The Movement Matrix

Phil Smith, director of Snoworks Ski Courses discusses the importance of being free with your movements and the concept of The Movement Matrix which can help you to develop exercises and drills to help movement. 10 minute read.

So you want to improve? Ski better than you’ve ever skied before? It’s time to move. Literally move.

Pick up any ski book, google the internet for ‘ski technique’ and you’ll have 1000’s of descriptions of how to ski. It’s no wonder many skiers go round and round in their quest to find the ‘perfect technique’. One instructor says this, another says that. Often instruction can seem to be contradictory. Have you ever considered that learning to ski is completely natural like learning to walk, run, skip, jump. All you actually need to do to get better is to get better at moving and use your movements to ski however you wish.

We’ve termed the ability to move the ‘Movement Matrix’. Just a simple idea that can help you to understand how to move on your skis.

Unfortunately the quest to do things ‘correctly’ often narrows down movements rather than expands them. Although most instructors and coaches will have their favoured exercises to help you with your ski technique, the question is are these designed to help you move freely or help shape you into a specific way of skiing?

Some instructors and coaches have exercises that develop edge control, others pressure control, balancing, agility, speed of movement, the list can go on and on. There are literally 1000’s of exercises and drills. In the end if you practice every exercise every instructor and coach has and add ones yourself you should end up having the ability to move pretty freely on your skis. But this is rare. We get tied into favoured exercises, that match the instructors, coaches, students and athletes favoured way of skiing.

To be truly good at skiing you need to have all the movements and variations of movements available to you and then you can chose how you wish to ski. To use one of Bruce Lee’s famous quotes.

“A teacher is never a giver of truth; he/she is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for themselves.”

Movements are unbelievably complicated. Imagine the movements needed to walk through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks. Add a slippery floor and you get the idea. 

If you practice only certain movements then you could only walk through a crowded bar if everyone was standing in a place which would allow you to only use your favoured movements. This would never happen. Luckily from childhood we have no perception of how we should walk so we naturally develop all movements and are able to use them freely so walking through a crowded bar is a piece of cake.

In skiing, many skiers practice only certain movements, their perceived favoured ones, and hence often end up being good at some things and not others. Good at skiing on-piste, not off-piste, good at skiing bumps, not skiing fast, good in soft snow, not ice, good at skiing fast but not slow. In ski racing we also see the scenario where athletes are good at skiing particular courses but not others, good on steeps, not flat, good on flat not steep, good at straighter not tight courses, good on ice not soft snow. 

Ski racers that continually come out of courses may have specific movements missing. Of course it may just mean they are trying to ski too fast for their ability. But often there are movements that have not been developed and therefore do not allow the skier to adapt to every situation. Let’s go back to the scenario of running through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks. If you only had favoured movements it would be a disaster. You would be bumping into people left right and centre, the task would be impossible.

If you have every movement available to you and are not tied to a particular way of skiing then you can adapt to everything that comes your way and I mean everything. You can even make things up on the spot instantaneously so if you are presented with a situation or problem suddenly you have the creative ability to work out how to move to solve the issue. Again another great quote from Bruce Lee springs to mind.

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

Instructors and coaches often try to get their athletes to replicate technique (understandably) rather than allow individuals to create their own way of skiing. The Movement Matrix encourages every skier to be free to chose how to ski.

In free-riding and park and pipe we see freedom and creativity all the time. It’s encouraged. Any skier or snowboarder that pulls something off which has never been seen before gets a humongous cheer and a high five. Free-riding along with park and pipe is new and new is creative and exploratory. Skiing and ski racing on the contrary is often stuck with perceptions passed down from previous generations. Something new is often greeted with skepticism. Of course in ski racing if someone does something rarely seen and it’s fast it raises eyebrows even when it challenges strongly held beliefs.

I remember watching one of our boys racing when very young. He was unorthodox, he skied his way. After watching our young boy race past through the course one of the coaches turned to me and said. “I don’t like the way he skis”. LOL, I don’t think they realised he was our son. He won the race by a healthy margin.

Doing new stuff can be scary. Often instructors and coaches like to work with tried and tested ideas (again understandably). However, if we only do this then we are always stuck with the known unable to progress into the unknown. The movement matrix gives coaches instructors and students the tools to create a framework to develop all movements and then make up solutions to problems so the whole mountain can be explored. If you’re a ski racer eventually you will welcome every course, whatever it’s like, flat, steep, off-set, fast and every type of snow texture and terrain, ice, soft snow along with ruts. Bring it on will be your motto and you’ll do it your way.

There are 360 joints in the human body along with 600 muscles, countless bones and movements grouped into 12 different types or so a Google search informs me. That’s seriously complex. Hence why we generally do not ‘over think’ or you’ll be like the ‘Confused Centipede’.

‘A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.’

In order to solve this conundrum we talk about the difference between ‘Skills and Drills’ (exercises) and ‘Playing The Game’. Not to confuse the two. So you can do as many skills and drills as you like but when it come to playing the game, play the game.

