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Edited on 4/25/11
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The Basic Wedge Christie
by Bob Barnes
The only difference between wedge turns and wedge christies--the next natural milestone involving the exact same intent and fundamental movement patterns--is that the skis match (move to parallel) in the shaping phase of the turn. The turn thus ends parallel and, of course, the next turn therefore begins parallel.
So why does the wedge happen, if the turn begins and ends with the skis parallel?
The key elements (items in bold are primary):
- Offensive intent--the GO! Factor--intent to control direction, not speed (with speed control indirectly, as a result of tactics and line, not directly from intentional braking); desire to gain, not lose, speed when turn starts; "go that way," not "stop going this way." Other intents (purposes) dictate different techniques, not wedge christies.
- Positive Movements--in a right turn, all intentional movements go right; skis tip right, both skis and legs turn right simultaneously (but at different rates); body (cm) moves right.
- Edge releases and both tips turn downhill, into turn at initiation and throughout the turn; NOT edge set and tails twisted/pushed out of turn into intentional skid (which is a Stem Christie).
- Wedge results spontaneously from both legs rotating into the turn, as the outside leg rotates more quickly. Matching results from continued rotation of both legs into the turn, as the inside leg rotates more quickly. Unequal rates of rotation are unintentional, but result from low skill development, and the unequal resistance on the two skis in different parts of the turn (due to the mechanics of the turn itself).
- Since intent is to control direction, not speed, skidding is unintentional. But some skidding or brushing is likely due to low skill level, and inevitable when turns are smaller than the skis can carve.
- Fundamental intent and movements are the same as for parallel turns, and wedge christies will naturally evolve to basic and then high-performance parallel turns as skill, confidence, speed, and terrain steepness increase (and offensive intent remains).
Here are some animations to clarify my meaning. Let's look first at the movements of each ski separately, to see if they concur with the bullet points above. First, the left ski:
Movements and path of the left ski in wedge christies
Clearly, this ski turns continuously in the direction of the turns--it's tip moves continuously to the right in a right turn, and vice-versa, It pivots about a point somewhat aft of ski-center, and at no point is its tail twisted toward the outside of the turn. In other words, all positive movements.
Now for the right ski:
Movements and path of the right ski in wedge christies
Same thing, of course!
So let's put them together:
Movements and paths of both skis in wedge christies
Now we can see that, even though both skis and legs turn continuously and simultaneously right in a right turn (and left in a left turn), because they turn at different rates, they open into a wedge as the turn starts, and match to parallel later in the turn. The uphill (new outside) tail is NOT stemmed out at the start, as the downhill (new inside) ski releases and slips downhill into the turn. And at no point is the inside tail pulled out toward the outside tail to bring them parallel; on the contrary, the matching occurs not by pulling the tails together, but literally by pulling the tips apart--continuing the active movement of the inside tip in the direction of the turn, but more quickly now than the outside ski. No negative movements!
And at no point do the skis or legs turn (rotate) in opposite directions. That's the seeming paradox that seems to confuse many people. Clearly, one way to create a wedge position is just that--to rotate both legs internally, turning the toes or tips toward each other, in opposite directions. But that is absolutely not what happens in a wedge christie, as these animations show.
Here are still montages based on the animations above:
Since some people like to see the fall line pointing down, and others prefer to see it pointing up, I've done it both ways. The frame numbers are the same for each one. The little white arrows indicate the skier's intended rotary input--both tips into the turn, from start to finish.
The Evolutionary Link Between Wedge and Parallel Turns
Note that in the wedge turn video, the downhill edge releases and both skis and legs turn simultaneously into the new turn--just exactly as they do in a parallel turn. But due to the low speed, combined with the embryonic skill level (all three skills--rotary, edging, and pressure control), it is difficult to turn the downhill leg as quickly as the uphill leg, so the wedge develops as the turn begins, naturally, spontaneously, and unintentionally. Low speed is a factor because without significant "G-forces" pulling the skier toward the new outside ski, there is still substantial pressure (weight) on the downhill ski as the turn starts, and that ski also remains somewhat on its uphill edge, even as it releases. The pressure and slight edge engagement combine to create more friction resisting the turning of the downhill ski, while the light uphill ski turns very easily.
