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Skier safety

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

There were two letters in the Vail Daily talking about skier safety. Basically, lamenting that the slopes aren't as safe as they ought to be.

I sent this reply to the editor, Don Rogers. He sent me back the following:

SCSA: Good letter. Need your name to print, though. Thanks, Don Rogers

I read the letters from Messrs. McHugh and Wiest.

In short, my answer to the problem is this. Lessons. If skiers understood that they just can't jump on a pair of shaped skis and go, I think that would go a long way towards solving the problem of safety.

For instance. How many know that shaped skis require a different technique? Hardly anyone, I can promise you. All skiers know is that shaped skis make skiing "easier". Well, shaped skis do make skiing easier - providing the skier applies the correct technique. Without the correct technique, or using skidding technique - as with the older straight skis, they wobble, making skiing tougher (and more dangerous), not easier!

The biggest opportunity for ski school growth is right in front of them and they don't do a damn thing about it. If ski schools marketed this one, simple message - "Got shaped skis? Get some lessons", not only would the slopes be safer for all, but profits would go up.

Now there's a twist. Customers and shareholders are happy.

[ May 09, 2002, 02:41 PM: Message edited by: SCSA ]
post #2 of 17
Thread Starter 
I'll tell you something else, too.

I think every instructor in the land ought to send Harald, Diana, Lito, and Barnes a thank you note. Because, if nothing else, what they're really talking about are the importance of ski lessons.

What's their message? "You wanna ski well? Practice, take some lessons".

I don't know of anyone who's preaching technique (which really means lessons) or practice (again, which connects to lessons) to the degree these fine folks are. They're blazing a new trail, creating a new message, and I think all would do well to recognize it.

Ski instructors everywhere will feel the trickle down affect if they're successful. The ski business will feel the affects if they're successful.

So here's your email - just cut and paste.
Dear Harald, Diana, Lito, or Barnes.

SCSA said to send you a note and I'm happy to do so.

I want to thank you for emphasizing the importance of ski technique. Your efforts can only help the ski business and your message is long overdue.

Best of luck to you,

[ May 09, 2002, 08:10 PM: Message edited by: SCSA ]
post #3 of 17
Ski industry seems happier with the idea of slapping helmets on everyone to fix the "safety problem", rather than tackling the harder task of education and enforcing safety.
post #4 of 17
Solve the problem at the level of the problem.
post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 
Hellmutts are bullshit.
post #6 of 17
I'm sorry, but I have to take some of your statements to task.

By your own admission, I believe you claim that you have not been skiing very long. Is that correct? If so, what do you know of "older techniques"?

Good technique on straight skis is virtually the same as good technique on shapes.

Don't think so? Ask the individuals on your list if they really changed their technique, or did the equipment merely add a new dimension of performance to what they were already doing. I know each of them, and I don't think you'd find any of them stating it's a "new" technique. Enhanced. Improved. More viable. Responsive. These are the descriptions of what shaped skis offer. But "new" is not. In fact, much of what is construed as new, is older than integrated steel edges. (Ott, step in here anytime you want!) The basic mechanics and timing are much older than new.

A friend of mine, Ron Johnson(Copper Mtn OTHG), did an uncanny job of analyzing Christian Pravda, and the racers of his era, back in the late 50's/ early 60's. The results of that analysis showed technique which would be considered very contemporary today! Unfortunately, his findings were contrary to popular opinion, therefore were not accepted and he was black listed by PSIA. When I first met him in 1980, I was blown away by the accuracy and detail of his analysis!

As I coached World Cup racers in the late 70's, through the late 80's, the same concepts we asked of our athletes then are the same as we ask of recreational skiers now.

I also disagree with your assertion that poor technique on shape skis makes some skiers even more dangerous. Skidding is skidding. Generally, shape skis are being skied in shorter lengths. That fact in itself has improved the overall manueverability of the average skier. That does not imply "more dangerous". To me, it's quite the opposite!

What makes people more dangerous is probably what the original letter writers were implying.
Speed and over crowding.
Increased grooming encourages skiers with marginal skills (and not much experience) to ski much faster than is prudent. Wide open trails also encourage that.
Lifts which are faster and have increased uphill capacity are putting more skiers on each acre of terrain than ever before. Were collisions nearly as common 20 years ago?
I will stipulate that shape skis encourage more cross-hill travel than straight skis did, and some skiers have yet to fathom the many new directions they must look to be aware of so many skiers in their immediate vicinity who might interact with them.
But it's not just the skis.

I DO agree that thanks should be given to HH, DR, LT-F, and BB. But not just them. But to every pro who has been exactly that- a PRO! Just because not every one of them has written a book, or produced a video, doesn't mean they haven't contributed mightily to the effort! It's my opinion that more skiers will come in contact with a pro, than will read any book or watch any video about skiing.

