The Rise of the Stivot

How the McConkey Turn has changed ski racing, especially giant slalom

Ted Ligety executing the Stivot, seen here in the giant slalom at the World Championships last year in Schladming, Austria. PHOTO: Mitchell Gunn/ESPA

Ted Ligety executing the Stivot, seen here in the giant slalom at the World Championships last year in Schladming, Austria. PHOTO: Mitchell Gunn/ESPA

WORDS: Peter Kray

Go to YouTube and search, "Ted Ligety 2013 World Championships giant slalom," and you'll find dozens of videos of Ted Shred absolutely annihilating the Schladming, Austria, course on his way to taking three gold medals at the weeklong competition.

His flawless, rhythmic style is evident in every turn but one—a steep pitch about two-thirds of the way down where he suddenly schmears his heels in a quick approximation of a hockey stop, quickly redirects, then keeps right on arcing.

On Austria's ORF network, the announcers go bananas, and show several slow-mo replays of the turn. It almost looks like a mistake. But it's not. It's a stivot, a high-speed racing tactic that is changing the face of World Cup giant slalom and big mountain freesking.

"A stivot is a rapid redirection of the skis," says Dave Lyon, a longtime PSIA-AASI Alpine Team member and race coach who works with the USSA in the coaches' education department. "A lot of high-end racers and coaches simply call it a 'redirect.' If you can't carve because of the set of the course or the angle of the hill, it's a quick slide to get in a spot where you can arc the rest of the turn."

Lyon says the rise of the stivot is as much a result of changing ski technology as it is World Cup course setting, with the move occurring most often in steep situations where a racer on a ski with a 35-meter turn radius is confronted by a 24-meter turn. Although young racers are already being trained in its mechanics, Lyon says its actual race day use might still be more reactionary. "Guys can pull it off because they're in good balance," he says. "You can make the case for it sometimes being an accident, but it's definitely an evolution."

Former U.S. Ski Team superstar and big mountain ripper Daron Rahlves says "a reactionary stivot" at warp speed helped him win the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey Downhill in 2005. "It's the only time I've ever done it during a downhill," he says. "If I hadn't, I would have been kicked out of the turn and been way off line."

For Rahlves, the move is now as ingrained into racing as it is freeskiing, where it's known as the slarve, or the "McConkey turn." The difference he says, is that the stivot occurs at the top of the turn, where a racer is trying to quickly realign his arc without losing too much speed, while the slarve is a buttering, speed-slowing move occurring at the bottom of a turn.

"It's more of a speed check that you might use when you're grinding down a spine," Rahlves says. "It was McConkey who first showed it was possible when he first put on water skis in Alaska to show how rocker could work and just went sliding down the mountain. That innovation is what makes it possible to break the skis loose from a turn and get that sweet, smooth feeling.”