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by Kate Morrell photos by Ron LeMaster
This article is essentially about turn transitions, and specifically how they relate to making carved turns on groomed terrain. As you may know, the turn transition is that portion of skiing that is from the exit of one turn, to the beginning of the next (see Fig 1). I like to think of turn transitions as the main course when it comes to cooking up a well carved turn and want to share a few important ingredients that all of us as ski professionals need to be able to apply and comprehend when cooking up a good transition.
These ingredients are early pressure, moving through a balanced athletic position, and maintaining cuff pressure to both cuffs. This is not something new, or exciting, or a fad concept that will go away over time but is something that makes up the most critical part of the turn. Skiing well in the transition makes the rest of the turn pretty easy which is why the best ski racers in the world fight to be good at it and spend the better part of their careers working on it.
The transition is where a skier establishes early pressure to the new turning ski. The earlier that pressure can be established, the higher up in the turn we can begin to carve the ski to the fall line. Yes, for sure, 100%, believe me that establishing early pressure is what we want to do when carving turns. The more pressure we can take care of before the fall line, the less pressure we have to deal with after the fall line. We want to minimize pressure as much as possible after the fall line because that is where the pressure is the greatest.
Excessive pressure after the fall line is one of the major reasons turns break down and flow from turn to turn is disrupted. By “turns breaking down” I mean skidding, losing the downhill edge, bracing against the outside ski, holding onto the turn too long for speed control, traversing, ski chatter, etc. – the list goes on. In effect, excessive pressure after the fall line hinders the ability to flow smoothly into the next turn.
To establish early pressure, we first need to be “thinking” early pressure as we are exiting the turn. (Fig. 2: Slalom (SL), frame 5 and Fig. 3: Giant Slalom (GS), frame 11). With the knees and ankles flexed, feel for the uphill edge of the new turning ski and begin to transfer weight to it (Fig. 2: SL, frame 6 and Fig. 3: GS, frame 12). Continue pressuring the new uphill edge as the center of mass moves forward along the path of the ski.
Time out! It’s already too hot in Kate’s kitchen. I can feel the resistance and panic from some of you already regarding the term “balanced athletic position.” Let me get this out of the way so you all can read freely. Yes, of course we want to be balanced and athletic through the entire turn, and no, this is not suggesting any sort of static skiing. This balanced athletic position is a “checkpoint” in the transition to look for in other’s skiing and strive for in our own. OK, now you may continue reading about a balanced athletic position as it relates to turn transition.
As our skis flatten out and we change edges, we must be able to move through a balanced athletic position (Fig.2: SL, frame 1 and between frames 6 & 7 and Fig.3: GS, frame 6 and between Frames 13 & 14). How we change edges is for another time but we should all agree to some degree that the knees and ankles are rolled and the center of mass moves forward along the path of the skis crossing over in the direction of the new turn.
This balanced athletic position has the center of mass over the feet with the ankles flexed. The angle of the spine matches the shin angles as we strive to keep the hands out front helping to maintain balance. It is only from this balanced athletic position that we can react well to the next turn. I can carve, steer, pivot, whatever. A balanced athletic stance is best seen in Fig.2: SL, frame 1 and in Fig. 3, GS, frame 6.
This is another critical ingredient and you need to pay close attention. Maintain cuff pressure on both cuffs while changing edges and extending into the new turn (Fig.2: SL frame 7 and Fig.3: GS, frame 14). As we change edges, having both cuffs pressured does not mean that the feet are weighted equally. With our center of mass continuing forward along the length of the ski, the new turning ski (uphill ski) becomes weighted and cuff pressure to that ski is due to that weight transfer. Cuff pressure to the new inside foot is created mostly by actively flexing the ankle and resisting early ski lead (Fig.2: SL, frame 7).
If you stand on one foot, bend the ankle of the lifted foot and pull it back an inch or so you’re in the ball park of getting the feeling. This is very important because if we transfer weight to the new turning ski and relax our inside ankle without bending it and keeping it back, the inside foot moves forward causing the inside half of our body to slide forward much too early in the turn. When the inside half of the body moves forward too early, the result is skiing in the back seat and being too far inside. Back and inside is a difficult position to recover from and keeps us from being able to move smoothly into the next transition.
Said another way, when we cross over our feet we must actively bend our new inside ankle. To accomplish this, it helps to actively pull back the inside foot and lift the inside hip thus helping to maintain proper alignment and a strong inside half (Fig.2: SL, frames 7 & 8 and Fig.3: GS, frames 14 & 15).