But you are right that they have served as a visible means of ADVERTSING/MARKETING! As have Joubert, Rudi Bear, Stu Campbell, Horst, Witherall, Gallway/Kreigel and the authors of countless other books on skiing.

Back to your main point- yes, we do need to encourage skiers of all levels to continue taking lessons. But not because it's "new", but rather because we can help them enjoy their skiing more!

A good thread, but let's keep it factual!

post #7 of 17
Perhaps we should consider what SCSA is saying about creating a relationship between the skis and the lessons. I think we (being the ski school establishment) were slow to adopt and adapt just such a program when the shapes first came on the scene and maybe we missed an opportunity and maybe we missed being a bit premature. One thing I know is that "the masses" are now adopting the shape technology (not having much choice, after all) and the old adage about the plane and the pilot is true. Now is the time to provide a special product that is differentiated from the plain vanilla lesson.

VSP, We know that the technical underpinnings are as old as Newton, but to tell the consumer that would be like telling a believer that there's no Santa Claus. The consumer wants something NEW, something that she can go back to Dubuque and brag about to her office mates. "...and I learned a new way to ski!" These are magic words for the sport and for the profession. Why not give her what she wants?
post #8 of 17
Vail snopro, since you asked, I'll give you my view, for what it's worth.

Before you joined the forum, SCSA felt insulted by me calling him an intermediate skier and there were messages left which we don't want to revisit.

I had met him and watched him ski and he skis extremely well, he may have only been skiing a few years but he practiced more than anyone I know and he mastered that ONE technique. And I don't balme him, since the instructions he got claimed that everything can be skied with this one technique.

My well-meaning comment was about knowing one way to ski great but having nothing to fall back on when needed.
I presume he wanted to be called an expert. An expert in my book can ski any technique needed at the time, wedge, stem, rotation, counter rotation, up-unweighting, down-unweighting, hop turns, converging or diverging step turns,carving skidding, sideslipping, and yes, taking the skis off and walking around an obstruction that's iffy. And many more techniques.

SCSA, by his own admission didn't want to learn any of that because he said they weren't needed. We have made peace since that incident and I think he is a great guy and skier who had seen the glimmer but not yet the light. But it will come.

As to old vs. new techniqe and skis. I think SCSA is right when he said that new equipment needed to be skied differently, but it's not a new way, just a modification of the old way, otherwise experienced skiers on old equipment would have to start at the beginners level with new stuff, which isn't so.

But ski technique has always been driven by the equipment available at the time.

In the 40s when skis were made out of one piece of ash or hickory and binding were barely holding the skier on and boots were ankle high and made of leather AND grooming hadn't been invented yet, skis had a deep groove down the length which had ethe purpose of building a ridge under the ski to keep it from slipping sideways on straight runs.

Twenty years later skis were laminated wood, stiff and heavy and long. They need the whole weight of the skier on the outside ski in a turn, but it wasn't the bend of the ski that made the turn, it was the initiation of rotatio or counter rotation while unweighted that would power the skis into a skid. That was the time boot-lock technique came into beeing.

While skidding through a turn with all the weight on the outside ski, the inside ski had to be controlled or an edge would catch or skis would cross, etc. The way to accomplish this was to advance the uphill/inside ski, press it against the ouside turning ski and that way you knew where it was. Since the inside unweighted ski was advanced, the front couldn't cross because it hit the upturned shovel and the back/middle hit the boot.

Then, about 1960, Kneissl made skis out of fiberglass and Head, Hart and a few ohers made metal skis or combination metal/wood. Even then, the skis, compared to today's had poor torsional stiffness and the good skiing was done in the middle three feet from underfoot, shovels and tail would wash out. The skis were still stiff and long.

By 1970 torsional stiffness had inprove and the French made skis which were much softer and would actually bend at slower speeds. That is when we started to teach carving seriously.

Carving was done by putting the skis on a high edge angle and then forward leveraging which put pressure on the shovels and they would bend and pull the skis around. Though the direction of the carve could be controlled precisely by more or less forward pressure, the tails always skidded somewhat because they were narrower than now and had less pressure on them.

Now come the shaped skis, carving is still done the same way, minus the forward pressure which is not needed since the sidecut carves a radius, but still used by advanced skier to shorten the turn radius and more equal weighting of the skis which allows the skier to control the inside/uphill ski.

So you see, a skier needs to do whatever the equipment allows him to do to go the direction desired.

