- NW Snowsports Instructor
- Tech Zone
- Who We Are
by Nick McDonald
The PSIA-NW Technical Team tryout was held in late April of 2010 at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon. I would like to introduce you to your team, but before I do let me describe a little bit about how they got here.
The tryout is like, and unlike, an exam; like an exam where participants are evaluated by a group of selectors (examiners), in regards to teaching skills, skiing skills and technical knowledge. Unlike an exam where it is a competitive situation for a limited number of positions verses a level of proficiency such as a certification. Not to mention that a successful tryout has a shelf life meaning being on the team is only good for 4 years, so if you want to continue to be on the team, there’s going to be another tryout.
At the tryout event a group of some of the best clinicians in our division gathered for what some outsiders would call nothing less than a torture test of resolve and endurance. But they come willingly because they each have a common goal in mind which is to help the future development of our division.
The first two days all participants go through a number of skiing tasks, teaching situations and indoor presentations. It was very inspiring watching all of them rise to the occasion. Each individual was interviewed on their motives for wanting to be on the team. The candidates were on the go from 8am to 7pm with very short breaks. On the morning of the third day a cut took place with an announcement of who will continue on to the final selection; not all names are called.
Further skiing tasks are required and more delving into the participants knowledge and abilities takes place. At the end of the final day an announcement is made of the selection of the team. One out of three from the original tryout group makes the team. It’s quite an accomplishment considering the competition.
So without further ado, during this tryout selection, in their first term on the team are Nils-Erik Riise, Scott Weimer and Jeremy Riss. For his second term is Tyler Barnes, and on their third terms are Linda Cowan and Kate Morrell. Congratulations to your new team members for 2010.
You will see them and the rest of their teammates, Terry McLeod, Rick Lyons, Dave Lucas and Karin Harjo out on the hill this coming winter along with Lane McLaughlin, Dave Lyon, Chris Thompson, Calvin Yamamoto, as well as myself representing our division. Already I can’t wait for winter! Pictured above from left to right are Nick McDonald, Rick Lyons, Chris Thompson, Karin Harjo, Lane McLaughlin, Kate Morrell, Linda Cowan, Scott Weimer, Tyler Barnes, Nils-Erik Riise, Jeremy Riss, and Dave Lucas. Not pictured are: Terry McLeod, Dave Lyon, and Calvin Yamamoto.
In the Winter 2009 issue of the NW Snowsports Instructor there was a featured article and a Snow Pro Tip that jumped out at me: “It’s Counter to be Square” by John May and “When it Comes to Your Pole, Get a Grip” by Kate Morrell.
The old saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which loosely means that the true value or quality of a thing can only be judged when it is put to use. But first the proof, then the pudding.
In case there are any non-believers still out there, I present the following proof of May and Morrell’s concepts for your review. WARNING! Do not try this on the hill. This is only a proof.
At Fall Training at Timberline in November 2009, we were introduced to a theme for the season: Stance, Alignment, Movement and Flow. In John May’s article he presented a clear description of an aligned stance and made a compelling argument as to why it would be beneficial for alpine skiers to use his concepts. In Kate Morrell’s Snow Pro Tip she presented a task and method to facilitate movement of your center of mass forward in the intended direction of travel.
You’ll often hear the catch-all answer to most ski-related questions that seek a definitive answer; “Well, it depends.” For those of you who grew up skiing with John Mohan, you’ll know exactly what I mean. So, here’s the question, “How much counter does a turn require?”
Often you’ll hear from someone who knows something about skiing that shorter radius turns need more counter and longer radius turns need less counter. The following is a graphical explanation of why counter changes with turn shape and speed, how counter relates to movement in the direction of the new turn and explains why you should put all of this information to use immediately. Like, right now!
Let’s assume that our desired outcome is flowing from turn to turn and that it is a good thing when skiing down the hill. Let’s also assume that flow means the coordinated movements of our bodies relative to our skis, with few, if any, major rebalancing or erratic movements to change direction and continue down the hill.
In the purest sense of these terms as goals, to achieve this we need to align our center of mass over our point of contact in such a way as to direct balance to the outside ski and resist all of the external forces pushing and pulling on us. In other words: We need to keep our feet between us and the snow, and not fall down.
As an aside, I use the words “over” and “under” in a frame of reference where my ski edges are always “down” and my center of mass is always “up.”