Of course, the skier could "solve" the problem by making an "active, early weight transfer"--either shifting his balance to the uphill ski, or suddenly flexing his downhill leg. But both of these options would cause a sudden redirection of the center of mass--the first moving the body uphill (ie., in the wrong direction!), and the second causing an abrupt redirection down the hill. Although there are certainly real situations where these outcomes could be desirable, one of the attributes of the pure basic turn demonstration is the very smooth, continuous uninterrupted "flow" of the center of mass. Any sudden redirection does not belong in these demonstrations. So active weight transfers, while important situational technical options, are errors when demonstrating the "default" movement patterns that wedge turns, wedge christies, basic parallel, and dynamic parallel turns are meant to show.
You could also "solve" the "problem" by making a longer-radius turn, which would not require any active, muscular rotary input. "Patience turns" (initiated entirely by gravity, like a bowling ball rolling across and down the hill) and "pure-carved" or "railroad tracks" on the flats are two examples of such no-rotary-input turns and they can both be fun and good learning opportunities. But again, by definition, basic turns involve the intent to control direction--not just get taken for a ride by gravity or the sidecut of your skis. Because of this requirement, demonstrating these turns (wedge, wedge christie, basic parallel, etc.) demands that we choose to ski a turn radius smaller than our skis will carve by themselves without rotary input. Once you involve active rotary movements, the wedge, and the wedge christie, "happen"!
OK, so why does the matching occur in wedge christies, if it does not occur in wedge turns? Well, wedge christies again demonstrate the milestone in between the first (wedge) turns and basic parallel turns, in both skill development and speed. While the speed may not be high enough and the leg-steering ("fulcrum" mechanism that Bud refers to) skill not sufficiently advanced to turn both skis at equal rates to start the turn, somewhere later in the turn the speed increases and the balance shifts spontaneously toward the outside ski (due to the forces of the turn). As the inside ski lightens--AND the skier leans more into the turn for balance, helping to flatten the inside ski--it becomes easier then to turn the inside ski. So the same steering effort to turn BOTH skis into and through the turn now turns the inside ski more quickly, bringing the skis parallel. Note that "matching" occurs NOT by twisting the inside tail out toward the outside ski, but by pulling its tip into the turn--as the outside ski follows. The result: parallel skis, with still no intentional twisting or pushing of the tails into a skid.
The key point to all this is that the fundamental technical intent of all basic turns--wedge, wedge christie, basic parallel--is the same: turn both skis and legs simultaneously, and at the same rate, into the turn. The intent is the same--basically, a parallel turn--but the challenges due to low skill development and low speed cause the wedge to happen at first, and then to spontaneously vanish as skill, speed, steepness, and confidence increase.
The wedge happens! It is not intentional (for students), and it is certainly not an essential part of the beginner's turn. Strong skiers, like instructors, trying to demonstrate them accurately cannot, of course, become less skillful. But they can certainly use tactics that will tend to cause the wedge to happen without an intentional effort. Very small radius and very complete turns will both keep speed to a minimum and require very active leg rotation to create the turn shape. Then all you have to do is make your very best "parallel turn movements," and a wedge christie (or even wedge turn, if you go slow enough on flat enough terrain) will happen spontaneously.
Any other way of doing is cheating. Try to make a wedge christie at too high speed, and you'll have to fake the wedge--you'll have to do something intentionally different from how you'd make a parallel turn. And that, by definition, is NOT a wedge christie!
As I mentioned earlier, all of these basic turns are fundamentally offensive. That is, they are made to control direction directly, and speed only as a side-effect of direction (ie., if you go uphill, you'll slow down). They all involve, in a very real sense, going as fast as you possibly can on whatever line you choose. If you want to go slowly, you go as fast as possible on a very slow line--completing each turn perhaps even back uphill a bit. (Again, this is not to suggest that we are always, or should always be, "offensive," but simply that these demonstrations are meant to show the technique involved when we are. Other intents would involve different demos.) This is the concept that I've long referred to as "skiing the slow line fast," and good instructors instill a deep awareness of it from the start.
