Is your training regimen actually making you ski better?
Improving your ski technique can be tough without an instructor… but it’s certainly not impossible... at least not if you’re willing to “lose your mind”.
I’d like to tell you a little story about ‘Erik the Intern.’
The hero of our story, Erik, a young man from the Netherlands was working on a degree in Sports Management and as a requirement of graduation needed to complete an internship in a sports based company.
Somehow Erik stumbled upon Section 8, and after a plethora of persistent emails, I finally caved and agreed to take him on as an administrative intern. In return, I would help subsidize his tuition on our 3 month ‘Snowsport Leadership Training’ course for aspiring instructors.
I should probably mention that Erik the Intern actually came to us as a snowboarder. Having never previously skied at all, doing the ‘SLT’ course on skis wasn’t even a consideration for him until one day he received a challenge from a magazine editor. She promised to do a full spread in a Dutch ski magazine on Erik’s journey from ‘Zero... to Skiing Hero’ if Erik managed to complete the course on skis instead of a board.
The wager was on…
Having snowboarded a fair bit, Erik wasn’t afraid of the hill and had a basic understanding of gravity and how edges work, so initially he caught on pretty fast. I must admit I pushed him pretty hard... but it didn’t take long until he was a strong enough skier to achieve the level 1 instructor certification.
Unfortunately, Erik’s progress came to a halt once the intermediate stage was reached. You see, Erik was what I call a “chronic rotator,” meaning he insisted on starting every turn with his upper body, which left him unable to effectively engage his edges. The tails of his skis slipped out at the end of each turn.
We tried every trick in the book (I've got quite a few tricks… just in case you’re wondering) but all were futile and the problem persisted. An ineffective movement pattern was ingrained, that we just could not cure!
The fix finally came one day by complete accident...
I was filming a video for use as an assessment & development tool (basically a ‘what not to do’ video) and Erik volunteered to intentionally demonstrate a variety of different symptoms for me. After filming various symptoms, finally I asked Erik to exaggerate slipping or skidding his skis as much as possible towards the end of the turn. I figured this one would be a piece of cake for him as he already did it habitually.
The funny thing was, as Erik attempted to get his skis to skid, he actually made his skis grip better than I’ve ever seen him do before. Totally ruined the video;)
Perception vs Reality… It suddenly all became clear. What Erik thought he was doing was nothing like the reality of what he was doing. Erik had been trying relentlessly to make his skis grip... but instead they were always slipping. When he finally tried to slip, his skis gripped???!!??
A bit of an epiphany for Erik as well as for me. I now understood how I needed to coach him, and Erik finally had some new sensations to play with. He now understood what it felt like when the skis actually gripped (external cue) and a feeling (internal cue) for how to move parts of his body to make it happen.
Erik only found that sensation by trying something that wasn't intuitive to him. It was in fact something completely different from what he perceived to be correct.
Although this was an accident (so I suppose I can’t really take credit for Erik’s success) it was a perfect example of experiential learning. Once Erik had a chance to reflect on the outcome achieved by these new sensations, he developed an understanding of the cause and effect of his actions and was able to distinguish between his initial perceptions… and reality.
So what does all this mean for you and the development of your skiing?
First of all, do your best to look at the actual outcomes relative to your goal and try to relate those outcomes to what you feel internally when they happen. If you can talk a buddy into filming you, watching yourself on video is probably the best way to differentiate between perception and reality… video usually doesn’t lie!
Second, experiment for success. Try something completely different from what you’re used to and note how the skis react. Don’t be afraid to go too far…
If you’ve been doing something one way for years even the slightest change will feel totally strange. You’ll likely need to go much further than what you perceive to be “right”. Most of the exercises ski instructors use to develop skills are simply exaggerations of a movement pattern to help you find a cue or sensation that you can replicate in your actual skiing.
It may feel darn right awful at first... but don’t let that deter you.
Remember Section 8’s tag line…
“In order to be the best… You must lose your mind” – ('Ski School,' the movie)
.....Oh by the way, if you're wondering about Erik... he proudly got his level 2 in the end!