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Mind-blowing lesson from Mike_M at Copper

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
WOW! "Blown away" is the only term that comes to mind to refer to my lesson with our very own Mike_M(artorano) at Copper this past Saturday. For you to sufficiently appreciate the epic leap of progression, let me give you a background of my skiing:

I started skiing last season -- my first three days were three half-day lessons at Loveland, and I quickly progressed to making skidded turns on all blue and blue/black runs in/around Summit County. Midway through the season I found EpicSki and learned to carve by reading the posts. By the end of last season I was the typical intermediate skier, carving up blue groomers all day long. Could not do bumps at all of any size, and blacks were out of the question.

So this season I continued carving on blue groomed runs. Started doing bumps, but was not skiing them, but rather just surviving by skidding all over the place. Blacks were still out of the question. So I took an all-day lesson with Mike_M at Copper this past Saturday. Circumstances worked out such that I was the only student with him.

Whereas I had started the day as a blue groomer skier, I ended the day having skied, not just survived, black and double-black bump runs, back bowls, even some trees! Now granted, I was not making fluid linked turns on the blacks/double-blacks, but I was actually skiing them: I was always in control, I was making turns where and when I wanted to, and I never felt like I was in danger. Okay, except for maybe one or two wobbles here and there . How did this all happen?

We spent the first part of the morning working on basic fore/aft balance, getting a properly centered stance, getting the feel of carving versus steering, etc. The one thing that really helped me was Mike's concept of "fighter jets." Imagine your two skis are two fighter jets. Your two fists are two more jets, and a fifth jet is in your chest. Now these five jets (almost) always fly in formation, and they always should fly in the direction you want to go. The other thing was to keep the legs supple -- don't force your skis with your legs, let your legs be loose to absorb any bumps in the terrain. It was amazing how effortless and fluid my carving became with these tips.

We then worked on five basic steps for turns:
  1. Scan the terrain ahead to determine where you want your turn to end.
  2. Touch your pole in the direction of your turn -- for longer turns, the touch should happen toward/beyond the front of the skis; for tighter turns the touch should happen level with the boots, or even behind.
  3. Pull yourself "over" the pole. This is the move that starts the skis sliding down into the fall-line. This is NOT a pull of the arms/upper body. But rather a move from the feet. Perhaps something akin to the move in the 1000 Steps exercise, a committment to the turn. The move is concentrated diagonally (forward and down) through the corner of the downhill boot. This starts the skis sliding down and around.
  4. Point your "jets" in the direction you want to end up. This moves the skis into the direction you want to go.
  5. Steer your skis uphill to complete the turn, before starting again. I thought of this as either a steer, carve, or a mixture of the two, depending on the terrain.
We took these five basic steps from groomers, to bumps, to blacks, to double-blacks. And it worked in all conditions. I was just blown away! And I'd say for me, 90% of it was mental. I had to make that leap of faith that the technique will work as long as I commit to the turn.

As we stood in Jupiter Bowl, over Revenge (my first black bump run), I looked at the steep bumped run and thought to myself, "There's no way I can make that turn here." But Mike just went through the five steps and made a simple turn. So I thought, "Well, I guess it works..." and jumped in. And voila, it worked! It was just unbelievable! The only times it did not work, i.e. when I wobbled and/or skidded was when I tensed up and forgot the basic steps. But whenever I did them correctly, the terrain held no terror for me. Once I started focusing on the basic steps and making the turns, I didn't even notice the steepness.

We headed to the back bowls (my first time out there -- WOW, what a place!) and did a run between Bradley's Plunge and Matchless in Copper Bowl. We then came back and did a run somewhere between Buzzard's Alley and Union Peak in Union Bowl. With my new-found confidence in my new techniques, none of these runs looked very steep at all anymore. Like I said, I was not very fluid in linking turns, and I am sure these were not very hard black/double-black terrain, but the important breakthrough for me was: the steepness or bumps no longer scared me, because I knew exactly how to stay in control and make the turns I wanted to make without the "negative" skidding move. As Mike said, panic is the absence of options, and now I had options.