Those are the only ingredients you get today but there are more I am excited to share later. What I’ve done here is give some tips that will aid in a strong transition and with the photo montages we have some checkpoints to look for when clinicing, teaching, watching video, etc. This all happens incredibly fast in real time and these checkpoint body positions should not hinder fluid movements in our skiing. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want you skiing across the hill frozen on your uphill edge waiting to turn or frozen in the athletic position in the transition. I do want you to start familiarizing yourselves with these concepts and to start incorporating them into your own skiing, clinic, and lesson scenarios.
One more thing and then we can chill. As I mentioned, the transition happens incredibly fast and you will not always be able to identify these key components even in the best skiers so don’t get overly critical if you don’t see it happening in every turn in your skiing or the groups you are working with. Pressuring the uphill edge before the skis flatten will not always happen. Especially in slalom and giant slalom. Things are happening too fast and there isn’t always time.
Benjamin Raich of Austria (photo montage skier) has Olympic gold medals in the giant slalom and slalom, has won 35 World Cup races and has been on the podium 85 times. He is truly one of the best and he is able to demonstrate these transitions nicely for us in GS and slalom. He is truly the man.
The point is that having the ability to focus on these ingredients in longer, slower turns gives us an awareness of what is ideally happening between turns and position checkpoints to look for and move through in our own skiing.
I look forward to cooking this up on the hill with you and adding more ingredients in the future. I encourage you to shoot me an email for further discussion or questions this might raise. Thanks for your time in reading this. I hope you liked it![connections_list id=13 template_name=”div_staff_bio”]
Editor’s Note: Special thanks goes to Ron LeMaster for use of the photo montages. Ron has spent more than 30 years as a ski instructor and race coach. He is a technical advisor to the US Ski Team and the Vail Ski School and has contributed to PSIA educational materials. His latest book Ultimate Skiing is a “must have” for your skiing library. See more montage images at www.ronlemaster.com.
To purchase a copy of Ultimate Skiing contact the PSIA-NW office. For this and additional titles just call the office or log onto the website and download a Bookstore Order form and fax it in. Your PSIA-NW bookstore purchase directly supports your Northwest Division.
by Nils Riise, photos by Chip Kamin
When I got the call to confirm my two day member school clinic at Schweitzer, I had no idea what I was in for. I was totally stoked to be leading a Telemark clinic and an Alpine clinic all in the same weekend, let alone what I actually experienced. The call came just two days before I was supposed to leave for Idaho, so I wondered if the clinics had been cancelled. But, come to find out, at the end of that phone call I had entered into a whole new level of stoke.
I had been informed by the Schweitzer Snowsports School clinic organizer, that they had received a substantial amount of snow over the last week, and with clear weather in the forecast, we’re changing plans. He asked me if it was o.k. with me if one of the clinic days took place in the backcountry. I then proceeded to tell him that I was ready to work with his folks needs anywhere they saw fit and that I would bring my skins and backcountry ski gear. He said, “That won’t be necessary, ‘cause we have arranged a snow cat for you and your group.” I thought, “Really, snow cat skiing for a member ski school clinic? No Way!”
“Are you serious?” I said. “Yup, just arrive at the ski school at 8:00 am Saturday morning ready to ski powder. See you then!” Chip hung up. I had just walked into a dream clinic. Cat skiing all day – on the house, coaching folks on powder skiing and getting paid? Wow, pinch me, I’m dreaming! Here’s how it all went down:
During my drive out there, in the back of my mind I kept on doubting that the snow cat trip was actually going to happen. So, I arrived early to make sure this all just wasn’t a hoax. “Maybe someone was just playing a big joke on me,” I thought. Was I actually about to embark on a snow cat trip for a member school clinic? I had no idea what to expect. How and where were we going to access this Schweitzer backcountry? From my previous experience with cat trips I was ready for a 30-60 minute van ride to our pick up point. I was just told to show up and follow along with the rest of the group.
After our avalanche safety briefing, we were all gathered at the clock tower in the base area for our van ride or whatever the next phase in the trip was and along comes our lead guide, Chip Kamin. “O.K. you guys, are your transceivers on? Are you all ready to go?” he says all nonchalant. At this point, I am still looking around for our ride. Then, Chip proceeds to announce to the group, “Let’s head over to the Great Escape Quad and get up to our starting point, we’ve got to meet up with our other guide, Ken.” At this point I ask the clinic participants, “Where are we going, how are we getting to the snow cat?” They all just looked at me kind of funny and said, “We’re starting up on top.” For some reason, I just didn’t pick up on the fact the cat skiing operation actually operated from the top of the ski area. Go figure – duh, Nils. I guess it had been a while since I had skied Schweitzer. Big changes – what a cool concept, sure why wouldn’t it be based on top, right?
