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St. Exupery the skier

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
It was just too hot to haul topsoil for the next stage of landscaping the deck so I opted for re-caulking the shower. With school looming in the near (read "10 days") future, naturally my thoughts while wielding the caulking gun turned to skiing. I thought back to a mid-February day while riding the lift at my local area when I observed two local instructors linking tight rounded arcs down a blue-square run, the second following the first, turn for turn. As I watched, it was obvious that they were involved in some type of clinic. The lead instructor was making very deliberate turns, each of his body movements refecting a precise motion. His arm would raise to an exact spot, his hand flicking his pole to a seemingly engineered angle, while his legs would move to the outside arc in a way that seemed to say "first position - tip, second position - weight distrubution to outside ski, third . . . etc."

There was certainly nothing technically wrong with his skiing that I, a non-instructor, could discern, and in fact, his skiing looked very strong, very controlled. And yet, there was something about the instructor following him that looked, maybe felt, better. Both were making the same radius turns in almost the same spots, yet the second skier seemed a tad more fluid, skiing more smoothly. At the time, I merely noted the difference and continued my slow ride up our ancient (circa 1967) double chair.

Now, in the warm confines of my bathroom, I began to ponder why the second instructor appeared more pleasing to the eye and lo, a quote from Antoine de St. Exupery came to mind (ok, it was really just a paraphrase - I had to look up the original wording):

"You know you've achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away."

Now I don't know if designing airplanes and designing ski turns correlates, but that quote seemed to me the answer as to why the difference in the two instructors' skiing. While the first skier had all the parts of the turn, there were still minute movements that he continued to use that the second skier had discarded. For example, as I recall, the second instructor's pole plants involved not a precise, exact pole movement that was the same for each turn, but rather a necessary motion that put the hand in position to flick just enough pole to initiate a turn. And each turn required a subtle adjustment of that position - no more, no less than needed. In other words, he seemed to have achieved a turn that had "nothing more to take away" in terms of motion. I believe that his entire skiing included this parsimony of movement as well.

We often talk about the "style" of skiing, and I think that what many of us believe is smooth, fluid, or simply gorgeous skiing is a result of a trimming away of all extraneous motion. Everything that is needed to complete a strong turn is there, just nothing more. And the really great skiers have figured out a way to adapt to the constantly changing stimuli (slope and snow, speed, obstacles) quickly without adding any more dynamics than necessary.

Then, perhaps because of the silicone fumes, I took this idea a bit farther into the ski world. We all talk about ski quivers, and yet the advent of "shaped" skis seems to be the first step in finally achieving the "perfection in design" giving each individual skier his or her ultimate ski that will perform wonderfully in all conditions. Think about how well most brand's "high-performance" skis already work in all but the deepest powder or iciest conditions.

In addition, "Softshell" designs in outwear are moving our ski apparel into the "less is more" realm. Why own a hardshell and two different weight fleece when one garment will do.

Also, while the big resorts struggle to remain "ski areas," many skiers are already touting a more Thoreau-ian attitude ("Simplify, simplify.") to skiing. AT skiing is taking off, and small unknown areas (at least for now) get mentioned in sotto-voice around bars and ski fora.

Finally, whenever I see an Excursion, Navigator, or Tahoe plopped into a snowbank while Toyota pickups and rusty Subaru Legacy's pass them by, I know that at least some understand that perfection is achieved not by adding seat warmers, navigational systems, and individual DVD monitors, but rather, by removing all the unecessary stuff and merely adding a competent driver.

Well, enough of my ramblings. I think it's cooled down enough to go outside and move dirt. Now, if I can just achieve the perfect follow-through for my shovel.
post #2 of 4
This is the perfect example of why we need a longer ski season. Gett'in hot in Logan Bill? One thing for sure, the lifts at the Beav leave lots of time to contemplate style and idiosyncracies of the few decending skiers.
post #3 of 4

be wary of analogies

Didn't St. Exupery died in a plane crash?
post #4 of 4

with respect

The above comment must be tempered with the reality that he flew the routes over Africa with the most scant and primitive equipment, a pioneer, and I don't mean to diminish his ultimate sacrifice to aviation and indeed, without the likes of him we would still be "ox carting".

But it makes ya' wonder .... did he leave an essential part off that final day?

As for the Walden comment .... Henry David would roll in his grave .... Intra Wests faux euro villages with Rovers and Beemers and Cayennes ... oh my!, are hardly Waldenesque.

"Simplicity, simplicity. simplicity."

"I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discovered that I had not lived."

I'm just having a hard time linking HDT to modern skiing. Simplicity and ecomomy of motion in skiing are not exercises in Civil Disobedience.

Hot tubs, and $$$ gear, lattes and shrimp .... Ya' killin me ... stop ...
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