The Freedom of the snow fields beckons with this second lesson of the series on the new shortswing technique by Willy Schaeffler, Denver University ski coach and head of the ski school at Arapahoe Basin. Three weeks ago on these pages Willy showed 17 living room exercises to prepare you for the supple heel thrust and reverse shoulder turns in this new method. Now he shows under actual skiing conditions how the shortswing really works.
To assist with the demonstrations, Willy drafted Mrs. Vernon (Ann) Taylor, wife of one of Denver's leading businessmen. Ann is an accomplished skier in the shoulder-rotating Arlberg technique. But after one day with Willy she was converted to the new method. On the second day, she mastered the basic movements up through the stem turn. Any advanced intermediate can catch on as quickly as Ann. Beginners will probably take longer, but by using the teaching aids that Willy and Ann show on the following pages, they will be able to learn more easily and with more pleasure than with any other system of skiing.
Old downhill position has deeper knee bend, strong forward lean from hips, hands low. Poles are short, since skier using either French or Arlberg crouch is close to the snow.
New downhill position is upright, with only slight flexing of knees, ankles; no hip bend, hands above waist. Poles are four inches longer to help keep skier erect, should reach within hand's breadth of armpit.
In the shortswing, the basic maneuver, from which all other moves develop, is the traverse, in which the skier moves diagonally across the slope. And the basic position is the striking new comma, shown below. In the comma, the downhill shoulder is pulled back and the weight is on the downhill ski. The upper body is over the skis, with the hips, knees and ankles curved toward the slope. This idea of beginning with the traverse is a direct departure from the Arlberg method, which starts from the snow plow. It differs, too, from the French method, which builds from a traverse but keeps the shoulders squared and demands a powerful forward lean at the knees and hips. In the comma, by contrast, the upper body is loose, relaxed, ready to move with subtle, rhythmic motions rather than powerful swings.
Learning comma, Ann gets her downhill shoulder back, but keeps hips, knees locked in incorrect straight-on position. Willy has body curved in correct comma. Heavy lines dramatize difference between shortswing and other traverse techniques.
Ankle touch while moving in traverse helps skier to keep shoulder back, body flexible. As exercise shows in Nov. 25 issue, skier with squared shoulders is able to reach only to knee.
Perfect comma on a flat surface shows knees, ankles together so skis form single unit. On slope, skier should look ahead, advance upper ski two to four inches.
Lifting uphill Ski forces weight onto the downhill ski, upper body leaning out over slope. Natural reaction on steep hill is to lean toward slope, danger√≤us in fall since shoulders will hit while skis are still planted in snow, causing a bad twist.
The next step in the shortswing is the side-slip, a practical way for any novice to come down a hill and a good way for anyone to practice the all-important business of edge control, i.e., the angle at which your skis bite into the slope during a traverse. Like every shortswing maneuver, it begins and ends with the comma, with a minimum of motion in between. For the side-slip, in fact, there is no new movement beyond an unweighting of the skis through a downward motion, and a releasing of the uphill edges that allows you to go into a controlled slide.
Two-pole push is good way for beginner to learn side-slip. Stand in comma position on side of hill, hold poles together as shown, and push against the slope. As you bend knees and hips to put pressure on poles, skis become unweighted and you start to side-slip. Poles act as brace to prevent fall into slope when skis first begin to slide.
Side-slip begins with Willy in traverse position (1). To start side-slip he unweights skis by bending knees and hips down and farther toward slope in exaggeration of comma, at same time easing grip of uphill edges on snow by slight outward turn of the ankles (2). By accentuating comma bend, Willy keeps upper body out over skis, thus correcting natural tendency to lean into slope when edges let go, upsetting balance and causing skis to chatter or slide out from under you. To stop side-slip, Willy downweights again, then returns to modified comma, rolling edges back (3) until skis lake hold. If skis will not slide easily at first, try exercises shown at left and right.
Parallel poles placed across front of torso show how hips, shoulders must be kept in same plane during side-slip and traverse. Skiers trying shortswing for first time often move downhill shoulder forward, twisting body off balance, breaking comma and forcing upper body in toward the slope.
