach
Madison Alpine Race Team

Well I guess if you’re reading this, you’ve come to the conclusion that you would like to begin the process of gate clearing.  Please keep in mind that we as coaches have met and decided that we too agree that it’s time for you to begin this process as well.
The goal is to make you comfortable in the process, which should hopefully allow you to take that next step in your ski racing development.

For the basics, we would have to guess that everyone is in agreement that gate clearing is a vital tool for athletes competing in slalom competitions.  To undertake this mission, you will be required to alter your line and to some degree turn shape, to begin to clear gates.  Again, based upon your current development, we strongly believe that you are able and capable of shifting your center of mass closer, and ultimately on the inside plane of the gate in question.
Overall, our goal is to provide you with a tactic to improve your technique in slalom.  We will repeat this specific message over and over, so here’s your first taste… gate clearing is not about the hit, rather, it’s about the line!  Make a mental note of this because it’s important and I think we’ll slip in an “IMPORTANT” topic buzzer in the next few pages to highlight this for you.  Please consider…hitting gates is a product of your NEW line, it’s not the main event.
So, over the next few pages, we will discuss and highlight a few of the necessary elements in gate clearing and describe the technique necessary to accomplish this goal.  In addition, we will showcase the necessary equipment that you may need to purchase along the way.
Hopefully, this will gear your minds to wrap around the concept so that we can pursue this tactic efficiently this Fall and into the Winter.  Again, we do this sport because it’s fun.  Have fun with the learning aspects, which will most certainly give you the additional tools to reach… and hopefully surpass your goals!
Gate Clearing 101

1.  Are you ready?  
This is a very important topic, because “although your heart may say yes-yes, while your body may say no-no”.  I think that was a Britney Spears song but it seems to work…  
  1. We’ve learned through physics class, that the higher you hit something, the easier it will fall based upon a principle called “leverage”.  In this regard, a smaller racer may not be able to “push” that gate over as easy as a larger racer.  Again, are you ready?
  2. Additionally, we have a factor called “body mass”, which is similar to the height issue.  This is something that we must consider in order to determine if it would be appropriate for you to take to the gates.  
  3. The young J-5 racer in Figure 1.1, has decent angulation, he’s aggressive in his line, he has great matching angles in his skis, ankles and knees, YET… he is too small and we would guess too light to get his torso to the line inside the gate and efficiently take this gate down.

ski racer photo  Figure 1.1

  1. This boils down to three simple common elements that will determine if you are ready to clear gates.
(a).  Are you anatomically large enough?  No offense yet shorter athletes, no matter how well they ski, may lack the physical size to bring their center body mass to the inside of the gate.  See Figure  1.1.

(b).  Do you carve proper turns?  If you do not carve a good turn now, you will not be able to do so after you begin to hit gates.  Technique is so important to this exercise, that we created an entire section listed herein.  
(c).  Do you have the proper angulation which will allow you to place your torso to the inside line of the gate?    Let’s face it campers, if you don’t carve clean turns, with firm acute angles in your legs and hips, you will never be able to hold the line necessary to clear gates correctly.  

  1. How’s your technique?  

  1. This is an important topic simply because we cannot build a good house over a crummy foundation.  Turn Shape, Turn Arc, Body Positioning, Moving to the Inside, Weight/Balance and being Squared to the Hill are topics that need to be addressed, which can answer the question of whether this tactic makes sense for you at this stage.
  2. Turn Shape and Turn Arc.  In order to be able to clear the gates, the athlete must have control of his or her turn shape.  Rounded turns are the key to this exercise, insofar as the athlete needs to continue to create and carve rounded turns.  In the past, you’ve been running courses and for the most part, staying away from the gates.  
You carve good round turns, yet in your mind, you knew the line you needed to hold to support that type of turn (the non-gate-hitting mojo).  Now, we wish to introduce you to the inside line, which will allow you to take (and I hate using this word) a “tighter” line.  IMPORTANT TOPIC…  you will be able to take a more aggressive line, so your turn shape may reflect this possibility.  In the past, you may have completed 60% of your turn at the gate, whereas now, you may have taken a straighter line into the gate, yet you’ve completed 70% of your turn at the gate.  The goal will be in your ability to utilize the rounded turn, and in essence be pointing at their next aim point at the point of contact with the gate.  


