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Balance wizardry, prerequisite to skiing mastery

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
OK, how about a fresh topic for everyone to chew on. I have a theory and will start off by stating it as clearly as I can:

I believe that true mastery of skiing can't be achieved until one has acquired the ability to enter any desired balance plane at will and then perform within that plane of balance in a controlled and elegant manner. I also believe it is the instructors duty to elevate his own balance platform to that level and then devise the most rapid means of guiding his students toward the acquisition of those balance skills.

That's it, as simply stated as I can. For clarity I will add that traditionally the term "planes of balance" has been used to identify specifically the lateral plane and the fore/aft plane. I use it to also refer to every possible variation with in each of those planes and every possible combination of those variations. (example: start turn 100 percent inside ski and 50 percent fore, finish turn 100 percent outside ski and 50 percent aft)

Now my basis of thinking for arriving at this theory.

Skiing is a dynamic sport, we don't maintain balance in a static state, but must adapt to undulating terrain, snow conditions and external force dictated body adjustments. Through this balance battlefield we at times will have our desired plane of balance unintentionally altered. Our ability to cope with those sudden changes is completely dependent on our ability to ski in a controlled and balanced manner in that new plane, one that is not normally considered to be of optimal efficiency.

I started a thread a while back on fear as an obstacle to progression. If you read the postings it received you will know that they constituted a solid affirmation. What is fear? I believe it is the reluctance to venture into an environment we don't believe we possess the skill to successfully negotiate. We may feel we can carve a turn on a groomed, moderately pitched slope and stay within our balance comfort zone, but add some pitch or some terrain and the prospect of being thrust out of our comfort zone at high speed into a plane of balance in which we feel no proficiency for executing controlled, balanced turns is justifiably terrifying. This created a major barrier to skill advancement.

I believe the instructor must assist his students in expanding their comfort range by introducing exercises that gradually move them into new uncharted planes of balance. They must also offer helpful tips that help the students body genius (thanks Arc) to discover balance comfort within that plane and create muscle memory so that future reactions to entering that plane will be reflex (thanks David), or if you will, automatic (thanks Si).

I do have further support for my position but this is getting long, so I will relinquish the floor for now and invite your comments. If there’s a relative consensus of agreement with this theory perhaps we could promote a thread of drills that could work toward this goal. I have a vast array of them that I have developed and/or used over the years. I'm sure there is much innovation in this area out there and it could be of much value to student and teacher alike.
post #2 of 25
Mastery comes when the unique sensations of skiing are patterned into our "mental/muscle memory responses", in such a way that balance is preserved, and the skier may maintain commitment and confidence.

Miles, Miles and more Miles

Give up your job, and move to a ski area!

post #3 of 25
I think skiers who are balanced are doing nothing and going nowhere. It is the dynamic imbalance, a state that upsets balance that propells us into turns. And keeps us there.

Once we come back into balance we have straightened the steering wheel and we just coast along. Without skis, if we just stand still we are in balance but we cant move, walk or run or even turn without first upsetting that balance. To walk straight ahead we lean forward and if we don't put a foot out forward we will fall on our face.

In skiing, as we start our run down the fall line, nothing happens until we create an imbalance by moving the body mass to the side. If the skis didn't edge and come around we would fall on our face.

As long as we want to keep turning we keep this unbalanced state going, the skis catching us and keeping us from falling.

During the turn we keep an equilibrium against the forces that want to pull us one way or the other. That equlibrium is biased somewhat toward the inside of the turn as long as we want to sustain the turn. Balance can only be achieved again when all forces acting upon us cancel each other out.

And then we are doing nothing and goin nowhere.

post #4 of 25
I agree Ott. I am statically in balance for two nano seconds in each set of turns. Once as I crossover (or under) in each direction. If skiing ment always being in a state of balance I would be doing something else. I think that this is the key reason intermediates have such a hard time progressing into the advanced and expert ranks. They believe that they need to be balanced. The result is the blocky, square, body over skis style we call intermediate, instead of the relaxed lower back and independent upper and lower body style we think of as expert.

That is my 0.02 cents and worth every penny you paid for it I am sure.

post #5 of 25
The more an individual learns to manage the imbalance (dynamics) the better they will ski. The skier only appears to be well balance when in fact they are managing the imbalance or balancing the imbalance if you prefer. An instructor can in fact present a student with ways to teach themselves or their body if you will to balance –balance can be learned- but only the student can “learn” balance through personal effort. Lessons, at least our lessons of about 75 minutes, are no where near long enough for the student to “learn” balance.

