January 2005
breakthroughonskis.com   
Carving or slipping? on one ski or both? a good question....
privatelessons
to carve or not to carve? to shift weight or not? and how to choose...

In this new section of my web site, I plan to answer the most interesting email questions that I receive every months. Here is a recent one

"I am taking the opportunity of accepting your invitation on your website to write to you.…

"In your videos and books you stress the  carved turn and leave the impression (if not 100% then to a large extent for sure) that it is the holy grail of skiing. However in a new course being given at Aspen called "Bumps for Boomers" the stress seems to be equally on controlled skidding especially in bumps. I also am reading a wonderful book by  Ron Lemaster called "The Skier's Edge" where he is of a similar opinion that carving isn't to be used all the time. And there is also an interesting editorial in Ski Magazine by John Fry entitled "Carved to Pieces" where he also heretically suggests that it is okay to skid. Any of your thoughts on the subject would be of much interest.

"Also do you think that if you were starting your instructional videos today, there would be less emphasis on one legged carved turns and early weight shift? After all on today's skis you can carve while weighting both skis; also you don't have to shift weight as much to turn; you can simply put the skis on edge.

"…as ski equipment has changed so very radically in a very short time, don't you think it may be time for some radical rethinking on the emphasis in skiing instruction by not only you but  also by the industry at large?

"All the best on the slopes this season and best wishes for the holidays,

Gerald Lewinsohn"

Thanks for your letter, Gerald, and its collection of thought-provoking questions. I hope I can answer some of the specific points, but also take this opportunity to clarify a couple of very important general ideas about the way I like to look at ski technique, and ski teaching and coaching.

First, I hope I didn’t give all the readers of my Breakthrough books the impression you received that carving is the “holy grail” of skiing, the be-all and end-all of modern technique. It is, of course, a very important part of modern skiing and a genuine expression of expert technique. Furthermore, it feels great, absolutely great. But carving is hardly a universal technique.

In fact, there is no universal technique. Why should there be? Different situations call for different responses. And creative skiers are always varying the way they ski a given mountain, a particular run, a certain slope. As snow conditions change, ski technique inevitably changes. (I will admit, however, that I am very interested in trying to uncover aspects of skiing that don’t change, or at least don’t change much, like an experts well balanced stance, which remains very similar in differing conditions, on different slopes.)

But back to carving — often skiers, ski teachers, and ski writers create a false dichotomy by assuming that you are either carving (good) or skidding (bad). And while it is true that skidding is an awkward and ultimately fatiguing way to finish turns and control your speed, there is a full spectrum of options between these two extremes, carving and skidding. I talk a lot about "slipping" one’s turns, letting the skis drift a bit while they arc a very round, more-or-less carved (yet not perfectly carved) turn.

In my own bump skiing and in my bump teaching I like to use a more relaxed foot and a looser flatter ski, letting my skis slip through the moguls rather then making the edges bite. Soft bump skiing can be a relaxing dance. Most of the time, I can’t see any advantage in trying to carve in bumps. And so it goes. Different strokes for different slopes….

But how about the next part of your question? Where to put the emphasis? On weight-shift? On equal weighting? etc? In one section of my Breakthrough on the New Skis book, and in an article on this web site (see the Bsack Issues Index) I claimed that “all techniques are possible.” And it’s true. I can make very good turns on my outside ski, or standing on both skis equally, or even on my inside ski. And so can you — with a little practice. So if all techniques are possible, how are we going to choose? How are you going to select the style, the movement patterns, the techniques that suit you best?

Easy. Trust your instincts, trust your feelings, trust your reactions as you experiment with different techniques. That’s what I’ve always done, observing the best skiers I can find, skiing with them whenever I can, and then trying out each new move, each new aspect of ski technique that I can observe. And passing on to my students what works best for me.

That’s why I am still convinced that transferring your weight to the outside ski of the turn is still the way to go — maybe not for every turn, but for most turns, as a kind of home-base technique that gives us a place to start as we play with each turn, and play with the mountain. Remember, shifting weight isn’t absolutely necessary, it simply works really well. If you have developed the habit of shifting onto your outside ski at the start of your turn, you will easily be able to do the opposite whenever you feel like it. But skiers who haven’t mastered early and complete weight shift tend to get stuck on both feet, they often overload the inside ski of the turn and find their outside ski slipping away when they want it to hold…

A couple of examples: Remember the last Olympics on television, those heartbreaking moments when a young would-be champion would loose it and shoot straight out of the course: almost every one of those disqualifying screwups was the result of the skier not balancing soon enough, or completely enough on their outside ski, and letting that ski (suddenly unweighted and insufficiently bent) track away from them. And remember, these guys and gals are the best in the world. But no one is perfect. And if they need to maintain weight and pressure on their outside ski, maybe we do too.

Here (above) is another example from the same league: look at this photo of Herman Maier, the “Herminator,” one of the best downhillers of all time making a hard turn at more than 60 mph. Don’t think for a moment that a skier of this level can’t turn on both skis, but look closely. And in fact, at first glance, it looks as though he is doing just that, making this turn on both skis, both equally edged. But look closer:

Herman’s outside ski is bent, it is completely weighted. Yet his inside ski is straight, indicating that it is actually floating over the snow, unweighted. With the subtle skill of a great champion, Herman has actually flexed his inside leg so far that he is no loading up his inside ski. And his outside ski is actually making the turn for him. Yet you would be hard pressed to spot this, if you were standing beside the course, without the advantage of freezing the moment at 1/500 of a second with a camera.

So although I am not claiming dogmatically that all good turns are made on the outside ski, I still think that most are. And will be, for some time.  But don’t take my word for it. Play with your options and settle into what works best for you.

I hope this makes sense, Gerald…Thanks for the good questions, and have a great season. Lito

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