Originally Posted by nolo
How many times do you have to throw on the brakes during a run? I contend that the closer the number approaches zero, the more efficient you are, which presumably equates to "better."
What do you think? Is this a good test of skiing goodness?
I need a better understanding of what you mean by "throw on the brakes." You can just skip to the last paragraph if you want the meat of it (but I hope you don't).
Just came back all endorphined-up from a mountain bike ride. Can't help but think about some of the strong parallels that the many Bears who do both sports will have noticed. I'm an XC rider, so there are some areas where the kinship is stronger with cross-country skiing than with alpine, but the whole "(not) throwing on the brakes" concept is key for all three activities.
If you ride a lot, you will run into people who express dissatisfaction at being slow compared with other riders in a group. Often these are not newbies, but people who have been riding actively for years, with what they think of as a fairly high technical skill level. (Sound familiar, Bears? Hmmm?) Typically they are quick to blame their disappointing performance on inadequate fitness, or age, or beer belly, or some other physical shortcoming. Now, obviously an increase in your conditioning level is going to make you faster, all other things being equal. No one disputes that. However, that is only one leg of the tripod. The second leg is understanding how to get the most out of your equipment. (In skiing this is having properly fitted boots, corrected stance, properly tuned skis, good clothing, etc. In mountain biking it's things like maintaining good true wheels and getting the right saddle position and establishing the right pressure in your tires. Not interested in that here, even though this is another area where both skiers and riders commonly shortchange themselves.) The third leg is technique. The riders I'm talking about here suffer from a serious lack of appreciation for how much technique contributes to efficiency and thus performance. (Indeed, efficiency is probably MORE important, the less fit you are. We've all skied or ridden with supremely fit young guns who know nothing about the sport but nonetheless bluster through astoundingly well, given their awful technique, based on sheer muscle. Few of us can do that for long.) I'm absolutely convinced that this lack of efficiency skills hurts their performance far more than the kinds of fitness issues that might affect this kind of person - someone who's already riding regularly and therefore is probably not Jabba the Hutt. Unsophisticated braking skills are a huge part of this.
I've found that the first step is that you've got to create a situation where people can see indisputably, with their own eyes, just how much of a performance gain better efficiency could buy them, independent of fitness or equipment. One way I do this on a bike is by picking a section of trail with enough of a downhill grade that absolutely no pedaling is necessary, with a couple of corners at the end of it. I'll tell the rider that we're not going to pedal at all. We start at the same time, coasting. Typically I will open up a significant gap on the other rider as soon as we begin to approach the first corner and increase the gap through the two turns, all without pedaling a single stroke. This demonstrates conclusively to the observer that riding more efficiently is not tightly coupled to rider fitness. In this case, the efficiency comes from braking (much) less than might seem required at first. That, in turn, is enabled by cornering technique. The phrase I hear myself saying very frequently in these situations is "Let the bike roll." What is the skiing counterpart here? Are there demonstrations like this that can be done? One analogy is presumably to the patience and trust required to make clean arced turns, when those are appropriate.
Another skill that lines up with what I hear you saying, Nolo, is being smart enough to look ahead and not hammer on the pedals if you're just meters from some trail feature that is going to force you to slam on the brakes and thus disspate all the energy you just spent.
However - FINALLY getting around to my real point here - a mountain biker frequently HAS to use the brakes, as even non-riders might imagine. Given that reality, one can observe a wide spectrum of skill in terms of how WELL different riders use their brakes, which includes WHEN they use them. (This is different from WHETHER they use them. They must.) Isn't the same thing true in skiing? Surely you're not saying that every turn should be a scrubless ride on a gliding edge. I'm guessing that what you're trying to get at here is that feeling that you're using just the right amount of brake at just the right moments, and that overall you're just playing with the forces, leveraging them, but not fighting them. Seems to me that in a sport where you're going downhill all the time, good braking must be invited into that play, not excluded from it arbitrarily. What are the subtleties of those braking skills in skiing, and how do I learn them?