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The anti-stem thread

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
(Continuing the wedge or not to wedge thread.)

MC, I agree that the wedge is optional for beginners--and essential for experts: one must have a braking wedge in the bag of tricks. Not as a way to ski but as a tactic for negotiating narrow, congested cat tracks. I challenge anyone to ski the Ridge at Bridger and not use a wedge at some point in maneuvering to your exit line.

What I think is very interesting is the vestigial stem that you speak of in advanced skiers. What are the causes and what are the best prescriptions for change?

Would we see stemming in skiers who've never been taught to wedge?
post #2 of 33
Offense puts points on the board, but defense wins the game. (or in skiing's case... Keeps you alive!)

It's great to be proactive and remain parallel and all that, but sometimes a situation arises when you have to REACT. In "good" skiers, I see it all the time. On steeps, in bumps, on crowded traverses, and on The Hight T in Taos! "The insidious WEDGE". I agree with Nolo. It's a valuable TACTIC at the upper levels.

When I see skiers out there on blue groomies who always use it, I usually find them to be very defensive skiers. Lots of edge-set/rebound and scrubbing to control speed with no roundness of turn shape. To me, the key to eliminating the wedge/stem as a way to ski is the WILLINGNESS to move FORWARD with your skis and go WITH gravity rather than push away from it and bounce off a reactive edge-set. I feel it has nothing to do with whether or not the person was ever taught to do the wedge or not. Have I seen people who never learned the wedge do it while skiing? YOU BET I have. I may get flamed for saying this, (and the next paragraph, too!) but the wedge makes sense and it doesn't have to hinder the upper levels of skiing if approached/learned/taught the right way.

Direct parallel is effective as well, with the right student and the right situation, I've certainly had lessons where it was appropriate. I don't see it as the "catch-all" that some others see it as, however. I too often see people who just learned to ski under direct parallel tutelage crashing into pop-fences or hip-checking before they do so. Sure! They learned to slide while skiing parallel. Cool. But with turn shape as the ONLY means of speed control, what happens when the run or the crowd chokes off that particular means?


Spag :

[ November 14, 2003, 07:33 AM: Message edited by: Notorious Spag ]
post #3 of 33
I am very interested in the "REAL" answer to this question. I won't pretend to know it.

In sorting it out in my head, my gut tells me that it would probably happen even if someone was never formally taught to wedge.

I see stemming happen when people get nervous, don't want to commit to making the first couple of turns on more challenging terrain. It seems to me to be a symptom of stance - "in the backseat" defensiveness. If I am bent over, hips closed - then I can't make the proper rotary movement to swivel my legs in clean parallel turns.

Ok... I am going to bail out here and wait for the VETS and big brains to come in and give us the RIGHT answer.

"thanks for playing"

Thanks NOLO for another brain teaser!
post #4 of 33
The stem in advanced skiers is a sequential move rather than a simultanious move. For that split second the security of the inside ski is not given up until the security in the outside ski is established.

And it's a great way to go if you are really tired.

post #5 of 33
Back in the early 90's I remember a day in the Gothics when some members of our heli-skiing group were having trouble with less that ideal snow conditions. Our guide for the day, a grizzled veteran named Thierry, took the time to explain (In a very French accent) "There are times when a stem christie is a veerry essential tool to have in you bag". He then took off demonstrating how useful it was in the crud and wind crust we encountered that day. "Take your time, establish the platform, then pressure it and ride it around". Made a lot of peoples day.
post #6 of 33
Which stem, Nolo? The stem of the new outside ski that happens in sequential "parallel" turns or the stem of the old outside ski that's part of the "set an edge to push off of" syndrome?

A stem christie, just like the braking wedge, has its place in any good skier's repertoire of skiing maneuvers.

It's the unintended stemming (of either ski) that indicates there may be a lack of skill, a fear factor or inattention. One of my favorite ski characters used to make an unintended abstem routinely. It was so unintended he'd deny it occurred until shown a video.
post #7 of 33
Show me an "expert" dropping into a narrow chute, and I'll show you a guy/gal either upstemming or downstemming their first turn...not a place for an moving platform-centerline-greasy turn! Might even see evidence of the dreaded blocking pole plant!

Hi Spag...once again I am stunned by your clarity and borderline profundity! Your insights totally crystalize and encapsulate my thoughts....but, is a stem needed anywhere in S. Dakota, apart from Lincolns earlobe? Hi to the Missus!