So, in summary, wedge christies are turns made at a very low speed, that begin with opening to a wedge and continue with matching to parallel. To make them accurately, ski as fast as you possibly can and don't wedge, and don't match! Just do it on a slow enough line, with small enough turns, that you can't help but make a wedge christie.
The Difference Between "Matching" and "Closing"
Here's the difference between "matching," which involves continuously turning the ski tips into and through the turn as in a wedge christie, and "closing," which involves twisting the inside tail out toward the outside tail, typically as the outside skids without continuous steering into the turn.
Notice that the outside ski is never quite parallel to the direction of travel (the red line shows the direction of travel of the center of mass). If it were a "pure-carved turn," the outside ski, at least, would exactly parallel the red line, and wherever the pressure is 100% balanced on the outside ski, the edge of that foot will also be exactly on the line. So with these things in mind, the illustration shows a small amount of brushing (skidding), and the pressure center always somewhere between the feet--albeit much closer to the outside foot near the end of the shaping/control phase (frames 9-10 and 17-18).
Compare the Wedge Christie illustration with the other end of the performance spectrum (still with the same intent and fundamental movement patterns)--the highly carved Dynamic Parallel Turn:
On the other hand, my definition of the Wedge Christie includes that they are "as carved as possible." That's the same intent, of course, as each of the other "milestones" along the same path (wedge, basic parallel, dynamic parallel). That's not to say that they are necessarily pure-carved turns by any means--merely that there is no intentional skidding and braking. It follows clearly and logically from the intent to control purely direction, not speed, to ski "a slow enough line as fast as possible." For real skiers at that skill level, there is likely to be a fair amount of skidding in most turns, even though it is not their intent, largely due to their undeveloped fine edging skills, as you suggest. On the other hand, with today's soft deep-sidecut skis, it doesn't take much edge angle or edging skill to get the skis to carve, or to help shape the turn with minimal skidding. For instructors demonstrating wedge christies, that's why I insist that we must ski turns that are smaller than we can "pure carve," to ensure that they show someunintentional but very obvious skidding.
And again, in "real" skiing situations, we will often see skiers at this level who are not entirely offensive, and who therefore use the wedge to brake, or increase the skidding intentionally to brake. No problem there--it's just no longer a pure, offensive wedge christie!
As to the traditional definition of "christie" being "skidding on corresponding edges," technically you are correct, of course. But since that term arose at a time when virtually all turns involved skidding, I have a slightly different take on it. I could be wrong about the intent of whoever coined the term "christie," but my suspicion is that the operative and important words were "on corresponding edges," and the "skidding" part was just a nod to the "fact" at the time that all turns involved skidding. So the intended distinction was between being "on opposing edges" (that is, wedges and stems), and being "on corresponding edges." I just don't think that the term was meant to distinguish skidded turns from carved turns--especially since a nearly-equally-old expression was "carved christie."
In any case, I agree that an instructor's demonstration of wedge christie should show some gentle brushing or skidding. But that is only so that it demonstrates the active leg rotation (fulcrum mechanism) we want to show, and so that--like the wedge itself--it presents an image of skiing that is accessible to students at that level. Make it small enough, and "as carved as possible" will show all the skidding required!
The Difference Between Wedge Christie and Stem Christie
Bud Heishman notes, "There is a clear mechanical divide between stem christies and wedge christies that I am not convinced the majority of our members understand and this sends many students unnecessarily, down a one way dead end street." I agree. That's the bottom line, and it is a critical distinction. The two--wedge christie and stem christie--look superficially similar (both begin with converging skis and finish parallel), but a bit of understanding reveals them to be polar opposites, in almost every respect. The intents they serve are opposite--one (wedge christie) is offensive--"go that way," and the other is defensive--"stop going this way," or "don't go that way." One (wedge christie) involves exclusively what I call "positive movements"--movements in the direction of the intended turn. The other involves the opposite--"negative movements" in the opposite direction.
