Author’s Note : I owe much of the following to a close personal friend. This is wholly my interpretation of his observations, it does not necessarily reflect or deny his views.

In France

In the 1940s/50s France and Austria began competing for increasing skiing tourism. The rivalry was both commercial and political. Each wanted a national “product,” supposedly better than their competitor, that they could differentiate and sell.

At that time, the French believed they had the answer to the question, “What to teach?” They needed a product that trainee ski instructors could be trained to deliver in ski schools.

JCK embodies the French style in 70s Head ad.

Remember that the instructor training systems were nationalized. The Ecole de Ski Francais was a government monopoly. Its name is frequently mistranslated into English, as the “French Ski School” but that is not what it means: it means the School of French Skiing. A product.

They offered the “Rotational Method” which they claimed exemplified the physics involved. What you were to do was to slightly crouch as the “turn” approached, then extend the legs rapidly to unweight the skis, and at the same time rotate your torso in the direction you wanted your skis to go.

This transferred the angular momentum (the twist if you like) of your “upper body” toward the impending new direction, down to the legs and skis. From a physics viewpoint that was “Transference of momentum from part to whole” , your body can only twist so far before it imparts that twist to your legs via your pelvis.

Some of SeniorsSkiing’s respondents to my earlier contributions insisted on this being “the way to ski” and were critical of my introduction of the concept of “arcs” instead of “turns”. Which does not reflect badly on them, but it does illustrate the power of inertia and how susceptible we are to Confirmation Bias.

In Austria

At the time, a leading figure in the Austrian National Ski Instruction System was Prof. Stefan Kruchenhauser. He had been studying, photographing, and filming Austrian racers as they went through the racing gates.

Unlike the French, he observed that as they approached the gate po they turned their shoulders away from the intended “turn” and had their back toward it as the direction change occurred.

Kruckenhauser was a ski photographer as well as a pioneer of the Austrian technique. This photo is by him.

Other writers picked up on this supposedly “New Austrian Technique”, explaining it via Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion (every action has an equal and opposite reaction). It became known as the Counter Rotational Method, conveniently providing a different “product” to that of the French, and endless column inches to the magazine writers.

Because both were governmental, political projects, they each quickly developed their own followers in the ski schools, and woe betide anyone who thought any different. Austrian instructors, attempting to find analogies to help their pupils, began teaching “point your skis across the mountain, and your chest down to the valley.”

In fact, the Austrian racers were not employing Newton’s 3rd Law, they were simply trying to avoid whacking their shoulders into the slalom poles which back then were tree branches cut off the pine trees and bedded very firmly in the snow. Had the good professor filmed his skiers changing direction when not racing round sticks in the ground he would have found they did not “counter rotate”. Be careful what you think you see!

The Austrian concept was exported comprehensively to the USA because Austria provided back then a great many instructors to the newly expanding American ski school industry. The system satisfied ordinary recreational skiers, if it’s making money why change it?

Prof. Georges Joubert.

In late 1960’s early 70’s, Prof Joubert of Grenoble University stood both the French and Austrian instructing methods on their heads. Note that it is academics who are making the discoveries not the ski schools, which simply followed the “official line”, and pretty much did so until their monopolies were broken. Monopolies are not innovators and not good learners.

Still sought after book by French team coach Georges Joubert

What Joubert proved was that racers ski with Independent Leg Action. Racers never skied with their legs together. The legs do NOT act as a single unit. Each rotates independently in its hip socket unless the feet and legs are jammed together, which inhibits such free movement and necessitates throwing your torso about one way or the other.

What this means, and it is very significant indeed, is that the “upper” body is not defined at the waist; it is defined in the pelvis. The leg rotation can be either active or passive, but it happens in the hip socket. There is therefore no need for either the Rotational nor the Counter-Rotational concepts which were not based in physics after all.

To his credit, Prof. Kruchenhauser was one of the first to recognize and adopt this new realization that all that is required is effective balancing (not “balance” which is different and static), accompanied by independent leg rotation with accompanying leg flexion and extension. He called it “Beinspiel” or “leg play”.

Those earlier concepts still facilitate getting folk down skiing pistes, but not in a way that can can now be classified as skillfully. It either matters to you, or it doesn’t. Shakespeare observed “nothing matters, but thinking makes it so”.

It is regrettable that even after 50 years much of the ski school industry has not recognized either the change, or its significance. Though of course, a few have.

[For more thoughts and videos on ski technique, as well as links to Bob’s books, visit https://www.bobski.com/]

10 Comments

  1. Very interesting observations. Never thought of ski teaching as a competition between national agendas, but having lived in Europe in the 50s and 60s, it makes perfect sense. However, Bob left out the nonsense taught in the U.S. when PSIA was all about “final forms.”