So, what does all of that have to do with “counter, square and getting a grip?” Everything. But it’s actually quite simple: you just have to be moving in the right direction. Let’s start with the picture of Kate “ripping” (see Figure 1) from her Snow Pro Tip (Winter 2009 NW Snowsports Instructor, page 13). Kate appears to be balancing over her outside ski, roughly in the middle of a turn, in the fall line and, if I know Kate, skiing fast. Let’s assume she is modeling good skiing – umm … yes, definitely! Let’s now go ahead and make some basic calculations based on a few more assumptions and determine how far to the inside her center of mass is from her outside edge in this photo.
First, how tall is Kate? I could measure her, but I just asked her. She is five-feet five-inches tall or 65 inches or 165cm. Note: 1 inch = 2.54 cm. OK, let’s draw some lines (see Figure 1).
The orange line [c] extends from her Point of Contact (PC) on the snow, which is the inside edge of her outside ski, up her outside leg to a point just slightly above the center of her pelvis, which we can use as a rough estimate for her Center of Mass (CM), indicated by the white circle. Note: The center of mass is actually a single point, but by using the circle target area allows you to visually approximate the center of mass in Kate and other skiers as well. The orange line continues from her CM to her shoulders [d] then to the top of her head [e]. The blue line [b] extends horizontally from her outside ski edge under her boot to the point under her hips that aligns vertically with the point used for her center of mass [a]. These two line segments intersect at 90 degrees.
Measure the distance from her feet horizontally to the point vertically under her center of mass [b]. Now measure the combined length of the lines drawn from her feet to the top of her head [ c+d+e ], the sum of the orange lines.
In this drawing the measurements are shown in centimeters. I originally measured this drawing at twice this size, then when placed into this publication it was scaled by 50% the original size. You can measure this drawing yourself, but bear in mind that the measurements are a scale factor of the original larger version, so your measurements might be less accurate. You can use the Pythagorean Theorem from 9th grade geometry [ a2 + b2 = c2 ] to verify the lengths (Equation 1).
Now divide the horizontal distance her CM is from her feet (b); the length of the blue line by her total height (sum of c, d and e). The result is a 0.50 – let’s call this “k” (see Equation 2), where k represents the ratio of line b to the sum of c, d, and e. In other words: In this picture, line b is about half as long as c + d + e.
If I now multiply her real height (165cm) by 0.50 (k) I get 82.5cm or 32.5 inches. This is a reasonable estimate of how far inside her hips are from her outside ski. For you literalists out there, yes, there is some measurement error in using this picture in this fashion. Her leg is slightly flexed as are the other joints in her body. But, remember that any change in her measured height results in half of that change to how far her CM is away from her outside ski. In reality, the error may be a few inches and compared to the size of the turn, for example: a 15 meter turn (49.2 feet), a few inches is immaterial.
Now let’s figure out where she needs to direct her movements in relation to her skis to achieve the alignment shown in Figure 1. First, a few more assumptions to help visually show our answers: Assume that we always finish our turns completely across the hill or skis perpendicular to the fall line. Note this amount of turn completion is not very common as we tend to not actually bring our skis completely perpendicular to the fall line, but this is an “assumption” for making these calculations. Assume that we wish to directly move our center of mass from the inside of one turn, through the transition and into the inside of the next turn, while continuing to direct pressure to the outside ski.
In Figure 3, from a bird’s-eye-view, the black line represents the path of our skis and the red line represents the path of our center of mass from one turn through the transition and into the next turn. The red line also represents the direction that our hips should be facing to facilitate the directed movement into the next turn. The angle between these two lines represents how much our legs must turn past our upper body to develop the counter needed for the next turn.
In Figure 4, the black line again represents the path of our skis and the orange line represents the path of our center of mass from one turn through the transition and into the next turn. The turn radius is 40’ and the offset from skis to center of mass is 32.5”. Using a computer-aided design and drawing (CADD) program, the angle from our skis that we would need to move our center of mass in the direction of the new turn to end up looking like Kate above is about 26°.
Let’s think about this for a second. In a high-speed turn Kate’s center of mass is about 32 inches inside of her outside ski. If she was “channeling” Lindsey Vonn and had her hip on the snow, she could only get maybe 39” of separation. As I mentioned earlier, in that 30’ turn, a 6-inch difference is very small and would only make an extremely small change in that angle.
So it seems the skier height has little effect on the direction the hips should be facing, the direction the center of mass needs to move at the beginning of the turn and ultimately the amount of counter needed.