This may be more than you ever wanted to know, but since I was at it...well...I'm longwinded anyway

post #9 of 17

Please give us something to support your analysis, that there is a relationship between the accident rate and the skiers knowledge of the physics of the shaped ski and ...... that this knowledge is not being imparted by instructors.

As a low level instructor, at a "bottom feeder" area, we are all taught to introduce the mechanics of the shaped ski in every lesson.

The net result if you do not do this, is that the skiers are reduced to weighting and unweighting, that is, hopping like bunnies all over the place. I realize, that you tend to spend a lot of time comparing yourself to other skiers, (I assume that this is how you arrived at the 97% figure), and while this may prove to be a distaction in your case, and cause YOU to have more accidents, it hardly causes other folks to have accidents.

Let's examing things such as a fundamental lack of adherence to the safety code and lack of enforcement by the paid patrol. Now I realize that things like rules and codes restrict your "free spirit" nature and inhibit your creative right to express yourself, so you would tend to look toward other things as a canard or deflection the real "causes" of accidents.

Nice touch, throwing in the "Hellmut" as a smoke screen. Sorry, didn't work. :
post #10 of 17

That was a great recap of equipment in the technical development of the sport. You say that the adjustments you have made in your skiing that have been dictated by the new equipment are:

1) less forward pressure: unnecessary because of the pronounced sidecut unless wishing to tighten the turn radius

2) More even weighting

In my skiing and teaching I emphasize a few additional adjustments:

3) Tip lead dictated by anatomy and slope--no longer needed as a turning offense

4) Pressure concentrated toward the middle of the turn rather than the end

5) The end and beginning of the turn is more blended: the end of the turn is the release phase, not the jamming phase

I'm sure there's more. It really is a new way to ski, a lot more effortless. Silk (and milk) is now accessible to the average Joe. The skis won't automatically make that happen, but expert instruction, stance alignment, and skis with a nice sidecut and the right length will give a skier every advantage in doing so.

Professional instruction should position itself as the critical "high touch" part of every skier's "high tech" revolution.

[ May 11, 2002, 07:40 AM: Message edited by: nolo ]
post #11 of 17
nolo, what I said was intended to show how skiing equipment really dictated how we ski and teach skiing.

Today's technique simply wouldn't work on a 1970 Kaestle wood ski which was one and a quater inch thick underfoot and four inches wide and which wouldn't flatten out much less reverse camber with all the skiers weight on it.

And in ten or fifteen years we will look back at today's skis and wonder how we ever could ski on them. They'll be antiquated, but with good instruction, as you said, a skier will advance with the equipment breakthroughs.

The finer points you make about ski instruction
about tip lead, pressure and blending, I, and I'm sure you, could make a perfect looking turn with or without tip lead, with pressure in front, middle or back of the ski and blend all that so that an observer would never know. But as you said, you have to learn to do it correctly before you can stretch the boundaries.

post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 

Way to go. You always know how to make some sense out of what I say.


Well, no doubt about it, I don't have all the facts. I don't really know about the technique for straight skis cuz I never learned any. Dad taught me how to snowplow. Then, when I went up with my buddies, all I did was try and follow them. Then I quit for 25 years and started from scratch, 3 years ago. I found HH and haven't practiced anything else since.

Hey. I'm just trying to get some ideas going - it's your business. On my end, I'd like to see the slopes safer and I think lessons, if more people took them, is a key to doing so.

I also think the ski business misses it big time on how to sell lessons and how to create tighter bonds between them and their customers. Your Highness made clearer, my thoughts. That a relationship needs to be drawn between the equipment and lessons.

"Got shaped skis? Get some lessons!"

So that's about all I know. All the nitty gritty, like is the technique really different, well, everyone tells me it is.

Like, isn't it true that in the old days, skiers weren't taught expert movements from day 1 because no one thought they could ever do them - like skiing on the edges? "Oh, only racers can do that". But now, with shaped skis, skiing like experts really is in the realm for all of us. So in that regard, isn't the technique different?

Sure it is. They didn't teach edging on day 1 in the old days did they? No, they taught the wedge, no ifs/and/or/ buts about it.

In the old days, was it possible to ski parallel on day 1? No, it wasn't. But now it is.

Shaped skis make learning quicker and the path to expert skiing is a lot shorter. So, capitalize on this simple and true statement. How? With glue. Glue lessons to what I said. A simple message that tells skiers, yes, shaped skis make life better - but not without some lessons. You got the shaped skis, you're half way there. Now, take a few lessons and you'll get there. But without a few lessons, you just wasted $700 on those new skis.

Why is it that John Q. Skier has no idea? I know for sure he has no idea, because I talk to people on chair lifts - I just don't sit there and say nothing. I can't remember anyone who knew that the technique for shaped skis is different.