It is hard for me to express in words exactly the feeling of freedom this lesson has given me. Now I can explore most of the mountain, and keep working on my techniques. Obviously I still have a ways to go before I can start making fast and fluid linked turns down any terrain. Mentally, trees still scare me, as do narrow chutes with rocky sides! And as the last run of the day proved, I cannot do the half-pipe at all! But now that I have the fundamentals, it'll all come in good time.

So a great thanks to Mike_M for the mind-blowing lesson! And Mike, if you're reading this, and I've misstated any of the steps, please correct me.
post #2 of 14
I told ya'! He's awesome, isn't he? Even more than his technique, just his presence can make you feel safe and confident. He also coordinates breath and movement, which I find pretty helpful.
post #3 of 14
Good to hear that you had a great lesson. This topic tangents one of my resent threads where I stated that short skiis are too easy to ski on. The fact is that skiing "should" be easy but not because the skiis are short but because you have great technique. No equipment in the world would have given you better bang for buck than this lesson. Not even the Atomic B5 with ebm bindings for 2000USD! Because of your great technique you are able to ski in lots of different terrain and that is just what skiing is all about. Freedom.... wave the flag boyz
post #4 of 14
Funny you should say this, TDK6. Mike never lets his students blame their equipment for their own technical inefficiences. On the other hand, he is quick to notice if you are not properly lined up on your gear, and he will send you off to Jeff Bergeron presto prompto if he believes this is the case.
post #5 of 14
faisasy, that is so awesome! And don't doubt yourself quite so much. The snow around Buzzards Alley was not easy snow to ski, and smooth technique was a must in those conditions. Congratulations on the breakthrough, and kudos to Mike_m for bringing out what was in you.

Thanks for sharing it here, too. It will give each of us something to play with as we pursue higher levels of skiing. Good on ya!

(Sorry I missed you this weekend; let's try to make it work later in the season!)
post #6 of 14
Thanks for the kind words, Faisasy. Glad to help!
post #7 of 14
Originally Posted by faisasy
Midway through the season I found EpicSki and learned to carve by reading the posts.
LOL... this is priceless!
And there I was, doing dryland training and running gates with so little results.... All I had to do is just read EpicSki in the comfort of my home!
post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by rush614
LOL... this is priceless!
And there I was, doing dryland training and running gates with so little results.... All I had to do is just read EpicSki in the comfort of my home!
The mind is an amazing thing -- by putting thought into the many posts and video analyses on carving here, and trying out different things on the snow, yes, I did learn to carve from EpicSki. Can't help if it doesn't work for you.

Since you don't know me, or haven't seen me ski, you really have no idea what works for me, or how I ski.
post #9 of 14
I can't remember when I've read a more useful post--thanks!!
post #10 of 14
Faisasy, next time you take a class with Mike, ask him to tell you about the Magarita Mogul Mamas!
post #11 of 14
I was thinking about the fighter jets thing today, I like it, but... I'm not so sure about it either. I always think of my feet like that, (and I do like to hum "Danger Zone" when I'm skiing fast), but I think you are limiting yourself if your chest and hands are always going to stay in formation. Maybe they are a second squadron maneuvering seperately but in unison with the pair on your feet.
post #12 of 14
Hi, Epic! Yes, there are times when this image (which encourages our bodies to be very square to the skis) would need be adjusted. The reason I start with this is that most skiers tend to come across the fall line and end their turns by pushing their skis sideways, producing skid. If, for once, they can feel themselves following the curve of their skis UP THE HILL, accelerating all the time ("ski the slow line fast"), they can feel how TRACING CIRCLES IN THE SNOW, ALLOWING their skis to turn them, rather than MAKING their skis turn, can eliminate excess rotary and effort, and allow their skis and gravity to start the turn and also to finish it. In other words, they finally feel how the skis can enable us to GO to where we desire, rather than be used as brakes. To me, one of the hallmarks of an expert skier is that he/she doesn't think of turning as a means of slowing down, but rather as a way of MAINTAINING THE SPEED HE/SHE CHOOSES TO SKI. This is usually NOT why people turn. Most students, when asked, say they turn to slow down. Just thinking of a turn in this defensive way encourages the hands to come up, the body to twist and the skis to skid. I try to use images that encourage skiers to move FORWARD, through the tips of their skis, which enables them to flow along the curve of ther downhill foot, minimiziig movements that aren't "GO" thoughts.