As we crested the top of the Great Escape Quad, there it was, all gleaming in the morning sunlight, sitting proud and awaiting our arrival, Selkirk Powder Company’s snow cat. Again I’m thinking, “O.k. now, pinch me again – really? This is so rad, I can’t believe it.” All you do is ski off the quad and slide straight ahead to the Selkirk Powder Lodge and “boom” you’re ready to go.
After meeting Ken and a short meeting about the day’s logistics we were traversing out to our first pitch. The experience to this point had been so low key and enjoyable. Chip and Ken had done such a great job prepping and briefing the group that we all just flowed right into the forested backcountry like a pack of hobbits. I got so wrapped up in the experience of ripping pow in the sunshine with these great people that I almost forgot that I was supposed to be giving a clinic. I realized I had to quickly figure out how to set the stage for learning without constraining the excitement everyone had for skiing untracked powder in the sunshine all day. It worked out great.
We had a total of eight people and would be making at least eight or nine runs, so at the very least I figured I could coach each person one on one, one run at a time. How it worked out was actually a combination of that idea and intermittently working in two to three person pods. I grouped the pods according to ability for some runs and also gender. I wanted to make sure that the women in the group felt supported to move down the hill and learn at their own pace without the testosterone driven vibe of the guys. But then, I also had to keep the dudes in the group happy too. So, my approach with them was around giving them focused and concise coaching, so as not to affect their unbridled energy and flow. This was also the first time I had worked with people skiing on rockered skis too. What those skis can do for flotation is amazing. A couple of the women in the group were skiing on the rockered skis without much experience or confidence in powder. The results they achieved after just a couple runs of coaching were quite remarkable.
I found that regardless of what kind of skis my people were on that day, how I coached them didn’t really change. The basic concept of keeping the feet working together under the body in the powder still holds true, as well as using simultaneous feet and leg movements for steering, pressuring or edging – this was paramount for their success. That said, what I noticed the most, when working with the women who had minimal experience in the powder was that the rockered skis allowed them to experiment more freely with changing their technique without the fear of falling or losing control. Also, the feedback they experienced from the ski/snow interaction was positive and immediate. Meaning, they improved quickly and went from being unbalanced and inconsistent with their turns, to putting together full length rhythmical series of turns together without falling.
Another simple element that I worked on with everyone in the group was focusing on complementary hand and arm movements. One of the most important elements of powder skiing technique is a strong and rhythmical pole plant. So, what I introduced to them was what I call the ready pole concept. We began with making shallow turns in the falline on low angle terrain. Then, we focused on swinging the inside hand, arm and pole directly down the fall line ahead of the current turn shape in preparation for the next pole plant. As the skiers gained confidence with this concept we experimented with steeper longer pitches and added a little more shape to the turns to control speed. The result of this little drill promoted continual directional movements of the center of mass toward the new turn and kept the skiers balanced over their feet. And of course, a strong inside half resulted, which positively affected their balance over their line of action and hand and arm movements that compliment body movements.
Progressively throughout the day the smiles got bigger and bigger by focusing on these two concepts – Continuous and simultaneous movements of the feet and legs timed with a strong rhythmical pole swing and pole plant.
At the end of the day, we all had bonded well together and had a fabulous day. The powder mystery had been solved for some and the hunger for powder in a low snow year had been satisfied for all. For me, I had one of the best days of my coaching career as well as a powder day that easily rated in my top ten days of all time.
I am so thankful to the staff at Schweitzer Ski and Snowboard School for including me on their cat trip and to Chip and Ken of Selkirk Powder Company for making the whole day cool, groovy and safe. I look forward to working with all of them again. Cheers.
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by Kim Petram
This season brings changes to our sport as educational committees representing Alpine and Snowboard disciplines have been working on new or revised National Standards for Alpine, Snowboard and Children programs. The purpose of this article is to help shed light on how the language evolved to the level that you will see in the documents as well as some examples of how the standards have been formatted. The full standards for each discipline can be read at either the National website (thesnowpros.org) or the Northwest website (psia-nw.org).
In the last Northwest Snowsports Instructor magazine, Summer 2010, you may recall an article titled “Bloom’s Taxonomy, Levels of Understanding.” This will be a useful reference to assist in understanding how to decipher the language of the standards. Bloom’s Taxonomy is used to assist in determining learning, a specific taxonomy or classification system developed so that educational objectives could be organized according to their cognitive complexity. The National Standards use this taxonomy to establish levels of learning and understanding, i.e. competencies, from the most basic to advanced which subsequently help to organize and define each certification or specialist level.
