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Finding "the Flow" of Skiing

vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#1
Every year, someone here loses their enthusiasm for skiing. Some post about it; some do not. I've been dealing with this myself for a couple of years.

When I think of skiing, it's about flow. Imagine a leaf that has fallen onto a stream. The leaf moves with the stream ... it is not part of the stream and yet it shares the stream's flow. By contrast, imagine a pinball machine. Like the leaf, the ball is moving. Sometimes the ball is moving slowly, predictably. But the ball hits things and rebounds off of them ... sometimes into a whole different direction ... sometimes at a speed that maybe wasn't what we expected. I want my skiing to be more like the leaf flowing with the stream. For a couple of years now, I've been more like that pinball. Skiing has been frustrating. Instead of being a pleasure, it has been a struggle. I have not been able to work through the difficulties. The analyst and planner in me developed a plan for fixing it.

Some interesting things have surfaced as I've started down this path. I plan to post my experience in this thread. Perhaps it will help someone else who is struggling to not feel alone amidst all the stoke or help them devise their own plan for improvement. Perhaps it will provide drills that an instructor or a student might try. I'm at the beginning of this journey, so I don't know where I'll be at the end of the season.


Background: I started skiing at age 50 and have had two season-ending injuries, a proximal tibia fracture and ACL damage (slow, backwards fall), and a horribly sprained ankle and strain of everything from knee to ankle on both legs (bindings not releasing). After the second injury, any confidence I had was replaced by self-doubt. I have spent a couple of seasons trying to get back, skill-wise, to the level 5/6 I was skiing at. But something is missing in my skiing. Progress has been slow and frustrating. Performance and Confidence are much like Chicken and Egg.

The plan: I decided last season that I'd spend this season at Loveland and get their 3-Class Pass ... 3 group lessons should get me heading down the right path.

Next Up: Lesson One
 

vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#2
[Loveland's 3-Class Pass provides 2.5-hour group lessons]

Lesson 1: 2 intermediate students, each about 60 years old. Instructor who usually teaches beginner children; uncertified, may be a 1st year instructor based on things he said. The skills and drills were things that are taught somewhere around a level 3 lesson. Suffice it to say, I learned nothing. I don't fault the instructor; he was assigned to intermediate adults. The ski school should have known better and done better.

I called the Ski School Director the next day to ask "what do I need to do differently in order to get a qualified instructor?" I was prepared to request a refund back to the cost of a midweek season pass and forgo any further lessons. The SSD and I talked about the instructor-group mismatch. I was told I should tell the lineup supervisor that I need a certified instructor. The SSD also credited the lesson back on my pass.

At this point, I was back to Square One. Skiing was not improved. Lesson was a waste of time. And I didn't feel I could trust the ski school. My mind was still on "how do I fix this?" It felt futile. The soul-searching began. Do I even want to ski? Yes. Do I want to continue skiing, perhaps indefinitely, at the level I was at? No, I would rather quit skiing. If I quit now, how will I feel when the snow starts falling next season? Hmmm.

In the end, I decided I would give it the rest of this season plus next season to work things out. But the plan I had was failing. The question became: what am I willing to do to fix this? I sat down and listed all the lessons I had taken, post-novice, and marked the ones that were productive. That showed me that typical group lessons didn't help me. The productive lessons were group or private, taught by high-level or very experienced mid-level instructors. I am a technique freak and I have to hear, see, and process the information before I can execute it.

I listed some options:
  • Group lessons at a local mountain every time I went there ... seems like more crapshooting
  • Travel to multiple ski clinics with high-level instructors
  • Travel to an instructor I've had success with for either an extended period of time or make multiple trips
  • Taos Ski Week(s) ... instructors sound good, but its steep pitches are not really compatible with my need to work on basic techniques, unless they are willing to hold class in the parking lot
But I have the summer to figure that out. I was going to proceed with Loveland's group lessons and see what I could get from those.


Next Up: Lesson 1, Do Over
 

vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#3
Lesson 1, Do Over: 2 intermediate students, both conservative skiers, the other woman was late 30s. Certified instructor, name tag included "Instructor Trainer". I thought, "Yay! He's going to have a lot of experience." Immediately followed by, "Oh, crap ... what am I in for?"

