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Big and tall beginners

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Tomorrow I may be instructing an ex NFL quarterback in his second attempt at skiing. His first attempt was a bit awkward due to his very high center of gravity. He was having major balance difficulties. Today I had a similar experience with a 6' 4" student who struggled throughout the group lesson with balance. An hour or so after the lesson, I saw him sliding down the hill in much greater control than he had accomplished in the lesson by bending over at the waist and almost skiing in a race tuck position. (well, as much as a large beginner with balance problems could accomplish in a wedge). It stabilized him quite a bit. Does it make sense to try to ski with a lower center of gravity at beginner level for someone with major balance issues at the obvious cost of not starting with good form? Are there any tricks to help very tall people get going on the mountain (well, hill in our case) while they are developing the kind of balance needed for their special case?
post #2 of 6
I've found football player sized guys are hard to teach, because of their size & mass. They are very akward and out of balance (for the most part). I've let them bend over and do whatever it takes to get sliding and comfortable. Once they get used to sliding and gain balance (often after a few days of practice), I've found it's easier to then work on stance in a level II or beyond lesson.

Basically, it all boils down to: at level 1, get them sliding, stopping and turning in any way possible that's safe...as long as they are having fun. Fun is the key to getting them to return. We can fine tune things later as their comfort level increases.
post #3 of 6
Years ago I taught a retired NFL linebacker. Like most athletic folks, he had little problem with maintaining balance. He did, however, try to use his muscles too much for skiing maneuvers. Once he convinced himself to relax some, he did quite well. I was glad I didn't have to help him up. I'm only 5'6" and at that time weighed only 150 lbs (I DID say it was a long time ago). I'm sure he was more than a foot taller and at least 100 lbs heavier than I.
post #4 of 6

A very interesting question. If you have the time and opportunity I would spend a lot of time on easy balancing drills before you introduce too much slope. Allow him to gain a sense of "owned balance" before you challenge him too much. Hopefully your terrain will allow you to work cross hill with a gentle descent doing stepping, hopping and other such drills. Unfortunately too many instructors "rush" terrain.

Your dilemma raises an interesting global question. How does, if at all, body type impact performance. We know that in the golf world the variety of human physiques has a profound influence on the type of swing a golfer is capable of making. While not an absolute it becomes a starting point for our instructional process.

I think I run this by a couple of the retired doctors on our staff.
post #5 of 6
I echo the "interesting question" theme and offer my opinion based on limited experience and total speculation. All of the biomechanics of skiing stuff I've seen is not body type specific.

For the large individuals that I've taught, it's been absolutely critical to start them on terrain that looks super flat but has barely enough pitch to generate movement. You need to put them in situations where it's so easy that they are not tempted to use their muscles. I still like tall (functional) stances because that stacks their weight and requires them to use even less muscle. But I'd be ok with using a crouched stance if balance/fear issues in the individual were more beneficial than the cost of unteaching this later on (even though unteaching is a red flag item to me).

Although a heavier skier will go downhill faster than a lighter skier, I don't think the difference is enough to warrant a change in technique. The principles for speed control should be the same.

The moves for beginner skiing require only a minimal amount of muscle strength. However, large individuals have a fair amount of muscle memory developed for applying strength to generate movement. I suspect that they've also received a fair amount of negative feedback with respect to not resisting externally applied forces (i.e. the bigger they are, the harder they fall). Once you've got them into a situation where they can get positive feedback from the skis with minimal muscle effort, you've won the battle.

I'd be especially interested to see whether the added balance from a wedge stance is a more effective teaching approach than a direct to parallel stepping/tipping approach that may leverage the type of balance skills common to large individuals. My gut tells me that athletes will respond better to DTP and obese people will respond better to wedge. However, I suspect it would be wise to mix the approaches early on and then go with what works.
post #6 of 6
[quote=Kneale Brownson] Like most athletic folks, he had little problem with maintaining balance. He did, however, try to use his muscles too much for skiing maneuvers. Once he convinced himself to relax some, he did quite well.QUOTE]


As one of those "old linebackers", I'll say that what you stated above described me to a "T" when I first started. Most athletes are used to making things happen, so it took me a while to learn to allow things to happen and trust the skis. I would think that most former high level athletes, regardless of size, would handle the balance issues, and the fear factor fairly well. They're used to working hard, doing drills, and being coached to perform a task. They've also seen what commitment and hard work can achieve.

My guess, retiredat40, is that the ex-QB will do pretty well in the long run. Give him some drills to work on after the lesson and tell him what you expect him to be able to do by the next time you see him. My guess is you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Also, falling shouldn't present a problem. Most former football players have hit the ground alot more than the average person. At least in skiing your student won't have 11 large, fast people trying to help him to the ground. My guess is that he's already made that connection.
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