Should you transfer your weight to your new support foot, and lift the old ski, before initiating a new turn? "The lift," as a teaching/learning tool, has become the focus of a great deal of controversy!
Bob Barnes coaching at ESA Stowe, December 2008
The issue of one-footed vs. two-footed skiing, and the advisability of "lifting" a ski and making a complete weight transfer prior to initiating a turn, as a learning tool or part of a progression for beginners, has been discussed ad nauseum here at EpicSki in the past. But it has once again reared its head, and with all the new members here, it's worth visiting again.
It has been suggested that those of us who object to "the lift" have misunderstood its use. It has been suggested that it is not an intended outcome, or a critical component of expert skiing, but that it is merely a useful "step" in a learning progression for beginners. I have always said that ANYTHING can, in the right instructor's hands, and in the right circumstances, be a useful, valid exercise for learning good skiing. (And the contrary is also true--every exercise has something "wrong" with it--otherwise it would be skiing!) That said, I'd like to explore this concept of "the lift," which I maintain does far more harm than good, in the real world of actual ski lessons taught in the trenches. Nowhere here do I mean to suggest that talented, knowledgeable instructors should not ever use "the lift." My concern is not over its use, but that its misuse is far too common, and when misused, "the lift" carries most unfortunate consequences for the learning skier.
As instructors, one of our prime directives is that what we teach for today's turns should apply tomorrow--no shortcuts that will need to be "untaught" lest they become bad habits. We do not want to teach "beginner turns" or "beginner movement patterns"--we want to introduce beginners to the turns, movements, and tactics of experts! First turns on skis should incorporate the very same essential fundamentals as expert turns, albeit at an "embryonic" level of skill and intensity.
So this idea of a conflict between an "early learning process" and a "high level outcome," as Arc has put it, is worth a good, hard look. It is not always obvious which attributes of movements are fundamentally the same, and which represent essential differences. Wedge turns, for example, can contain ALL the fundamental, essential movements of high-performance World Cup racing turns--or not. And parallel turns can also contain all the same fundamentals--or not.
"Lifting is learning, lightening is expert skiing," I have heard some "lift" proponents suggest. "Lifting" is just a logical step in the learning progression, they say. Is it really? Like Rusty, I maintain that "lifting" is a step in the wrong direction. Literally!
Whether or not skiing "should" involve balance on one foot or both is not relevant to this point--it doesn't matter, and frankly, both have their place. The skill of balancing on one foot or the other or both, at will, is critical for good skiing, and one-footed exercises are great for improving balance. But do they help teach good turning movements? The answer, more often than not, is no! Let's take a closer look.
Clearly, if "two-footed" skiing were the goal, lifting a ski would be its antithesis. The argument would be simple!
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that experts DO balance entirely on one foot in most turns, and that there is, therefore, a "weight transfer" involved from turn to turn. On the surface, it should make sense to exaggerate that one-footed balance by lifting the new inside ski, forcing the entire turn to be made on the outside ski--at least at first. Right?
One fundamental attribute of all offensive, gliding turns (as opposed to defensive skidded braking), whether on skis or on foot, is that all movements of any part of the body should tend in the direction of the turn. I call these "positive movements." To go right, the ski tips move right, the skis tip to the right, and the body moves to the right. Nothing moves (intentionally) left. Like all real fundamentals, this is true for offensive wedge turns, and for the expert's dynamic "parallel" turns, and everything in between.
A negative movement is a movement in the opposite direction--left, when turning right, or uphill when turning downhill. Pushing or twisting the tails into a skid is a negative movement. Setting an edge to create a "platform," and pushing off or rebounding uphill from that platform, are negative movements. A blocking pole plant that pushes you uphill is a negative movement. Negative movements have no place in offensive turns (although they are the essential movements of braking, which is also a vital skill on skis).
Back to weight transfer and "the lift." The g-forces of all turns, and the pull of gravity in the second half of a turn, combine to pull skiers toward their outside skis. If we do nothing to prevent it, and have the balancing skill to sustain it, our balance will naturally "transfer" to the outside ski, just as a car leans toward the outside of a turn. So there is a weight transfer in all turns, unless we actively try to prevent it (by leaning more severely into the turn). Weight transfer is a common result of many good turns.
But making an active weight transfer (lifting the new inside ski) PRIOR TO initiating a turn, or even at the moment of the initiation, involves, without exception, a negative movement of the body. It is inevitable. Try this: Stand upright, feet naturally and comfortably separated. Put all your weight on your right foot, and lift your left. Now, transfer your weight to the left foot and lift your right. Which way did your body move? Obviously, it moved left. So, if this movement is part of initiating a right turn, and it causes your body to move left, it is, as I have said, literally a step in the wrong direction. It introduces negative movements that will have to be unlearned later, and it has other negative consequences even now.