Before the lesson started, we talked about what we wanted to accomplish. I gave Bruce, the instructor, the 30-second version of my story and told him that one of my big problems is my turns -- they are sloppy, the skis slip, I don't have the control I need to be confident in my turns.

Bruce started teaching en route to the lift line -- Do you know how to skate? Here's how you do it. Practice skating whenever you're on flat ground and it'll get easier. Do you warm up? (I told him I don't do warm-up exercises, but always do a warm-up run on a green trail. I think I passed.)

Bruce reminded me of another instructor I'd had -- Stu, @gardenmary's coach, at SnowBasin. Halfway through the lesson, on the lift, I asked about his experience. Bruce has been teaching skiing for 42 years. He is certified at L3 and has begun working and testing for Examiner. The 2.5 hours with him was amazing. There was no step-by-step, page-by-page teaching. It was all based on movement analysis in present time, plus decades of experience teaching intermediate skiers.

Things We Did:

1) Focus Further Down the Hill

At the beginning of the lesson, each of us claimed to look 3 or more turns down the hill.

We started the drill on the beginner hill. (All lessons at Loveland, intermediate and below, start at the beginner hill.) Starting at the top of the run, look at the building at the base (about 1200' away) and ski down without taking our eyes off the building.

I'm not sure what this did. Everything I have read indicates this leads to longer, more sweeping turns. But there's more to it..

After a couple of runs down the beginner hill, we took the shuttle over to the main mountain to ski regular green trails.


2) Bring My Skis Closer Together

I have a narrow stance, compared to how I was taught. Bruce told me to narrow it more. He did not tell me how narrow. He simply said "hip width". Instructors have always said that, plus "athletic stance" and even "18 inches apart". I now envision it as being closer to a natural stance ... certainly not 18 inches apart, unless I start mooing. I don't know how close I put my skis. I just went by feel and kept reminding myself to keep them close.

We then did a couple of drills, combining keeping my skis closer together and focusing way down the hill. At one point, Bruce stationed himself down the hill and told us to focus on him as we skied down. He would lower his pole to the snow and we were to count the taps. I focused my eyes like lasers on his ski pole.

The next section of the trail, we focused on a distant tree. This run was almost magical. By the time we were halfway down the trail, Bruce said "Wow! Doing this (focus farther down the hill and keep skis closer together), your parallel turns are perfect." What did I feel? Solid, consistent turns, left and right. No slipping. No slop. No wobble. The skis flowing together, at speed (for me). I had already gotten my money's worth from this lesson.

We rode up the lift. Bruce skied ahead of us. I asked, "which run are we doing?" Bruce said, "down around the corner", meaning Mambo. BOOM! Instantly, my head was playing

Down around the corner, half a mile from here
See them long trains run, and you watch them disappear
Without love, where would you be now
Without lo-o-o-ove
(Long Train Runnin' by The Doobie Brothers)​

and I was bouncing down the cat track.

This was a Huge moment. When I am skiing and someone says words and the song flashes into my head, it is the surest sign that I am in "the flow" with skiing. This has happened occasionally since I was an advanced beginner skier. And it has happened only with skiing. And it always means I'm having an exceptional day.

In practice, I can now do the little back and forth swishy turns on cat tracks. I have never been able to do that ... I was always in some amount of wedge. [It seems to make sense. If my feet are too far apart, the pressure shifts to the inside of my feet which pressures the inside edges of my skis. I have played with this some at home now too ... stand with my feet farther apart and feel where the pressure is, bend my knees with my knees pointed in front of me and feel where the pressure is, bend my knees with my knees pointed out toward my feet and feel where the pressure is. More experimenting to come, I'm sure.]

3) Stance

Then Bruce talked about stance -- weight resting just behind the ball of the foot, ankles and knees flexed, and then bending slightly forward. My torso is more upright. It's a deliberate change I made to try to solve some other problem. Bringing the chest forward, we engage the core slightly, which makes us more stable and better able to move in response to the snow.

Looking at Bruce from the side, his eyes are well in front of his bindings. Since I have no side view of myself, I am going to use the reminder from Rusty, a former instructor at Whitetail in PA ... "Tony knows" ... toe-knee-nose should be aligned. If I look down and see my knees, but not the front of my boots, I need to come forward.

Hands should be forward and held up. Holding the hands up also helps engage the core.