If you don't want to believe that the technique is different, fine. But then you're part of the problem, doing nothing to sell lessons. Might as well find a new gig, because with that attitude, you've just admitted you're in a dying business.

So you can keep arguing with me - but if you do, you're in a dying business. Or, take some ideas and grow them on your own. Be a hero.

Certifying ski instructors doesn't mean a hill of beans if no one is there to take lessons. And right now, it looks to me like lessons are a dying business.

Because, shaped skis make it easier, right? Then, I put on this helmet and I'm safe, right? So you tell me. Why on earth do I need a lesson?


[ May 11, 2002, 11:33 AM: Message edited by: SCSA ]
post #13 of 17
Originally posted by Ott Gangl:

In the 40s when skis were made out of one piece of ash or hickory and binding were barely holding the skier on and boots were ankle high and made of leather AND grooming hadn't been invented yet, skis had a deep groove down the length which had ethe purpose of building a ridge under the ski to keep it from slipping sideways on straight runs.
Grrrrr! This is what I first learned to ski on, and it wasn't in the 40's!!!!! Those boots were murder, especially for a little kid, you had to do up the laces umpteen times ot get the boot tight enough.

i soon graduated to wooden skis with paint on, and bindings a bit like tele bindings now, with a wheel at the front to tension the heel loop. Same boots though, and those grooves were in the ski bases for ages. I still have my first pair of poles somewhere, bamboo with leather thong baskets. And I"m not 40 yet!
post #14 of 17
Originally posted by SCSA:
In the old days, was it possible to ski parallel on day 1? No, it wasn't. But now it is
I can vividly remember my first day on skis (I think it was in 1981) at Stratton mountain. I was skiing parallel from my first run onwards. I may not have been turning much or stopping particularly well, but I was skiing. I was too excited to show up for my lesson and just got on the lift and started skiing. So it was possible. Maybe not recommended, but possible.
post #15 of 17
Could I also add to your comments that over here there used to be schools (and they may still exist) that taught progressive parallel.
Day 1: learn parallel on 120s.
Day 3: move up to 125s
until after a couple of weeks you could ski parallel on the right length of ski. No snowplough, no other skills, just learning on short skis, then moving longer.
It was only popular with those in to skiing for the sake of fashion, all show, no substance.

post #16 of 17
I agree with SCSA that many skiers would benefit from a transition lesson when moving up to shaped skis. Because of the narrow waist or "sidecut," these skis start to carve a turn immediately after they are tipped on edge. Conventional skis, by comparison, require more rotary motion to initiate a turn. Also, linking parallel turns involves some amount of slipping between edge changes. Skiers must adapt to the differences in ski design with changing skill blends. With a shaped ski, tipping the skis on edge also acts to create a complementary leg rotation. On conventional skis, rotary leg movements are necessary to start a turn, but such movement is unnecessary on shaped skis and might create enough torque to twist or pivot the skis before the edges have engaged, resulting in skidding and instability. Instead, with shaped skis, leg steering follows as the turn develops, and greater emphasis is placed on edging and pressure. I've found that a good way to introduce shaped skis to a skier changing over from conventional skis is to have the skier tip the skis on edge during a straight run or traverse. When the skis are engaged with the snow, the ski design promotes a carved arc, and the skier can feel how the radius of this arc brings the legs into rotation to keep up with the turn that is developing. Safety is another question entirely. Your Responsibility Code needs to be drummed into everyone on the slope, especially some of the younger snowboarders (no offense). :
post #17 of 17

Please read your own post. The premise was that there is a relationship between safety and the advent of the shaped ski, compounded by the lack of understanding of shaped ski mechanics.

Had your premise been a simple one such as developing a linkage between skiers who take lessons versus skiers who take no lessons ..... be it the Harb/PMTS or PSIA, that would be a "no brainer". People who take the time to learn and improve on their art pay more attention to all of the details much in the same way that private pilots who take lessons in "unusual attitudes and aircraft recovery" are less apt to buy the ranch doing something stupid.

It seems that you are confusing your own premise with a "liet motif" or two. The implication that the accident rate is higher because instructors fail to teach shaped basics is at best absurd.

Two of our new hires that began the season on "straights" were beaten into submission by mid season and now preach the sermon of the shape with the best hell-fire zealot.

I had a woman last year who was quite happy with her old straight skis. She rented shapes and didn't like them, yet she still wanted to continue taking lessons. We worked on pole position and timing with a bit of carve thrown in. How is she less safe than a person on shapes? I did talk her into an up-grade on her bindings however.

[ May 13, 2002, 05:42 PM: Message edited by: yuki ]
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