    • Marc
      I left out a great deal more nonsense than that! Last time I wrote I got all sorts of criticism for using too MANY words, and told it was boring. Chacun a son gout.
      The key point of this particular article is that skilful expert skiing is not about “styles” or “products”, because the physics of motion dictate that there will always be one ultimate optimum neutral posture.
      Of course, if a person thinks a particular “look” – holding your arms overly wide apart and curved like a gorilla for one example, or jamming your feet together – makes them look good, then a person can do it, it pleases them. It won’t improve their performance though.
      Thanks for your kind feedback.
      Bob

  2. MPaul Hansen says:

    PSIA – overly influenced in the past by a few imposing concepts that have not with-stood the test of time, including Paul Valar and his emphasis on Final Form etc..

    • Dear Paul,
      I don’t know of Valar, but all bureaucratic centralised systems seem to bring in their train the stifling of individual thought, “New Speak”, and peer pressure.
      What was significant in the period my article discussed, was that it was academics not the ski school industry and its instructors who were the agents of change and understanding.
      In that respect from what little I now see, that hasn’t changed.
      I’ve nothing against the PSIA or any of the other instructor training organisations; they do a job as described in my article: it’s a business.
      Thanks for taking part in the discussion
      Best
      Bob T

  3. The best skier on the mountain is always the one with the biggest smile.

  4. Richard Kavey says:

    Your spot on about the French and Austrian systems as marketing tools back in the day. The US and Canada had their own marketing system ski schools. Counter rotation was not entirely bs – and in a traverse it allowed powerful edge grip then and now. I dare you to traverse a steep icy slope at high speeds without doing this.

    Warren Witherills book How The Racers Ski turned a lot of heads in the US but Joubert’s book was a tsunami. Both of these books used motor drives of great skiers to illustrate what was being done. The capstone book was by Olle Larsson (who studied w Joubert at U of Grenoble) and James Major, World Cup Ski Technique. This book used extensive motor drives of the then best skiers in the world. It used basic bioanatomical terms from medicine to describe movement and convincingly showed that all the best skiers skied the same way w very minor variations probably due to different body shapes. Ron LeMaster has continued Olle’s work. If you go to the web Ron as wonderful motor drive posts from the World Cup. Ron’s book is filled w great motor drives and text. The text is perhaps a bit more dense than necessary.

    • Dear Richard,
      Thank you for your participation. I don’t understand what “motor drives” are: I have not encountered the phrase before.

      Your observation about “counter rotation” during a travers is however I would suggest a bit off the mark; though one cannot but admire your daring at traversing steep icy slopes at high speed. I do wonder though whether traversing them at low speed might require even better technique.

      The idea of “counter rotation” concerned the twisting of the upper body from the waist. It required having your skis jammed together. Doing so will neither enhance nor diminish the ski’s resistance to slipping sideways, though it will certainly inhibit effective balancing.

      What will enhance “grip” is making sure the ski – especially the downhill one – is tilted laterally, and simultaneously ensuring that the uphill edge of the ski TIP is doing its job

      The idea of “counter rotation” is often introduced by a mistaken interpretation of what the observer thinks they see. This is because, optimally, at all times the front plane of the pelvis should be oriented directly toward the instantaneous direction of momentum. Which of course is always a tangent of the arc being performed, or in the case of a traverse the arc that would develop if allowed to.
      Best
      Bob T

  5. And then, there is the matter of changing ski technology. You ski today’s skis differently because they are shaped differently and turn differently from what people used in the 40s, 50s, 60s, etc. I’m not an instructor or even all that good so I can’t explain it but I’m figuring someone that reads this newsletter can. All I know is that when the modern skis were created, I could suddenly ski after decades of frustrating snow plows. A lot of the folks who read this newsletter are experts. Not everyone is a natural on the snow and that certainly applied to me. What finally got me good enough to ski blacks was orthotics and modern skis.

    • Dear Yvette
      Thank you for joining in.

      Modern skis make skiing a whole lot easier as you’ve said.

      One of the key elements in why they do this and not the only ones by any means are the changes in materials technology.

      Way back when skis were made of wood, and for some time after, the only way to inhibit the dreaded torsional twisting was to make the entire unit stiff. So to get it stiff torsionally, you had no choice but to make it stiff longitudinally.

      New materials changed all that. Now you have skis that are longitudinally flexible, while torsionally stiff.

      You describe yourself as “not all that good”, but if you’re skiing blacks you’re not “all that bad” either ! Enjoy !

      Regards
      Bob T

  6. Jack Nixon says:

    Bob ask a camera pro, or just a film camera user what a motor drive is. For simplicity (as I’m a simple person) a motor drive permits a camera shutter to snap open and closed rapidly to film a sequence of still photos that reveal, for instance, the split second actions that result in a ski turn.

    As to the PSIA, the very first of their manuals I read back in the 60’s, or was it the late 50’s? was the result of an effort to establish a common method and sequence of ski instruction so that a skier could progress thru the learning process in an orderly manner whether taking a lesson in Vermont or Colorado. Final forms grew out of that and wasn’t a bad concept to many instructors and skiers at the time.

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