Fear or apprehension inhibits learning. Moving a student from their comfort zone can be a good and bad thing to do! The instructor must gage very carefully or all taught is lost including the confidence in the teacher. If I do not give you the tools you cannot pound the nail. If I give you the tool and no nail you cannot pound the nail. What do you want first? Confused? It can be very difficult to know where and when to move forward with a student and in particular a group of students. If the terrain becomes the teacher the student very well can become the looser. Their thoughts move to the terrain and away from the lesson. Won't improved skill overcome most fear but maybe not apprehension. They are not the same.

Autonomous learning as it is called happens with students that are already very skilled in what they are trying to achieve. Take an advanced student that already has a strong parallel turn but the instructor would like the student to use the inside ski at initiation which then develops a more efficient turn. Take the student from a pressure skier to a skier turning both of their feet at initiation. This type student will need little direction and through many runs will self teach the efficient use of the inside ski. This student learns with miles and not exercises and or a lot of explanation. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]

[ January 16, 2003, 04:21 AM: Message edited by: Learner ]
post #6 of 25
I like Fastmans opening premise, and do not find Otts point in conflict, but complimentary.

Akin to Ott's point, I see skiing kinda like playing catch with my CM. Releasing as much as we can for efficiency, flow and fun, only catching and re-directing as needed for directional control. The better we are at this the less we "hold" when we catch. Where Fastmans balancing skills come in is in developing the ability to make that nano-second catch-n-throw. With FM's wide range of balance skills I have more catch-n-throw options. Without these trained/learned balancing skills, we drop the ball (CM). Training our balance enables us to be more accurate, precise, and efficient in all the variety of micro-engagment balance nano-seconds that occur throught a ski run.

I think the masters of these two concepts make longer throws and shorter catches. This is the realm of true dynamic balance not as in the clinical sense, but the metaphysical as reflected in Nolo's Ying/Yang, the engage/release of each turns energy cycle. When see skiers who are really flowing, I can see/feel the "balance" of their smooth progressive engagement flow into a smooth progressive release that flows into a smooth progressive grin....
post #7 of 25
"...like playing catch with my CM..."

What a great image, Arc! It's almost like juggling, keeping the ball in the air, in free, unblocked flight, as much as possible.

Looking forward to a little game of Catch in Utah--soon!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #8 of 25
"planes of balance"?


do people even pay attention to word choice and syntax these days?

balance is a fully dynamic 3-dimensional thing and CLEARLY is not done in a planar fashion. therefore, you cannot have a "plane" of balance.

post #9 of 25
WHAT? Only in 3 dimensions???

OH My!

The 4th I've been playing in and 5th I listen to must be dimenshu's.

[img]tongue.gif[/img] : [img]graemlins/evilgrin.gif[/img]
post #10 of 25
Thread Starter 
I will respond to your comments.

CalG says we learn by miles, miles, and more miles. I agree totally, but only with the proper road map.

Otto attempts to argue that balance can only be attained when we stand with our CM dirctly over our skis and that any lateral movement of the CM dictates a state of imbalance. I disagree. I believe we have the ability to put a ski on edge in order to produce a turn and then find a state of dynamic balance within that new plane by counteracting the external forces you have created by edging the ski. You may alter edge angles as needed to produce the desired turn shape, and in accordance alter body positions, but the balance point will still be the edge of the ski and in that respect you are maintaining dynamic balance.

Maddog describes the terminal intermediate as one who appears square and block like with CM over the top of his skis. Exactly Maddog, you make my point. He has no competence to move outside of his plane of comfort. He must be assisted in entering new planes or he will never progress.

Learner says that the student must put in the time to allow his body to do the learning in balance development and that the 75 minute lesson does not afford the time for that proccess to take place. Absolutely correct learner. What the instructor must do is intoduce the student to these new areas to develop, give him some guidance in how best to proceed, then send him on his way with instructions to work on the task during his free ski time.
He also comments on the difficulty of introducing these skills to the student. Right again, there is a definate progression to this thing that takes into account terrain, skier ability, and difficulty of task. Being able to put it all together and produce a positive outcome is what being a good instructor is all about. This is why I started this thread, to be able to share some guidelines so that everyone doesn't have to reinvent the wheel by themselves.

Arc makes the analogy of comparing this to playing catch with our CM. I think that is a good analogy of what happens during the linking of turns while skiing. What I specifically am addressing here is that phase of the ball game where we are attempting to catch the ball and then once we do try not to drop it.
post #11 of 25
FastMan, this is too convoluted for me, skiing is simpler than that.

post #12 of 25
Thread Starter 
Gonzo, I use the term in an attempt for clarity because it has been used as such for many years in ski education. I also took the effort to explain my expanded ussage of the term that addresses to a degree your concern for additional dimensions.
post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 
Sorry Ott, tried the best I could to keep it simple. I agree with you, once you understand it skiing is so simple, it's the art of simplicity in motion. I guess that what we have done when we gain expert status, we've learned to remove all the non productive movements and are left with just simple elegant effieciency. But if it were easy to get to that point there would'nt be much need for instructors. I guess the intricacy comes in the verbal translation. Maybe this is why we limited the extra oral clutter when we teach.
post #14 of 25
FastMan: CalG says we learn by miles, miles, and more miles. I agree totally, but only with the proper road map.
DM: and proper movements. Repeating the wrong moves does not necessarily lead to the right moves

Fast: He has no competence to move outside of his plane of comfort. He must be assisted in entering new planes or he will never progress.