An aside…A good exercise to “gage” your aim points, is to examine the “slap marks” of the gates in your slalom courses.  The holes and/or furrows created by the gates “slapping” the snow following a hit by an athlete, will highlight the direction the skier is headed at the time of impact.   


  1. Body positioning.  In order for you to clear a gate, you must train your body to come across the gate.  This is to say, that you must have sufficient angulation in your lower body, to effectively place your torso/upper body (i.e.: head, chest and tummy) inside the line of the gate.  The athlete in Figure 1.2, has the angulation and height to place her body to the inside line of the gate.  This action allows her center body mass to cross over to the inside line of the gate.

ski racer photo  Figure 1.2

(a). Again, the question becomes at this stage, are you tall enough to create the angle to cross over and place your sternum and head on the inside line of the gate?  If you are not large enough, nor have the proper angles to cross into the inside line of the gate, you will have great challenges to continue on this process.  Rest assured, you will get bigger, and you will learn the tactic in time to place.
family in Amsterdam photo  Not sure why I placed this here, however, this is our family on vacation in Amsterdam.  I figured I wrote this, I can paste any pictures in.  

  1. Squared to the Hill.  It is very important for the athlete to understand that they will need to remain “square” to the hill and to the terrain.  
alpine skier clearing gate photo
Figure  1.3

This is to say, that you should find yourself with your shoulders, chest and hips, running perpendicular to your turn shape.
ski racer photo Figure 1.4

In Figures 1.3 and 1.4,  the hands up and attacking.  Most of all, both Resi and Ben are squared to the hill and to the terrain.   
If the racer finds themselves turning, reaching or twisting their bodies “across” the gate, the torque created in this action will release the pressure you have built in your skis, which are vitally needed to accelerate out of the turn.  
Additionally, the twisting will release edge pressure, which in turn will not support your turn radius, which will not allow you to hold that line.    


****The goal at this stage is to place the body on the inside line to the gate.****
  1. Moving to the Inside.  As you progress in stance and balance, you will begin to “initiate” your movement to the gate by simply “moving to the inside”  The skier in Figure 1.5, Ted Ligety, has initiated his turn to the gate in anticipation of holding the designated line.  This will allow the skier to place the necessary amount of force on the skis to hold the line to next anticipated aim point.

ski racer photo  Figure 1.5  

The racer in Figure 1.5, is not only on the fastest sleds on the hill, but as you will note from the picture, he has shifted his body to the inside line to anticipate the turning radius.  IMPORTANT TOPIC…Note his eyes and the focus on his aim spot.  Ted is already focused on the next aim point, rather than simply slamming a gate.  To him, the gate is already in the past.
For this discussion, remember the move to the inside as the defining moment of the turn.

 night time ski racer photo Figure  1.6
Figure 1.6 highlights the move to the inside, note the position of her head, you can almost feel her stare at her new aim point.  By the way, her turn is almost done…

ski racer photo  Figure 1.7
Make the move to the inside to commit to the turn…move in the direction of the next turn.

  1. Weight balance for the turn shape.  As you slide to the inside line to clear the gate, you will need to apply the necessary pressure to execute the turn.
ski racer photo Figure 1.8
As you will note in Figure 1.8 , we have Ted again, (still on the fastest skis on the planet)… yet pay attention to the balance in this specific turn.  He has already  shifted to the inside and we have two equal elements in play, which allows him to execute this turn… he weights the outside foot, while he pressures the inside foot.  By the way, the matching angles are almost perfect.