If we establish that every turn is a partial CIRCLE (not a zig-zag or curve ending in a traverse), then life becomes simpler. Every turn begins the same and continues in an identical fashion as we simply trace circles in the snow with our skis. The only difference between a turn on a mellow groomed green and a steep black is HOW MUCH OF THE CIRCLE WE COMPLETE.

I use the five jet fighter image to let my students feel how, when we are planted securely on our feet (as if we are standing in the aisle of a bus looking ahead through the front window and simply trying to KEEP OUR BALANCE AS THE BUS TURNS SLOWLY AROUND A RIGHT CORNER AND THEN A LEFT), we need not impose any excess twisting forces in our feet to turn. (If we were keeping our balance in a moving bus, we would turn as the bus turned, but we certainly would not be twisting, lifting or moving our feet as we did so!) Gravity and our equipment will do the job if we just let it! If our feet are the main jet fighters we focus on, they have to begin a turn by gently rolling to FLAT before they roll over through the middle of the turn. This image of moving FORWARD (which is the only direction jets can fly!) as they first come out of a turn, then bank to FLAT (which serves to release the skis and moves us DIAGONALLY DOWN AND ACROSS THE HILL in a circular shape) ensures the turn is started patiently and smoothly. If the turn BEGINS correctly, the middle and end of the turn will happen automatically.

The other three "jets" are our chests and our hands (which point AHEAD, rather than up). If they are flying in formation, the chest through the tips and the hands as "wingmen," all in formation with our feet, it encourages the revelation that FORWARD movement all the way through to the end of the turn, ending up the hill, produces smooth, dynamic control of our speed. We begin our new circle only when gravity has slowed us and we feel we MUST start a new circle to maintain the speed we have CHOSEN to ski.

Anyway, I hope the rather long-winded explanation has helped clarify what I was doing with Faisel in our lesson! My intent was to intoduce the baseline concept of WHY we turn and then feel the skis being used efficiently before introducing the times we should adjust our skiing in varied terrain and circumstances. (That's saved for another lesson!)

post #13 of 14
Epic, I hope Faisasy comments on this, because, it is his thread, and Mike's motivations for his teaching techniques with Faisasy are most likely, different from his motivations for using specific images with me.

That being said, earlier in the season, Mike was using the "jet fighter" image for the skis alone. While I can't be sure, I suspect that the addition of the chest and arms to the squadron was added in response to what he sees happening in some of his students.

All teachers have their specialities, and Mike works particularly well with students who have potentially good technique, but, for whatever reason, have some sort of attitude problem about taking an aggressive approach down the hill. What I noticed in myself and othe regulars in his Sunday class, is a tendency to turn our upper body either up or across the hill.

Since step one in this progression is to scan the slope and choose a "target," an uphill or across the hill focus just ain't gonna work. By having the upper body join the squadron, the skier can now go from "No" to "GO."

Faisasy, what do you think?
post #14 of 14
Originally Posted by mike_m
Hi, Epic! Yes, there are times when this image (which encourages our bodies to be very square to the skis) would need be adjusted.
Hey Mike, I kinda figured you would say something like that. I just wanted it to be out there for others that were not in your lesson, but are reading the thread. I kinda wanted to make sure that it's clear that that was an exercise for something you wanted to address in that lesson, but that it is not "The Way" to ski all the time.

I'll have you know that I used your analogie today, (but only two fighters). I wanted to name one of the kids skis Maverick and the other Iceman, but he'd never heard of TopGun.... kid's today!
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