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Video - Another Viewpoint?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
I've just spent the last couple of hours watching a dvd of "Steep".

For any of you who may not be aware of it, this is a feature-length, wide-release film that made the theater circuit earlier this winter. The film focuses on some of the true icons in the history of the frontiers of steep skiing around the world in the last 40 years. Briggs, Vallencant, Boivin, Schmidt, Plake, Dawson, Pehota, McConkey, Backstrom, McLean, and Coombs were all represented as well as many more. (As a morbid aside, I realized that I've known and skied with five of the featured skiers in this film).

The film is inspirational, depressing, and enlightening all in turns.

What prompted me to post about it, though, was the idea of how off-kilter the film is with some of the posts we see here at Epic about ski technique.

I had the great honor of skiing quite a bit with Doug Coombs when he was alive. In his early years at Jackson Hole, he and I did quite a bit of skiing around this mountain. From the very first time I saw him make a single turn (as a forerunner in a NASTAR race at JH in the early '80s), I could tell INSTANTLY that he was one of the most amazing ski talents I'd ever seen.

If you ask anybody who ever watched Doug ski steep and technical terrain, and then watched anybody else ski the same line in the same conditions, you would hear an overwhelming observation that Doug made "crazy" stuff seem easy while everybody else made it look difficult. Ask any of his guide clients about the same subject, and they'll tell you that no guide at any time in history could make a skier feel more confident about his own capability to ski something that he felt was beyond his reach but DOUG knew he could do.

I say all this because in watching Doug ski in "Steep", you could come away with the impression that Doug skied a technique that was not in tune with TODAY's technique. He used a lot of steering, a lot of pivoting, a lot of upper and lower body movement to get the skis where they needed to be to make the next turn safely at that point on that pitch. The point is made in the film that at the first World Extreme Skiing Championships at Valdez, he was so head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field that the only real competition was for second place.

Anybody who ever saw Doug ski in person could appreciate how effortless he made skiing the most insane lines appear to be. It was only when we mortals attempted the same lines at the same speed that the GAP in our abilities truly started to show through.

And yet, if you watch that video in "Steep" of Doug Coombs, you're going to see technique and movements that are hugely contrary to some of today's theories about how skiing "should" be done. To ski the kind of terrain and conditions that these heroes of skiing did, you need skills at every possible end of the skiing spectrum. A single path to skiing excellence wouldn't bring one to the level that these skiers have a achieved.

My own opinion is that if you haven't attempted to ski the same line in the same conditions at the same time as the video you're watching, any conclusions you come to about the skills and the technique of the skier in the video are suspect.

That's why I personally think that video is interesting and mildly entertaining, but not much good at helping reach conclusions about comparative skiing techniques.

Just my opinion, of course.

Doug Coombs... again... RIP.
post #2 of 20
Bob -- Great post. I agree 100% with nearly everything you said. Thank you. Doug has always been one of my ski heroes.

(quick question -- so the DVD of Steep is out now?)
post #3 of 20
Its truely humbling to me to see any of the great ski mountaineers perform their art of making life and death moves, look fun and easy. I'll look forward to seeing the movie, and thanks Bob for your thoughts and perspective.
post #4 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tyrone Shoelaces View Post
(quick question -- so the DVD of Steep is out now?)
Looks like the release date is March 18th (from Amazon).
post #5 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Peters View Post
My own opinion is that if you haven't attempted to ski the same line in the same conditions at the same time as the video you're watching, any conclusions you come to about the skills and the technique of the skier in the video are suspect.
Great post Bob.... yes, I agree with your quote here above 100%.

Doug Coombs RIP
post #6 of 20
Thanks Bob. As you know I got to ski with Doug a few times in his JH steep camp and Alaska - which I felt driven to do after watching him in ski films. He has always been my favorite skier. Just as you said, he made lines look simple that other great skiers seemed to work so hard on. Also, as you talked about, he was uniquely able to raise the skiing of others to successfully ski things that they would otherwise only dream of (myself being one of them).

I guess the only "disagreement" I would have with your post is that I am not sure that it belongs in this section. Doug's skiing (and that of certain others) is way beyond technique and analysis as we usually discuss it here. It is skiing on another plane.

