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Free Skiers vs. Racers

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 
I wonder if anyone is willing to make some generalizations about differences in style/technique/mentality between world class free skiers and world class racers (while free skiing not racing). I know that a number of free skiers are former racers and that any generalizations made can't hold up for all individual cases but I thought it would be interesting to hear comments on this. I for one think that there are a number of differences that can be generalized. I also think that the racing discipline one comes from, eg. timed events vs. judged events also probably makes a difference.
post #2 of 31
Hi, Si.

I'll start with a quick opinion (I have plenty of those):

Anything "judged" is not racing.

So I think we should drop the freestylers, tricksters, aerialists, etc from the "racing" contingent. It may be exciting to watch and it may require all kinds of interesting skills, but it's not racing. The clock is the only judge in racing.

Now that we've done that little bit of housekeeping, back to the original question...

It seems to me that "freeskiing" has more and more come to be defined by what the skier does in the air. On-snow performance is more or less what they do to get from one jump to the next. To me, that isn't what world-class *skiing* is all about.

Racing is where it's at. The power, precision, balance and reflexes required to compete at the World Cup level are unbelievable. The ability to use a ski exactly as it was designed and do it at speed (under conditions that would make most of us go crying to mommy) is just incredible. Personally, I think you can spot a skier with serious race training from a quarter of a mile away - on any run.

That's the kind of skiing I like to see. Jumping and flipping is an amusing novelty, but it doesn't have that much to do with skiing.

My $.02

post #3 of 31

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing and I don't want to push this toward "who's better?" but I would add that some of the skiing I saw at the Gravity Games at Mammoth a couple years ago was simply phenomenal. That's all. And yes, watching racers attack the beast that is The Streif at Kitzbuhel is breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

What Si brought up and what you addressed is the key here, I think; namely, skiing with the purely objective clock in mind versus skiing knowing you have the subjectivity of judges to consider.
post #4 of 31
One style/technique difference you will notice on a pure racer is there upper body arm movements. They train with flex gates, they ski around gates all the time, you can tell a racer from a mile away just by the way they move their upper body and plant their poles. They take these movements into their freesking (I am NOT saying this is a bad thing). Take a pure PSIA demo guy and a pure USSA racer and put them side by side making med radius turns and you will see the differences in thier upper body. Different technique for different disciplines.
post #5 of 31

That's an interesting comment about upper body movements.

You made me realize that my personal tendency is to look at a skier from the waist down - edge angle, hips, knees, footwork, etc. I do see what you mean, however. There's a certain way that an elite-class racer carries the upper body that's somehow different.

I guess my own bias is that upper body movements usually end up being a negative in the overall equation rather than a positive. It seems that erroneous upper body stuff almost always shows up as problems in the way the lower body connects to the snow.

Interesting stuff - is the upper body the chicken or the egg?

post #6 of 31
Bob, especially the slalom racer has to punch the flex gates out of the way, and when free skiing they still punch the air. [img]smile.gif[/img]

post #7 of 31
Bob, you got it nailed. One of my major break throughs was when I learned to quiet my upper body, stay countered to the fall line, and rid my self of all extra upper body/arm movement. Wham, everything fell into place.
post #8 of 31
My response is just my subjective reaction to watching ski racing vs. free skiing videos from someone new to skiing as of the 2000-01 season and definitely hooked for life (I also copied some stuff from a response I had to a question on another forum on epicski).
I watched a few races last season on OLN, but found myself changing the channel. I found ski racing interesting technically and the occassional racing highlight was ok, but I REALLY enjoyed watching freeskiing and snowboarding videos. I found them much more interesting for a variety of reasons - they highlighted different snow conditions and how to adapt to them, how to deal with different terrain, choosing a line and turn shape, etc. Visually, I found them much more diverse and exciting than ski racing. Finally, I think that I enjoyed them because I can relate to them. I never raced skis - we went through the gates a few times in a ski camp I took last year at Gore Mtn in NY, but that wouldn't even make the list of my top 50 highlights of skiing last year. Powder at Jackson Hole, meeting someone and skiing with them all day at Stevens Pass, sunshine at Squaw Valley, skiing in 8 inches of new snow on the closing day (Apr 28) at Mt Baker, etc. etc. stand far above running NASTAR gates. But that may simply be my bias. In motorsports, I find WRC rally racing infinitely more exciting and diverse than Formula 1/CART/NASCAR. Sport Touring Cars are interesting, perhaps because I can relate to the physics and the appearance of BMW 3-series and Acura Integras. Ski racing, like Formula 1, seems like a really narrow, technical discipline that involves some great athletes who've really learned to optimize within a narrow range of constraints. The conditions a competer in WRC Rally or freeskiing encounters reflects the full range of experience a driver or skier might encounter in the real world. If I were a Russian tycoon and hiring a personal driver, I'd take Tommi Makinen over Michael Schumacher any day. If I could ski like Shane McConkey or Hermann Maier, I'd have a lot more fun as Shane McConkey.