[ November 14, 2003, 12:37 PM: Message edited by: Robin ]
post #8 of 33
YES! we would see a stem in someone that never learned to wedge. For all the reasons explained by all already. It is a way to go around the corner with out going all at once and thus gives you options to bail out. There are many types of stems. Down stem, Up stem, defensive stem (with long leg), offensive stem (with a short leg), latteral stem. shrimp stem, gumbo stem (sorry got carried away!)
post #9 of 33
The stem is one of those foot-pushing things. Its useful to have in your bag of tricks but not something that should be at the core of your technique. The alternative to pushing the feet is moving the body laterally. There's no reason this can't be learned from the first days on skis onward. Ironically, the wedge provides the broad base of support, like training wheels, that enables new skiers to experiment with this lateral movement. Lateral movement produces edging and enables a skier to experience pressure and gain experience balancing against the resulting force. You can certainly do this wrong and introduce it incorrectly. Do you teach the wedge as a "braking wedge"? Do you teach people to make it by pushing the heels out? It isn't really necessary to make a wedge to gain this broad base. It's just convenient that, to make it properly you have to turn your feet and thus begin to learn leg rotation, an important skill.

I think the stem habit doesn't necessarily come from having been taught the wedge. Instead it often is acquired because the student doesn't acquire the habit of moving the body laterally across the skis to enable the flattening of the new inside ski and the consequent edge release that allows the turn to flow down the hill. The stem is a defensive vs offensive move and indicates the large part that fear may have played in this student's learning. I think instructors often help to encourage the development of this habit by teaching edging from an essentially vertical stance. The student ought to be encouraged to become comfortable with moving the body across the skis and down the hill from the earliest experience on skis rather than be taught to do this at a later stage to replace some other learned pattern. The stem move then is no longer necessary or useful except in some extremely rare situation.
post #10 of 33
Robin, you don't see many stems in South Dakota... mostly just seeds. :

Keili. Good luck with your quest for the "right" answer. The "right" answer to any of the questions posted here can be more than elusive... because is there such a thing?

Arcadie. I agree completely with your last paragraph with regards to defensive vs. offensive, but that "extremely rare situation" is the one you have to watch out for! That is when some sort of "evasive action" (for lack of a better term) means the difference between walking away from a run, or knocking a couple teeth out. If you don't have a back-up plan on the ready (for when sound technique just isn't enough), you could be just asking for a Sonny Bono incident. Stemming may not be the most functionally correct way to efficiently descend a slope, and I won't advocate it as such, but when the ship hits the pan I'll take a stem over a stretcher any day.

Spag :

[ November 14, 2003, 03:34 PM: Message edited by: Notorious Spag ]
post #11 of 33
Thread Starter 
I agree that a person would figure it out or happen upon it all by himself. It's not exactly a foreign movement to anyone who's walked down a mountain trail and there're plenty of people on ski slopes demonstrating it for the uninitiated.

Kneale, I am talking about the gamut of stemming movements, but with particular attention to the unconscious stemming movements that advanced skiers may be dismayed to see in their video--as you and MC said, often the only way to convince someone is to show them video, because they don't feel like they are stemming at all.

Still, I think someone would need to feel when they're stemming to correct it. How would you do that?
post #12 of 33
Hey, you guys talkin' about me?
post #13 of 33
how do you FEEL when you are stemming? I think it's coming to understand what it feels like to ski *offensively* versus *defensively*.

learning to note when you're
- pushing
- bracing
- breaking

when I feel it happen. I stop myself and take some deep breaths and try to get my focus back.

post #14 of 33
Originally posted by kieli:
how do you FEEL when you are stemming? I think it's coming to understand what it feels like to ski *offensively* versus *defensively*.

When you are not afraid to move down the hill to initiate a turn, confident that your skis will do what they are supposed to. When you don't have that feeling, the tendency is to turn your skis first, then move. Skiers who ski offensively are able to let go of their protection. Their skiing is predominantly a movement down the hill. Speed management is incidental to their skiing. They love to move down the hill. For skiers who ski defensively, on the other hand,you can imagine their descent is a series of accelerations, punctuated by a series of movements which assure them of security. The irony of defensive skiing is that defensive movements tend to hinder control and thus reduce security. The defensive moves, into the backseat, into the hill, make it dificult to turn the skis and/or release the edges and initiate a new turn, hence the gross body movements, stemmming, picking up the ski etc. Defensive turns tend to be late, skidded and take a lot of energy intead of harnessing gravity to make the turn.

