The first thing you need to know is that it snowed all day. This made me very happy. The next thing you need to know is that I love ski lessons. I love learning about skiing and improving. So, I began ski camp in a very happy place.
And then there is one more thing you need to know: it was cold, nay frigid this morning on Aspen Mountain. So we began camp indoors, at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain.
Four Stages of Learning
John Clendenin began the morning by talking to us about were four stages of learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and unconscious competence. The last is the goal, the point at we own the skills so thoroughly that they are automatic and can adapt to changing conditions and situations.
But first we had to start with conscious incompetence.
Some Necessary Deconstruction
Once we got out on snow, we started taking apart our turns. Actually, what we really did was ski slowly, super slowly. In skiing slowly, all of our tics and errors and mistakes came out. In skiing slowIy, we had to consciously use our edges. We had to consciously shift our weight. Having spent the morning skiing slowly, I can tell you that skiing fast is much easier than skiing slowly. Why? Because speed allows us to fudge our technique.
Ditch the Claw, Embrace the Pad
Skiing should be easy (at least in theory). Turns are initiated by the feet, and the motion moves upward through the body. When the feet move, they transfer weight and when weight transfers, ever so subtly, skis turn. The problem is that many of us learned bad habits along the way, one of which is to rely heavily on the so-called downhill ski, leading into our turns with our big toes.
One of the reasons most of us naturally rely on this big toe, it that we’re not biologically inclined to slide. Think about it, when you slip or slide while walking across an icy parking lot, what sort of response do you have? Most of us experience momentary panic and reflexively try to steady ourselves by digging in with our legs, or as John explains it, our claws. What’s the most prominent claw on your feet? The big toe.
It’s a natural response, but a response that messes with our ski turns. To improve, skiers need to quit using this claw and, against all natural reason, put their weight onto the little toe edge of the inside ski.
Another way to think about this is to think of putting your weight on, and driving through the turn with, the meaty pad that runs from your little toe to your heel. John calls this the epiphany pad, because when you initiate turns using this part of the foot, you and your skiing will experience an epiphany.
Open All Your Doors of Perception
Even though each of us brought different skills and experience to today’s camp, we all had to learn how to better use the little toe edges of our skis. John was excellent at providing us with a variety of drills, tips and suggestions. Not each of these strategies worked for each person, but by providing information in diverse ways, John helped each of us seize upon something that helped us learn.
I tend to think of myself as a visual learner, but there were times today when watching John and the rest of our group confused me. Sensing my confusion, John would suggest I try something different. Maybe I needed an auditory cue — a mantra reminding me to touch the snow with my pole and tip onto my edge (touch-tip-touch-tip). Or maybe I needed to try a drill, which I couldn’t see, but could only feel, such as squeegee’ing the snow with my inside ski toward my outside ski.
Some techniques worked like a charm for me, but maybe not for anyone else. John helped each of us find what we needed, so that we could understand and begin to improve.
As I sit here this afternoon, reflecting on the day just passed, I realize that although we didn’t ski a tremendous amount of vertical feet or make laps on difficult terrain, I’m exhausted. There was a lot of thinking today, as well as a lot of adjusting and a lot of processing. From time-to-time, John would remind us not to focus too hard on any one idea or move, but to let it all “percolate.”
So with that in mind, I’m signing off until tomorrow. I’m giving myself permission to percolate and I’m headed to the hot tub.
A Note About That Hot Tub
The hot tub to which I’m headed is at Aspen’s Hotel Durant. A 19 room ski lodge, the Durant is only a five-minute walk from the gondola and has warm, comfortable rooms, bathrobes, apres ski and breakfast. Writing here this afternoon, I’ve been enjoying fresh fruit and hot cookies next to a cozy fire in the lobby. The Durant’s motto is “French Country in the Heart of Aspen.” I’m changing it to “Warm comfort in the heart of it all.”
- Ski Camp, Day Three: The Keys to the Kingdom, December 14, 2012.
- Ski Camp, Day Two: The Sun Came Out and the Lights Came On, December 12, 2012.
- Aspen Ski Camp: The Preliminaries, December 10, 2012.
- Small Motions, Big Changes: How an Indoor Ski Lesson Improved My Turns, March 26, 2012.
- Tight Turns: Improve Skills with Ski Camp, Books and Better Skis, October, 2012.
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