It’s worth reverting to the running through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks scenario. You can’t think how to move when in the game, you just move. Thinking will result in sluggish movements and a fair amount of bumping into people.

With the Movement Matrix we’ve taken something incredibly complex and tried to give it some kind of structure to help coaches, instructors, students and athletes understand and structure their drills and exercises to create movement.

We’ve taken the three commonly known types of movements. Flexion/extension, rotation and lateral along with the commonly spoken about ‘skiing joints’, ankles, knees and hips. The terms used may be different to those known in the medical and scientific world. They are just the terms we use in ski teaching. Any terms you fancy can be used as long as you get the general idea.


From the chart you can see how exercises and drills and hence movements can be developed. To be able to tackle the whole mountain with ease or if you are a ski racer to tackle every course with ease, you need to develop every movement possible around every joint. Simple! If you are missing any movements around a specific joint, either some of the mountain or particular race courses will be difficult or even impossible for you. 

Pick a movement (lateral), pick a joint (ankle), create an exercise and develop it. Some movements around some joints have little or no movement and some large movement. We’ll leave it to the specialists and medical professionals to expand more if they wish. We’re just ski coaches, so do your best.

Once you can make all the movements around all the joints the next stage is to develop what we call the components of these movements. The speed and range of your movements. From slow to fast and small to large movements and everything in-between.

So now you have it. Pick a joint (hip), pick a movement (lateral), pick a speed of movement (fast), pick a range of movement (large). Create an exercise to develop this. You can go on and on, week after week, month after month, year after year. Picking up exercises and drills along the way. Don’t forget small and slow executed movements can be as important as large and fast depending on the situation. Try to leave no stone unturned.

All instructors and coaches have lots of exercises so bag as many as you can. The key though is understanding which movements each exercise develops so you don’t miss any movements. This is where many skiers, instructors and coaches are held back (in my opinion). They have their favoured exercises, so end up with skiers that are biased towards specific types of skiing or if you are a ski racer biased towards specific snow textures, terrain and course set. We get into the blame game when the course or mountain does not match our favoured movements. Snow too soft, too icy, course too offset, gates too far apart, course too fast, bumps too irregular, poor weather. The list can go on an on. If you are a course setter in ski racing you know exactly what it’s like. LOL, you’ll get the blame whatever. If you are an athlete, ‘It is what it is’ so train for every eventuality.

You also need to develop the ability to move your joints independently of each other. For example the left knee independently of the right knee and so on. Many skiers always move their left and right joints exactly the same. Both knees move the same amount. Both hips joints and both ankle joints the same. You athleticism and creativity is doubled, tripled or quadrupled when you can move all the joints independently of each other. You could be rotating one leg whilst extending the other. Think of the options when you can move all your joints however you wish all independently from each other. Nothing is impossible. Everything has a place.

You can see how complex things can become hence why we have to make the distinction between ‘Drills and Skills’ and ‘Playing The Game’.

If you play football or volleyball, tennis or other team sports you will be familiar with how a general training session runs. It begins with practicing some skills; dribbling, passing, tackling, shooting. If playing volleyball; setting up, serving etc. Playing tennis; forehand, backhand, serves, smashes. After a period of time practicing skills the coach says. “Shall we play a game”. From here on in anything goes. There may well be a crossover of skills practiced into playing the game but you certainly don’t go into a game with the same mindset as you had when practicing a skill. You wouldn’t last a minute. The same applies in skiing. Skills and drills and playing the game are different. When playing the game you can only use what you have available to you hence the need to increase what you have available. Many skiers don’t differentiate between the skills and drills and playing the game so end up trying to reciprocate the exercise or drill thinking that is how you play the game. The result is the sluggish movements that do not match the task at hand and disaster can follow. When playing the game movements must be subconscious. The focus is on the task at hand. Getting down the mountain, skiing the course, adjusting to the terrain, slowing down or speeding up.

Develop the skills then go play the game.

So there you have it. The Movement Matrix.
Running through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks.

Complex? May sound it at first but it’s not. All you are doing is increasing your ability to move freely.

Of course there are other ways of developing every movement available to you without doing exercises and drills or never knowing about the Movement Matrix in the first place. Just go out and vary your skiing and the type of skiing you do as much as possible. Ski bumps, off-piste, carve, skid, ski fast, slow, ski steep terrain, ice, soft snow. If you are a ski racer ski all types of courses in all snow conditions. Fast, slow, straight, off-set, steep, flat, ice. Eventually you will arrive at the same outcome. The key is to have as much variation in what you do whether through exercises and drills or just skiing or a mixture between the two. We’ll leave it up to you.

“We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
William Faulkner


The Movement Matrix is used on the Ski Skills Courses during the spring, summer and autumn months.

Go to Ski Skills courses

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Phil Smith is founder of Snoworks All-Mountain Ski Courses. Snoworks runs Ski Courses throughout the year where you can learn snow displacement to become a competent all-mountain skier learning to cope with everything the mountain throws your way.