Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stopping Power and Technique in Skiing

I received a question/comment (awesome in itself) from someone "over the water" (also awesome in itself) about stopping on the "How to Feel Less Fatigued When Skiing" post:

Very interesting, Skiblog. Let me pose a question from over the water. I am an ice skater who discovered skiing. In skating being able to stop is a high priority and learnt early in lessons. In skiing it seems to be well down the list, and some books seem to say that at certain speeds, there is no way of braking safely. Any thoughts, please. David

To Stop, or not to Stop...

Let me start off by saying, I can stop in mid-air...well, maybe not mid-air, but you get the idea.

This is actually a very good question, and a tough one at that. There is some debate among professionals about the appropriate teaching methodology when it comes to stopping (the reasons I will explain below), but ultimately there is a need for some practicality above all else.

Among beginner skiers, one of the main goals of the American Teaching System (which I believe very strongly in) is to develop new skiers directly into the most fluid, dynamic skiers possible from the start. In the past, ski schools have taught beginner students some skills that actually interfere with more advanced techniques further down the yellow brick road, specifically, the "wedge stop" or "pizza."

The wedge stop is a double sided axe. On one hand, it is needed to allow new skiers to stop themselves, which in itself I think is an obvious necessity. If you need further clarification, see the NY Times article about the skier who was unable to stop.

However, this wedge becomes a very comfortable safety valve for a frightened and inexperienced skier...too much so if not controlled, thus leading to what is infamously known as the "power wedge," a full-out wedge with skis spread twice as wide as the shoulder-width standard. This is a comfortable and safe-feeling position. However, it is very detrimental to the ski skill progression. Skiers often get too comfortable. Sooner or later, they find it very hard to break this large power wedge position, which makes it almost impossible to continue on to parallel skiing.

Therefore, many instructors will teach beginner lessons without any wedge, but instead teach a direct turn stop, that is, turning into the hill to stop. This would be similar to a ice-skate or "hockey" stop. However, it is also harder to stop in this way.

One could say, then, that it makes most practical sense to teach a wedge for convenience, but strongly enforce that no power wedge forms.

" certain speeds, there is no way of braking safely..."

Some will argue this is true. I (and others) will tell you that a fairly skilled skier with good balance can do so. I am sure there is an analagous dilemma in skating.

To conclude - yes, you can stop safely. And yes, stopping is important and is taught, but it must be taught judiciously. We want to teach our students in ways that will not only allow them to get up the slope and coast down the green lollipops, but also provide a foundation upon which they can easily improve to attack the blacks.