For a wedge christie, the simple thought, "right tip right to go right," pretty much tells it all. In simplest terms, it describes the movement that initiates a right turn and that continues throughout the right turn. As that right ski releases and turns right, everything else, including the left ski, follows. No, it hardly explains all the technical details of a right turn, but it literally gets things off with the right foot, and moving in the right direction, based on the key intent of all offensive turns: GO!
By contrast, "left tail left to not go right" describes the initiation of a stem christie to the right. Right ski vs. left ski, tip vs. tail, movement to the right vs. movement to the left, "GO" vs. "not go". . . you really can't get much more opposite than that! One is "release the edge and guide the tips into the turn," and the other is "set the edge and twist the tails away from the turn.
Sounds simple, but I share your belief that many instructors fail to recognize--or at least, to acknowledge--the fundamental difference.
I also like Bud's insight that it's more about finding a description and a demonstration that ultimately makes sense in the grand scheme of good skiing, and not about blind belief in dogma. You don't get understanding by memorizing the words of a trainer or a description from a manual. You begin to comprehend when you question and challenge these things, put them to the test to develop your own understanding of "what makes sense."
Benjamin Bloom's well-known "taxonomy of the cognitive domain" suggests that "knowledge" is but the first step, the bottom rung on the ladder to understanding, awareness, expertise, and creativity ("knowledge--comprehension--application--analysis--synthesis--evaluation"). "Knowledge" on its own--although it may impress some people--isn't worth very much. For all the merely "knowledgeable" person knows, it could all be bunk!
Answers give knowledge. Questions begin understanding.
Caveat About Flexion-Extension
For me, "flexion-extension" is among the last things I focus on in my wedge christies, and when teaching students at that level. First of all, when I hear the simple word "extend" (or "flex"), it does not trigger an image of "long leg-short leg" lateral movement (or of fore-aft movement, for that matter)--it suggests getting taller or shorter. And I think that there is wide-spread confusion of why, and when, we need to get taller and shorter in turns at all levels. Primarily, we do it to manage the amount of pressure on our skis--to absorb bumps, to regain contact with the snow after flying over a roll, to reduce the pressure at the bottom of turns so that soft snow doesn't disintegrate beneath us, and so on. Expressions like "extend to release" and "flex to release" imply a cause-effect relationship that simply is not there. Releasing is a tipping movement. (Yes, it involves lateral movement of the center of mass over the feet, which we can "force" with long leg-short leg movements, but I've already discussed that, and it is not the same as "getting taller or shorter").
In short, I've long been critical of the common advice to "extend to release" or "flex to release." "Well, I mean, 'extend down the hill, or extend into the turn,'" is the common retort, to which I reply, "why not just 'move down the hill?' Why do I need to 'extend' (or 'flex)' as I do it?" To which I am usually faced with a confused, dazed look, accompanied by "well, that's what you're supposed to do, isn't it?"--which betrays a lack of understanding, "knowledge" without "comprehension." There MUST be a better answer to "why?" than "because that's what it says in the manual"!
Now...another reason to "flex" (get shorter) is to allow angulation movements in the feet/ankles, knees, hips, and spine (you can't tip your skis with all of your joints rigidly extended, beyond how much your entire body tips). So it is normal that we flex some joints somewhat as we increase edge angle in turns (note that I did not say "to" increase edge angle). And as we decrease edge angles to exit the turn and release the edges to begin the new turn, there is no particular need to stay "short" (which requires muscular effort), so unless there is some other need to "flex" (eg. to absorb a bump or a "virtual bump" in high-speed turns), we might as well stand a little taller and relax through that transition and edge release. So it is not uncommon, and not inappropriate, to "rise" through the transition in low-speed wedge christies. It is a luxury we can afford in such low-speed turns. But it certainly is not necessary or required to cause the edge release. We may well extend (rise) as we release, but we certainly do not need to "extend to release."
Furthermore--IF we think we must rise in the transition for whatever reason, timing is critical--and commonly missed. We'll rise as we reduce the edge angle, and the edge release will occur at the top of the rise. In other words, we will rise OUT of the previous turn, NOT into the new turn. If you start extending (rising) as you start the new turn, you'll be way too late--and guaranteed to start your turn with a stem of the uphill ski (since the downhill ski won't release until the top of the extension).