I've rented a few videos this fall to get psyched for winter. No race footage, though.
post #9 of 31
Bob, we may have a different definition of 'freeskiing', but the one I have come to know is that 'freeskiing' is more or less the same as 'extreme skiing', which of course is skiing huge technical lines on big mountains, dropping large cliffs, etc... I personally think these skiers have more skill and guts than racers, I would easily take Nobis over Maier, Dominique Perret over Michael Von Gruenigen, Kent Krietler over Eberharter and so on....
post #10 of 31
Racers, when it's working don't have a lot of "upper body movement". They don't "punch" the gates but ski through them as they make their pole plant(touch). Upper body moves are balance corrections. When things are in balance the upper body is quiet.
Nobis is a "frustrated"(didn't want to do the work) racer. Most of the "free ski" champions started as racers, Moles, Twardokens, Fischer and Nobis.
post #11 of 31
Yeah, but didn't most of the name "extreme skiers/free skiers" start out running sticks? I didn't particularly care for it but the junior racing I did as a kid certainly helped my recreational skiing.
post #12 of 31
One thing this thread is telling me is that freeskinng means a lot of different things to different people. I think of big mountain mainly but park jibbing, big air, moguls, skiercross, etc are all current categories (ballet seems to have disappeared) but I think Bob may be looking at too narrow a definition. Most of the skier-x and big mountain skiers began as racers. Does anybody know where Shawn Palmer fits in though??? I think he started out as a motocross racer! colorful guy...I'm curious to see this year to see what happens with the Olympics, whether ski racers who have been eclipsed lately by freeskiers (not saying that's good or bad) will emerge as this winter's ski heroes. Will Rahlves, Schlopy, and Koznick be who everyone's talking about instead of Nobis, McConkey,Davenport, Jones, etc.
post #13 of 31
I think the reason racers usually do well in other types of skiing is the amount of time they spend on skis.
post #14 of 31
Good point. [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #15 of 31
Amount of time spent on skis helps, and for those that are good they also have just great strength, discipline and flexibility training behind them.

Its understandable that folks with not a lot of race experience behind them think steep skiing and cliff jumping looks more radical. But anybody who skied or stood and watched an FIS sanctioned DH course has no doubt how sick the top guys are. 70mph fall-away turns on solid ice are no joking matter. Alsoafter spending all day training in an SL or GS course, being able to turn wherever you *want* on even the steepest off-piste terrain seems luxerious! And the tightest lines through the trees or a steep chute still has nothing on the fast-twitch demands required to navigate on solid ice in a tight SL course and especially a flush.

Anyways - arguing about "which is better" is a classic unwinnable argument . . . but I'll tell you something amazing I remember seeing a long time ago that forever changed my perspective on the versatility of great racers. I was at Aspen before a World Cup was due to happen and we went up to watch the training, and of course they were all unbelivable as always. I looked off to the side and noticed one of the 'second stringers' on the Italian team who was carrying gates down to a practice course. He had probably 50lbs of gates over his shoulders with this arms out in front counter-weighting the gates. He looked sort of tired and bored but as we rode the lift up above him we saw him decide to swing over the side and hit the deep chopped-up moguls near the edge of the trees. He proceeded to casually pull off some of the smoothest and fastest turns you could ask for in the steeps, went across a cattrack, sailed probably 20 feet off the other side landing lazily right back in the middle of the moguls and started turning again . . . and then we went over a rise and couldn't see him anymore.

It was one of those casual moments of somebodys that we caught sheerly by chance. This was not one of their best skiers, he was not competing, there was hardly anybody around and he had nobody to showboat for . . . he was just crusing down the slope carrying gates, and skiing like we dream!

Since then I started watching top skiers freeski whenever I got a chance to watch, and I continue to be stunned by what I see!
post #16 of 31
Don't forget, that racers often find themselves doing a bit of freeskiing too. Of course, nobody calls them failed bumpers, frustrated big mountain competitors, or washed out park rats. Yeah, racing is great for your skiing, but it is not the be all end all of our sport. I think that people like Andrew McLean and Louis Dawson do a much purer form of skiing. They also have mountaineering skills that put them in a whole different world than most people in terms of what, and where they can ski. Racing, park, bumps, AK whatever, it is all pushing the limits of the sport in it's own realm. It is all skiing, and it is all good.