A more forward stance is something I need to get more comfortable with. Every little bit of extra lean is going to help keep my weight and pressure on the front of the skis.

The day after the lesson, I felt some soreness at my hips and a little something in the abs. After a practice day, I didn't feel anything like that. I haven't 'gotten' this yet. I need to identify key checkpoints or something that will help me assess my alignment. I'll also be watching Ursula and @Skisailor's demo of this again. And again.

4) Upper/Lower Separation

In addition to skis closer together and focusing further down the hill, we stretched our arms out to the sides (so we were T-shaped) and let our poles point down to the snow. We skied, keeping our shoulders facing the target. With no arm movement and no pole planting, the turns felt as if my legs were like windshield wipers, swishing back and forth.

Bruce talked about pretending there are lights on our chests that we want to shine on the path down the hill.

The downside to this drill was that our bodies were very upright. I practiced this just as we did in class, but I will work on this with a more forward stance just to try to ingrain more of the changes.

During practice, trying to be more forward and let my legs do the rotating, I had a feeling of leading with my collarbone. It may be that's the body part I am most aware of in that position and can serve as my cue. (It could also be a cue that my stance is bad! We'll see.)

5) Hockey Stops

Ski down, turn the skis sideways and pressure them, but keep the torso facing downhill.

I've done this before, but have gotten lazy about it. I realized after the lesson that I always turn the skis to the left. I need to work on the other side. A hockey stop is for a fast stop. It's not going to be very fast if I have to execute a full turn in the other direction THEN do a hockey stop.


For the end of the last run, we went down a short blue trail. I had been on this trail before -- it was a skier-made mogul field. The day of the lesson, it was a groomed but slightly cut up run. I tried applying everything we had gone over. Some of my technique fell apart as I watched and waited for a mogul to jump up and grab my skis.

After the lesson, I talked with Bruce about private lessons. When I finish the 3 group classes on my pass, I will start working with him.


Next Up: Lesson 2
 

vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#4
Lesson 2: 6 students, ranging from a 4th-day-on-skis to me. Instructor, certified at L1. After a couple of runs, the instructor said I could switch to the Advanced class on the main mountain. With no idea of what the Advanced class was working on and needing to shuttle over there, I opted to stay with the intermediates. Bad decision. Again, I learned nothing. It was a step up from independent practice in that I had an instructor watching my form. Doing the little back and forth swishy turns on the cat track, he told me I had good form. Yay, a long-standing problem solved!


Over the course of these group lessons, I learned that Loveland offers lesson upgrades. I can upgrade my remaining class to a 3-hour private lesson for an extra $125. Or I could stay with group lessons and sign up for an Advanced class for the final one. Instead of risking another bad matchup, I'm going to do the upgrade and start private lessons with Bruce. It's going to be a couple of weeks before we can start, but I have plenty of research and on-hill practice to do from the group lesson I had with him.


Now I'm thinking ... we covered so much in 2.5 hours with 2 students. What's a 3-hour private lesson going to be like? Sheesh. I'm going to look and feel like Jenny did at Taos!
 

BMR

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#6
Wow, thank you for this account, I really enjoyed reading it. Please share more as you keep going. I especially like the “lead with your collarbone” analogy. I once caught myself thinking in a similar way, lead with the opposite shoulder, and it helped for a moment. I need to try that again. Stubborn body just doesn’t always listen (much like my almost teenager ).
 

Jenny

Angel Diva
#7
Lesson 2: 6 students, ranging from a 4th-day-on-skis to me. Instructor, certified at L1. After a couple of runs, the instructor said I could switch to the Advanced class on the main mountain. With no idea of what the Advanced class was working on and needing to shuttle over there, I opted to stay with the intermediates. Bad decision. Again, I learned nothing. It was a step up from independent practice in that I had an instructor watching my form. Doing the little back and forth swishy turns on the cat track, he told me I had good form. Yay, a long-standing problem solved!


Over the course of these group lessons, I learned that Loveland offers lesson upgrades. I can upgrade my remaining class to a 3-hour private lesson for an extra $125. Or I could stay with group lessons and sign up for an Advanced class for the final one. Instead of risking another bad matchup, I'm going to do the upgrade and start private lessons with Bruce. It's going to be a couple of weeks before we can start, but I have plenty of research and on-hill practice to do from the group lesson I had with him.


