The Perils of Dogma in Skiing, the Perils of Dogma in Life

Ru G

Dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” 

I remember an argument that two industry friends had about skiing. It is not the theme of the argument I particularly recall- perhaps it was about the use of lower leg versus hip in a turn, or the adjustments to technique needed when skiing the sand dunes of Namibia. The way things were argued was memorable. I remember a vehemence of conviction from both sides. More menacing, I recollect a mutual unwillingness to contemplate the possibility of being wrong. What started as a chat over a brew escalated to a verbal brawl, into personal attacks on each other’s skiing and personal hygiene. I could not help but see an allegory here: dogma leads to anger and fanaticism, as the world daily and bloodily attests.

Let’s ride this conceit back to skiing. Having principles alone is not dogmatic. As ski coaches, we probably all have a set of principles we wittingly or unconsciously purvey. Some may call these techniques. Others more may call these skills. But even the skill-based agnostics have their favourite skills to impart. We have biomechanics at hand, Newtonic laws to apply. We are experts at specifying tasks and exacting outcomes. The sport is not as open as some would perceive. I don’t know many people who set off without any intent at all when they ski: most will choose to turn, some may even choose a rounded turn that promotes ski performance and its accompanying delicious sensations. We would be flaky coaches to have no beliefs on skiing. It is the notion that these principles are incontrovertibly true, however, that defines the dogmatist, and stands in the way of imagination.

As a world-weary pragmatist, I have spent my ski career siding up to certain things that work for me and appear to work for students, only to listen, discuss, engage and argue with colleagues around the globe, and cherry pick new things. I do not forget or forsake my old notions, merely add to them. I will share an example below, focusing on Long Turns.

Build

I used to actively incline at the top of the turn, to create extreme space between skis and Centre of Mass. I became very good at the white-pass turn.

I am now more focused on establishing edges when on top of the ski by articulating the feet, ankles and legs, particularly on a longer radius ski. As such I changed a gross movement of the mass down the hill and away from the skis to a subtler movement with the ski and towards the work phase.

I would not stop coaching a white-pass turn to develop the skill of using old lateral separation to beget extreme early angles into the new turn, or indeed to prolong a light feeling for a slight smudge were that my intent.

Work

I used to focus on equal edge angles and aligned shins.

Now I accept that to use a greater range of hip laterally, it will be hard for the inside knee to point overly inside the turn.

Some may use too much hip in the build phase and so counter the hips in the work phase, making a focus on aligned shins a viable one.

Release

I used to focus rotational separation towards the fall-line which helped me create an extreme throw down the hill.

Now I try and line my shoulders towards the work phase (apex) of the next turn, sometimes even using a swing of the arms to move me early to the new outside ski before an edge change.

I have begun to overdo this and probably need to focus on more rotational separation as I square up too much and lose energy out of the turn!

Now the above is merely a distilled example of my own process, and a process that I relate, hopefully without bias, to students. Nothing above is right. Nothing is wrong. I still practise and preach what I did, as well as what I’m changing. I am merely exploring more pathways, being curious, and fighting against simplification. If I had a dogma, I could not be curious, and coaching skiing would be rather stale.

Interski is a congress, a place for discussion. As with all discussions, whether the existential ones about skiing or the trivial ones about religion, it’s not how passionate our views are or how robustly we defend them that we should be weary of, it is about how open we are to revision and others changing our minds. It is about engaging.

Ru G perf 3

5 Comments

Tim

Nice piece, love the way your attitude has developed as has your interpretation of what should or indeed should not be done. There is no right or wrong we must simply use our experience to find the most appropriate way to get our students to feel the same sensations as us and to learn how to get the best out of the ski. Have a great time at Inerski

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Dave Cuthill

Hey Rupert
I concur. I’m skiing in Morzine this week, and it’s reassuring to read your path of progress and change. I’m definitely focusing on the release on to the

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Dave Cuthill

uphill edge of the inside ski, followed by a projection along the top ski, with roll and early inside edge as it picks up.
It works. I was teaching this to a basic swing class, and they amazed me by beginning to ski parallel without any comment or mention of parallel. We developed this by using human slalom.

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John Gillies

Hi Rupert, well said… The answer is in the blues… “Before you ‘cuse me, take a look a yourself” .
Cheers
John

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