Simplifying Skill Assessment

Sometimes ski instructors get caught up giving feedback simply because that's what they are expected to do. But to offer your students something of real functional value, you'll need to develop a keen eye for skill assessment, also known as 'MA' or 'movement analysis.'

Many find skill assessement the most challenging aspect of any ski instructor exam and freeze like a deer in headlights when asked to perform this crucial skill. 

So today, we're going to simplify it. 

Imagine you're watching your student skiing towards you. Here's a few things that should go through your mind.


The Objective, Obviously: 

Question #1: Is the skier meeting the objective?

YES or NO?

What is the skier trying to accomplish on this particular run? Are they meeting the desired speed, turn shape and level of ski performance?

If the answer is YES, then why try to change their technique? Even if the method is unorthodox, whatever moves they're using are working! 

I would argue that this instance calls for positive reinforcement rather than constructive criticism. Otherwise, the skier needs more challenge by narrowing the target or by selecting terrain or conditions where that technique won't work as effectively.

If the answer is NO, however... then it's time to look at cause and effect. 


Cause & Effect: 

When merely going left and right, this isn't complicated. With the objective in mind, we'll just start by looking at the ski's grip and direction. 

Then we'll have a gander at alignment, pressure distribution and timing to see if that leads us closer to the root cause of the skier's symptoms.

There are a variety of movement patterns in skiing. But for the most part, they all come down to achieving the right amount of ski direction and the right amount of grip (or pressure) with the appropriate timing, intensity and duration.


The Ski's Direction

Look at the steering angle, or how the skis are being directed across the skier's momentum and ask yourself this next:

Question #2: Are the skis understeering or oversteering?

Are the skis running too straight at any part of the turn?

Is the steering angle appropriate for the objective?

Are the skis over twisting at any part of the turn?

Symptoms of Understeering:

You'll often notice the skis take off in a straight line, a lack of speed control in a certain part of the turn or an inability to direct both skis simultaneously.

Symptoms of Oversteering:

In addtion to loss of momentum or an inability to carry speed from one arc to the next, you may also notice some of the following symptoms indicating one or both skis undergripping 


The Ski's Grip

Question #3: Are the skis gripping too much or too little?

Not enough grip means the skier won't change direction

Is the amount of grip appropriate for the objective?

Too much grip won't allow the skier to twist the skis effectively

Symptoms of Under-Gripping:

If there is not enough grip at any pont in the turn the skis may travel sidways rather than in arc, or a portion of one ski might break away.

Symptoms of Over-Gripping:

If the skier is unable to direct the skis adequately or the force on the skis become overly abrubt, often it's a matter of too much grip.


Balance, Alignment & Pressure Distribution

Question #4: Is the amount of pressure or its distribution along the length of the ski contributing to the symptoms?

Is pressure forward on the skis?

Is the skier able to resist the force? Are they able to release it?

Is pressure aft on the skis?

Is the skier able to resist enough force to create adequate pressure? Are they able to release it when needed? Can they control where pressure is on the skis? 

If the forces fall forward or back on the skis, or pressure lacks or becomes too intense, it will often harm the skier's ability to grip, slip or direct the skis effectively. This often puts the way we stand and how we balance on the skis at the root of grip and direction issues.

Symptoms of Poor Alignment or Pressure Distribution:

Look for part of the ski gripping while the other part slips. For example, the tip of the ski grips while the tail of the ski slips, or the skis take off and run straight because the tail overgrips while tips seek the falline.

Also look for abrupt pressure changes that affect the skis direction.


Deconstruct The Turn: 

Look at the entire arc and ask yourself about the timing.

Question #5: When is the problem occurring? 

*Note: There will often be a combination of things happening in a single turn. For example:

  • A skier could be over-gripping in one part fo the turn while under-gripping in another.
  • Over steering in one part of the turn while understeering in another.
  • They could shift their mass too far forward in one part of the turn and aft in another

Movements Patterns

Okay, so we've figured out the physics. Now it's finally time to do some movement analysis!

Question #6: What part(s) of the body needs to move differently?

Moves Interlinked

Moves Interlinked

Have a look at all the different body segments and the joints that move them. Do they need to move a specific joint more or less? When do they need to make (or avoid making) this move? With what sort of intensity and for how long do they need to make the move?

To meet the desired speed, turn shape or level of ski performance, does the skier need to move...

Laterally - Too much grip? Not enough? Affecting direction?

  • Is the inclination appropriate? Is balance towards the inside ski or outside ski?
  • Are they controlling grip through angulation? More or less?
  • Which joints?

Rotationally - Not enough direction? Too much? Affecting grip?

  • Do they have aduequate upper and lower body separation to control lateral moves?
  • Do they need to turn more or less with the lower body?
  • Which joints?

Vertically - Not enough resistance? Too much? Affecting grip & direction?

  • Is the body aligned to provide enough strength?
  • Is there mobilty to release force or increase it as needed?
  • Which joints?

For/Aft - Pressure forward of centre? Behind centre? Affecting direction & grip?

  • Are the feet placed to support the Center of Mass and/or direct the skis?
  • Are fore/aft moves independent from vertical moves?
  • Which joints?


X - Factors

It's not always a technique issue.

Question #7: Are there any other factors involved?

X-Factometer

Psychological
Physiological
Tactical
Equipment
Environmental

Reassess

Is the skier any closer to the objective? Or do you need to alter the experiment?


Technical Assessment Pyramid

To summarize, here's a little tool you can use as your skill assessment cheet sheet.

Join the Science Friction Club.

You'll get to outsmart your ski instructor & troubleshoot your own ski technique.

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gpatters
gpatters
2 months ago

Yep. Nice logical approach. Like the way it starts with a set objective and provides an option to up the objective if no apparent issue.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

I think I understand what you’re saying but, as on ordinary skier and NOT an instructor, it all it leaves me with are VERY VERY VERY BIG QUESTIONS i.e. how many of these “wrong” things am I doing? How about a series of simpler articles aimed at 1) particular individual “wrong” things, 2) how a recreational skiers can themselves both a) identify the problem; and c) correct it3) the guidance will never replace lessons/guidance/coaching from a good instructorI suggest this because one “instructor” I had told me everyday (when I fell at the same spot) that I had to slow down but neglected… Read more »

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  SkiNerd

Thanks for taking the trouble to reply. I understand the reference to jet skis but I’m ok on that point now, thanks. Also appreciate the link to your diagnostic tool.
Do you have or are you considering the equivalent for
Off Piste/Powder. I ask because I’m starting on this now?
Hope you do.

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