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A memorial service was held this summer on the slopes of Mt. Hood for our beloved friend, Counter. Although a body has not yet been found it’s widely accepted that the cause of death was due to overuse and misunderstanding. Counter is survived by its next of kin, Squared.
Leading up to the disappearance of Counter many ski patrons had witnessed its abuses and mistreatments. There was an eye-witness account of a counter overdosing at Mt. Hood Meadows where a skier was hell-bent on keeping his upper body facing down the hill at all times. The worst atrocity was in a medium radius turn on North Canyon (an easy blue run) where he insisted on keeping hips, shoulders and hands pointed directly downhill through the finishing phase of the turn. After further investigation this abuse of counter was cited as the reason why the skier always ended up back on the inside ski with excessive tip lead only causing gross rebalancing and re-aligning movements to start the next turn.
Other reports indicate that Counter was so despised that it was banished from local shops and community bookstores. Local banker, Tip N. Side was so disgusted with Counter that he chose to “square up” at the finish of his turns so that hips and shoulders faced completely across the run in every turn. Tip N. Side said, “I have no use for counter! If I just face across the hill every turn, I can slow down by bracing against my downhill ski and skidding sideways. Yeah, it tires me out and makes it really tough to move into the next turn, but at least when I fall I’ll be up the hill rather than down.”
When asked if he would ever consider adding some counter, Tip N. Side responded, “Are you kidding me? That just gets me all twisted up and swings the tails around the tips! I’m sticking with rotating my hips around so I can set up a skidded brace for safety.” On a side note, banker Tip N. Side is also the president of the local WHTPF (We Hate Turning in Powder Foundation) and is organizing the NNBC (No New Bumps Coalition).
In another sighting, patrons at Stevens Pass saw Counter being dragged all over the mountain in various turns, shapes and conditions. We had a chance to catch up with someone who spoke with Counter in the final days and she said “Oh that poor Counter, it was just so misunderstood. Last week at lunch I found Counter curled up crying in the corner.” When I asked what was wrong, Counter just said “I can’t take it anymore, these skiers are over using me because they think if a little is good then a lot must be better. I tried to remind them that humans are designed for fore/aft movement, but oh no, they insist on twisting their spines in to a Möbius strip every turn. You know, they just end up over pressuring the outside ski through the finish and can’t flow into their next turn.” Our eye witness felt that Counter was so distraught, that it’s no surprise people are reporting it’s disappearance.
With all these reports of abuses, overuses, no uses and excuses Counter seemed to have left this world due to confusion and over application.
However, conspiracy theorists have asserted that in the week leading up to Counter’s disappearance there had been visits to the Functional Movements Plastic Surgery Program at the I.T.T. Institute. It’s even alleged that Counter had reconstructive surgery and put away the one-piece Scot Schmidt Steep Tech ensemble in an attempt to blend in on the hill. Even though a body has not been found, authorities cite Counter’s lack of presence in efficient and effective skiing as grounds for declaration of death.
Not convinced, a local Movement Analysts Team searched for Counter on the slopes by interviewing many efficient skiers. They began noticing skiers achieving incredible performance by aligning their bodies to their tip lead, and when asked flat out, “Where’s Counter?” The skiers would respond “Oh I stopped trying to create counter and started squaring up to my ski tips.” Confused and suspect, these analysts asked for an explanation. Here’s the transcript…
Movement Analysts (MA): Square to your tips? Don’t you mean square to your skis? I thought that was bad.
Efficient Skier (ES): Apparently you are misunderstanding me. Instead of aligning your hands, shoulders, hips and torso to the direction your skis are pointing or facing, simply align them to the natural amount of tip lead that is created through the finish of a turn.
MA: Hold up! This isn’t new, we just interviewed that banker Tip N. Side and he tries to do this every turn.