Hence, for the Snowboard and Children’s National Standards, this descriptor will be noted: “The premise of the certification standards is based upon the concepts of ‘levels of understanding’ that define stages of learning in degrees of understanding. Just as certification is a measure of understanding, levels of certification represent stages of understanding. Candidates will be held to the knowledge and performance standards of the level at which they are testing as well as the criteria for all preceding levels.”
For the Children’s National Standard, this is noted: “Although not a certification, participants will be expected to meet levels of competency defined by Children’s Specialist 1 (CS1) and Children’s Specialist 2 (CS2) standards. Participants will be held to the knowledge and performance standards of their current discipline certification level. These standards provide a training focus and represent a minimum competency for specialists at each level of instruction.”
There has been work from National to further define concepts such as “certification” “accreditation” or “specialist” and what these terms really mean or represent. Under the Quality Assurance Initiative, they have looked at organizations such as National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) to assist in defining competency standards, and ways to accredit certifying professional associations. Therefore, for the Children’s National Standard, this is noted as well: “The Children’s Specialist 1 and 2 credentials follow the standards for a Curriculum Based Certificate program. A curriculum based certificate is issued after an individual completes a course or series of courses and passes an assessment instrument. The content of the assessment is limited to the course content, and therefore, may not be completely representative of professional practice (and therefore it is not as defensible to use this or the knowledge-based type of certificate for regulatory purposes as compared to a professional certification). 2005 NOCA Guide.”
All of this is in effort to assure that we all agree, or have a standard, to establish levels of competency and knowledge taught in our curriculum and that there is a unified standard in assessing these competencies. I think we will be seeing more dialogue in the future regarding assessment based credentialing.
There are commonalities between the newest standards. All start with a table of contents and include categories of movement analysis and technical knowledge, teaching standards, riding and skiing standards and professional knowledge. These standards provide a training focus and represent a minimum competency at each level of instruction.
For example, for the Snowboard National Standard in the section under Movement Analysis and Technical Knowledge Standard for Level I: “The successful Level I candidate will demonstrate the knowledge and comprehension of the Snowboard technical terms, concepts, and models listed below. The successful candidate will also demonstrate the ability to recognize movement patterns in riders that are learning and riding all green terrain, groomed blue terrain, and small freestyle features.” And Level III: “The successful Level III candidate will demonstrate the ability to synthesize and evaluate the Snowboard technical terms, concepts, and models listed below. The successful candidate will also demonstrate the ability to recognize movement patterns in riders who are learning and riding all available terrain and snow conditions, up to and including competitive freestyle riders…” and then goes on to list multiple terms, concepts and models a candidate would be responsible for such as Snowboard STS concepts, service concepts, biomechanics and stance issues.
An example for the Children’s National Standard, under Teaching Standards: “The successful CS 2 participant will need to choose appropriate exercises, games, and tasks and teach a safe, effective skill progression that demonstrates the application and analysis and the ability to synthesize and evaluate the following technical terms, concepts, and models…” and then goes on to list many concepts and theories including the Teaching Cycle, teaching with creativity, and topics related to the CAP Model.
For the Alpine National Standard, last updated in 2003, while the Bloom’s structure is not used concretely, the intent is in place. For example, with the Bloom’s verb identifiers in italics, under the section Teaching: “Specific Skill Requirements for Level I Instructors: Awareness, Understanding and Knowledge: recall the components of the learning environment; identify the components of good teaching; categorize teaching, skiing, and guest service principles of ATS relative to Beginner/Novice zone students. Application: demonstrate an ability to develop a relationship of trust between teacher and students; identify learning styles and preferences.” This is a small sample of what is in the Alpine National Standard, another area of interest to many would be to evaluate the specific skill requirements in the Skiing category.
Exploring the National Standards and reviewing all three of them, even if some are not a discipline you are involved with, will assist in understanding the common language and intent of instructional goals. As we approach the 2010-11 season, having a working knowledge of how all divisions are approaching their training will be a source of advancement in your own “levels of understanding.”
Home Area: Snoqualmie Summit West
Role/Position(s) on our Northwest team and Nationally:
PSIA-NW Technical Team Member
Children’s Specialist program coordinator
Senior Specialist program coordinator
Other positions held within PSIA both Regionally & Nationally:
National Children’s Specialist task force
National SEP task force
PSIA-NW Divisional Clinic Leader
PSIA-NW Examiner in Training
Children and Senior Specialist clinician
Job(s) within and outside the ski industry, both winter & summer:
Training Director and Supervisor at Fiorini Ski School, Snoqualmie Pass, WA
Mom of two great boys Nathaniel and Rohin
Favorite hobby when not snow skiing:
Yard work and gardening – Really!
If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
The power to let people be happy.