Early Season 2005
Does this skier look modern? Is she trying to look modern? Or just skiing?



4-edge skiing
(or trendy skiing
vs. timeless skiing)

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

Jerry Bidjiewicz wrote me:

“Lito, I am investigating new gear — I'm still on the old, straight 205s that you urge your readers to ditch. But as part of that process I'm hearing a lot of static in my local skis shop about "4-edge skiing" and how the new boots, particularly, are designed with that in mind.…I have no idea what 4 edge skiing means other than it may be time to find a different ski shop... I want to ski the "new way." I'd like to try to drag my hip. I want to consign my old skis to the Museum of Outdated Playthings.…can you help cut through the smoke?”

Well Jerry, I can try to shed some light here. Blame it on human nature. Blame it on marketing hype. Blame it on our culture that puts such a premium on everything new. Whatever the cause, the ski world is hardly immune from the almost universal tendency to look for the newest and the latest — the newest gear, the newest technique, even the newest fashions. (Have you noticed how skiwear has been looking like baggy snowboard clothing lately?). Anyway, all this talk about “4-edge skiing” is just the latest buzzword in this ongoing industry-wide quest to latch on to whatever is the latest thing in skiing. And something, surely, must be the latest thing, right? Not necessarily. I’ve been a ski pro long enough to have lived through a lot of fads. And over time I have learned to focus more on what I think of as “timeless skiing” rather than “trendy” skiing (or somebody’s idea of trendy skiing). Let me give you a few examples, and then we will come back to notion of 4-edge skiing and what it might mean, and whether to take it serously.

Ski instructors are notoriously eager to look for the new thing in skiing. “What’s new this season?” “What’s the Demo Team doing now?” “What are the World-Cup racers doing this year?” These are common questions in ski-school locker rooms around the country. Always have been. Each new generation of ski pros also wants to put its own stamp on the sport. And sometimes all it can offer is a new vocabulary. I remember a period when, with much fanfare, our official American ski teachers association (PSIA) decided that snowplowing was no longer “in” for beginners. Instead we would all abandon the snowplow in favor of something called the “wedge.”And yes, it came in two flavors, a gliding wedge and a braking wedge. New names, same animal.

Is this an example of 4-edge skiing? The skier is Herman Maier, one of the world's best. A close look shows us that his outside ski is carrying most of his weight, making it bend and carve.
Or is this an example of 4-edge skiing? Here the skier is a former US ski team member. She rolls easily from one set of edges to the other. Which ski, is doing most of the work? An open question here? But I'd guess pressure will build on her outside ski as the turn develops.
Or is this an example of 4-edge skiing? I dont think this fits the buzzword at all. One ski is carving a smooth long turn; should the other one really be bent too, for this size turn and this speed? Is there a best turn for all skiers, all situations? I don't think so.

There is somethng else going on, especially among ski instructors looking for “the new.” I am talking about a natural admiration for the best skiers of the day, World Cup champions, or freestyle heros, but always the very best. Yet here’s the rub: Ski instructors, by the nature of their work, are condemmed to spend most of their time skiing very slowly; whereas champions, almost by definition, spend most of their time skiing fast, damn fast. Different circumstances, different forces, and so, seemingly different techniques, or at least a very different look on skis.

But I would argue that there is a core of very functional moves on skis that constitute the building blocks of all good technique. And the obvious apparent differences between the way instructors and champions ski only represent variations and adaptations on this basic theme. Yet often instructors see it differently, and go to great lengths to figure out how to look like their heroes, when they are actually skiing at much slower speeds on friendlier slopes. An entire generation of ski teachers learned to over-bevel the edges of their skis in order to get them way out to the side in turns, trying to look like those great American ski heroes, Phil and Steve Mahre.

None of this is bad in itself.… But it tends to mix up cause and effect.

Radical skiers look radical (and different from casual recreational skiers) because they are skiing faster and/or turning sharper (not because they are tyring to look different). So this leads to my first caveat for Jerry: Be careful about what you wish for. If your goal is to almost drop your inside hip onto the snow as you turn, then there is a danger that you will develop a “technique” that lets you do this at slow speeds, in moderate turns, and you will be relying on extra muscle effort to do so — rather than letting it happen because tighter carved turns, and/or higher speeds generate more centrifugal force that would balance you naturally in those extreme positions. But now, back to “4-edge skiing.”

How could anyone argue that we don’t have four edges on our skis? Or that we don’t use them all when we ski? We do. But pretty clearly, not all four at the same time in the same turn, a logical and physical impossiblity. So from a linguistic point of view, “4-edge skiing” is not a well crafted buzzword. What it conjures up however, is the image of a skier using both inside edges to turn one way, and then both opposite edges to turn back the other way. “2-edge” skiing might be a better way of putting it. Most of my teaching and coaching, of course, has focused on putting the emphasis, most of one’s weight, most of one’s physical and mental energy onto the outside ski of the turn. Call it “one-edge skiing,” or perhaps “one-edge-at-a-time skiing.” It’s classic, yes, but is it old fashioned now? Is it right or wrong? Better or worse than “2-edge skiing”? I wouldn’t claim either — you can decide — but I would say that moving from outside ski to outside ski when I turn is comfortable, easy and efficient. I would argue to that it has always been a core movement pattern in advanced skiing, for generations. And probablly will be for some time to come. Yet of course, each generation of skiers, sliding and gliding and carving on new equipment has added variations to the basic repertoire of key movements. Usually — and this is important — special moves for very special circumstances. Moves that get talked about in locker rooms and ski shops...

In an earlier article on this web site, I asked whether the skier above (my friend, Harald Harb, was skiing with his legs together, or with his feet apart? The correct answer is: both. But this is a function of speed and the size of Harald's turn. As his body tilts in to balance the forces in this turn, his feet naturally spread apart on the slope. The key word here is: naturally. Harald isn't trying to ski with his feet apart. Or with his legs together. He is just skiing. No buzzwords, no novel attempt to imitate the latest "style."

Consider the seemingly endless debate about skiing with one’s feet relatively close together (narrow track) or quite far apart (wide track). You can observe great skiers in both positions. But these “positons” flow naturally from what the skiers are doing. Mogul champions keep their feet and skis close together because there is no room to get them apart between big bumps and because they aren’t turning much at all. Giant-slalom, or Super-G or Downhill racers, on the other hand, often seem to be in a very wide stance because the speed of their turns banks them way to the inside (like a motorcylist cornering) and they need to flex their inside legs out of the way, in effect spreading their skis.

My conclusion is simple. Don’t try for a certain look. Try for ease and efficiency. If you do, you will wind up looking, and feeling, damn good on skis. But on which skis?

To bring this conversation back to your email, Jerry, I’d say it doesn’t really matter but, yes, those old 205s definitely have to go. Your “Musuem of Outdated Playthings” sounds perfect. Your next step is to start demoing a series of different, modern, shorter, deep-sidecut skis to see what all the excitment is about and to experience for yourself the subtle but real differences between various skis. You won’t believe the new sensations you will experience.

One final word. Don’t believe anything I say — or anything you hear at that ski shop — without going out and testing it for yourself, on the slopes. What’s right is what works. What works for you. Keep an open mind. And always try to spend more time skiing than thinking about skiing. Thanks for your stimulating question, Jerry. Hope my rambling response made sense.season.

 Early Season 2005
photo at top of page ©Burnham Arndt


I try to answer all emails personally, as soon as I get them. But if I am traveling, it may take a couple of weeks, so please be patient.

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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.