ES: He takes it too far. That banker loves to skid and brace off his downhill ski through the finish. I’ll bet he told you that old nugget about falling up the hill is better than falling down the hill. He over rotates his hips and shoulders at the finish of every turn, rather than keeping his body aligned to the small amount of natural offset or tip-lead that occurs through the finish of the turn.
MA: Tip-lead Alignment? What does that do for you?
ES: It keeps you in the most optimal alignment to do what you want when you want. First it creates a far better stacked position to manage pressure. I used to hear Counter always complaining about the inability to manage pressure at faster speeds because the body faced a different direction than the feet creating a very compromised structure. Second it allows us to access our feet and legs more readily. We don’t have to make a rebalancing movement through transition just so we can start the next turn. A key indicator for me is sensing my inside foot under my inside hip, instead of in front of it. Or as some folks say – keeping the inside hip over the inside foot. Bottom line: Keep your hips over your feet relative to the line of action and you will be stacked to use your tools the way you want.
MA: Stacked is good, but hips over inside ski ankle seems like you’ll have too much weight on the inside ski
ES: Ah gothcha! I said keep the inside foot under the hip, not lean inside or put your weight on your inside ski. You are still directing balance to the outside ski and managing pressure through both skis, but by keeping your inside foot under your inside hip, relative to the line of action, will allow you to use your new outside ski earlier in the turn. In fact, great skiers can start engaging the new outside ski before it even technically becomes the outside ski.
ES: C’mon, I saw you guys at the PSIA-NW Summer Ski Camp, as well as at Timberline clinicing with Mike Rogan this summer, and then again at Fall Seminar listening to keynote speaker and former US Ski Team Coach Greg Needell. If you can begin to slightly edge and pressure the new outside ski while it is still the inside ski, during the finishing phase, then you will be able to start engaging the ski earlier and get better ski performance. In fact you not only get earlier engagement but also balance, speed control, and the Level III standard known as “carving immediately.” But, you can’t get any of it if you are not in a stacked and aligned position. Aligning to the natural offset of your ski tips and keeping your hips over your feet keeps you in the position to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
MA: I’m getting it now. You don’t face across the hill because the hips come around too far and you create a downhill brace. So if we just face downhill all the time then we should be in the money because, if little is good as you’re describing then more must be better.
ES: Whoa, pump the brakes! Just like “over squaring” doesn’t help neither will “over countering.” Think of it as the sweet spot. Not enough counter you get over-rotated and braced, but too much counter and the inside foot typically moves excessively ahead of the inside hip putting you on the tail of the inside ski. “Over countering” can happen in two forms 1.) is a twisting of the spine where the shoulders and chest face down hill, but the pelvis and hips still face across the hill or 2.) all portions of the upper body including the pelvis face directly down hill but are stacked over the heels rather than the front of the arch. In either case the skier will have to make a rebalancing move before flowing into the next turn.
MA: That seems to make sense. We want to align our hands, shoulders, torso, hips, etc. to the minimal amount of tip lead that naturally occurs through the finish phase. So it’s a continually stacked alignment to keep us in position to get the most ski performance. Thanks for sharing with us! Tomorrow’s headline will read, “No more use for counter rotation.”
ES: What? No, no, no. The misuse of counter-rotation is dead. We still want to keep turning the feet and legs more than the upper body but in a manner that maintains continual stacking with hips over feet relative to the line of action.
MA: But, but, but…
ES: But nothing. For example if you are making a turn shorter than the design of your skis or maybe skiing the bumps, trees, chutes or a close set gate, then you’ll definitely be turning the feet and legs under a stable body to take the skis through the intended path. Some call this skiing in and out of counter which is a functional outcome of great movements rather than a position or a look you create. However, even in these shorter turns we still find improved performance and control from aligning to the tips and stacking.
MA: Even with short radius turns?
ES: Yes, even with short radius turns.