When I started at the Mammoth Ski School, my training group was mostly local girls that had grown up racing. The rest of us were good recreational skiers. The racer chicks ripped the groomed, but were not nearly as comfortable off piste. Once we got off the groomed, and into real snow, us ex-weekend warriors took the lead. Our group included the current CA high school SL champ. She could arc it all over firm groomers, but put her in a chute with 6" of junk over old bumps, and she was way out of her element. Of course, there are plenty of racers that rip everywhere. Or are they just good skiers who do a little racing? A real expert should be comfortable on an icy GS course, a bump course with kickers, do every trick in the book off the biggest hits in the park, straightline big AK peaks, tour across big glacieated mountains, have a good wedge demo, spin a tips to tails... Sound like anvbody you know? McConkey? Anybody? There is so much to skiing, very few master it all. That is why there are so many ways to compete, or not compete. People pick different disciplines for whatever reasons they have, most likely they choose what they enjoy the most. The rest of us just try to have fun, and be the most well rounded skier possible.

Oh yea, didn't Daron Rahlves have his big break through after chasing McConkey, the failed racer/bumper, around Squaw?

Powder had a great article a few years back. They took Diane Roffe Steinrotter, Nelson Charmicheal, Rob Boyd, some PSIA demo dude, a movie skier, and an Egan out freesking at Whistler for a week. It was an interesting read.
post #17 of 31
I don't race at all and never have. I consider myself a bump skier although I've only competed a few times. Skiing at Whistler last year, I hooked up with an old high-school friend who raced seriously in college. He hates the bumps with a passion and hadn't skied them in almost 20 years.

With no bump experience or practice, this guy used his standard gate-bashing slalom technique and ripped the toughest bump runs Whistler had to offer.

It didn't matter if they were the soft, slushy ones at the bottom, the powdery ones at the top, or the rock-hard icy ones in the middle, he skied them as if he was fooling around on a green run.

After seeing that, I'd believe that racers are the best skiers on the mountain.
post #18 of 31
Thread Starter 
I just wanted to say that I am really enjoying the responses. It seems like the trend is runninng towards posts on how racers make great freeskiers. I would add the thought that the top performenrs in any aspect of the sport of skiing have "the right stuff" (physical skill, mental toughness, perceptual ability, commitment, desire, etc.). Given that, I suspect that they would be relatively successful in whatever venue they chose to perform or compete. I have some first hand experience getting to watch top free skiers ski, only a little experience watching racers firsthand, and no personal experience racing. So I'm not even sure I'm qualified to have an opinion. I certainly have heard top freeskiers say that racers can't generally match them on "varied" terrain but that's kind of what you would expect. I hope others will continue to offer their points of view.
post #19 of 31
I think that many free skiers think that racers can only rip up a groomed slope, and that they can do and out perform pretty much anyone on the mountain, but give some of these racers a pair of freeride skis, and a fresh powder day i think that you will actually have a hard time keeping up with them there also. Im not saying that they are necessarily always better skiers but, they ski, thats what they do. They are trained to ski, freeskiers (im not talking about the extreme people who jump off 60 foot cliffs) as good as they may be are not trained. I think that freeskiers would be impressed with what racers can do on snow that youd ont actually see them do because they are always on the groomed trails. When it comes down to it, we are just at home on the snow, no matter what kind of snow or terrain it is.

Now put us on top of a 60 foot cliff and not many racers will follow. I personally am able to jump off reasonably sized cliffs, but often take it easy to avoid injury, as hucking cliffs and throwing big tricks in the park is not where my priorities lie. This does not mean that myself and other racers cannot daze you with their tricks and general ability on skis. (some are crazier than others, every team has its trickster).
post #20 of 31
Of course pulling some "new school" trick of 60ft of rocks is childs play compared to pulling 5 inverted tricks in a row on a 60ft kicker like the freestyle guys/gals do. And the nordic jumpers . . . they get a little air! Actually, in DH and SG those guys sometimes cover 100ft airborne at 70mph, and they may only be 10-15 feet above the ground, but if they become only slightly mis-aligned . . . at those speeds the landing becomes very ugly (and sometimes deadly).
post #21 of 31
Why do we confuse freestylers/acrobats with skiers? To go off those kickers, all they have to know is how to straight run.

They do not have to be able to ski, like high diver don't have to be able to swim any further than to the edge of the pool.

Even the machine made mogul runs are so predictable and even, every turn is the same.
I'm not saying that they are not great acrobats and highly skilled but all they have in common with us skiers are their skis. They could just as well do that on roller blades in the Summer.

post #22 of 31
Actually, I don't feel particularly confused Ott, thank you. I was addressing the point of bravery . . . definately some of those guys can't buy a good turn. But there was talk in this thread of the courage it takes, and the skill it requires to 'extreme' ski. I concur that nordic jumping and inverted arials are highly specialized - but that does not detract from the skill and courage required to succeed at them.

