Beginner Lesson Video Question

Matt Merritt

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Have a question for our instructors out there.

Was just watching an REI video featuring PSIA Alpine Team member Robin Barnes giving a first-timer video lesson. I think these Youtube videos are a terrific way to help newcomers get ready for their very first time on the ski slopes and I thought Robin did an excellent job.

I was interested to see one major difference between how Robin taught wedge turns and the way I did it when I was teaching full time in Park City 1976-1984.

Robin introduced the wedge turn by emphasizing the steering of the skis and, almost as an aside, "...to allow a little more weight to go to one ski...". Couple things make this a real head-scratcher for me.

First, modern skis turn so well when put on even a slight edge (such as a small wedge) that it seems silly not to bring this up to the student. I understand where the instructor might not want to create unwanted upper-body movements, but I was surprised by the focus on steering.

Secondly, to me, a good wedge turn is a perfect parallel turn but with what I might call an "in-rigger" that becomes less necessary as speed increases and balance improves. Why not start the student thinking of balancing on the outside ski from the very first day since that will likely end up being the focus of future lessons as the student improves.

Thanks!

MM

 

Chris V.

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The turns that Robin is demonstrating are slow motion turns on very gentle terrain. A key thing to realize is that the forces generated in these turns are small, and the movements that the skier needs to create them are very small. As you say, modern skis turn very well. They want to turn. They don't so much want to go straight.

I don't so much like using the term "steering." To my mind, it doesn't convey much information to a student who isn't familiar with the term. I would instead break down what I'm asking the student to do, in everyday, unambiguous words.

With the understanding that the decision has been made to use a wedge progression, the rest of what Robin is doing here I like. Creating a turn requires just a small disturbance of the balance of forces that keeps the skier going straight while in a wedge. Here, Robin is encouraging the student to initiate with a turning of the legs in the hip joints. It's such a small movement that it's almost invisible at this speed, but it's sufficient to start the skis turning. That initial bit of turning will create centripetal force that naturally results in the skier's balance shifting toward the outside ski. It doesn't need to be forced. But the skier shouldn't fight it, as that would destroy the quality of the turn. Done properly, this initiation will maintain a good edge angle with the new outside ski. If the skier just allows the turn to progress naturally, the outside ski will "slarve." It's not a sideways skid. It's the ski tip engaging the snow and describing an arc, with the tail following a path that's a bit offset from the tip's path.

The trouble with a focus on starting the turn with an assertive weight shift to the new outside ski is that it can result in the skier jamming against that ski and starting something that's more sideways skid than turn. It tends to impede the fluidity in the hip joints that it's important to start building. It tends to put the skier on a path toward relying, a little later, on stemming to initiate turns. What can work well is to emphasize removing a bit of weight from the new inside ski, while remaining supple in both legs. That will lead, a little later, into initiating turns with a release.

Anyway, that's what I think.
 

mike_m

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There are many ways to introduce the movements of skiing to a never evers. Robin is demonstrating the beginning progressions of classic PSIA. The only reservation I have with her presentation is her emphasis on the wedge as the foundation of skiing. In the past 10 years or so (longer in other teaching systems), many instructors have focused instead on emphasizing the similarity of the fundamental movements of efficient skiing to other sports the student is already comfortable doing (skating, riding a bicycle) and ingraining to the student the concept that skiing is redirecting gravity to go in a new direction, letting gravity help them maintain the speed they choose (going downhill to gain the momentum they need to make the turn easier; allowing the skis to glide uphill long enough to lose speed so they can be comfortable before initiating the next turn).

Students can incorporate both leg steering (turning both feet and femurs, not just femurs, as Robin demonstrates), and by adjusting the pressure on each foot (lightening the inside foot as Chris V. suggests above) and subtly lifting that thigh as you do when your feet are attached to a bicycle pedal on a racing bike, as the student allows his/her weight to automatically shift to the other (outside) foot along the inside edge of that ski, so the curve of the outside, downhill, ski can glide gently along its edge, taking the student in the new direction at the speed desired.

The philosophy underpinning this approach is instilling the idea that, as in a car, you need brakes when the situation requires their use, but only then, and teaching a wide, braking, wedge later. A narrow, gliding wedge is perfectly acceptable since it does not interfere with the other, positive movements and mindset being instilled, but if the student is comfortable without it, there's no reason to impose it.

There is a school of thought that the first thing you learn is what you revert back to under stress. If the first thing you learn is to wedge, or that skiing is braking, there is a good chance you will regard skis as braking tools from then on.

Robin did not explicitly introduce this concept, but her wedge is very wide right from the start and was the first thing she introduced. It could easily be interpreted by the student that a defensive mindset is paramount. On the appropriately gentle slope used in this video, perhaps a gliding focus ("Skiing is a go sport") might have been introduced first, with the use of a wedge as a braking tool introduced later in the lesson as an adjunct, once the primary focuses were presented.

What was presented was certainly a valid and time-tested approach. There are, however, alternatives that are equally valid, depending on the terrain and the mindset and athletic ability of the students in the lesson.

Best!
Mike
 
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Matt Merritt

Matt Merritt

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I'm in the Robin/PSIA camp that considers the wedge to be "the foundation of skiing". To me, the mark of a truly competent skier is his or her ability to utilize the edges of those highly engineered machines in order to activate their ability to turn themselves. Steering is a muscular movement that would work almost equally well on barrel staves as a pair of Stockli's finest. I recall the surprised reaction I would get from those old students of mine when I told them that skis can feel as different as a Porsche and a pickup truck.

A first-timer student might be lucky enough to find perfectly smooth dry snow on a perfectly pitched bunny slope but some clump eventually always comes along to send the skis into an uncomfortable direction. Simply utilizing even a small wedge can fix that in a hurry.