MA: Hmm … so too much counter or too little counter inhibits efficient skiing. The ideal position is to stay aligned to your ski tips or correctly “squared.” Correctly meaning hands, shoulders, torso and hips aligned to the natural tip lead that occurs through the finishing phase or square to the tips. From this alignment you have the most options to use the tool the way you want, when you want. So just the right amount of counter is ideal, but I don’t know if you heard, Counter is dead.
ES: Due to a non-disclosure agreement, Counter has asked us to not mention its name since moving into the Abused Concept Protection Program but since the cat is out of the bag, then we can confidently say that Counter is alive and well in efficient skiing. Simply said countering or aligning your upper body (pelvis included) to the natural offset of your skis (aka “tip lead”) will enable you to do want you want, when you want.
Alignment of the upper body to the tip lead is not a new concept. It is the fundamental basis for turning feet and legs under a quiet and stable upper body. A quiet upper body can be statically illustrated indoors simply by standing up then pointing your feet to the left or right by rotating the femur in the hip socket, without rotating your hips. The axis of rotation should run between the arch and ball of your foot, not the heel. You will notice there is no twisting of spine and there is a natural offset or tip-lead created by these movements. Now slowly rotate your hips and torso to align with a straight, imaginary line drawn between your big toes. You are now “square to your ski tips” or “optimally aligned.” Granted this is a static example, and when you add forces generated in a turn, tipping of the lower legs to edge/de-edge the skis, there will be additional movements necessary.
Keeping the upper body aligned to this minimal offset results in little if any rotation of the upper body. This minimal movement can be described as “quiet” and “stable.” Beyond looks, this alignment is incredibly functional, because it allows immediate access to the skis with no rebalancing movement needed to enter the next turn. Stance influences tip-lead. An ideal stance width is skier dependent and based on characteristics of a person’s body structure (wide hips, narrow hips, height, etc.) but here are some key guidelines.
The stance should be wide enough to enable a full range of edging from both skis by tipping of the lower legs but be narrow enough so it is unnecessary to move the center of mass excessively laterally to be able to extend or flex either leg. Typically matching the width of your stance to width of your hips is a good starting point. It’s much more effective to balance from a consistent stance compared to one that is changing during a turn. So once your stance is established, the goal is to keep it consistent throughout a turn.
One of the key points with “aligning to the tip lead,” is to maintain a functional relationship between the inside hip and inside foot. A common mistake is to have more tip lead than hip lead. If the hip is not aligned with the foot the tendency is for the skier to be back as he tries to engage the new outside ski. The relationship of the hip and foot needs to be balanced with the line of action, which is the combined forces acting through and into the bottom of the skis. The line of action changes dramatically with speed, turn radius, snow surface and terrain.
To achieve this alignment, the inside hip, torso, shoulder and arm should remain higher than, and ahead of, the outside hip, torso, shoulder, and arm. One should be able to draw parallel lines across the ski tips, feet, hips, shoulders and arms. These parallel lines help address the confusion of how much counter is too much vs. too little, because it provides a tangible orientation of the upper body to the skis. How much further you turn your legs than your torso is directly related to the desired turn outcome.
In the photos and diagrams shown the skiers are statically depicting a desired medium radius turn outcome so the legs are turned slightly more than the torso. If the desired turn were shorter, the legs would turn further across the torso and the resulting tip lead would match.