I have many times had discussions with other skiers and instructors where I talk about how I admire the ski mountaineer with a bulletproof hop, stem, pedal turn, or whatever, as much or more than someone who can elegantly lay them over or skip through the bumps. I haven't found too many who nod with agreement. In Doug's case it didn't matter I guess as he elegantly skipped through chutes and couloirs like they were the beginner hill.

I certainly am looking forward to seeing Steep. Thanks for the little preview.
post #7 of 20
Great post, Bob! I too agree with your summary of Doug's awe-inspiring skiing skill, as well as the message he embodies about great skiing. Doug Coombs was a virtuoso of skiing, a master of the entire spectrum of techniques, tactics, and intents, as well as a master of the mental focus and discipline needed to bring out top performance in trying situations. His unbiased versatility allowed him to employ any technique needed to get the job done, and demonstrated clearly why skill is the real measure of good skiing--not just practice of any particular technique. And I agree completely, too, that there is a big lesson in his skiing that conflicts with many of the restrictive technical biases so often pushed as the "right" way around here.

Perhaps the biggest polarizing point of contention in the technical forums here over the years has not come from disagreement about which techniques were "right," but from disagreement about whether or not there really is a "right" technique in the first place. I've long advocated, along with many other instructors, that good skiing is about developing broad-based skill, not about particular "final forms." Modern ski instruction in the US, and to a large extent worldwide, has shifted stongly from the "final forms," technique-driven models of the past to the more versatile, less-restrictive, skills-based and outcome-based (matching specific techniques to desired purposes) models of today, and great skiers like Doug Coombs demonstrate why.

The lessons of Doug's skiing go well beyond just the technical, too. He demonstrated mastery of the concepts Weems expresses in his "Sports Diamond" model as well. Power and Purpose--the ability to match movement to intent, technique to tactics--Touch and Will--the blending of mental focus, passion, courage, and will-power with sensitivity, feel, and versatility, to impose mental control over movements, even while trusting the body to react unconsciously and appropriately to feedback from the skis and snow.

Doug Coombs showed all these things to the highest level. Few skiers can aspire to the same degree of mastery, but all skiers can learn from the principles that Doug embodied. Skiing, as the totality of body, mind, and spirit, is so much more, so much richer and more challenging and rewarding, than skiing as a mere technique.

So explore and practice all techniques, all variables of movement. Focus not on "right and wrong," but on cause and effect. No technique is right or wrong in itself--only when tied to intent or outcome can its effectiveness be measured. I've described before a "spectrum of intents" (from pure carving to pure braking) that I think simplifies the range a bit, but the point is to practice without bias all possible blends of skill and movement, while developing a high-level awareness of the effects, uses, and misuses of each. Any technical focus is, by definition, biased and restrictive. Great skiing is not!

All this said, I think it is still possible to identify efficiencies and inefficiencies in techniques, measured against their desired outcomes. While often many techniques can "get the job done," some are more effective, more efficient, more reliable, or leave more room for error, than others. Great skiers like Doug Coombs show no limiting biases, but they do show certain consistent tendencies, certain habits and "default movement patterns" that they use when no specific situation demands other movements, that define great skiing in general. It is not just Doug's versatility and ability to get down terrain that most skiers would never consider trying, but also his fluidity and economy of movement when skiing any terrain, that marks Doug as a great skier. There are signature habits that all great skiers tend to share, that will turn heads even on a groomed green run. And there are principles of these habits that great instructors can identify and instill in skiers at any level, from first-timer on. There are also movement patterns that, even though great skiers will use them situationally, will develop nothing but bad habits and dead ends if not recognized and avoided at lower levels.

So there is a place for debating specific techniques. But I implore everyone to remember that no technique is right or wrong until you tie it to an effect, outcome, or intent. Such tie-in would bring much needed real-world relevance to many of the discussions here. Ski technique is not about politics, religion, dogma, or books. When techniques are viewed as means to an end, there are no "schools of thought" or opinions. There are only results!