Occasionally you encounter a clinician or instructor who dwells on the turn finish, advocates establishing a "platform" from which to make the new turn. This is essentially defensive, in my opinion, since it finds control in a defensive position instead of dynamic movement. I rode up the lift in last years mini academy at Killington with a former demo teamer who pointed out to me one of these. She pointed to an instructor leading a student down the hill in "follow me" fashion. Every turn initiation was preceded by a kind of hesitation, a little "hitch up and go" that was more vestigial than real. It was kind of a shame to see otherwise fine skiing interrupted in this way. In my minds eye I imagined a moment of uncertainty in the transition between each of his turns, as if he had to assure himself of edge release and edgechange with a conscious effort where all he had to do was keep the body's momentum going down the hill.

My 2c
post #15 of 33
If I have Nolo's inquiry to stemming correct, she is not asking about the stems that are done on purpose for a purpose, but those not on purpose or intended.

These movement pollutants stem from having learned a habitual "order of movement" that starts one foot turning a new direction before the other has finished turning in the old direction. The cause of this order of movement may stem from having learned to ski with a 1-2 rotary push off movement and so much time and developmental mileage spent skiing big toe to big toe that even with a parallel initiation intent or desire, pseudo-parallel is as good as it gets. This is the: stop going there as edge-set of old outside ski, with a don't go there either as the new outside ski is displaced uphill opposite to the new turn direction. It may also be a compensating movement for a habit of directing the Cm somewhere other than into the new turn. The stem in this case moves the new outside ski uphill out from under the Cm and, as it engages, sort of re-directs the Cm in the new turn direction. These habits are most often interwoven.

If there is a motivation to change, what needs to be first experienced, and then learned, is a new "order of movement" that begins each new turn by first ending the old one, starting with the release of the edge of the outside ski. This trigger movement, along with softening of the legs to release the Cm, leads into the next turn with the new inside foot, followed by the new outside, thru the edge change. This is the essence of "right to go right, left to go left" or "go there" skiing.

When learning this new order of movement to replace the old stem habit, there may need to be a distinct "release, follow" that shows some "gap" in the sequence of events to create contrast and hi-lite cause and effect for efficient learning. However, once the new order is in muscle memory, the gap shrinks to but a nano-second and the edge release appears simultaneous in true parallel skiing. But the new order maintains its integrity.

I find that students who learn this releasing "go there" order of movement first can more easily adopt an intended stem, than habitual stemmers can let go (literally) and make true parallel turn entries.

[ November 14, 2003, 11:47 PM: Message edited by: Arcmeister ]
post #16 of 33
Arc - you made me think of something...

In my teaching experience, it seems to be at least 50% of the time, I see level 5 skiers who are "stuck". They cannot progress.

I have done a bunch of things to help them appreciate the edging, pressure, and rotary movements - AND... simultaneously get them to STOP doing noisy upper body things or incorrectly pole plant.

After a session of spinning 360s on the snow, skiing backwards, getting a little air at baby jumps, doing pivot slips (ETC)... they start to feel all of these NEW sensations. I have often chaulked it up to their having gotten stuck in a defensive skiing rut... but, maybe there is more to it?

(Nolo - am I hi-jacking your thread? should I start a new one? This just came to me...)

How do we incorporate move of the "good" sensations in the begining stages of learning to ski?

post #17 of 33
I've had some folks stop that hesitation/unintended stem Arc describes by using sensing "neutral" between turns and then reducing the sensing until they're just flowing through neutral. It's really difficult to break the foot-to-foot sequential pattern, and I've found that if they can feel an instant of standing equally on the feet flat on the snow surface, it becomes easier to make that instant shorter and shorter, but it requires acknowledgement of the original problem, desire to eliminate it and patience to practice. Willingness to spend a bunch of time on the flats and followed by gradual introduction of increasing steepness is important too.
post #18 of 33
I was wondering when is somebody going to mention the idea of lifting or lightening the old outside foot.

Let's face it, lifting/lightening approach does an excellent job of emphasizing the completion of the last turn and ensuring that the new turn does not have a platform to encourage any stemming. Lifting or lightening the old outside foot is one way of ensuring that the stemming habit dies almost instantly.

Would instructors who do not agree with this principle use this approach? I could be wrong, but it seems to me that this approach may be more effective than the "left tip to go left, right tip to go right".

Let's not make this a PMTS vs PSIA discussion.
post #19 of 33
Tom, there are two kinds of unintentional stem movement by advanced skiers, the one talked about most in thi threas is at the beginning of the new turn by the new outside ski. What I see most is the downhill displacement of the tail of the old outside ski at the end of the old turn, a moment before the new turn begins.

post #20 of 33
Originally posted by Ott Gangl:
Tom, there are two kinds of unintentional stem movement by advanced skiers, the one talked about most in thi threas is at the beginning of the new turn by the new outside ski. What I see most is the downhill displacement of the tail of the old outside ski at the end of the old turn, a moment before the new turn begins.

