by Andy Collin
Think, for a minute, about all the sports you’ve played throughout your life. Parents, coaches and teammates all were telling you to, “Keep your eye on the ball” or “Look the ball into your glove.” Socially, we’ve been told to keep our eyes on the prize or, more simply still, someone on the street might yell, “Hey blockhead, why don’t you look where you’re going”. Pay attention to what you’re doing; pay attention to the goal and the task at hand and all will work out just fine. But what does that all really mean relative to snowsports?
As snow pros, there are all kinds of things we must attend to while our senses are bombarded with feedback. The pitch, the surface of the snow, the weather, our oversized boots and de-tuned skis can all conspire against us if we are not vigilant. As all the data is picked up, processed and sent through our brains, it is our vision that truly commands our attention and it is our vision that can mislead us into making inappropriate choices. While we may choose to think of our turn from apex to apex, top to bottom or never-ending arcs, we must also consider the fluid nature of a turn and learn to move our eyes in continuous arcs down the hill in order to better direct the rest of our body. We must learn to manage our vision the way we learn to manage our gear and skills. If we neglect the potential of our vision, we will certainly become bogged down in mediocrity and be banished to the purgatory of an endless ability plateau.
The best of us use our vision to great advantage, while the more challenged among us allow our vision to distract them from our desired outcome. We look at the trees rather than the spaces between the trees, at the ruts rather than our chosen line through the bumps or at the tips of our skis rather than focusing on the next turn. We must use our vision to help navigate the tree line, avoid the misstep in the bumps and to better identify our choices in terms of where we’d like to go.
The education of our vision is critical to our success as snow pros. We need to use our vision to facilitate the directional movement of our eyes and we must think about eyes as body parts, essential in aiding us in improving our application of the basic skiing and riding skills. When we think of our eyes as body parts, it makes perfect sense to direct our vision into the turn. Skiing and snowboarding are whole-body sports and body parts must move in concert to better achieve our desired outcome.
In tech talk, however, we often neglect our eyes and vision when discussing body parts. We tend to focus on the ankle or feet, tibia/ fibula, knees, femurs, or hips and so on up the chain. Elbows, femurs, navels and knee caps all require dynamic positioning through a turn but it is the eyes, our vision, that directs the power we use to initiate our turns, directs our movements and must be our first and foremost consideration once one’s desired outcome is established. Our vision must lead it all.
Ask people, “What moves first into the new turn?” Here are a variety of replies: Downhill ski tip, inside hand, feet and ankles. Each of these choices may lead to a respectable turn. When we move our eyes first and direct our vision toward the intended direction of travel, anticipation and targeting become a possibility. With a trajectory now established, the rest of our body parts have a clear understanding of the direction they need to travel.
We must not allow ourselves, as with any body part, to isolate our eye movement and, in staccato fashion, simply reposition our vision. The movement of the eyes must be as fluid as the movement of any other body part we move into and through a turn. Our vision must be constantly adjusting, assisting in choices we make. So where do we look? How can we educate ourselves and improve our vision to better serve our desired outcome? Identifying the desired outcome is always a good place to start. If the desired outcome is a carved and rounded medium radius turn, this is also how to choose to move the eyes. I want the tracing of my vision in the snow to lay down a track for my skis to follow. For me, I like to look a touch beneath the arc I have not yet laid down and about three to five ski lengths ahead of where I am at any given time. I find that when sighting carved and rounded medium radius turns, three to five ski lengths will, most often, give me enough time to respond to any inconsistency in my chosen path and still allow me time to anticipate the movements necessary to achieve my desired outcome. I like to actually see what I will be encountering and create a micro-movement plan for embracing or avoiding what is along my trajectory. Reacting in the moment and visualizing further into the future is, for me, another choice for a different desired outcome. As choices affect speed, turn shape, turn size, etc., change the distance to look into the future as well. What will not change is that all movements must be filtered through the desired outcome and no movements should get ahead of our vision.
Next time you’re on the slopes, make a few turns, then ask yourself a few vision questions like: Where are you looking? What do you see? Are you visually focused on avoiding obstacles or something else? Once you begin to understand your conventional use of vision you can then begin to make subtle changes. Consider creating a focus. Start simple with something you already know: Eyes up to assist balancing movements. This allows the body to move more freely with greater range of motion. Your vision can now be directed into the future and not confined in the present. Once you begin to understand the advantage of directing your sight, consider how best to move your eyes to aid your desired outcome. Think of steering your vision in keeping with the concept of a whole body sport. Direct your eyes to keep pace with all other bodily movements. Keep in mind this is an experimental process and there is no set plan for directing vision into and through a turn, but I am confident that once dialed-in, this directional movement will provide new found control and fluidity to every turn.
We can argue, until Mt. Hood becomes beach front property, about which body part immediately follows the eyes into a turn, and we could possibly all be correct. But unless the athlete has impaired vision, it is sight that first engages the turn. I might argue still, that the coach working with the vision-impaired student would do well to have that athlete steer his or her face in concert with turn shape to better achieve the desired outcome.
I want to emphasize that skiing with eyes open should not be new to any of us. Steering vision first into a turn and using this activity as a directional movement, while considering the eyes as moveable body parts, is a concept not to be ignored.
My friends say I need to talk less and ski more, so for them, I’ve created the short form: Look where you want to go!
Andy Collin is a Training Director for Timberline Lodge, is PSIA Alpine Level III certified and teaches at Timberline Lodge and Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort on Mt. Hood, Oregon. He is also involved in creating summer on-snow programs for alpine instructors who work for the five PSIA member snowsports schools on Mt Hood. [email href=”email@example.com”]Email Andy[/email]