Half side-slip, graduate version of straight side-slip, is excellent exercise in edge control, besides being quick, easy way to make diagonal descent. Skier, moving in fast traverse, releases edges as shown in figures 1, 2 and 3. As edges let go, forward motion makes skis carve diagonal path through snow with upper edges brushing snow as in advanced turns to come.
Patterns on snow show paths of skis during straight sideslip (left) and half side-slip. In straight side-slip, Willy moves slowly, stops, side-slips, moves on. In half side-slip he skims across slope in one continuous move, stopping only when he has reached bottom.
Push and Catch is good confidence builder for side-slip since skis cannot run away. Plant one pole just above uphill ski, other pole downhill. Push with uphill pole. Skis will slide, stop at downhill pole.
Split push is good side-slip aid in heavy snow or in steep narrow gullies where the skier has no room to maneuver. Plant both poles uphill, one at each end of skis, release edges and push to start side-slip.
THE FIRST TURN
There are only two ways a skier can turn—in toward the slope or out toward the fall line, the line of steepest descent down a hill. Your first shortswing turn, shown below and at right, is toward the slope—a nice, safe way to go, and one that takes very little effort. Starting in a traverse, and using the edge control and unweighting by downward movement learned in side-slipping, you add one small ingredient: a gentle outward thrust of the heels that sets the skis swinging in an arc across the snow. Starting a turn by heel push is one of the great shortswing innovations, in contrast to the Arlberg and French techniques, where the turn impulse is a shoulder swing transmitted to the fronts of the skis.
Treetop view of shortswing into slope shows downhill shoulder and hip drawn well back, body bent in comma, knees, ankles flexed to start heel thrust.
Learning swing, Ann shows hangover from old technique in bringing downhill shoulder forward. As teaching aid, Willy crooks poles inside elbows, which helps force downhill shoulder back. Ann tries it (right) and finds it works—shoulder back, she now can start her swing in the correct position.
Front view of swing to slope, done on steeper hill than rear view, gives clear look at difference between easy comma in traverse and strong comma at point of heel thrust in turn. On gentle slope, Schaeffler needed old-fashioned forward bend from the hip to get momentum for last part of turn. On steep hill, natural speed from the terrain provides all necessary forward push. Willy's position at end of swing, and all his movements through this turn, are identical to those of advanced turns to come.
Turning over bump, (below) Ann uses natural fallaway of terrain to unweight backs of skis for heel push and swing. Learning to read terrain, using natural hill contours to help turns, makes skiing much easier. Note Ann's excellent comma, shoulder pulled back in a strong reverse position.
Rear View of swing to slope shows Willy moving in slow traverse (1) on easy beginner's hill. To start turn impulse he pulls downhill shoulder a bit farther to the rear to prepare for heel thrust. As in side-slip, he unweights skis by bending knees and hips down and more toward slope. With shoulders back and comma increased (2), skis have already started to turn. Then, with outward and downward thrust of heels (3), Willy swings skis through 45° arc. Again imitating side-slip, he stops turn by edging skis (4), then easing comma to start off in a new traverse.
Once you get the feeling of edge control, you are ready for the snowplow, the best maneuver for controlling your speed in your first turn through the fall line (right). This is the most despised of all maneuvers—many experts sneer at it as a beginner's crutch, and beginners hate it because they are usually prodded into it before they have learned to use their edges, with the results shown by Ann below. With edge control, however, there is nothing for the novice to worry about. Just relax and brush out with the tails of the skis. As for the skeptical experts, Schaeffler points out that Toni Sailer used the snowplow as a brake in winning the Olympic downhill. Furthermore, the heel-brushing snowplow that Willy demonstrates below is a shortcut to the linked parallel turns he will teach next week in Part Three.
Common mistake of experienced skiers is to bend knees too far, spread backs of skis too wide. Skis must be brushed gently, not forced.
Worst mistake by beginners is to try snowplow before learning edge control. If outside edges dig in, result is stiff jackknife position (top). If unequal pressure is put on inside edges (bottom), skis will start to cross.