Standing perpendicular to the fall line on a slight hill, find your default stance. Be sure the inside foot is directly below the inside hip, so you can feel boot cuff contact, where the inside ankle is flexed more than the outside ankle, and the inside hip is higher than the outside hip. Now, have a partner lay a pole on the snow matching the ski tip offset created by your stance. Balance a second pole across your arms. Align the pole across your arms so that it is parallel to the pole on the snow. This gives a visual reference to help you anchor kinesthetic awareness of optimal counter.[connections_list id=29 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]
As irony would have it, the forecast called for a storm with significant accumulation, perhaps as much as a foot of new snow, on the day the lifts closed for good at Tamarack Ski Resort. For locals, employees, customers, homeowners, even guests with reservations for the upcoming spring break, March 5th 2009 will be a day not soon forgotten. Only five days earlier, Tamarack’s court appointed receiver announced he was shutting the resort, “permanently”, with no plans for any future operations. Nearly 300 people lost their jobs, resort homeowners lost value and useless season passes ended up as memorabilia as a resort full of promise went belly up. The news wires had been running innumerable articles for months detailing Tamarack’s woes, but on that fateful day, the story reverberated around the world. Lost among the stories of Tamarack’s demise however was the inside story of what it was like to work there as a ski instructor during its’ last two seasons of operations. Despite Tamarack’s closure, working there was a genuine pleasure. Before the memories go stale, I wanted to capture them and let folks know that even though Tamarack may be gone, it was a great place to be a ski teacher.
The mountains of west central Idaho are immense and capture a lot of snow. West Mountain near Donnelly had long been known to back country skiers as a great place to skin your way up and enjoy untracked powder runs. A few folks had talked about one day creating a ski resort there. Some scoffed and said it would never work. With Brundage Ski Resort and its excellent terrain and snow a half hour’s drive north, near the town of McCall, yet another resort would only dilute the customer base to everyone’s detriment was a common concern.
Nevertheless, two developers saw something very special in those mountains and had a vision of new and very elegant four season resort targeting an affluent international clientele. French born developer, Jean-Pierre Boespflug and Mexican Alfredo Miguel Afif, would pony up millions of their own dollars and secure some $250 million more in loans to begin construction of what would become the next great ski resort. The plan made sense in those heady days of the real estate boom. Develop a luxury real estate project around a four season resort and use the profits from real estate sales to pay off the loan for construction of the village and facilities. A Swiss bank was willing to make the loan and dozens of investors lined up to buy lots and build spectacular mountain homes, among them, tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.
In a very short time, the dream came to fruition. High speed lifts were installed, a four star hotel was built, a world class golf course was put in and some of the best mountain biking trails anywhere were cut. With 5,000 acres of guided back country powder skiing, Tamarack was on its way.
I moved to Idaho in 2007 for a new opportunity in my “other job” and visited Tamarack in the summer to check things out with my family. I liked it immediately but my two teen age daughters were all excited because Hillary Duff was in the general store at the resort. Since I didn’t know who Hillary Duff is, I suppose I was under whelmed. I was there to shop for my next ski school, not to ogle over celebrities though quite a few seemed to show up there. Even a certain President, known for his love of mountain biking was spotted there that summer.
I met with ski school director Craig Panarisi and signed on for the upcoming season. The first thing I noticed was just how small the ski school was. At the first organizational meeting in the fall, there were no more than twenty instructors. Having previously worked at resorts with large ski schools numbering hundreds of instructors, Tamarack’s small size was a very different experience. The second thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a huge hiring clinic or a lengthy new hire training program. I quickly realized why. Tamarack’s ski school was staffed with a very small number of some very fine instructors who were all veterans in their own right and didn’t need a whole lot of training. The ski school director, Craig Panarisi, a PSIA Nordic Team member and coach was enthusiastic and quite entertaining. He emphasized Tamarack’s intense commitment to extreme levels of customer service and cautioned, “if you see a famous celebrity, don’t act like a fool…give them their privacy.”
The thing that I will most take away from my time at Tamarack was the wisdom and quiet genius of the ski school director, Craig Panarisi, who recognized the value in instructor’s kids.