Like a bicycle, you can't turn right until you're leaning to the right (of at least one foot). If you move left to remain in balance as you lift your right ski, you find yourself balanced directly above your left ski. No lean, so no turn. Now what do you do? You have two choices. You can either move your body to the right, or move your support foot to the left. It's nearly impossible to get your body moving right after you've already started it moving left, when you're balancing on one foot directly beneath you (you could push off with your left pole, but this is hardly a normal move of experts). So moving the foot left is what almost always happens to people who start their turns this way.
They transfer their weight to the left ski, lifting the right (or not--it's the weight transfer, not the "lift" that is the problem). Their body moves left, inevitably, for balance. Then they twist their left ski tail and foot even farther left, to create the right lean of the body needed before they can start turning right. A chain of negative movements, one after the other, each necessitated by the one preceding. And a skidded turn entry as a result. This is the near-universal signature of skiers who have learned to ski via the "lift"! I've seen it in novices, intermediates, and even instructors and trainers who teach it! It's a dead give-away.
And it's a habit that is very difficult to unlearn.
One way to lessen the problem is to adopt a very narrow stance. The closer together your feet when you transfer balance from one to the other, the less your body has to move. So proponents of "the lift" invariably believe in very narrow stances. The narrow stance does not eliminate the problem, of course, it just reduces it. And it causes problems of its own--not the least of which is that it is a stance that bears little resemblance to that of World Cup racers.
Wait, there's more! Steering the skis with the feet and legs is a critical skill of good skiing. With today's skis, most muscular steering effort merely supplements the built-in carving ability of the skis, but, like holding the wheel of your car, it is the key to fine control, and to drastic emergency maneuvering when needed as well. Precise leg steering requires both feet on the snow, with some space between them. Period. Here's another experiment: Standing again, both feet on the floor, comfortably and naturally separated, try twisting one left and right. Easy, right? Try twisting the other--piece of cake. You can turn either foot or both, smoothly, precisely, powerfully, subtly, slowly, or quickly, as you choose, using just your legs. Now lift a foot and balance entirely on the other. Try twisting that foot you're standing on. It's different now, isn't it? Now your upper body comes into play, and all you can do is jerk that foot around with your arms, torso, or hips. Try turning it slowly, smoothly, and continuously--it can't be done!
So that "learning" beginning skier, standing on his left ski with his right foot lifted, needing to twist his left ski out to make a turn, can only do so with gross movements of his upper body. More bad habits! Negative movements, gross upper-body twisting, skis skidding--how many bad habits can you introduce to beginners at once? And this is not to mention that most beginners are unsteady and uneasy enough with BOTH feet planted firmly on the ground. Asking them to balance on just one puts them even farther from the critical (for learning) "comfort zone"!
"Lifting is learning...." Hm-m-m. Well, if learning all the wrong stuff is still learning, then I suppose so!
I'll admit that the INTENT of most of those who teach this movement is admirable, and possibly even accurate IF you believe that weight transfer is important (I don't, but I can accept those who do). Indeed, it is VERY CLOSE to what happens in high level turns. One more experiment will show where the fallacy came from, I believe.
Stand in the natural two-footed stance, one more time. Now make a quick lateral leap to your right. Everything moved right, right? All positive movements. Nothing moved left. Turns are glorified, drawn out, lateral moves, so it's no coincidence that they have a lot in common with this simple lateral leap. But even as everything moved right, your weight shifted to your LEFT foot, didn't it? And your right foot did, in fact, "lift." There was a weight transfer, and a lift, as a RESULT of your move to the right. And there will often be the same in many ski turns.
The difference in timing is extremely subtle, but it is the critical difference between cause and effect. Transfer your weight and lift before making your lateral move, and everything goes the wrong way. Allow the transfer and the lift to happen because you moved, and all is well! If you can't tell the difference, it is easy to assume that the weight transfer and lift you experience in your high-level turns must be important, and that therefore you ought to teach them to beginners. The error is well-intended, at least.
And truly, with awareness of these critical pitfalls, it is possible to incorporate the "lift" into an effective lesson. A few very knowledgeable, experienced, gifted instructors do--and Arcmeister is surely one of them. Unfortunately, most instructors teaching most beginners--whether their background is PSIA or PMTS or something else--lack the experience and the eye to deal effectively with these problems. Asking them to ask their students to lift a ski "for learning" is playing with fire, and the results are very, very often unfortunate.
Of course, the beginning skiers are even less well-equipped than their instructors to realize that there is a problem! Blissfully unaware that they are learning bad habits, they may well believe they're getting the best lesson they could get--especially if the outcome is "parallel skis."
And with that, this thread now converges with Carolyn's concurrent thread, "Instructor training for mechanical understanding," which explores not only the how of training instructors, but the ethical obligation to become technically knowledgeable and competent that instructors owe to their students.