Perfect snowplow starts (top left) with Willy in downhill position, hands at height of belt, knees flexed, body upright but relaxed. To go into plow, Willy pushes heels out, making tails of skis slither across snow into plow position (center). At same time he bends knees slightly to unweight tails of skis and put slight pressure on inside edges. Note that knees are barely more than a hand's breadth apart, not spread wide with subsequent strain on thighs. Once in good plow Willy eases heel push, puts slight weight accent on inside edges (3) in order to start the skis running back together into the normal downhill position. As an edge-control exercise, try brushing in and out of snowplow 3 to 5 times in 20 yards.
Snowplow turn, first full turn through fall line, combines snowplow (shown on opposite page) with comma, edge control learned in sideslip, and swing to slope. Willy starts off traversing slope in snowplow position (1). To turn, he pulls uphill shoulder back, shifts weight by leaning out over uphill ski (2). As soon as weight shift starts skis begin to turn. Halfway through turn (3), Willy is heading straight down fall line, speed controlled by plow with slight pressure on inside edges, left side of body in comma, left ski carving arc of turn. Once past fall line, Willy eases comma (4), moves downhill shoulder forward, finishes sequence in normal snowplow position (5) ready to start new traverse and turn.
Using terrain to help learn the snowplow turn, beginners swing through wide gully, using lift from counterslope at side of gully to unweight upper ski, help start turn.
THE STEM TURN
This is the climax of your basic instruction in the shortswing. On the preceding pages you were taught the comma, the side-slip and the snowplow. These necessary fundamentals must be learned well, for in them are all the elements of the more advanced stem turn shown at right. A stem, as demonstrated below, is half a snowplow. That is, you brush outward with the tail of one ski instead of two, leaving the other leg and ski still pointed in the original direction. Now, there are only two ways to stem—uphill and downhill. Willy shows both below, as he prepares to make a turn to the left. In the right-hand figure Willy does it the old way, stemming with the downhill ski, weight on the uphill ski, uphill shoulder twisted back in a windup ready to start the powerful rotation that will set him into the turn. Obviously there is some waste motion here. Willy wants to turn downhill, but according to the old doctrine he must start by counterrotating and stemming away from the direction of the turn. In the left-hand figure he shows the economy of movement that is the essence of the new shortswing. He wants to turn to the left, so he takes his uphill ski and stems in the direction he wants to go. The right shoulder is back, not as a windup for rotation, but to facilitate the weight shift onto the right ski. Thus, with little more than a shifting of weight, the shortswing stem brings the skier down any slope, under any snow conditions, with more style and rhythm and far less fatigue than ever before.
Starting stem turn, Willy traverses gentle slope in comma position (1), downhill shoulder back, weight on downhill ski. Without shifting weight, he stems uphill ski (2) in direction of turn, pulls uphill shoulder back to prepare for weight shift. Next instant he transfers weight to uphill ski (3), and turn begins. As he comes through fall line (4), weight is on outside ski, left side of body shows comma as in snowplow, but with inside ski angled more toward fall line. Once past fall line, Willy eases comma (5), lets skis run together naturally, starts new traverse (6). Stem turn, like snowplow turn, should be used only when turning out toward the fall line, not for turn into the slope.
Finishing stem turn, Willy and Ann show perfect comma position as they complete a turn to the left. Knees, ankles are flexed, weight is on downhill ski, uphill ski unweighted, ready to stem for turn to the right.
New and old methods for starting stem turn point up dramatic departure of shortswing from old techniques. Willy starts shortswing turn (left) by stemming uphill ski and shifting weight, old-style turn by downhill stem and counterrotation. Note deep bend of uphill knee in old system puts heavy strain on skier's thigh.
NEXT WEEK: PARALLEL TURNS
In the December 23 issue Willy winds up his analysis of the Austrian shortswing technique with detailed demonstrations of the graceful parallel turns, and a dramatic presentation of the shortswing's much-discussed and much-misunderstood graduate maneuver, the hip-swinging ski dance called Wedeln.