Consequently I find it rarely necessary--or helpful--to even mention flexion-extension in wedge turns or wedge christies. Yes, if a student tends to get bent over and "stuck" on his edges, a simple reminder to "stand up" can help let go and stimulate the release. But it's still not a necessary move, and I'd prefer to keep the focus on "flatten to release," which describes the true cause-effect relationship. Indeed, since high edge angles are not yet involved at this level, there is little need to flex low, beyond just the gentle flexion of a basic athletic stance. Furthermore, if I don't bring it up, I won't have to "unteach" "extend to release" later, when we're skiing bumps or high-performance turns that may well require flexion/retraction through the transition. In my own skiing, and in my teaching, I want to keep extension/flexion ("tall/short") movements entirely separate from tipping, lateral, fore-aft, and rotary movements. I want to be able to do each of these things independently, as needed, without necessarily affecting the others. "Extend to release" ties two of these movement pools together in a way that is unnecessary, and that will become detrimental at some point in the skier's development.
If you understand what a wedge christie really is, you will realize that it is anything but a contrived turn. It is not any different, fundamentally, from a basic parallel turn, but merely the natural, all-but-inevitable, spontaneous result of skiers trying not to make a wedge christie at all, but with generally low skill development (that is, beginners), and low speed.
It is the most natural and uncontrived turn you could make--which is why beginners do it (or its opposite cousin the stem christie, when they are defensive). What is challenging is for highly skilled skiers to demonstrate the same movements without making it contrived. For that, the tactics I've suggested work: ski very complete turns much shorter in radius than your skis will carve by themselves. Indeed, even the most ardent "direct-to-parallel" instructors will make wedge christies if you prescribe the task sufficiently clearly. And even the most ardent "direct-to-parallel" instructors even admit that it is a natural, inevitable (that is, uncontrived) outcome of sound movements in certain scenarios (that is, the short, complete, low-speed turns I just mentioned). Here is a direct quote from one of them: "The proponents of [a well-known 'direct-parallel' learning progression] unequivocally understand and acknowledge that a wedge stance may result, even when skiers are taught "Direct Parallel." (PM me if you'd like the link.)
Understand that we do not teach wedge turns, wedge christies, or even parallel turns. We teach movements and movement patterns. As skiers become somewhat adept at those movement patterns, they inevitably tend to ski parallel most of the time. Prior to that, the same movement patterns at a more rudimentary level tend to result in turns that begin with a wedge. That is a wedge christie. It is simply representative of a certain level of skill development. It is NOT a unique, specific, "beginner's turn." We do, in fact, teach "direct to parallel." But directly en route to parallel, for almost all new skiers, they will encounter a few wedges and wedge christies. Spontaneously.
On the other hand, it is worth repeating that we often do need to teach students how to handle situations in which they are defensive, where they actually do need brakes (or at least think they do, which amounts to the same thing). So we do, in fact, teach things other than the purely offensive turns that wedge christies and wedge turns and basic parallel turns represent. Stems, snowplows, hockey stops, and so on are just as much part of skiing as turns are, just as skill with the brake pedal is as critical for drivers as skill with the steering wheel and accelerator. The critical thing is just to make sure we keep these two opposite intents (go and stop, control direction and control speed, go that way and stop going this way) separate in our minds--and in our techniques.
Of course, that's not easy to do in a sport where we historically call everything we do "turning." We even call the very sport "making turns" sometimes! To me, this sad fact contributes to much of the confusion. No wonder people get confused when we call polar opposite things--and everything in between--by the same name!
I use the word "turn" religiously, but I take great pains to make sure I restrict its use to what I consider actually to be turns--the things we do when our intent is to control direction and line precisely. When I mean "brake," I do not use the word "turn." And I do make sure that my students are clear on the distinction as well, so my carefully restricted use of the word "turn" becomes part of the lesson itself. Since "turn" creates less confusion in almost anything else--no one thinks you mean "stop" when you say "turn the car"--I often try to rely on people's understanding of the word in non-skiing contexts.
This article consists of posts by Bob Barnes in The Basic Wedge Christie thread.
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