The 2007 – 2008 season was spectacular. January saw almost daily dumps of perfect powder. The ski school was busy and I saw first hand how a small ski school with a handful of great instructors could handle a demanding clientele with aplomb. Veteran instructors like Loren Livermore, Jerry Peterson, Steve Butterworth and Bob Young were a joy to work with. Nearly all the lessons were half day privates and I got to take my time and really plan out great lessons. I enjoyed teaching there immensely and made more money on weekends than I had ever made anywhere else. I met people from all over the world.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. Christmas was really busy. The kids ski school was pretty well maxed out and we were short of instructors. My then 18 year old daughter (Cert level 1) was home from college and worked over the holiday. But Panarisi noticed my then 12 year old son and 13 year old daughter skiing and said, ”Hey, they can ski and I need them as chair lift riders and instructor assistants. Do you mind if I put them to work?” They were thrilled in their new found unofficial “jobs”. But their days as chair lift riders were short lived. Now that they were part of the ski school, they attended lineup and skied frequently with the senior level 3 instructors who took them under their wings and made the most of every opportunity to clinic with them. I saw my little ones grow in maturity and in their skiing ability as they quickly became part of the ski school. As they developed, their roles began to evolve as well. They became less chair lift rider and much more ski instructor. As I would ski around with my clients, I would spot my kids having an opportunity to demonstrate a task or make a contribution to a lesson. It was an astonishing and heartwarming experience.
The 2008 – 2009 season started off on a sour note as the economy weakened, the real estate market collapsed and Tamarack’s owners defaulted on a loan payment. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf pulled out of the resort and negative press was all you could read. A court appointed receiver was named to run the resort but we were assured the resort would complete the season. To make matters worse, the snow gods were being stingy. My kids however continued to thrive. My 14 year old got her level 1 and my 13 year old continued to improve as skiing every day with great instructors was becoming quite evident in his technique. Even the ski school director took a personal interest in their development and made time to ski with them.
By late February, the sagging economy and bad press were taking a toll on the resort. As losses mounted, rumors of an imminent closure were flying. We were all praying that someone would come in and buy the resort. But on March 1, we all got the bad news. Tamarack would cease operations on March 5. The look on my kids’ faces at lineup said it all; the dream was over.
I won’t pontificate on what went wrong from a financial point of view. I suppose it was just really bad timing. Trying to build a world class resort just as the global economy was collapsing was the ultimate cause of the resorts demise. But rather than focus on the negative, I prefer to take away something positive. I learned things at Tamarack that should be useful to other instructors and other ski schools.
The level of customer service I saw at Tamarack was well above anything I have seen anywhere else. We delighted in giving our clients the very best lesson possible. Because nearly all the lessons were long and private, we really had time to craft a great lesson plan. I think I gave the best lessons of my career there. The thought of going back to huge groups and 1 hour lessons is admittedly unappealing right now.
The thing that I will most take away from my time at Tamarack was the wisdom and quiet genius of the ski school director, Craig Panarisi, who recognized the value in instructor’s kids. He included them in ski school life, made them a part of the ski school family and in fact, put them to work. In so doing, he deepened their love of the sport. Their interest in skiing skyrocketed as a result of their inclusion in the ski school and they are well on their way to becoming experienced ski instructors at a very early age. In fact, most ski schools won’t even admit kids to new hire training until age 16. My kids were very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be instructors assistants at 12 and 13 and by 14 were competent to teach on their own. I found myself wondering what ski schools across the country would look like if there were a specific strategy to reach out to and involve instructors’ kids in ski school activity. It may be a terrific way to develop, recruit and retain future instructors. If there is one take away lesson from Tamarack, it is to look at instructors kids as a potential source of future instructors and proactively and strategically involve them in ski school. If Tamarack weren’t closing, Panarisi would have secured some of his future staffing needs by doing so.
For now, we are all cleaning out our lockers and moving on. But, there are rumors that as the value of a shuttered resort continues to decline, eventually, the price gets low enough and maybe someone, a “white knight” will come in, buy the resort and bring it back to life. If so, I know at least one aging ski teacher and his kids who will be at lineup. M
Michael Patmas, MD is a practicing internal medicine physician and an unemployed PSIA-NW Alpine Certified Level 3 instructor. He is currently considering his terrain options for the upcoming season.
Note: According to Ski Area Management several bids were placed for Tamarack in June 2009. A deal to re-open could be close at hand.
