“Balance is the Holy Grail of skiing," says Jim Klopman, the creator of SlackBow, a patent-pending, portable slackline system. Klopman explains that your sense of balance keeps you upright in the world and helps the body mitigate the constant variables that threaten to knock you over on the slopes. Balance is also an essential aspect governing how fast you go.
"Every skier has a speed limit," Klopman says. "When you approach that speed limit, you get a sense a of discomfort. That's your body communicating with you that you've reached your balance limit."
A slackline mimics the variable surface of a ski slope, forcing the body to engage the lesser-used stabilizer muscles. When you strengthen stabilizer muscles, the body is better able to handle high speeds. "You'll ski faster than you ever have in your life after slacklining," Klopman says.
Balance training also has mental benefits, such as improving one's acuity and ability to focus (balance training is used to help children with attention deficit disorder). It's also used to treat people with traumatic brain injuries, because it helps integrate different parts of the brain.
For a balance training routine, follow Klopman's 12-16 minute plan below.
SlackBow Position 1
Set up your slackline between anchors that are less than 20 feet apart. The more taut the line, the easier it will be to balance on. Step onto the line with one foot. Bend slightly at the knees (don't tilt at the waist), keeping your chest and eyes up. Engage your whole body for balance. Put your weight on the first three inches of your foot. Keep your hands quiet and by your thighs. Work up to being able to balance for one minute on each foot. Do this for a total of two minutes of attempts per foot. Loosen line tension to increase difficulty.
Adjust your slackline so that one side is higher than the other, and with the line reasonably loose, with a slope on the high side. Mount the slackline about two feet from where the line is attached to the anchor, so that your foot is facing up the slope of the slackline. Get into an athletic ski position—knee bent, hips tilted slightly forward, chest up—and press your knee forward. Try to balance on the first three inches of your foot.
Next, turn around so that your foot is facing down the slope of the slackline. Again, focus on putting your weight on the first three inches of your foot. Maintain these positions for as long as you can, working up to one minute per foot. Do this for a total of two minutes of attempts per foot and per high and low slope.
SlackBow with Ski Boots
Once you've mastered SlackBow position one, it's time to put your ski boots on. Using SlackBow position one, step onto the line with one foot and engage your whole body to balance. Dismount and move to either side of the line to practice being on an uphill or downhill angle. Work up to being able to balance for one minute on each foot. Do this for a total of two minutes per foot.
You don't need a slackline for this exercise. Position your feet shoulder-width apart. Feet face forward, knees and hips bent in a skiing position. In a slow and controlled movement, jump slowly from one foot to the other. When you land, balance on one foot, sink down gently and absorb the energy of the jump. Repeat. When you've mastered this, try it with ski boots on. Go until you get tired or start to lose your balance.
Diagonal or Athletic Position One-Leg Squats
Grab a rope, doorknob, weight machine, or any other stabilizing object at about hip height. Position your feet in an athletic skiing stance, with your outside leg slightly forward of your inside leg, as if you were going to carve a big turn. Grab a kettlebell or dumbbell with your outside hand, lean away from the stabilizing force so that your inside arm is straight, and squat with the weight in the front of your foot (not in your heel). There should be almost no weight on your forward leg; you're working your inner leg. Variation: Do this same exercise in ski boots. Do five reps on each side.