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SFDean's Take-Aways
from the January 2008 MSR Camp

This weekend's camp was great--as I typed elsewhere, the two day clinic was the best one week racing camp I've ever been to. While it's fresh in my mind, I wanted to post some of my personal take-aways.

To hit the headlines first, I think the four most profound things I carried away were: (1) the understanding, from the video analysis, of how my juicing the tails at the end of right footed turns was putting me in impossible situations. I knew I was intermittently getting into hopelessly late turn initiation, but literally had no idea of the cause, thinking I must have dived at a prior gate without noticing; (2) the understanding of how badly messed up my current boot situation is (despite prior customized footbeds and canting) and how profoundly that is affecting my skiing; (3) the amazingly fast and bad-habit-shedding results from the move-the-flags/inside hip clear/reverse Heisman drills through an on-snow application of the waist steering principles; (4) oddly enough, the introduction to Tai Chi. I really connected with it, which I didn't expect.

I've been to a lot of other racing clinics and camps, and #1 was never picked up on (other than the generic, you keep getting back), and numbers 2-4 weren't even part of the program.

Anyway, here’s the categorized list of my take-aways:

1. Error correction

1.1 The move that led to most of my profound big time-killing problems in the gates (having to throw the skis sideways to make the next gate) was not getting late because of line choice but rather getting trapped in the back seat when, on right-footed turns to the left, I tried to “juice” the end of the turn by loading the tail, and my skis accelerated ahead leaving me behind. Once I’m trapped there, I’ve got very few options, since I may not even be able to get forward enough to carve a pivot entry turn for the next gate, which I’m getting later and later for as I can’t get into the new turn. Already back on my heels, I can throw them sideways and then re-start in a tuck, but that’s about it.

1.2 The late drop the hammer move, abruptly sinking down late in the turn, particularly on right footed turns, is not actually a good thing. It’s a bad, bad thing.

1.3 Forget Big Counter as the way to tighten the arc to match those ski tracks ahead. As soon as possible. Sooner. Retroactively, even.

1.4 I have a sequential edge change problem—my outside ankle rolls, then my inside one. One of the reasons I ski better in the stubbies may be that when I try to take them out with the top of my inside boot as I pass, I’m actually concentrating on driving my inside knee into the hill without thinking about it that way (my self-diagnosis, maybe hoo-haw). In addition to getting my lateral canting issues solved, one way to address this might be to think about rolling the inside knee/ankle first, as a way of becoming simultaneous (again, my wild stab at a solution.)

2. Mental/Approach Correction:

2.1 I consistently move too suddenly, wanting to slam a change in position like a binary on/off switch, rather than the smooth progressive technique that’s faster. I should “measure it out like gold” moving progressively.

2.2 I consistently try to do too much, going for a more athletic solution rather than a minimalist, efficient one. Unlike most people, I don’t need to get a whole lot more dynamic in my skiing, but rather often less. I would do well to learn efficient, whole ski, two footed skiing rather than fooling around with knee angulation, shoulder rotation, extreme counter, etc.

2.3 There is, actually, more to skiing fast than bending the shovel of the ski early in the turn and having a big edge angle. When and where it’s possible, two-footed skiing using the whole ski is much faster skiing.

2.4 I shouldn’t think of skiing in terms of static positions (skiing into counter, holding counter through the turn, position X in phase Y.) Skiing is an exercise in dynamic balance where we are constantly and progressively moving into the next phase, in dynamic dis-equilibrium that is resolved as we get to and through that next phase. It is a “flow” sport.

3. Brand New Tools:

3.1 When free skiing (it’s too early to integrate into the gates, not until I’ve rubbed it into the muscles with thousands of more turns), that advance the outside hip move is FAST, and it doesn’t seem to carry the freight of my existing bad habits—scissoring from extreme counter, trying to work the tails at the end of the turn to tighten the arc further, dropping the hips late in the turn to try to increase edge angle, not keeping my feet under me. Because it’s about advancing the hip, it actually promotes hips-ahead-of-feet instead of cool-I-can-see-my-heels (*Biff* *Splat* or aaiiee *Pop*).