This should jump start your brain-bucket to give you a taste of the skiing techniques necessary to begin this task.  At this point, we have to ask ourselves, we’ve discussed body positioning, heading to the inside and our turn shape.  The question becomes, what do we do with our hands?

  1. Inside Hand Clearing Technique
    1. This is the act of “getting on the gates” and allowing your inside arm to work across the gate.  The racer in Figure 1.9 is utilizing the inside hand clear, however, this racer uses this technique to clear the gate due to the fact that their line places their torso directly on the gate.  Quite honestly, at this point for some racers, it’s survival.

ski racer photo  Figure  1.9
Remember back in Section 1, where we described the elements limiting the possibilities to clear gates?  The racer in Figure 1.9 additionally lacks sufficient angulation, which would allow him to place his torso on a line inside the gate.

    1. As we set the stubby courses, concentrate on keeping your hands up and forward through the gate, while you focus on the following pole plant to drive your body up and towards your next aim point.  The racer in Figure 1.10 has just cleared the gate, her hands are up, weight forward, almost perfect matching angles of her skis and legs,… but most important, she is setting up for an aggressive pole plant.  
ski racer photo  Figure 1.10
Hands up, hands level, hands forward!
An Aside:  This seems to be a good area to talk about pole plants, so why not?  As an aside, pole planting is a valuable tool to link your turns and position your body.  I personally like the double pole plant for a host of various reasons.  The pole plant in itself, allows you to bring your body up and across to initiate the next turn. The double pole plant, allows your body to square itself to the turn and to the pitch of the hill.  Although integrated to gate clearing, pole planting is an important topic which we will cover in another lesson guide.

    1. During the drills using the tall SL gates, we will place tape along the poles which will allow you to guide and target the gate with your hands.  This will teach you to remain tall through the gates, plus will familiarize you with your hand position as you clear the gate.

ski racer photo Figure  1.11
Hands coming up and level, prepared for an aggressive double pole plant.

ski racer photo Figure  1.12
Figure 1.12 is a great shot of Tanja on her way to the overall slalom title this past year.  She’s found the pressure balance applied to each of her skis (how’d those Volkl’s get into that shot again?) for the turn shape.  Equally as important, she goes for an aggressive double pole plant to initiate her next turn.

    1. It is very important for you to recognize your stance and turn shape throughout this process.  Often times, an athlete will “set up” by aiming at the gate, then as they clear the gate, they will realize that they forgot to turn.  Worse yet, they become late because they’ve thrown their line down the hill as opposed to concentrating on the turn shape to complete the turn.

**** It’s important to note that gate clearing is a technique to reduce the
overall amount of terrain you cover on your way down to the finish.  
Gate clearing is a product of a proper turn shape…
you must still turn well in order to accelerate out of your turns.****

Sweeeeeeet !
gate clearing ski photo

  1. Outside Hand Clearing

    1. OK, this looks kind of cool, yet you have to understand that outside hand clearing is not “cross blocking”!

gate clearing ski photo     gate clearing ski photo
Figure 1.13 Figure  1.14  

    1. Let’s talk about the differences between Outside Hand Clearing and Cross Blocking.  
    2. Cross blocking is when you move your outside hand across your torso to strike the gate.  This can be illustrated in Figures 1.13, 1.14 and 1.15
Cross blocking is vital tool for most racers whom cannot, or do not have their center body mass across the gate at the time of impact.  Two elements allow for cross blocking:  
(1). It may become a tactic if the course offers a rhythm change that may force the racer to a new fall-line position.  
(2). More often than not, cross blocking becomes a survival tool for younger racers who have not committed to the inside line.  Additionally, it’s a “cheap” method to simply slap a gate to look cool.  
gate clearing ski photoFigure 1.15

In figures 1.13, 1.14 and 1.15, examine their feet and ask yourself “how far is their body from the gate?”  Is this the line you wish to be on?  Additionally, remember the “twisting” covered in the earlier chapter, do you really want to release the energy from your skis without acceleration?

