skiing: an advanced lesson with the master

It’s hard to get better by skiing on your own. Teaching less talented skiers hones your technique, but doesn’t stretch you. So I paid for a private lesson. I’ve wanted a lesson from Elianne “El” Furtney for a decade, but she’s risen way past Level 3 ski instructor and is somewhere up around clinician / district examiner / regional demo team — she teaches the teachers who train ski instructors who teach the common folk. But relaxed ace Tim Reeve, with multiple appearances in Ski Magazine’s “Top 100 instructors in the USA” list, was available.

He mainly focused on my feet. The three parts of a turn are initiation, control phase, and finish, and you use three corresponding parts of your foot: you move onto the toe of your new outside leg to initiate, then ride the arch in the control phase, and finish with your weight towards the heel. In steeps it’s a quick swing from new toe to heel, with very little time spent riding the arch (unless you want to reach mach 3!), but in moderate bumps and easier terrain it’s a long smooth count along your foot. Working from the feet lets you control turn shape; Tim says he visualizes a black curve down the hill and follows it with his feet.  I came into the lesson worrying about my upper body position and my left foot railing to the outside thereby blowing the turn; just trying to draw half-circles with my feet made those problems go away! Ding ding, $179 well spent. Maybe less-experienced instructors focus on your arms, upper body and hips because it’s easier to see what those body parts are doing.

In steeps, Tim reminded me to have my upper body facing where I’m going. Thus in aggressive fall-line swing turns, face downhill and reach downhill with the pole plant.  I tend to let my skis turn me across the hill, so I need to consciously rotate my upper body opposite to the way my skis turn — “counter-rotation”.  Also in steeps, you shouldn’t initiate turns with a step onto the big toe of the new outside ski because that pops you up and away from your skis and your descent.  Instead it’s a press toe-and-(immediately)-down! motion. I was completely unable to do this and face downhill at the same time.

We talked about riding that outside foot and how hard it is for intermediates. You have to put some juice into it, but if you push it away from your body you lose control and end up straight-legged using your hips to turn the back of the ski. I tell skiers to “stub out the cigarette” or “squish the grape under the ball of your foot”, and try to get them to feel the pinch in the hip, lower the outside hand to “pat the dog”, face downhill as the skis turn: all ways to load up the outside foot while still keeping it on edge. Tim keeps it simple: he tells students there’s a skateboard in the driveway and they need to put a foot on it and steer it through a turn; that model of a turn gets you onto the foot without all the complexity.

Actually propelling my upper body into the next perfectly carved turn like a racer didn’t happen (the same missed goal as a previous lesson — skiing is hard!); Tim says that’s timing.  And it was a slushy warm afternoon so we didn’t get to work on ice; Tim says that’s just adjusting pressure, maybe even retracting skis. ‘It’s called “the touch”,’ he said, mystically. I’ll get there some day.

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