Now I'm thinking ... we covered so much in 2.5 hours with 2 students. What's a 3-hour private lesson going to be like? Sheesh. I'm going to look and feel like Jenny did at Taos!
Other Divas did NOT see that particular picture @vickie!
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#9
@vickie : Thanks for sharing your experience in detail! Have to say that once I started having lessons with very experienced PSIA Level 3 instructors at Massanutten and destination resorts, it made a huge difference in my willingness to pay for private lessons or semi-private lessons with friends so that I could choose an instructor by name.

Hope you'll consider a Taos Ski Week in the future. There really are Ski Weeks for skiers who are only comfortable on greens, as well as only blue groomers (no bumps). The green/easy blue groups are often the smaller groups. Have even seen a solo Ski Week for a green skier. Although I think by the end of this season you'll be far beyond that.
 

Kimmyt

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#10
I'm glad you seem to be making more progress, I agree having the right instructor helps so much. Here is a question for you, because your posts are so detailed in regards to the things you need to be doing- are you thinking of all of these things technique-wise while you are skiing? If so, did you notice that during the run where you 'felt the flow' you didn't have this constant dialogue? I have a vague theory that getting to be a good skier with flow relates to having the ability to internalize all that dialogue about technique and essentially shut off the brain and just allow the body to perform the movements you've practiced previously. Would you say that this is what happened on those runs where you felt so good?
 

vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#11
Are you willing to pay for a private lesson? What about our own @KatyPerrey .

Also I would make sure you get 1st, a certified instructor and 2nd a high level one. Ask, don't settle.
Yes, to private lessons. From this point forward, my lessons with Bruce will all be 2- or 3-hour private lessons.

Katy is on my list. She teaches at Keystone which is on the Epic pass. If I get Epic next season, I plan to reach out to Katy about lessons.

When it comes to private lessons, I am not compromising. If a SSD won't give me what I want, I'll go somewhere else. (One of the perks of retirement!) Private lessons cost way too much to settle.
 
#14
Yes, to private lessons. From this point forward, my lessons with Bruce will all be 2- or 3-hour private lessons.
Would it be possible to schedule for 2 hours with the option of extending for another 30-60 minutes? Of course, the instructor has to have the extra time available. That's what I've done a few times for my Alta coach. What usually has happened for the extra time is spent exploring new terrain and getting tips on relevant tactics more than any explicit work on technique.
 

vickie

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#19
Here is a question for you, because your posts are so detailed in regards to the things you need to be doing- are you thinking of all of these things technique-wise while you are skiing? If so, did you notice that during the run where you 'felt the flow' you didn't have this constant dialogue?
On that particular run, I had two things to work on -- skis closer together and focus on a distant target. Before I started, I locked my eyes onto the target. There was no more thinking about that. As I skied, I did assess and remind myself about keeping my skis closer together. So there was really only one topic in my head. The label I have for what I was doing on that run is "hyperfocus", but in a general sense, not the clinical use of the word.

When we skied the short blue section, I was juggling multiple topics in my head. It was kind of like herding cats. And had about the same success rate.

So the short answer is ... No, I can't be thinking about all those details when I'm skiing. I'd go nuts. The details are for couch-skiing.

I have a vague theory that getting to be a good skier with flow relates to having the ability to internalize all that dialogue about technique and essentially shut off the brain and just allow the body to perform the movements you've practiced previously. Would you say that this is what happened on those runs where you felt so good?
I don't disagree with your theory, but I'm not sure it can account for what happened in the lesson. Everything I was doing was new, so I wasn't drawing on muscle memory or previous experience, per se. [*] But ... that intense focus did shut out everything else. So your vague theory and my vague thoughts are kind of running along the same path!

* I did a hypnotherapy session on skiing last year. One portion of it was visualization of skiing -- and flowing. Studies have shown that mental practice can be just as effective as physical practice of an activity.

At the end of the lesson with Bruce, we talked about practice. He emphasizes "ingraining" movements -- very much what you're referring to in letting the body do what it has practiced and letting the mind be quiet.
 

Tvan

Angel Diva
#20
@vickie - this is a great account. It’s hitting home for me. I’m not having a great season myself due to a few factors. Thank you for sharing your journey. I may consider a focused approach myself next season.
 
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