By Steve Trout, 2007.

Contemporary ski technology has afforded both instructors and students the opportunity of experiencing the pleasure and exhilaration of dynamic carved turns. When it comes to teaching skiing however, there exists widespread student misunderstandings relating to carving versus skidding, and many instructors appear to be making assumptions that inadvertently lead to unsatisfactory lessons.

The background

During the 16 years since the introduction of carving ski technology, I have realized that I was having the same conversation repeatedly with my Level 4, 5 and 6 students. When inquiring what they wanted to work on during the lesson, the reply was often “I want to learn to get better at carving”. However upon further questioning, they would also say that they had real difficulty controlling their speed, or that they turned to slow down or control their speed. When asked why they want to carve, many replied that “the shop sold me these skis because they’re for carving,” or “my instructor or friends all said you are supposed to carve.” This is the point where the lesson begins. The first thing we begin to talk about are the things that actually allow us to control our speed as well as the things we do to get the skis to accelerate or maintain speed. In other words; carving versus skidding.

There are basically two things that can cause skis to slow down or keep from accelerating; gravity and friction. If we try to ski uphill, our skis will slow down and stop because of gravity’s pull. If we get the skis to skid sideways across the snow this creates friction, because the sharp steel edges (with our weight on them) are scraping across the surface. If we want the skis to maintain speed or accelerate, then we tip them on a higher edge angle which will not allow them to skid, so they will maintain speed across the hill and accelerate down the hill.

The theory of steering

This is the point when I start talking about steering. When we steer our skis we blend the correct amount of edging, pressuring, and rotation, to point the skis where we want to go. In order to be able to rotate the ski it can’t be on too high an edge or you can’t turn it. When we rotate the ski, the tips and tails rotate around our leg, and when this happens the tails are skidding slightly outside our feet, and the tips inside, not because we pushed them, but because we rotated our legs. This skidding causes the skis to slow down. The friction created by the edges also causes the ski to go where we point it. So if we learn to steer our skis correctly, we can control direction and speed with one movement; steering. If we want to use gravity as well, we can steer the skis back up the hill.

This discussion will start at the meeting sign and can continue quite easily on the chair and right onto the hill. This time can be well spent ascertaining and perhaps clarifying their understanding of what carving is and what it will or can achieve, as well as developing a clearer picture of where the student wants to go. An assessment of their current skiing ability allows for negotiation and development of the lesson plan.

Now, if the student does understand what carving is all about we can take them through a carving progression instead of a Christie (guided skid) Progression. One other point that we might want to make at this time is this that everything we learn in the Christie Progression is needed to make us better at carving, i.e. accurate alignment, two-footed steering, simultaneous edge release etc. So there really isn’t much of a carve or skid controversy; good skiers do both when needed.

The instructor’s perspective

This brings us to the second part of this discussion. As an examiner in the PSIA I have done a lot of interviews with instructors going for various certification levels. In the exam the candidate watches a video interview of a real student, during which the students are asked what their goal is for the lesson, how much experience they have, what they like to ski etc. One of the key questions that gets asked is, “why do you turn?” Many of the Level 4,5,6 student’s stated goal is to carve better, for all the same reasons stated earlier. However later on in the interview, when asked why they turn, they reply that they turn to slow down or control their speed.

This is the point at which many instructors get into trouble. During the interview the first thing they hear is that the student wants to learn to carve. Often before the interview is even half over the instructor is planning a high end carving progression for a student who actually wants to be able to go more slowly without working so hard. Because they heard ‘carve’, they make an assumption that the student knows what a carved turn is, and what it does, without verifying the assumption through more questions. In the interview, the candidate is expected to formulate questions that would identify any misunderstandings, such as whether the skier really wants to carve or Christie. If the candidate does not verify the assumption made about the carving through accurate questions, they are unable to successfully pass the teaching part of the exam, even if they teach a great carving progression. This repeated observation of candidates making this carving assumption made me begin to wonder if the same thing is going on in real lessons. I began talking to a lot of students to see if this is happening, and there is a lot of evidence that it is happening – much more than it should be.

So my suggestion to all instructors, especially those just beginning their career, is when finding out the students goal for the lesson, make no assumptions about the students true goal or understanding of their goal, without asking further questions to verify that both of you know exactly what the student wants. Particularly the question, “why do you turn?” This will lead to much more clear and accurate lessons and many more happy students.