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Learning on Short Skis

The new parabolic ski that has revolutionized the ski industry of late has allowed beginners to parallel right away. The new skis are more forgiving for the student, allowing an easy entry into the turn and an easy exit out. Read more about it!

Ski Technology History

In the late 1970's ski areas purchased theGraduated Length Method (GLM) franchise founded by Clif Taylor in the early 1960s as the new method to teach alpine skiing. GLM promised students they would ski parallel their first day. First-time skiers donned 2 ½ foot skis their first day and pivoted their way into skiing history. With GLM, students graduated to longer and longer skis until an appropriate length was established. GLM students frequented the ski area an average of 6.20 times per season for their weekly lessons and enjoyed a complete introduction into the world of skiing. They quickly considered themselves "skiers" and, most importantly to the industry, they enjoyed the learning process and wanted to keep skiing.

Clif Taylor quickly became a household name in the ski world. In many ways, Taylor was way ahead of his time. Skiers were required to spend years perfecting the snowplow and Christy turns only to abandon them for parallel skiing later on. Taylor addressed these skiers' impatience and offered an alternative. Some people say Taylor was just the right guy at the right time. These skeptics argue that the political and social scene in the country was changing dramatically and sports were evolving as well.

The weak link in Taylor's method was the equipment: the boots were soft (made of leather or rubber) and the skis were as stiff as a 2'x4' board. Counter-rotation was required to turn: a strong rotary action with the upper body countered against a strong rotary action with the lower body. This resulted in a pivoted turn. Ironically at close to the same time in northern Vermont Warren Witherell was advocating the carved turn using ski design as the required turning power. Looking back now, a combination of Taylor's and Witherell's concepts foreshadowed what was to emerge in the 1990s.

The Parabolic-shaped Ski

The arrival of parabolic-shaped skis into the mainstream a few years ago revolutionized skiing for the general public. The steep learning curve witnessed in snowboarding fueled the fire (at least in part) for ski schools and ski manufacturers to quicken the learning process for skiers. The public perception prior to shaped skis was that one could learn to snowboard relatively quickly and be riding the mountain by lunchtime but that it would take years to ski the same terrain proficiently. Ski manufacturers had their ear to the ground for a number of years and Elan jumped out of the starting gate first with the SCX, a parabolic-shaped ski designed to help beginners and intermediates feel the elusive carved turn. Formerly, only elite racers and expert free skiers felt the exhilaration of a pure carved turn.

The parabolic geometry of the new shape skis allowed lower level skiers and even those in their first days of skiing to achieve carved turns at slower speeds and with less force. Soon all of the ski manufacturers followed suit, producing skis with more sidecut and sizing them about 10-20 cm shorter. Suddenly shorter skis were being used to speed up the learning process in this country all over again. Advanced skiers also jumped on the bandwagon and photos of good skiers "laying it out" - carving dynamically like snowboarders -graced the cover of every ski magazine. With the vote of advanced skiers, beginners and intermediates saw all the more reason to try (or return to) skiing. But first they needed new skis. 95% of all skis sold in the United States last year were shape skis.

Today a new generation of even shorter skis is being introduced to the market. They allow beginners to ski parallel right away. Sound familiar? The difference this time is the characteristics designed into these skis. These skis have more longitudinal flex and more side cut than the original GLM skis or popular Big Feet skis currently on the market. The new beginner skis promote a wider stance, equal pressure over both feet, simultaneous leg movements, and use of the ski design to turn. These movements were seen as advanced movement patterns until now! The feeling in the industry is that if students can learn these transferable skills early on, then the transition to higher levels of skiing will be easier and more natural. The new skis are more forgiving for the student, allowing an easy entry into the turn and an easy exit out. The hope is that these students will carry the basic, fundamental movement patterns to each level and continue to ride the wave of ski technology to the next big thing!

But is it really that easy?

Is the ski industry shooting itself in the foot by hyping the skiing public with promises of becoming an "expert in a day?" How far can equipment take someone really? As a ski instructor I see skiing improvement as a 3-component challenge: fitness, technique, and equipment. A person has to have a basic level of physical fitness to improve their skiing skills. Skiing is an athletic sport requiring endurance, flexibility, balance, and agility to progress. Second, a skier must acquire certain fundamental body movements for efficient skiing. These are: proper leg movement, balance, timing, and rhythm. And finally, modern, properly-fit, and well-tuned equipment is key to improving one's skiing. When these three components are brought together in a carefully guided and progressive manner, we can lead the motivated student on an exciting journey toward skiing improvement.

The question that comes into my mind is what is that next big thing?

It is said, "history repeats itself." What was Clif Taylor responding to when he came out with theGraduated Length Method? Was it truly to progress on from outdated techniques or were there other influences driving the need for a faster way to learn to ski? The need for new instructional techniques most likely drove Taylor's innovations. But if ski history is repeating itself, might we expect similar social and political upheavals like those of the late 1960s and 1970s that followed Taylor's ski revolution? Politics and society aside, our simple calling as instructors will be to respond to public demand and lead them on the exciting path towards more proficient skiing. Today's ski technology and teaching methods make that a fun challenge.

Contributed By: Chris Fellows

North American Ski Training Center "NASTC is a multi-day, total-immersion, performance ski school for avid alpine and backcountry skiers. NASTC is dedicated to providing upper-level skiers with the best instruction and courses available. With NASTC you ski all day in small groups with PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), Examiners/Clinicians (the teachers of teachers), and AMGA (American Mt. Guides' Association), Ski Guides.

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