No, Sharp--it has absolutely nothing to do with how well
a wedge turn is performed. It has to do simply with how
it is performed--in other words, what fundamental movements are involved, and what intent dictates them. Generally speaking, a wedge turn is NOT done well, almost by definition. It is done by beginning skiers! An accurate wedge turn is skiing's version of the first teetering steps of a toddler learning to walk. It is what it is, not because it's done wrong, or done well, but because it is done at very low speed by skiers with "emerging" skill. There is a chasm of differnce between "teaching wedge turns" and simply recognizing that beginning skiers have a strong tendency to make wedge turns. There is no reason to turn this discussion of skier levels into a debate over teaching methodology.
Interestingly (at least to me), though, even the "parallel" turns of the best and most skillful skiers will become wedge turns in some circumstances--particularly, very short radius turns at very low speed. That is, they will unless they resort to some very uncouth movements in order to keep 'em parallel. Yes, that includes your "friends." Yes, I can prove it, and I have done so many times, even with the most strident "DTP" desciples.
Frankly, what I have just described is the real definition of a basic, offensive wedge turn. It is a typical, recognizable milestone of skill development. It is NOT a fundamentally different "beginner's" turn. The wedge need not happen on purpose. It isn't even (necessarily) something we teach. What we teach are the fundamental movement patterns of great offensive turns. And the wedge (often) happens. A wedge turn describes--by definition--a characteristic of a beginner's attempt to make a "parallel" turn. That's why a description of the lowest levels typically involves wedge turns--not because they're what's taught, but because they're what happens in the real world with skiers at that skill level. And it matters little how the skier was taught, or whether he/she is fundamentally offensive or defensive. Wedge turns of some sort "happen" either way.
(Of course, all skiers become defensive at times, out of necessity, and the braking wedge is ubiquitous in good skiing--on cat tracks, lift mazes, in-runs to jumps, and elsewhere. And good instructors teach braking too, when needed--but they don't call it turning. In any case, these braking wedge turns are not what I'm describing.)
These things are not opinions. They are easily observable and demonstrable facts. But you have to understand offensive and defensive movements (and intent) to get it. Wedge turns should not form a "step" in a teaching progression--good progressions focus on movements and fundamentals, not final forms, superficial poses, or "a look." They do not preclude beginner drills and progressions that don't involve wedges--like stepping and skating, balancing on the edge of one ski to experience 'pure carved arcs," and other staples of great beginner progressions. Indeed, beginners will make wedge turns of some sort whether they are ever taught to make wedge turns or not! A nearly inevitable trait of beginners when they ski, "wedge" is a natural when describing skier levels.
As skiers progress in skill, speed, and confidence--whether they are developing accurate offensive movement patterns or defensive braking habits--wedges tend to fade away--often quickly. First, skiers become parallel by the end of the turn. Later, they become parallel earlier in the turn. Eventually, they will be able to make most turns--at least where they are comfortable and "offensive"--parallel from start to finish. Again, these are not steps in a teaching progression--they simply reflect what happens as people learn to ski. (There are simple reasons why these things happen, but I'll save that explanation for another time.) So the wedge--or its disappearance--are characteristics well-suited to describing typical skiers' stages of early skill development.
This is not just my opinion. The best of the so-called "direct-to-parallel" beginner programs (Aspen's "Beginner Magic" program comes to mind) may not actively teach a wedge as a part of a turning progression, but they do recognize that wedges "happen"--and they allow them to, where they result from "good" movements. (Three guesses who wrote these words: [We] "unequivocally understand and acknowledge that a wedge stance may result, even when skiers are taught Direct [to] Parallel. Often, the torque created through leg alignment twists the skis to a wedge....")
Imagine if they didn't recognize this fact: imagine doing everything right in a turn, and a wedge happens. You think it's "wrong"--some sort of evil error--so what do you do? If you pull your inside tail out toward the outside ski to make them parallel, you will successfully eliminate the wedge, but only by making a defensive "negative" (toward the outside of the turn) movement that has no place in accurate, offensive turns. Congratulations--you've created a turn with the superficial characteristic of "parallel," using fundamentally wrong movements! You're 'parallel"--yeah!--but you're headed down a dead-end path.
So, again, trendy "direct to parallel" teaching progressions notwithstanding, the wedge remains a typical characteristic of beginning skiers--and a not uncommon occurence even in experts. This is not a philosophical debate about teaching methodologies. It is certainly possible to teach an effective beginner progression that never explicitly teaches a wedge. And it's possible to incorporate a wedge--both braking and gliding--into an effective progression as well. Either way, beginning skiers are going to use a wedge--a lot sometimes--when skiing (if not when doing the drills they've been taught).
On the other hand, today's short, deep-sidecut learning skis--combined with effective teaching methodologies--can greatly accelerate the learning process. It is not unusual for beginning skiers to progress through Level 4 or even 5 (linked "parallel" turns in easy conditions) in a day or two. When the Levels 1-9 first came about--in the days of longer, straighter skis--they represented more distinct stages of development, and it would generally take skiers at least a few days to reach Level 4. Today's skis can abbreviate the wedge- and wedge christie-phases so much that they may go unnoticed. For practical purposes, modern skis may justify the idea of (almost) "direct-to-parallel."
But I'd still prefer to call good teaching "direct to expert." "Parallel" is such an insignificant characteristic in modern skiing. Clearly, if skiers can ski parallel on their first or second day, it is hardly a sign of expert skiing. But there are certainly fundamental movements and principles inherent in expert skiing (most of us would agree) that can be introduced to beginners. If the quest for "parallel" overshadows the quest for great fundamental movements, the student loses.
I don't necessarily find fault with John Clendenin's teaching progressions--or others that are similar. And I fully agree with John that the way some instructors teach "wedge turns" and "wedge-based progressions" is reprehensible. But many wedge-avoiding progressions and instructors teach equally bad--or worse--movements. And I do think it's unfortunate that John finds it necessary to market his progression by villifying the innocent and inevitable wedge. There's no reason to do that--and many reasons not to.
Regardless, show me a first- or second-day skier skiing on the hill (as opposed to "doing drills"), and I'll show you a bunch of wedges and wedge turns. Some may be "good" offensive turns; some may be otherwise. But wedges will happen. And that's the point, in this thread!
PS--And I have never, ever, suggested that being a good skier necessarily makes someone understand good skiing's fundamentals--much less able to express or explain them. Many great skiers are "unconsciously competent," with very little understanding of the fundamentals that they, themselves, have mastered. But that's another story.... Understanding is not a requirement for great skiing (especially if you have a great coach)--although MISunderstanding can sure screw you up!