    1. Outside Hand Clearing is the ability to drive your torso across the line of the gate to literally feel the extension of your body out and down.  

gate clearing ski photo Figure  1.16

This will come in time as you ski a closer line to the gate, which will force you  to use your outside hand to “clear” the gate, as opposed to your inside hand.  
Again, this is not reaching over and across your body similar to the cross blocking!!  Figure 1.16 highlights the fact that this athlete has crossed over to the inside, he’s driving his line down the hill, his hands are up, level and attacking, he’s focused on the next aim point… and for this chapter, his outside arm is square to his upper torso.  He did not reach across nor twist to fend off the gate.
The same can be said in Figure 1.17 from a different angle.

gate clearing ski photo  Figure  1.17



  1. Let’s talk about equipment.  

Obviously, gates are made of a very hard plastic, and when combined with some degree of speed, will cause undo pain to the athlete if not properly equipped to handle this onslaught.

A.  Shin Guards; a nice chunk of hard plastic, built to run from your ankles to the tops of your knees.  Look for good padding on the inside, along with a good Velcro strap.  Please size correctly, nothing too big or you will limit your range of motion.
B.  Hand/Pole Guards; personally, I like the full wrap from the pole, over the hands and connected to the top of the pole.  The “half wraps” can always have the potential to grab a gate if your hands are out of position.
C.  Helmets with face protection; this, like the shin guards are a must.  The happy hat is only useful if it protects the athlete…why only protect half of your head?  Good, now imagine your teeth without protection.
D.  Ladies; as delicate as I can say this, you may wish to consider chest protection.

The goal here is that you will be properly prepared to take on any slalom course.  
The mind set that you will want to have, is that you’re protected,
so you can concentrate on the line… rather than simply hitting a gate!

Obviously this sport is about having fun or else why are you doing it?  Part of this fun, is having the ability to go fast and perform to your abilities.  The progression that will allow you to hopefully reach and surpass your goals, is a mix of the various elements that will promote your development.  Having fun is key… so is listening to your coaches.  Your mind-set in this process is fundamental because your inner drive is the balance, which allows you to continue to strive to become better.  
In this regard, your mind-set must posses the drive to become better.  One method to achieve this balance, is the conditioning of your inner mind to create the ability to push your comfort levels on the training courses.  
Pushing one’s comfort levels, is just a measure of placing yourself in an element that you are either unfamiliar or unaccustomed to at this level of your development.  No one is trying to scare you, rather the comfort levels should be viewed as simply something you have not yet done, or perfected yet.  Consider it a challenge.  In training, you will need to place yourself within this element to truly judge your capabilities.  Additionally, placing yourself outside of your comfort zone, pushes your envelope of learning.

Remember, this is a sport, and like most sports, well… stuff happens.

So, this…
gate clearing ski photo  

…sometimes leads to…
skier falling photo
…this,… which if you continue to work hard, will sometimes lead to…

celebrating skier photo


…and this…

winning skier photo

(Those darn pesky Volkl’s again…)

Common sense and eventualities teach us that someone wins the race, and someone does not.  The key here is to give you some of the necessary tools, to add to your collection of tools, so you can hopefully reach your goals in this sport, whether that is winning, or not.
Gate clearing is a tactic, which should allow you to take the next step in your continuing development in this sport.  The  key is to pay attention to your fundamentals, it’s what got you to this level, and it will allow you to build on that foundation.  
Once again… go fast, have fun with your teammates and coaches and most of all, enjoy your sport!

Coach Bors



As a parting shot…
    gate clearing ski photo

Slalom is about the skillful progression between the gates.  
Please do not consider slalom to be composed of a series of individual elements.  
The process involves one single minded goal; to complete a run as quickly as possible.  Your technique and training will allow that to possibly occur.

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