To me minimizing fear by maximizing control is Job One for the beginner's ski instructor.
 

Chris V.

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There are many ways to introduce the movements of skiing to a never evers. Robin is demonstrating the beginning progressions of classic PSIA. The only reservation I have with her presentation is her emphasis on the wedge as the foundation of skiing.
That's why I included the condition, "With the understanding that the decision has been made to use a wedge progression.". I'd also gravitate toward a different approach.

I like students to get comfortable with just going straight, without braking, moving with the skis, before even thinking about turns.
 
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James

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Main thing left out is turning uphill to stop.

I miss Robin in her hat with the big pom pom.

People generally have a very difficult time with the concept of weight, which is why I avoid the word. (I’ll use “balance”) Never mind they can put all their weight on, or balance on one foot without contortions without thinking about it. As in walking. People don’t lean left when picking up the right foot in stride. However, if you told them, “put weight on your left foot while you pick up the right…” they would lean.

That’s where ice skaters have a huge advantage. -The gliding, and the foot to foot action that’s almost unconscious.
 

JESinstr

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I'm in the Robin/PSIA camp that considers the wedge to be "the foundation of skiing". To me, the mark of a truly competent skier is his or her ability to utilize the edges of those highly engineered machines in order to activate their ability to turn themselves. Steering is a muscular movement that would work almost equally well on barrel staves as a pair of Stockli's finest. I recall the surprised reaction I would get from those old students of mine when I told them that skis can feel as different as a Porsche and a pickup truck.

A first-timer student might be lucky enough to find perfectly smooth dry snow on a perfectly pitched bunny slope but some clump eventually always comes along to send the skis into an uncomfortable direction. Simply utilizing even a small wedge can fix that in a hurry.

To me minimizing fear by maximizing control is Job One for the beginner's ski instructor.
Agree, but here is the big enchilada that is missing. Nobody, including Ms. Barnes, talks about the fundamental change in fore and aft dynamic balance methodology that a skier must make in learning to ski. Robin does a bit of jumping in the beginning but it is directed at obtaining a static balanced stance. Let's be clear, we are talking dynamic balance, which is balance "while on the move".

So the question is, what dynamic balance methodology does a newbie bring with them to the snow-sports meeting spot? Answer: It is one based on heels and toes because this is how humans generate self movement aka locomotion. The point Robin should be making is that now, one's mass needs to be controlled through the arch using the back of the balls of the feet and the front of the heels and obviously, stance helps you get there. Until a beginner understands and accomplishes that, proper wedge progression may be impaired.

In addition to balance through the arch, the student must understand and execute any rotary movement around the arch as well. In her static first wedge Robin is actually pushing out her heels vs rotating around the arch. And that's the problem with just saying make a triangle, there are multiple ways to do this and if the instructor is not paying attention bad habits begin.

Probably the biggest reason the wedge is the foundation of skiing (IMO) is that it places the skier on the edge of the ski which is the source of ski functionally in terms of making turns. And when on the inside edge of the outside ski, it is mainly the back of the ball of the big toe that becomes one of the base pillars for dynamic balance through the arch. So I make sure the student has a keen sense of awareness about the skiing on the edges of their feet. lifting their toes helps a lot.

Gosh, Robin makes it look so easy! I just which PSIA would focus more on teaching dynamic balance on skis than just giving it lip service.
 

mister moose

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People generally have a very difficult time with the concept of weight, which is why I avoid the word. (I’ll use “balance”) Never mind they can put all their weight on, or balance on one foot without contortions without thinking about it. As in walking. People don’t lean left when picking up the right foot in stride. However, if you told them, “put weight on your left foot while you pick up the right…” they would lean.

Disagree. There is an inexhaustible supply of people that can walk straight, but cannot balance on one foot for a full second.
 

Kneale Brownson

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I think the "steering" concept is a bit much. If students are asked to form a static wedge (after doing some straight run exercises) and look at it, they'll recognize they're on the inside edges of skis that want to run together. If you have then straight running in a wedge on appropriate terrain and invite them to reduce the edging on one ski...........
 

LiquidFeet

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^^Exactly.

I wish PSIA would not promote the rotation of the skis as a major part of initiating a turn. But they do. It's written into the manuals.

In a beginner gliding wedge, the skier gets into a narrow wedge by rotating the feet at the arch (which creates a very narrow wedge; PSIA does not want that stance to widen at all). To start a turn, the skier extends the new outside leg, which "transfers weight" to the new outside ski, and flattens the new inside ski. At the same time the skier turns both feet and legs ("steer," "rotate") to point the wedge in the direction of the new turn. This makes the turn happen nicely on beginner terrain.

In a basic parallel turn, PSIA promotes doing the same actions minus the wedge. When the skis are parallel, the extension of the new outside leg flattens both skis. The rotation happens as skis start going flat. New edges happen by default as the skis point in the new direction below the fall line.

This works just fine on low pitch terrain at slow speeds. But that ski rotation gets embedded in muscle memory very early and is hard to shed later. When an enthusiastic novice goes up the hill to steeper pitches that deliver higher forces and speeds, that rotation gets exaggerated. It morphs into a quick pivot to point the skis all the way in the new direction, so the skier won't have to spend much time with skis pointed down the hill. This initiation strategy is not so functional on blue or black terrain.

It's the quick pivot that dooms skiers to the intermediate plateau.
 
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JESinstr

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I think the "steering" concept is a bit much. If students are asked to form a static wedge (after doing some straight run exercises) and look at it, they'll recognize they're on the inside edges of skis that want to run together. If you have then straight running in a wedge on appropriate terrain and invite them to reduce the edging on one ski...........
Precisely! And this is when they need to understand that they are managing pressure (through edge angle) not creating it. The ski does that!
 

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