Thanks Ott, I was indeed reffering to the first type.

The second type is probably more common. I would guess that for more "advanced" skiers who do this, it reflect a habit of completing turns too early. I think they need to understand the "ski the sow line fast" idea and to work on completing the turn (even going uphill).
post #21 of 33
True, but I see these as 2 different symptoms of a common movement pattern issue. The down-stemming at the finish is a way for a skier in as skidding turn to secure the edge of the outside ski and prepare a platform to push off of to start the next turn, usually with a stem as well.

These are related in that they both indicate inefficient (or non-existent) contributions by the inside foot. Either by releasing to start the turn, or with progressive rolling/tipping to produce edging and control turn shape. When the inside foot (and half of the body) is passive, there is no "go there in the new direction" agreement in the entire body. The result is that the outside foot/half tries to "not go in the old direction" and ends up pushing against the passive inside half to get it around the corner. This pushing of the body against itself requires some purchase point, and if the Cm is not moving into the turn, the outside foot displaces to the outside until enough edging occurs to get it.

While the analysis of the complexities of inefficient compensating movements can be fascinating, it should result in some clarity of solution options. So there should result strategies for creating a learning experience that might solution both these related issues.

TomB suggests:
"lifting/lightening approach does an excellent job of emphasizing the completion of the last turn and ensuring that the new turn does not have a platform to encourage any stemming. Lifting or lightening the old outside foot is one way of ensuring that the stemming habit dies almost instantly."

I'd agree, if done with a strong "go there" direction of the movement of the both the new inside foot and half of the body. But it is important that it not just be a blocking bandaid, but a path to learning a more efficient movement focus. This focus should produce an experience that provides awareness of the cause and effect of an actively leading inside foot/half. To be effective the students should be taken to easier terrain, and skied with activities closer to the falline until their ability to both trigger, and follow thru, with releasing and edging movements of the inside foot can consistently represent their new order of movement. If terrain is at all threatening their old habits will want to dominate.

The ability to efficiently release first eliminates the need for the up-stem. The ability to "go there" the inside half leading a body in agreement (vs. conflict) along with progressive rolling/tipping of the inside foot can eliminate the need of the later down-stem.


[ November 15, 2003, 07:49 AM: Message edited by: Arcmeister ]
post #22 of 33
check your PM
post #23 of 33
Thread Starter 
Many strong skiers have a persistent abstem (stemming of the old outside ski). If you can show them video, that can be helpful, but I still think a person needs to feel the movement to address it. I have found three good ways to elicit the stem in a way that people can feel it: 1) uphill christie, 2) hockey slides from a straight run, 3) turns from a dead stop. Once they see it and feel it, there's awareness, but still no prescription for change.

It seems to me that the movement to set a platform of the old outside ski is precisely the opposite of what we want to do at that juncture, which is to release and supinate the foot, instead of bracing and pronating. The direction of travel is backward and up the hill rather than forward and down the hill.

Relax, release, and the foot will supinate all by itself, and the skier will be drawn cleanly into that turn. It goes without saying that terrain should be more than comfortable.

No one has mentioned equipment issues that could be contributing to the problem. Is that because equipment generally doesn't play a role?
post #24 of 33
A generalization on alignment would be the possibilities that:

Abstem'r might be under-edged (no edge bite until ski is displaced)

Stem'r might be over-edged (difficulty releasing to start turn)


Advanced skiers:
One foot traverses on big, then little toe edge looking for edging and balance compensations

Beg-Intermediate skiers:
Forward sideslip garlands looking for unequal release/engage between uphill/downhill foot.

If you can't, maybe you need to cant.
(Preceeded of course by full alignment cycle process)

post #25 of 33
Hi Nolo: We see the abstem or stem-step occur in our upper level instructors caused by two typical movement patterns. These instructors are usually moving toward their level II and in rare cases level III Alpine certification.

What happens in the L-II candidates, especially if the have been skiing for a long time, is that they have an upper body rotary movement, which is frequently caused by a circular pole swing instead of a pole swing generated at the wrist. As the pole is moved forward the arm pulls the shoulder and torso with it causing the upper body to move in the same direction with it, which in turn causes the hip to square up and rotate in the direction of the upper body. This then causes the old outside leg and ski lose its edge and then the stem occurs.