Arc makes the analogy of comparing this to playing catch with our CM. I think that is a good analogy of what happens during the linking of turns while skiing. What I specifically am addressing here is that phase of the ball game where we are attempting to catch the ball and then once we do try not to drop it.

DM: The key issue as I see it is the stability of the platform we are attempting to stand on. We need the most stable platform we can find, one that will not become significantly less stable as the forces acting on us increase. In order for to act with competence a skier needs a source of reaction force to oppose action. If I am trying to jump out of a tippy canoe I will be hesitant compared to jumping off a solid platform. Before I am going to let go as others have suggested I need the confidence derived from a relatively stable base to stand on so I can move with condfidence. I also need to know I can re-acquire the same type of base.
post #15 of 25
This is how I see it. Most people are interested in skiing the steepest terrain they can handle. I don't think many people have a real interest in skill mastery. Watch from the lift. You see people who should still be on rope tows skiing greens, people who should be on green skiing blue, and whatwere some people thinking when they tried a black?

So many skiers have their poles behind them, or are in the backseat. People wedge on trails that should not be wedged, and traverse on trails too narrow to traverse.
Because they feel the pressure from friends to ski the harder stuff. They figure out a way to get down in relative safety, which usually involves skiing with the brakes on.
This would not be a bad thing to do from time to time. The problem arises from the fact that they are practicing the defensive skills, and never practicing the functiona; skills.

IMHO, skiing with the brakes on does nothing to enhance balance or skill mastery.
post #16 of 25
Your are right Lisa,
Our skiing community has its own sub-culture or oneupsmanship and bragging rights. When someone in the bar brags they skied Pussywillow at Rolling Hill nobody will know (or care) how good they looked, only whether they can out brag by claiming to have skied Great Scott at SnowBird, the Pallisades at Squaw, or Corbets at Jackson. There is a whole new generation of "just do it" and "go big or go home" skiers that would probably consider the mountain their teacher, if they ever even gave it a thought.

How all the marketing hype and press coverage this segment gets is impacting "traditional" skiers, is a point to ponder. I remember when I started learning (still am) there was a respect, even awe for polished skiers who swooped effortlessly down any slope (I still have it for them). I often am not sure what the skiing public you speak of thinks is "good" skiing, or if getting where ever that is is important, and I'm not even sure they know it when they see it. I often hear that they just want to "keep up" and ski the runs their ski group skis. I think their desired outcome is what gets them to more of the mountain, more than how it looks when they get there. People take lessons, or not, for all kinds of reasons. This is a very diverse sport.

I have my personal aspects of skiing that appeal to me and keep me going, as I expect everyone else does as well.
post #17 of 25
LM and Arc I am with you both here.

It seems as if the image of 'modern skiing'is flailing down the steepest slope you can find any way you can. It is about survival not good ski technique. I for one do not find it pretty to watch. In fact I feel like vomiting when I see this. Seeing a skilled 'skier' make beautiful fluid linked arcs at 2 MPH is pretty.
post #18 of 25
David, I agree completely. As a top-level amateur mtb rider, I see the same in mtn biking. People want to be able to "go big" without learning the fundamentals necessary to "going big" WITH STYLE AND GRACE.

To them it's all about the accomplishment, not the manner in which they accomplished it.

It's been around for decades. When I last worked selling ski equipment (1978-1986), I would always have to inquire in detail as to what type of skier the customer was. They frequently said "Expert," and usually that was followed by "I ski the black diamonds all day."

They rarely could tell me much about their turning ability. When they could, I was more inclined to believe them. When they couldn't, I treated them as I would any average Intermediate skier, regardless of their self-deceiving self-descriptions.

There's nothing beautiful or impressive about flailing down a tough run.
post #19 of 25
"I ski the black diamonds all day."
Actually, the phrase often used is more telling: "I DO black diamonds all day!"