A group of hearty souls braved single digit temperatures at Mission Ridge the first weekend of January 2009 to experience PSIA-NW’s inaugural event: Immersion: You Looking at You. What an event! The experience was fabulous and highly recommended to anyone who values good technique, slowing things down to understand fundamental movements, is interested in improving their skill development and willing to devote lots of practice time.
This event is not for those looking to bag multiple high-speed ripping runs. Save that for when you go to Symposium at Sun Valley’s Rip and Tip clinics. The design of this clinic is to slow down, and I mean slow down, the movement patterns into individual pieces for complete assessment of how the skills blend together turn by turn. A key component of the two days on the hill was how the coaches stationed themselves on the side of the run for them to watch, assess, and give feedback to the participants cycling by on green terrain (day 1) and blue terrain (day 2) with extreme focus on specific movement patterns. We began to understand how we each move and individually what we needed to do to change or adapt our ingrained movement patterns to show more accurate technique. Then we had to implement. The implementation of feedback is another unique part of this clinic; you work on your own. The group may begin the day cycling the same run together but you are given the choice of riding the chair alone, with a partner, talking about your feedback, not talking at all, stopping at a coach for feedback, or not stopping at a coach even when they flag you for feedback. This clinic is as much about you understanding how you process and implement feedback as it is working on the fundamentals.
The concept was simple but different than any clinic offering and the coaches made sure to bring us into the process
The concept was simple but different than any clinic offering and the coaches made sure to bring us into the process early to understand what to expect so we would be set-up for success. We met indoors the Friday night before the first day on snow with coaches Nick McDonald, Rick Lyons, Chris Thompson and guest coach Eric Ward. Eric brought with him his knowledge of having participated and coached this program before as well as his background as the Founder of The Foot Foundation™ and trainer for the Ski Schools of Aspen. We went through a presentation of the skills concept and how it is meaningful to us. This included lengthy technical discussions regarding center of mass (COM) and subsequent point of contact (POC). These key elements became the focus for the rest of the weekend. Saturday was spent on the hill with intensive movement pattern assessments and lots of practice exploring the potential range of these movements. Saturday night was another indoor session with a focus on your foot, how it functions and how it fits in your boot, however, not in the traditional boot fitting sense. As our awareness was expanded and was consistently coached it became very clear that the goal was “it’s all about you” meaning “me”. With consistent coaching and practice it became clear that is still up to me to make the changes and with the support of the coaches I had time to really explore and play with how to make integrated movement pattern changes.
In the end it’s still me working to maintain contact with the front of my boot, remaining aligned, etc. Throughout our discussions and the time on snow, the group had clearly learned by this point that Eric is a renaissance man and our conversations also covered among other things: fear issues, anatomy and physiology, pregnancy induced stance changes and an invigorating discussion about rebound.
Sunday was another full day on the hill with continued focus on skill development. We did get to switch runs and, if we were good, speed up a little. Some participants had adapted their boot fit by this point and experimentation with boots and implementation of feedback was in full motion.
Kirsten Huotte, despite the very cold conditions, video-taped both days on the hill so all participants had a good idea of what the coaches were seeing. The video was played for us to see and understand for ourselves. After both our evening presentations Friday and Saturday night the entire group dined out together to continue the conversations and enjoy each other’s company.
Highlights Discussed and Skied: Dynamic equilibrium of the center of mass, movements allow flow and change, and the point of contact, where the skis touch the snow. Goals: COM over POC. Consistency of platform is critical.
When do you know a turn is finished? Where is the neutral zone? How do you enter a turn? Goals: tripod for balancing over the whole foot. Lower leg cuff contact by tripod
De-inclination and Re-inclination. Goals: adjusting angulation while sustaining balance in movement.
Are you interested in what a tripod position is? Can you really manage the forces of a turn by the neutral zone? If your interest is piqued and you have the desire for great skiing then this is the event for you.[connections_list id=37 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]