Originally Posted by RicB
I don't think it is enough to say ski stiff boots and show an animation (sorry Bob), how do we show people what range of motion is needed. How do we get them to feel it, and do it, so they really understand it, and does this require snow? Is there a simple way to answer this? Later, RicB.
But I would suggest that good teaching can only take place on a foundation of good understanding. In my most cynical moments, I sometimes think that the only redeeming virtue of some misguided instructors is that they're lousy teachers too, so at least their unfortunate students aren't actually learning the misinformation they're trying to teach them!
No, there is no "simple answer" here. It's different for every student--that's the art of teaching! But, especially in the example of the "backpedaling" motion in bumps, I do know that understanding and visualization can go a long way for many people. It's much like riding a bicycle, in that the movement happens far too quickly to think it through consciously, part-by-part. But serious cyclists know that simply visualizing your feet moving in circles, rather than up and down like pistons, can dramatically smooth your pedaling motion. So it is (often) with skiers. Understanding and seeing the "backpedaling" motion can produce a breakthrough, and not just in moguls. Sometimes, all it takes to change a movement is simply to give ourselves permission to make a new movement. Seeing the animation, and participating in this discussion, may do it for some people.
On snow, off snow, even over the Internet, there are things we can do to help people learn these movements. Put your boots on and imitate the movements of the skiers in my first illustration above (the 9 boxes). Flex low. What do you have to do differently than in bare feet? (Answer: reach forward more with your arms and torso, to substitute for the restricted forward movement from your feet and ankles-see Fig. 3C.) How low can you go without falling over backward? (Reveals whether the forward lean of your boots is effectively adjusted.)
But one thing is certain: BECAUSE alpine ski equipment significantly (at least) restricts the motion of the feet and ankles, learning new movement patterns to replace those practiced in a lifetime off skis is essential in learning to ski. I do not buy the argument that beginners should start with very soft boots because they haven't yet learned the new ski-specific movements--it only encourages them to further ingrain bad habits that will need to be unlearned later, and delays their learning to ski. Somewhat softer boots, yes, to forgive their natural inconsistency and make learning less painful and frustrating. But beginner equipment, like any learning tool, must reward and reinforce proper movements, and not reward mistakes.
The only place I'd support very soft boots as learning tools would be for the skier who has come to rely on the support of the stiff boot cuffs, rather than on balance. Free-heel cross country equipment is great for this, as is the old alpine instructor's trick of skiing with boots unbuckled. (Note--this "trick" has fallen out of favor in recent years, because of the risk that it could compromise the release function of bindings. Use it only at your own risk!) Take away the support, and they'll have to find balance, the argument goes. But if you buy this argument, then you must also buy the argument that beginners should not start in too soft boots--take away the foot/ankle motion, and they'll have to find the new, effective movements!
It's the concept of "tough love," I suppose, but it's all in the interest of providing accurate feedback for both good technique and bad. "But soft boots make it easier for new students...." This notion is a cop out for instructors who find it difficult to teach the necessary techniques. (I've heard the same argument used for many other things, including "rotary," even from some highly placed and experienced instructors. "Proper rotary is the hardest skill to teach, so I don't...." This statement does not earn my respect!)
Anyway, we should never confuse a discussion about technique with one about teaching that technique. They are two different discussions, and one should not be criticized merely because it is not the other. Technique is about understanding, precision, accuracy, and correctness. Teaching is about invoking lasting, meaningful, and relevent changes, about experience, experimenting, feedback ("tough love") and play. Now that we understand it, let's go learn to do it!