boot award

You’ll never ski as well as Felix Neureuther, but with good coaching you can ski your personal best.

The inspirations for this week’s reflections arose from two otherwise disconnected observations of the ski scene, one that has been percolating all season and another that sprang from a recent on-hill séance with a realskiers subscriber.

The long-brewing insight concerns a phenomenon that is now so frequent it has to be considered a significant trend: the Return of the Long Absent Skier. For reasons as varied as divorce, relocation, new kids, no kids, military service and anything else you can imagine, people who haven’t skied for 15 years or so are sauntering into ski shops looking to rekindle their relationship with the sport.

While these folks were frittering away some of their best ski years on other pursuits, the ski world re-invented itself several times over.  Whatever they think they know upon re-entry is almost certainly wrong.  They are unfamiliar with the shorter, wider, snub-nosed tools they see arrayed before them and equally at a loss as to how to use them.

Point being, these resuscitated skiers don’t just need new gear, they need a complete re-orientation in how to use it.

Hold that thought while we explore the implications of a recent effort to follow up on a supposedly performance-enhancing boot fit with a Bobo’s customer and realskiers subscriber whom we’ll call Bob.

I first met Bob when he came to the shop last year, asking if I could diagnose why he wasn’t getting sufficient pressure to the tails of his skis.  I looked at his gear, pondered his state of affairs and made a couple of conjectures, but took no corrective action until he returned to the store a couple of weeks ago determined to improve his set-up and with it, his skiing.

After fitting Bob in new boots and tinkering a bit with his stance, I was dying to know if my ministrations would enable the elusive tail pressure.  So I agreed to meet him at Mt. Rose, where I would be re-testing a fleet of 2017 Atomic and Salomon skis and if he wanted to tag along I’d take a gander at his game.

From the first run it was evident Bob’s problem wasn’t tail pressure.  Most of the snow coming off his edges issued from the rear of the ski. Bob’s real issues were fundamental ones of body position, timing, stance and balance.

That sounds like Bob isn’t very good, but most people would say Bob is an expert as he’s capable of descending any slope with a measure of style and finesse.  This does not mean, however, that the movie in his head matches his movements on the slope.

I don’t mean to diminish the value of the new boots as they played an important role, but what Bob needed more than anything was a laying on of hands, someone who could grab ahold of him and twist him into the positions he needs to discover if he’s to achieve his dream of maximum proficiency.

Bob needed to relearn how and when to tilt and bend his skis while maintaining fore/aft and lateral balance.  Which is precisely the skill set that needs to be communicated to the 15-year absentee who keeps mistily recalling how he used to ski on 210’s:

Tip and bend the ski from a balanced stance.

The nostalgic re-newbies need to be reassured that with the advances in ski tech, all they have to do to activate the magic in their new skis is tilt and pressure them.  You can edge your skis using your ankle, knees; however you tilt them, whenever you tilt them, you’ve achieved some control over your trajectory.

Tilting isn’t so tricky, but the “in balance” bit can be elusive, even to many skiers who would self-classify as experts.  This is where Bob’s technique bobbled and where many other skilled skiers need help, if only they’d ask for it.  To really improve, a coach or instructor with the requisite skills needs to lay their hands on them.

Realskiers subscribers can view instruction sequences from John Clendenin and Harald Harb to get an understanding of the objectives involved, but it’s less helpful for you to see them than it is for them to see you.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t skied in two decades or if you’ve never missed a season, you can’t see yourself ski.  To borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you don’t know what you don’t know.  If you want to get better, if you want to take full advantage of all the great things the modern ski can do, you need a coach, someone to lay his hands on you and get you where you need to be to achieve your potential.

If you you’d like to chime in on this subject, we invite you to drop by the realskiers Facebook page.

jackson hogen