In Figure 5 the black line is again the path of our skis and the orange line is now the path of our center of mass (CM) through the turn. The right side of the graphic, with the 2-ft offset from CM to skis, represents skiing at a moderate speed and/or with less edge angle. The left side, with the 3-ft offset from CM to skis, represents faster skiing with a higher edge angle. As you can see, the slower the speed for a given radius, the less counter we need to align our hips and movements into the new turn and the larger the radius, the less counter we need to align our hips and movements into the new turn.
To calculate the change in counter for a change in radius I assume that our center of mass moves from the inside arc, through the transition and onto the inside arc of the following turn in a straight line. In geometric terms the line that the CM travels is tangent to the inside arcs and passes through the point of inflection between the two turns.
The easy way to say this is to take a ruler and draw a line from just touching one inside arc to the next while passing through the transition point of the skis between the turns. There is only one line that will fit those criteria.
Now if you look at Figure 6 it looks like the skis take an S-shaped path between turns. Often I describe this as how your skis get from one side of your body to the other. This is how we ski into and out of a countered relationship; by turning our legs to shape the turn while our body seeks the path the CM should follow. The opposite is shown when a skier aligns to the path of the skis, then realigns to the path of the CM.
Does this mean that we all need to carry protractors with us on the hill and calculate every turn? NO! What this does mean is that as turn radius and speed change so does the amount of counter that is needed in our hips for us to align our movements into the next turn.
I hope that this information has helped to explain why radius and speed affect the amount of counter needed to align your center of mass over your outside foot and cleanly move from turn to turn.
Many thanks to Steve Olwin, Marty O’Connor, John May, Tyler Barnes and Rick Lyons in reviewing this article, helping me formulate the content and convey these concepts.
Be sure to let me know how the pudding is![connections_list id=10 template_name=’div_staff’]
by Brad Jacobson
On November 14th and 15th, 2009 at Mt Hood, I had the opportunity to ski with members of the PSIA – NW Divisional Staff for early season training, which was an incredible way to start the year. I gained new insight of the skiing and teaching concepts, and a clear picture what the Regional and National staff is working on for the upcoming year. During the course of the weekend, I was able to solidify my existing knowledge, and came home with a new understanding of the concepts and creative new ways of presenting the information to students and colleagues.
The first day my group had the opportunity to work with Chris Thompson founding member of the PSIA-NW Technical Team and PSIA-NW Examiner. Chris has a fun and unique approach to coaching, through encouraging each individual to use self discovery and group discussion. I asked Chris to describe what he focused on during the weekend, and this is what he wrote:
“As decided at Technical Team training, we focused on stance, alignment, movement and flow. We stayed in the “open parallel” mode, to hold the speed down more than anything else. We actually didn’t do any exercises but worked on each other’s skiing through changing mental focus and body awareness. To facilitate group involvement we skied in a non-structured rotating line most of the time with an integral part of the goal to be able to observe and comment on peer performance. As we worked on our skiing, we related this back to how we disseminate this information to our staff ensuring understanding with new and returning staff members. I made a strong point of sharing what we did on Friday (at Examiner Training) with both groups so they understood that divisional staff skiing focus and attainment was very similar. We continued to come back to DIRT (duration, intensity, rate and timing) as we focused on stance[ing]; directed movements; pole swing timing; parallel legs/skis; inside half leading outside half; skiing into/thru/out of counter; timing pressure thru transition to ensure maintaining a parallel attitude and good carve.”
It was great to hear it directly from the source, a member of the staff involved in developing the education material for our region. Their goal is to keep the information easy to understand so that we can all share it with our guests in terms that they can relate to, so that skiing is more fun and less complicated.
“Stalancing,” a Chris-ism, refers to staying in balance while in motion using stance as a tool. The center of mass should always be over the feet, while achieving this can happen numerous ways, and often we as instructors get tunnel vision thinking the only time a skier is in balance is when there is shin to boot contact and hips are up over the feet.
Chris had our group drop into a tuck and then asked us where our hips are, and then where our center of mass is. The answer was our hips were behind our feet and our center of mass is over our feet, perfect balance. There are numerous possibilities of body position to achieve the desired result of center of mass over the feet and we as teachers should be aware of the center of mass and not just that “perfect pose” that has defined balance for so many of us for so long.
Another point brought up was that instructors can overemphasize shin to boot contact, doing this may lead the guests to being over-flexed for too long restricting the ability to properly use their ankles which Dave Lyon suggested is one of the most important joints in skiing, if not the most important. Chris said that as we move through turns we should be using the entire circumference of the cuff boot to maintain balance, and this is OK as long as the center or mass stays over the feet.