Awhile ago, someone had spoken about a physiological connection between stress and balance. So a skier who is constantly putting themselves in fear inducing situations is never developing the dynamic balance needed for good skiing. Instead of playing catch with their CM, they are holding their center of mass in gridlock.
post #20 of 25
A skier from the east came to Whistler a few years ago with his buddies for one purpose, to ski the meanest double back diamond run on Blackcomb. His last words to his them as he pushed off was "I am going to ski this thing if it kills me". Guess what, it did.
True story.
post #21 of 25
I so agree. There's the mentality of so many new skiiers, who take a lesson to "learn" to ski. And after a couple of hours, they can kind-of turn, and kind-of stop, and that's it! They can now ski, and off they go because their aim was to ski with their buddies all over the mountain.

Or you see some rag-bag flailing along, like a scarecrow entered in one of those things where they send stuff down the hill on skis. And the newbie says Wow, they're really good skiiers! Because, apparently, they are going fast and staying upright.

Or the astonishment of a level 4 group when they hear that their instructor attends clinics. "But you can already ski" they exclaim.

Someone in another thread commented on the increase in injuries at his area, Whitetail. My sleepy little hill I taught at in Oz this season had the same thing happening: a massive increase in injuries from crashing/crashing into things. And the medical centre at Keystone was like a war zone some weekends.

It seems that many are buying into some concept of skiing that wasn't so widely evident in the past.
post #22 of 25
Originally posted by David M:
A skier from the east came to Whistler a few years ago with his buddies for one purpose, to ski the meanest double back diamond run on Blackcomb. His last words to his them as he pushed off was "I am going to ski this thing if it kills me". Guess what, it did.
True story.
David, It doesn't matter where you are from. I live around Washington DC, and I have been out to W/B many times with that very thought--- ski the steepest stuff they got (I love super steeps). Meanwhile, I went to Squaw one year, and was pointing to some stuff I wanted to ski, while in a gondola with my skiing buddies. I heard one of the locals in the gondola mumble "gaper!" to his buddy, as they laughed. So I asked him if he'd like to come along. At least he was smart enough to turn back when we started the traverse across the steeps to get to the really steeps.
post #23 of 25
JohnH: David, It doesn't matter where you are from. I live around Washington DC, and I have been out to W/B many times with that very thought--- ski the steepest stuff they got (I love super steeps).
DM: Yes John and you can probably ski the steeps with competence. Many skiers can. But most can't. I love speed. But I am smart enough to stay within my range or at least not readline much past 110%. But most of the goons doing either can hardly stand up let alone ski
post #24 of 25
Would I be oversimplifying too much by saying that cross-over (or under) IS dynamic balance at work? Certainly there is more at work, like moving the CM into the new turn, edging and all that, but doesn't cross-over and independent movement of the legs vs. the upper body come after that?

Tonight I was skiing for the first time on my new equipment. I had to deal with a ski that was MUCH faster than what I was accustomed to, and pointed out very clearly how poorly I was actually skiing. I was able to begin addressing this, luckily, and was skiing far better at the end of the night than when I began. At some point, I'm not sure why, I started trying to move my legs more independently of my torso and cross-over. The result was incredible. Getting the skis to carve was easier, turning them quickly enough and changing edges was easier. It simply made more sense - my control over the skis was immediately heightened. Using independent movement was an incredible feeling - liberating, in a way.

Of course, by no means did I suddenly become a great skier in an hour or so of this. I can still lose my balance, be knocked into the backseat, catch an edge and so forth. I'm very definitely still an intermediate who needs lots of practice, especially for this to work on steeper slopes, and at higher speeds. But I feel like I've unlocked part of something, something that will help me to continue advancing my technique and ability. Was "dynamic balance" what I found?

post #25 of 25
Thread Starter 
Dynamic balance is really even more simple than your simplification! All it really is is the act of balancing while skiing. Skiing requires movement which introduces continuously changing variables (bumps, pitch changes, changes in snow) that we must adjust to to maintain our balance, thus we call it DYNAMIC balance. That's really all it is. As you become more skilled at dynamic balance you will be able to isolate the point on which you want to balance, as example the mid portion of the inside edge of the outside ski, and maintain balance on that point for as long as you desire.

The cross over you speak of comes at the transition period in which you are leaving one balance point and moving toward establishing a new balance point. During this transition period your skis have been unweighted and are bearing little pressure. After the transition period (cross over) pressure again begins to be established and you purposely direct it to you new desired balance point (perhaps the midsection of the inside edge of the new outside ski) for the new turn. When you become extremely balance proficient you can pick out any balance focus point you want and balance on it a any time you want. You can even at will change the balance point at different phases of a single turn if you wish.

I can't say for sure what you were feeling when you were skiing without seeing you but my suspicion is from your description is that by focusing on an active cross over you were moving your center of mass further inside at the top of the turn which created higher edge angles and earlier pressure, thus more aggessively shaped high energy turns. Sounds like it was working for you pretty well, keep at it. And play with the balance points too, the more adept at it you become the easier this whole skiing thing is. :
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