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Ski Instructors - Always the Critics

Posted Feb 25 2013 1:04pm


Here is a video shot yesterday on Stein's Run at Sugarbush with my ski group.  Stein's is a steep run and is designated as a double-black diamond.  It was freshly groomed for yesterday and we had an inch or two of somewhat dense snow on top of the grooming.  So, it was skiing easier than normal, but the rapid transition the skiers make (turning the skis quickly while turning) is due to the steepness of this terrain.

I watch these kids ski on a regular basis.  Of the five students in the video, four are new to my group this year and the fourth has been with me for the three previous seasons.  One other thing of note is that this was the last day of a 9-day skiing vacation for all of these students.  Many of them were tired yesterday.

As I watch the video, it's amazing to see little details that seem to elude my eye on a day to day basis while skiing with the kids.

The first skier is very fast and very athletic and skis at high speeds all the time.  It's interesting to see in this video how far back his center of mass is.  Basically, it's what we call being "in the back seat" and it makes control more difficult.  Because he is almost always ahead of me and skiing fast, this is something that I haven't noticed on a regular basis.  Also, the steepness of the terrain probably amplifies the issue.

The second skier has a single issue that I've been focusing on all year - shoulder rotation.  Ski turns should start from where the ski meets the snow, facilitated by lower body movements.  This skier uses his upper body to create rotation and the skis then follow the upper body movements.  In the third segment of this video, I had talked to this skier and reminded him about the shoulder movements, and he clearly skis better in that third segment.

The third skier is the one who has been with me for three previous years.  She is clearly tired (to my eye) in this video.  She was also somewhat self conscious about being videotaped, especially on steep terrain.  She is a strong technical skier, but she is initiating her turns here by rising up and throwing her hips across the ski - something I rarely see her do.  After that movement, I like the rest of her turn and the angle between her lower body and upper body is very solid.

The fourth skier has an interesting challenge that I've been working on all year.  She has a natural stance that is very narrow compared to the average skier, but this is not uncommon in females.  With that narrow stance, she has a harder time taking advantage of the benefits offered by shaped skis.  This leads to her "throwing" the skis through the turn at time, and failing to achieve and upper and lower body separation - a "break" at the hips.  Instead, her entire body tilts, rather than a tilting in the legs with an upright upper body.  It's easy to see this when she is compared to the previous skier.

The fifth skier was exhausted yesterday.  She looks as if someone had stapled her elbows to her jacket and her upper body simply isn't moving.  This is very atypical for her.  This video does not represent her best skiing at all.

The last skier - me - also has some issues.  I like the way my legs are extending and retracting through the turns.  The uphill leg extends to initiate the turn and the skis change edges simultaneously.  But, my upper body is following my skis too much, rather than being more open and facing down the fall line.  When the upper body faces more in the "net" direction of travel, it is easy to build some counter (lower body rotated under a more still upper body) near the end of the turn.  This acts like a spring and helps with the steering of the skis into the next turn.

Remember that this a double-black diamond run.  I was skiing that run for the fourth time in the day, and all of my students had already skied it 1-3 previous times that morning.  I see a lot of good things happening with every single one of the skiers.  But, as an instructor, it's my job to improve everyone's skiing where I can.  And, the video gives me some great idea for the last four weekends I have to work with these students.

One of the things that I love about teaching skiing is that we are never "finished".  Everyone has the ability to improve, and it is a sport of lifelong learning.  This is true of instructors as well.
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