Doug Coombs was great skiing. It is a dishonor, and an extreme oversimplification, to try to miminize him to a technique. Doug--and great skiing--is so much more!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #8 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Peters View Post
Doug made "crazy" stuff seem easy while everybody else made it look difficult...
...Anybody who ever saw Doug ski in person could appreciate how effortless he made skiing the most insane lines appear to be.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Barnes/Colorado View Post
Doug Coombs showed all these things to the highest level...
Skiing, as the totality of body, mind, and spirit, is so much more, so much richer and more challenging and rewarding, than skiing as a mere technique.
Agree that any attempt to ‘diagnose’ Coombs ski technique misses what differentiates him [and some of his cadre] from the norm. What I would give to have the neurological wiring he had developed dealing with fear and anxiety of the extreme all the while calling upon such cool confidence and deliberate mastery of his obvious skills. With a hallmark being the examination of situations with quick evaluation of opportunity & risk; his ‘Between the Ears’ stuff really set him apart... and something we certainly can’t MA.
post #9 of 20
This thread needs video:





post #10 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Max_501 View Post
This thread needs video:
^^^^^ Are those "Another viewpoint"?
post #11 of 20
THANK YOU MAX

As a personal note, I believe that my group was sharing the helicopter with Doug and Tommy Moe's group the day that Tommy is referencing in the third video clip (could have been another day but the timing seems about right). Doug told my group's guide (Dave Richards) that it was my first day in the Chugach and that he should watch out for me and "take it easy." We then proceeded to share an A* chopper with Doug and Tommy's group . The first run we took following those guys was, according to Doug, a first descent that Tommy therefore got to name. I remember thinking as we approached the narrow ridge that it couldn't be the place we were going to ski - there was no place to land and it was too steep to ski. I was wrong on both accounts but I survived.
post #12 of 20
Your point in this thread, Bob, is an excellent one to raise. Yes, there tends to be too much talk of "right" and "wrong" around here. If you're skiing exactly how you want to then your technique is right. Wrong only happens when the result does not mirror the goal, regardless of what that goal may be. The major thing developing skiers need to focus on is expanding their skill base and refine the base they currently have. That will take a person much further than waving flags and waging battle over right and wrong.
post #13 of 20
When I watch Doug Coombs ski the one thing that comes to mind that even approaches "technique" was a mantra that Bob Barnes and Dan Egan (I think Dan specifically, but I could be wrong) were repeating at ESA Stowe this year and that was "stagnation = acceleration" - in short if you stop moving on steep and difficult terrain you stop skiing the mountain and the mountain starts skiing you. This is a simple realization, but very insightful. When you watch Doug Coombs ski there is never a moment that he is not moving to some end. His movements are extreme compared to most skiers we see every day - but never seem to fall short of what he needs in a given situation. In my eyes I don't see his "technique" as opposite of anything that is espoused here in our forums but instead inclusive of what we discuss here. We could probably take Doug's skiing and apply it to nearly any topic we wanted - there is just so much there to observe, and learn from. He definitely had a comfort level on mountains and skis that few will probably ever experience.
Later
Greg
post #14 of 20
I happened to luck out and catch a show called "Nomads Alaska" on tv the other week. I was struck by what one of the skiers said in contrasting the exposure and terrain with the skiing. The point being that the skiing was a lot less complicated and extroadinary than we might sometimes like to make it out to be. After making the point of how steep and gnarly everything was he said about the skiing technique, "It's just skiing."

When it comes right down to it, it's just skiing.
post #15 of 20
Good points, Heluva. But I still think that there is a big point here that not all have recognized:

Quote:
In my eyes I don't see his "technique" as opposite of anything that is espoused here in our forums but instead inclusive of what we discuss here.
I agree that Coombs's technique is inclusive of what anyone has discussed here. But I'm also pretty sure that what some people have discussed here is NOT inclusive of what Doug does (or did, I suppose, although his skiing and his spirit will live on for a very long time).

What do you think?

Best regards,
Bob

PS--Oh, and that great quote, "Stagnation = Acceleration," belongs exclusively to Dan, although I wish I'd said it first, and I've certainly quoted him myself from time to time!
post #16 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Barnes/Colorado View Post
I'm also pretty sure that what some people have discussed here is NOT inclusive of what Doug does

What do you think?

