Hip width, shoulder width, toe width and anywhere in between or outside... how wide should you be on your skis?
A wide stance allows for good stability but it makes it harder to get on edge and it takes longer to cross your body over the skis. It is thus favored in speed disciplines, where turns are ample and take sufficient time.
A narrow stance offers less stability, but it makes it very fast and easy to switch edges and get the skis from one side of the body to the other. It is thus favored in technical, turny skiing.
Well, the current approach is to favor a wider stance in all disciplines. That is rather limiting, obviously. People are built differently and need to do different things in different disciplines and different situations. Starting with slalom, which should have the narrowest stance and ending with downhill, with its wide stance, there is a multitude of widths that can be used.
I see this wide or athletic stance approach preached these days by many coaches... and indeed, I think it is a limiting factor in developing strong skiers. I think the roots of this wide stance approach are the "plow" position via which most people get acquainted with skiing, where a wider stance makes you feel more stable, but which has nothing to do with proper skiing.
When the words athletic stance are used, the analogy going through most people's minds is a soccer goalie or a Sumo wrestler and that's well, not what skiing is about!
Since most kids never get to do speed events, their stance should be fairly narrow all the time, to encourage turning and make it easier to develop tipping/edging skills.
This is also true about most non-racers. Keep your skis closer to ease transition - this is the part that most have trouble with anyways.
If this is not enough to get you to loosen up on the "wide stance" position, consider this: in technical skiing, you are supposed to have most of the weight on the outside ski. Stance width now sounds irrelevant, doesn't it? How can it matter, since the inside ski has no weight, or minimal weight? What does "wide is stable" mean in this context?
Also, during the transition, the skis are un-weighted, so the argument that a wide stance helps you balance is wrong. They can't - skis are not supposed to be loaded in transition, are they? You are either extending (which is another discussion) or floating through to the next apex.
How narrow? Well, the skis should obviously not get in the way of each-other, so at least a few inches apart. How wide? Well, that's for you to discover, depending on your size, the speed, turning ability etc.
The keyword is dynamic or functional. That is the proper description of the stance width. It generally should be narrower in transition, to encourage weight and edge shifting, and the stance gets wider during the apex, to allow those awesome angles.
The stance should be adjusted even during the same event, however small these adjustments are - there is no one perfect stance in all conditions.
So: stay narrower, but dynamic. You should explore all possible stance widths, find the extremes and start adjusting until you find what works for you in different conditions.
Take a look at the various stance widths in this excellent video:
Otherwise, you only have to watch World Cup skiers carefully and maybe in slow motion: they have a narrow stance in transition and what seems like a wide stance during the turn, which in fact is not a wide stance. It is a narrow stance - what happens is that because of the inclination of the lower legs, the skis are separated in the same plane as the legs, not perpendicular to the legs, which is what stance width is about. Just look at it, carefully:
So: narrower in transition and get the feet apart at the apex, but have a dynamic stance.
Do your kids a favor, let them stay narrower. Balancing the body against the one outside ski is much more important than balance on two skis while going banzai down the slope!
From now on, my mantra has changed from "get wider" to "stay narrow and get on one ski". Balancing on one ski is much more important to performance skiing than any specific widths or positions.
For myself, I am working on consciously adjusting my width and error on the side of narrower, if anything. See, a few years ago, I thought the pinnacle of skiing was to do short turns with the feet glued together (obviously carving is impossible).
Then, becoming a coach, I went to the other extreme, and went to extreme effort to keep my feet apart and exaggerate that in order to learn it. Now I guess I found normality, which is... well, in between.
Early in the 2012/13 season, I've been to a PD day with CSCF and: Canadian coaches should not prescribe a stance width. It's all about bio-mechanics and everyone has a different stance width that works for him/her in different circumstances.
What coaches should do is to explain the differences, make the athletes try different stances in different situations and help them find their own.
In general, the stance should be narrow, with the feet under the hips... by the way, hip width means that the second toe is under the center of the hip joint - I know there is some confusion there, but that's how the CSCF defines it. Go on, try it right now and get a feel for it.
Talks and sessions to work on stance:
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Updated to underline dynamic stance as opposed to one size fits all, with feedback from Doug S.