Analysing skiing – Cause versus Effect.

“My short turns feel like shit. I’m heel pushing to slow down cos I can’t turn my legs to finish my turn because I’m not crossing over because steeps terrify me.”  

That was part of a recent conversation I had with a fellow instructor who was preparing for an exam. In that sentence, she had managed to critically recognise and analyse the problems that were occurring and follow the path to its origin. Few instructors and even fewer skiers do so. 

It usually takes a complete enough understanding of ski mechanics to be able to recognise a problem accurately and its true root cause in skiing. That’s the mark of a good instructor. Finding the fix for the problem is a whole different level. That’s what separates good instructors from great instructors. You remember the self-analysis my fellow ski instructor made at the beginning of this post. What do you think most trainers would tell her as a fix? “You just need to keep throwing yourself down steep slopes until you get used to it”. If I had a BB gun, I would shoot them silly.

Skiing steep terrain without adequate training can be a traumatic experience
and may stunt personal ski development.

She’s terrified. Not nervous or scared, terrified. Putting herself more often in that same situation that already terrifies her without doing anything else is going to make things worse not better. Going on a steep black run without adequate training can be incredibly traumatic for some. Even today, there are certain runs that bring about a sense of anxiety and apprehension in me because of previous bad experiences on it. Many consider that strange given that I’m now capable of much steeper runs. I call it emotional scarring. So some people are thinking, it’s an emotional issue rather than  a technical issue. Wrong. 

Steep terrain can make a skier defensive (read petrified)
and technique goes out the door.

Her first problem was that she was heel pushing because she wanted to SLOW DOWN. She had no speed control. Now she knows she should be managing her speed by finishing her turn with her legs instead but she can’t because she didn’t crossover properly the turn before. (She’s in the back seat and can’t twist her legs). And it’s not that she doesn’t know how to crossover, she just doesn’t dare to project herself down the hill because she’s terrified. So we work on crossover or speed control then? No, not quite.

What is truly terrifying her? Is it the speed? Lets say she gets to about 60km/h on that steep slope. Now in her case, I’ve seen her go that fast or even faster on terrain that isn’t as steep. I know she’s comfortable with that speed. So what is it then? It’s the acceleration that bothers her. The biggest difference in steeps and flats is how quickly you pick up your speed. Here’s an analogy comparing speed and acceleration. All cars can get up to speeds of 100km/h. But only a few can do it under 6 seconds. The acceleration on a steep black run is like driving a car that can get to 100km/h under 6 seconds.

Both cars are capable of getting to 100km/h
but the Porsche (yellow car) would get there a lot quicker. 

She doesn’t need to gain confidence going that fast. She needs to manage the difference in acceleration. Increased acceleration on a steep black run alters the turn shape we need to perform. Compare the turn shapes of 60km/h on a blue and on a black run. 

When turn shape is compressed, we need to perform all the moves in a shorter space and time. Simply put, we need to move quicker. Now this instructor knows how to perform all the moves already at that speed. She now needs to do them quicker in a shorter distance. Then she’ll have speed control and all that other stuff.

How to get her to move quicker is a topic for another post. But for now, recognise the difference between cause and effect in skiing. There’s a lot of fluff being thrown around in ski instructing circles. Archaic teaching methodologies and huge egos are contributing factors in my opinion. If you’re an instructor, work on your craft of ski mechanics so you can better understand root causes. And for the budding self-analytical skiers, try to remember to hit the nail bang on the head, not all around it. 

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2 thoughts on “Analysing skiing – Cause versus Effect.

  1. So how would you fix this, Jason? Will practicing the mechanics faster but at slower speeds (on a blue run) be enough when she tries to do it on a black run and accelerating a lot faster?

  2. The objective is to make her move quicker. She should therefore half the radius on a blue run. If she was doing mediums on black then go to shorts. If she was doing shorts on blacks then go to very very short turns. That will compress turn shape both vertically and horizontally. Acceleration will be somewhat dissimiliar but she will learn to move a lot quicker. She then applies that same quickness of movement to double the radius on a black run.

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