As all-around powerful and versatile skiers I would certainly not classify them in the same league with top racers.
post #23 of 31
<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Si:
It seems like the trend is runninng towards posts on how racers make great freeskiers. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

i dont know if that generalization can really be made. the way i see it the difference between freeskiers and racers is like the difference between A and B personality types. if you look at the top freeskiers who raced, they all quit racing because it wasnt for them. (Nobis being the best example)

someone may be quick to say "well it looks like marginal racers go on to be great freeskiers"

but i dont think it will correllate that great racers will be amazing freeskiers. ive seen footage of Tomba floundering around on an easy powder run.

so i think it just comes down to the fact that some people are born racers, and some are born freeskiers.
post #24 of 31
Have you guys seen Trace Worthington ski? I would consider him a world class freeskier, even though he was largely an air specialist. I'm not too sure I would agree with park air as being "child's play" compared to freestyle air. The Gravity games kicker, and the Superpark Hits at Mammoth are huge, and not identical like a freestyle air. Moseley was World Combined Champ, which included aerials, and he while he did well in "new school" comps, he did not walk over the competition.

Interestingly enough, one of our instructors is an older Level 2 guy. He can beat most of our staff in a racecourse, but is perhaps the weakest skier. He can beat one of our BASI/PSIA Examiners everytime. This examiner is no slouch in the gates, and maybe the best skier on our staff in bumps, steeps, park, backcountry Etc. The Level 2 is very weak off piste, and actually looks pretty weak on the groomed. I don't get it.
post #25 of 31
Hmmm - I've seen footage of Tomba and his coach Theoni ripping in steep Italian crud . . . maybe everybody has their good days and bad days? And/or . . . knowing, Tomba, he might have just been very very drunk or hung over?! :
post #26 of 31
Whether its just because of milage, or great discipline and coaching . . . the top racers are absolute monsters in all terrain. I think this debate often starts because it will soothe our egos to think that guys who have skied year round with top coaches since they were 5, really are just better at their *specialty* than us . . . golly, WE could beat them in the powder and steeps! [img]smile.gif[/img]

We are deluding ourselves if we think that!

I used to spend parts of summers at Mt. Hood and the USST would be there doing training camps in the mornings when the snow was firm, and then would be free in the afternoon and some of them would take a few free runs. And it was consistantly awe inspiring skiing (and these are the just the *American* racers).

We would see Race specialists catching air, skiing bumps, just cruising, etc. Always smooth, fast, powerful and incredible.

People can cite a specific example to prop up a generalization, but watch these athletes for awhile and you see that in general it doesn't matter what they specialize in . . . folks who ski HARD 200+ days a year, with top coaching and support become absolutely amazing all-around skiers.

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ November 02, 2001 07:02 PM: Message edited 1 time, by Todd Murchison ]</font>
post #27 of 31
trying to nip one generalization, i think i made another.

anyways, i really wasnt trying to say that racers cant ski all mountain. i was more or less trying to say that they dont necessarily make the best freeskiers, because to me "freesking" is more than just being able to ski anywhere. i think it involves a state of mind that includes trying to push physical limits by challenging nature and the mind. on the other hand, racing is pushing physical limits to beat the clock. neither one is better than the other, and they both give the participant an extreme passion for the sport.
post #28 of 31
Lets unify this - they do fit together well since many of the very best athletes are great freeskiers and racers. One thing that they both have in common that is that they quite different from the popular mass sports in America is that they are individual sports. You can be a member of a ski "team", but the fact is that you are out there trying to beat *everybodies* time, even your own teammates. And when I was in the freeskiing championships at Crusty Butt, some of us had overlapping sponsors and so felt like we were on the same team . . . but we were trying to beat each other!

Participents at the highest levels of both freeskiing and racing are excellent athletes - and all fun to watch.

Both are pushing the limits of what their bodies are capable of doing under the laws of nature, and sometimes unfortunately also finding out what happens when they violate the limits!

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ November 02, 2001 08:47 PM: Message edited 1 time, by Todd Murchison ]</font>
post #29 of 31
ahhh Ott,
Sounds like it's been a while since you did the weekend_thing in the East! The hand/arm movements are exactly the same...only it's in fending off the boarders as they *cut us off* in the lower trails near the lifts...
Unfortunately, some social meetings HAVE to be on the weekends...(arggghhhh) [img]tongue.gif[/img]
post #30 of 31
You know Steve, since I've been retired I avoid skiing on weekends, anywhere. Mon-Fri is more enjoyable.

Since Vermont made the ski areas there take out their hookups for RVs in their parking lots (because they had to register them as RV parks and provide for extra amenities istead of just electricity on a pole) I have not been to the East. I used to enjoy parking in the Carinthia/MT. Snow lot.

In Killington, last couple of times we were there, we just go to the Bear Mt. parking lot and ski there.

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