Written by Rupert Tildesley
NET Team member and BASI Demo Team demonstrator at Interski 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019
Funny how things change.
When I was (quite a bit) younger, I had a book called ‘Ski the French Way’, a glossy hardback published by Peter Stuyvesant Travel. A book full of suave, coiffured, Stuyvesant smoking, sun-tanned French ski instructors for whom the overriding goal was to ensure there was no way a playing card could be inserted between your knees and for whom edge angle was a futuristic concept. Pretty cool stuff if you are a 10-year-old who goes on a ski holiday once a year. This was more than just national stereotyping, this was their way and they were proud of it. At that time every nation had their ‘way’ and a fanatical allegiance to it.
Fast forward 20 years or so to the first Interski Congress I attended in 2003 in Crans Montana and, whilst the national ‘ways’ had been watered down somewhat, they were still very much in evidence – the Italians still skied with a much narrower stance than everyone else, the Argentinians had a short turn that involved a suck-up style compression during the transition that every team member performed perfectly in time and the Slovenians inclined the whole body to achieve all of their edge angles and the upper half followed the lower half wherever it went in all sizes of turn without a shred of rotary separation.
However, a softening of approaches and a willingness to take on board some of the ideas of other nations were starting to emerge. At one technical workshop given by the French, there were two skiers in the group of an extremely high level, the first was a 21-year-old French skier called Greg who had just won the ISIA championships in GS and who used huge amounts of rotary and lateral separation. The second was a Slovenian whose name I can’t remember, but he looked fast just standing still and when he moved he didn’t use any separation in any plane. At all.
Both men were inspiring skiers to watch, but whose ‘way’ was the best? They were clearly so different in their approach, there surely had to be an answer to this. I asked Nicolas Zoll, the ENSA trainer who was leading the session for his thoughts. His reply was that there were no specific inputs that the French trainers were after in performance skiing, and that differences in movements amongst very high-level skiers could often be attributed to physical differences, but what counted was efficiency and a balanced and strong outcome. This may sound fairly sensible and mainstream in today’s terms but 15 years ago this was still embryonic thinking. It was a departure from the ‘French way’ that had existed just 20 years earlier and a much more progressive approach.
So what brought this about?
My personal feeling is that the Interski Congress has a lot to do with this. As an exchange of ideas on a massive scale that doesn’t stop with that week but carries on for the years until the next one, each nation is forced to examine their approach in the light of others and taking on board the best bits of other nation’s systems is not theft of intellectual property – it is to be embraced. Which is why BASI’s contribution is as vital as its attendance, to ensure we are involved with this two-way process.
As an example of this ‘nicking the greatest hits’ from other nations after that 2003 Interski Congress, subsequent editions of the French Memento (manual) started to feature a central concept called ‘Les Elements Fondamenteaux’ (wonder where they got that from….?) and in subsequent Interski Congresses the synergy between skiers and the way they performed grew more and more similar, to the extent that if everyone at Interski wore the same suit in Pamporovo in March 2019, you would struggle to tell them apart. The chat around ‘The Austrians do this……the Americans do that….’ has largely gone.
That’s not quite true actually, the Japanese would still be unmistakable by their fondness of short turns and complex choreography, the Italians will be a teeny bit narrower in their stance than most and the French will likely not be there at all (but that’s a different story).
So we are all sorted then?
There is certainly a good case for saying that divergence and disagreements around the best technical paths to follow are considerably fewer and most national systems model their technical progressions around the principles of strength, balance and efficiency that trickles down from racing and the strong nations rather than a stylistic ‘way’, however that is only half the story.
Coaching and instructing are art forms of their own, and getting your message across so that it helps get the most from the whole spectrum of performers is the subject of a whole different blog post. But suffice it to say that there are still national ‘ways’ that exist on the best teaching route to get to technical perfection even if the end goal is similar. There are many cultural and social reasons behind what forms a teaching progression beyond just having a good understanding of the subject matter, but we can all still learn from other nations. Hence the need to keep the exchange of ideas going.
Long may it last, it would be boring if we were all the same…..