3.2 Tai Chi is way cool. (Or, to capture the yin and yang of it, both hot AND way cool.)

4. Boot/Canting/Alignment Issues

My boots are holding me back hugely. The left boot is 2 and ½ degrees out, compared with the right, and there’s some ramp-angle-from-hell/heel vs. forefoot from Pluto issue that is complicating my fore-and-aft balance issues. (Uh, thank you SureFoot™. Although, in fairness to them, the body has changed a little since then and they're really a recreational skier solution.) The boot problem is profound and not fixable with any chewing gum/here’s an insert solution. Real solution: email Brent for guidance on what to try on, throw current boots away, get new boots, and see Brent for customizing. ASAP.

5. Self-Diagnosis in the Gates, With Help from the Timing Light

5.1 What’s fast in the gates (given my current boot setup and level of progress) is brushing gates rather than slamming them, being as forward as possible, trying to keep my feet underneath me, and letting the skis flow/glide like water down a twisting stream.

5.2 What’s slow in the gates is having to recover from trying to juice the tails of the skis on right-footed left turns, being back on my heels (especially early in the turn through gate clear) hitting the gates with my helmet, and burying the tip of my left ski in the ramp as I hit the wand. On consecutive runs. Three times. Really must’ve hit too many gates with the head.

5.3 I’ve got pretty good recovery skills, decent balance, and I get pivot entry turns, so that knowledge should give me the confidence to go for it in the race course: I’ve got tools to let me make the next gate and I’ve got tools to get back on line after mistakes. So I shouldn’t be afraid to go for it and to carry as much speed as practical.

5.4 Turny, shorter skis work reasonably well in NASTAR-style courses. I ran Deer Valley on Friday in my most extreme/soft slalom skis, and skied 170cm non-racing skis on the soft snow in the clinic.

6. Some Future Thoughts:

6.1 Despite 2.2 above, I’d like to explore with Gary the screw down/move the flag forward/reverse Heisman drill move combined with a side crunch angulation. There was some discussion here on the forum about it, but in playing around with it free skiing on the flats, I really like how it feels.

6.2 I think I’ll go out and buy a pole plant/pole touch. I do have one somewhere, but it only comes out in crowds (as a turn signal device) on the steeps (as a timing device to launch the turn dynamically) and in extremis, in really turny courses or as a blocking pole plant to go with a big pivot entry turn in slalom. (Sort of like an emergency parachute. Not used except in the most extreme circumstances.) It’s quite possible that even a combination of the online skills video with Bode Miller and a private lesson with a ski instructor who has a racing background could get me much further along with building that into my skiing. I think it would be particularly useful for me, because (1) one of my issues is getting stuck in the back seat at the end of the old turn; (2) I’m still screwing around with knee angulation to generate the necessary edge angle (because I can, not because it’s best) rather than getting that outside leg way out there and straight. To move to getting that leg way out there and straight, I think it will help to have the balance aid of a pole touch.

6.3 Tai chi. It felt great. It may make me a terrific ski racer. Or not. It’ll take months or years to get measurable results on that experiment. In the meantime, though, it’ll improve my balance, my body awareness, my coordination, my core muscle recruitment and my well being, as a moving meditation. The way I’m wired, I like to move and be physical, so a regular sitting meditation practice just doesn’t work for me. I like the feeling of doing and having done yoga, but somehow that’s also not quite my cup of tea. The Tai Chi prescription also matches my geographical situation: I’m 3 hours from the snow and fully employed. For the next ten years or so, I will never ski as much as any of the guys I race against. So having something I can do several times a week away from the hill that makes me better is sort of like a personal prescription for magic ski racing beans. I’m on it. Finally, my wife—who finds Alpine skiing too frightening to really share that passion—would love to enroll in a beginning Tai Chi class with me. What other racing clinic can offer, as a side benefit, improving your marriage?

That’s a huge amount to chew on, but the bottom line is, it was a GREAT camp, by far the best I’ve ever been to, and absolutely inspiring. Thanks again, Gary, Jeff, Brent, Larry, Tommy, Liz and all my fellow campers.

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