Typically, this skier has been turning in this movement pattern for so long that he / she can't feel it at all. These skiers frequently tend to ski with a relatively narrow stance, which further adds to the need to open the stance just prior to starting the next turn. If the stance is too narrow the inside and outside legs/feet/skis will bind up and not allow the release into the new turn direction until there is adequate space for the skier to move the skis / feet. Until they actually see themselves in slow motion video they don't believe that they are doing it.

We have found that one correction for this problem is to start by opening the stance to a wider than normally functional width. Now the skis/feet/legs can move independently of each other and not bind up. We also have them learn to feel the release into the new turn from the feet up by moving the old outside ski into the turn first with an active retraction just as the old inside ski starts to extend. This then moves the CM toward the new turn
with a smoother flow.

Now back to the upper body rotaional correction. We have them do all of this without their poles at first so that they truly feel the activity from the feet upward not the torso downward. Next we add the poles. We have them carry their poles with a goal of just moving the pole from the wrist itself. We try to keep the arm movements completely quiet, almost static until they begin to release toward the new turn from the feet first. Now it's milage for practice and alot of time, so that they don't revert back to their old habits.

Now the high level skier or level III candidate may from time to time have a slight abstem occur, slight as it may be. In this skier we have found that usually it's not a downstem or stem-step, which occurs. These skiers usually are very aggressive and confident on any terrain in most conditions, therefore we find that they tend to move toward the new turn so quickly that the old outside ski is not released as fast as they tend to extend their old inside ski, which causes the old inside ski to get on an earlier edge then the old outside is released. This in turn causes the old outside ski to lag in timing its release, which then shows up as a stem.

The difference here is that the old outside ski is still on its original path from the prior turn. To correct this we have found that alot of work on short radius turns is done with strong empathis on developing a very active old outside now new inside ski movement into the new turn. Sometimes it has helped to have them literally fall ove the outside ski at the start of the new turn. We also have them actively release and point the old outside knee now becoming the new inside knee into the turn just as they're retracting it, kind of like a cyclist points his /her knee into a turn.

Frequently, linked hockey slides and brecauge practiced until they're completely at home with these maneuvers helps them with short turn development and improves the active inside leg, so both legs turn simultaneously not sequentially.

In any situation these are some of the hardest movement patterns to change. Without video it's almost impossible to convince this level skier that he / she is actually doing a stem in the first place.
Happy Trails ***** Whtmt
post #26 of 33
Whtmt - That was an excellent analysis.
post #27 of 33
Originally posted by nolo:
Many strong skiers have a persistent abstem (stemming of the old outside ski).
Hey Nolo, I think this is me! I saw a video of myself skiing last year and this is exactly what I do. I didn't have a chance to address it last season as the video was taken on my last day of skiing. I'm sure it will be addressed at the ETU though. I'm sure others looking at me ski will find plenty of things for me to work on. This is why I think it is important to have events like the ETU as well as the EPIC SKI Academy. I know that I for one cannot make the academy. Thankfully there is something here in the east that I can make.

I can't wait!

[ November 16, 2003, 08:54 PM: Message edited by: skierteach ]
post #28 of 33
Wann mann kann "Stem-Christie," dann kann mann "Royal-Christie!"

When you've mastered the beauty of the Stem-Christie, then, if you're flexible enough, you're well on your way to learning to Royal-Christie. When you can Royal-Christie like Ingmar Stenmark, and Mambo in deep powder like Stein Erikson, then you've reached the pinnacle of skiing god-hood. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #29 of 33
whtmt... thanks so much for taking the time to write that long AND *excellent* critique. You nailed me. hahaha

The part I am referring to is the transitioning between turns and the feet not being quick enough. It was most glaring to me in the bumps - I realized my stumbling block was not my technique - it was getting my feet to turn quickly enough.

I realized that in order to continue improving my skiing, I needed to become a more athletic skier. So, I hit the gym.

I skied on monday. HOLY COW. The gym and the personal training are paying off!!!

which leads me to ask you your opinion - in the absence of athleticism... what techniques can be employed to get the feet moving quicker? or is it a case of slowing the rest of the body down?

post #30 of 33
Thread Starter 
Think "finishiation," Kieli. As your skis cross the fall line, begin relaxing the old outside leg, which will change the flow of movement into the new turn and cause you to pass through neutral (both skis flatten to the slope for a nanosecond) as the skis tip over to the new edges. The turn is led by tipping the light little toe edge and followed by tipping the big toe edge which will be progressively loaded as the skis are deflected in an arc that crosses the fall line. The skis will keep turning as long as the little toe edge is tipping. As you release the load on the old outside ski, the old inside ski also stops tipping which makes this both the finish and the initiation.
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