Chris encouraged us to use flexion and extension as a means of “moving forward” and the activity of opening and closing joints while we move into, through, and out of a countered position. Using a stance foundation, and not staying there, the body is constantly moving, being proactive and reactive to stay in balance while in motion i.e. “Stalance.”
After skiing on Saturday Dave Lyon a member of the PSIA National Alpine Team and a coach for the PSIA-NW Technical Team, he prepared an indoor presentation to the entire group, focusing on what the National Team is currently developing, “Fundamental Skills Concepts.” Below is the outline of the National Team’s Fundamental Skills Concepts.
Great skiing is characterized by the skier’s ability to have a positive, selective effect on any of the skills at any time, as defined by:
Dave joked that really the #1 goal in skiing is to not fall down, which makes perfect sense to me. Dave went over in detail each bullet point explaining exactly what each phrase in the Fundamental Skills Concept is saying.
Chris commented, “It was great to have confirmation on our (PSIA-NW Technical Team) goals through Dave Lyon’s presentation of where the National Team is headed.”
The second day of training my group skied with Nick McDonald Head Coach of the PSIA-NW Technical Team and PSIA-NW Examiner. Nick talked about the importance of early pressure and commitment to the new outside ski creating a smooth, fluid transition from turn to turn. He also emphasized the importance of an effective pole use that complements the movements of the body.
Nick spoke about the NW Technical Team’s observations from video taken at PSIA-NW divisional staff training last Spring, and determined that what made the biggest difference in good to great skiing was a smooth transition from turn to turn; the primary attribute of fluid skiing was commitment to the new outside ski with pressure early in the turn.
Nick guided us in a drill making slow and controlled pivot slips concentrating on the transition from one pivot to the next. He recommended pressuring the new outside or uphill ski during transition. The result was a much more smooth and fluid transition. We then moved on to linking slow open parallel turns, concentrating on early pressure. I noticed changes in the smoothness, and flow in my own skiing after these exercises, and something that I will continue to work on throughout the season.
Chris, Nick and Dave all agreed that great pole use skills complement great skiing and bring it all together. Effective pole use can enhance all of the skiing skills (Balance, Edging, Rotary, and Pressure) as well as fore-aft and lateral balance, timing of progressive body movements for appropriate edging, moving into and out of counter and timing of flexion and extension.
Skiing with hands out in front of the body and slightly out to the side ready for the pole swing helps move the center of mass over the feet for fore-aft balance, and the hands held out to the side creates better lateral balance and then you are ready to move. As you move through the turn a pole touch or plant will help the skier re-center after the forces of the turn have pushed the skier to the heels. Planting down the hill at the end of the turn, gives the skier strong lateral balance by creating angulation and increased pressure on the outside ski.
With a consistent pole swing through the turn, the skier can use the movement of the pole swing to time the progressive movements through inclination and into angulation to determine needed edge angle.
If the skier keeps his hands out to the side and plants in the direction of the new turn (strong inside half), he will naturally ski into and out of a countered position. The act of planting the pole in the direction of the new turn or down the hill, the skier’s torso is open to the fall-line allowing the lower body to rotate or turn under a quiet and stable upper body.
Depending on which pole plant is necessary for the terrain, a blocking pole plant for challenging terrain, or a gliding pole plant for easier terrain, the pole plant times the extension. On a blocking pole plant the plant comes before the extension and at the highest edge angle to help redirect momentum and establish a solid base for ultimate balance. On a gliding pole plant the plant comes after the extension and before initiation of the new turn. This pole plant can also be used to create more acceleration with a quicker extension which is common in ski racing.
When you are carrying higher speed in medium and long radius turns, pole plants can be eliminated because they are no longer necessary and potentially dangerous. Instead of planting it was suggested that subtle movements with the arms and wrists can help in the timing of body movements.
It was motivating spending the weekend at Mt. Hood with the PSIA-NW staff. I definitely left with renewed energy, and excitement to share with my athletes, guests and the staff at Mt. Bachelor. I also received feedback on my own skiing during the weekend that I will continue to work on throughout the year, skiing with a purpose while focusing on developing new skills.
The PSIA-NW Staff has a ton of energy and enthusiasm and I look forward to skiing with them again. I would recommend to all skiing professionals to take advantage of the opportunity to work with the PSIA -NW staff, it’s a great way to increase your knowledge and share that knowledge with confidence.[connections_list id=27 template_name=’div_staff_bio’]