Best regards,
Bob
Why, whatever are you suggesting, Bob? :

Depends how you name it. They do it like crazy when they ski a pitch,,, but depending how you term what they do, they'll deny it. :
post #17 of 20
Great posts guys,

I enjoyed reading this thread. I think what is being said, and I agree with...is there is no right or wrong....only consequences.....but to add my usual "Skidude72" bluntness to it, and think this was Bob P's point:

Unless your depth of experience is pushing the boundaries...like skiing one of Dougs lines at Dougs speed...or a full on DH, or GS, or SL, or SG with WCers to compare times to...or a Dale Begg Smith mogul line again at Dale Begg Smith speed...it is pretty hard to know what those consequences are....hence why I think so many here have "dellusions of grandeur" and thus feel they know it all, and stop progressing....take a run with a guy like Doug...or a current WCer.....those consequences will show up pretty fast.
post #18 of 20
I believe the very best develop technique - movement patterns that support their ability to ski terrain that most are not capable of. I think they would define their objective as skiing- surviving the terrain they are on using the large base of skills they have versus executing for example the perfect carved turn. Doesn't much matter if you are skiing in a situation that if you fall you might die. Skiing on terrain where getting to the bottom in one piece is pretty much a given gives rise to becoming focused on a lot of technique detail. Getting technique obsessed I think becomes a focus when there is not a huge amount of challenge in the terrain being skied. There's nothing wrong with that, and there are some very talented skiers that practice and have developed their skills on terrain that is pretty tame. Big mountain skiing (I wouldn't know) but I think it represents a whole different game and discipline. I don't know if you can take a very good skier that is very comfortable on groomed blacks and can execute perfect turns and put them off piste in a vertical chute and have this same skier do very well. He would be out of his element and probably not have the right "tool box" to ski in this type of situation. I don't know if anything can prepare you very well for such a huge step up in difficulty other than actual experience in those situations.
post #19 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by roundturns View Post
I believe the very best develop technique - movement patterns that support their ability to ski terrain that most are not capable of. I think they would define their objective as skiing- surviving the terrain they are on using the large base of skills they have versus executing for example the perfect carved turn. Doesn't much matter if you are skiing in a situation that if you fall you might die. Skiing on terrain where getting to the bottom in one piece is pretty much a given gives rise to becoming focused on a lot of technique detail. Getting technique obsessed I think becomes a focus when there is not a huge amount of challenge in the terrain being skied. There's nothing wrong with that, and there are some very talented skiers that practice and have developed their skills on terrain that is pretty tame. Big mountain skiing (I wouldn't know) but I think it represents a whole different game and discipline. I don't know if you can take a very good skier that is very comfortable on groomed blacks and can execute perfect turns and put them off piste in a vertical chute and have this same skier do very well. He would be out of his element and probably not have the right "tool box" to ski in this type of situation. I don't know if anything can prepare you very well for such a huge step up in difficulty other than actual experience in those situations.
FWIW,

Alot of the top guys in the "Big Mountain Free Ski Game" are ex-racers...many of them very very good racers...ie almost national team level...eg. Seth Morrison.

While it may look like a pure survival run...and for most it would be...but these guys...they are skiing it....and doing so using the same skills taught in a regular TTS.....the only thing that is not taught, and I dont believe it can be yet...is getting that mental edge to go do it.
post #20 of 20
Great post Bob! Lots of good disscusion here. IMO there are effecient movements that make skiing big steep lines more accessable. This goes beyond the mental aspect. Although I know some guys who I think are crappy skiers who ski and somehow survive some very consequntial lines because of their mental bias. Skiing is about having fun and the "best" skier is the one who is smiling the largest. A skier like roundturns describes should be able to ski big lines in decent conditions if they can visualize the line. There are definiatly techniques that make this easier. I have been lucky enough to participate in several clinics this year and have some of them outlined for me. Mostly it was stuff that I had learned the hard way over time. I taught 2 level 7 students from VA yesterday who couldn't believe what they were skiing at the end of the day. Tight trees and bumps in mixed crud. Their technique is still not perfect, but they were able to use an appropriate skill blend to ski safely and could mentally break it down so it became managable.
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