Two years ago a dramatic change swept through American skiing. Willy Schaeffler, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's contributing ski editor, introduced his modification of the new Austrian shortswing style in these pages (Nov. 25, 1957 et seq.). Thereafter, two out of three skiers on the hill were either trying the shortswing or talking about it. But the ski teachers who developed the Austrian shortswing under Professor Stefan Kruckenhauser did not stop experimenting in 1957. The theory and technique of shortswing today has been carried further. In collaboration with Kruckenhauser and Friedl Wolfgang, Clemens (Miki) Hutter, a young Austrian Ph.D. (currently an instructor at the Sugarbush ski area in Vermont), created a new and exciting learning technique called Sprungwedeln. It employs quick, springing jumps to bring skiers more rapidly into shortswing's final stage, Wedeln—which is a series of swiftly connected shortswing turns that marks the accomplished recreational skier. Late last winter Willy Schaeffler explored and confirmed the thesis of Sprungwedeln: that leg spring plus countermovement of the upper body versus the lower body is the heart of shortswing. Then Schaeffler set to work expanding and modifying Hutter's exercises to meet the needs of American skiers. At left, Schaeffler demonstrates a basic learning maneuver in Sprungwedeln: a Sprung, or abbreviated leap with pole held in the hands. It looks startling. It works effectively. Sprungwedeln, Part I, begins at right by commanding the skier to hold his poles in both hands while he concentrates on the spring and countermovement that will lead new and old skiers alike to smoother skiing.
Snowplow ballet: the first step
Snowplow ballet is a practice maneuver that has several purposes. The first is to teach you how the upper body swivels in opposition to the lower body as the turn progresses. One of the common mistakes in shortswing is to bend sideways over the outside ski to make the weight-shift, ignoring the counterswivel of the upper body that should take place. In snowplow ballet the poles are held well out toward the ends and always kept parallel to the ground. The arms then swing in an exaggeration of normal shortswing arm movements. The position of the hands at the ends of the poles forces the outside shoulder back as long as you hold onto the poles. The second purpose of the snowplow ballet is to make you get your weight over the outside ski. Normally, a jab of the pole can cover up failure to shift the weight. Deprived of your pole as a pivoting device, however, you cannot go through a plow ballet turn with too much weight on the inside ski. Third, by repeating the ballet cycle rapidly, you will learn that the weight shift from one leg to another is initiated, not by lifting your weight with the pole, but by a straightening of the weighted leg.
Move slowly down fall line in the snowplow position, thighs nearly vertical. Knees bend forward and inward to edge skis. Poles are horizontal, waist-high.
To turn left, poles swing over almost parallel to right ski, body bends from waist to throw weight to right ski. Knee turns inward to increase edging of right ski. Left ski just brushes over snow.
November 30, 1959
As soon as skis turn left somewhat, start right turn. Poles swing over left ski, body bends left. Left knee turns inward to edge left ski. Object of ballet cycle is to make possible rapid shifts from left turn to right turn and back.
Gentle slope is required for practice of snowplow ballet. Arrow above traces path of skier as he starts in fall line and then makes a left and a right turn. If he shifts weight from ski to ski as quickly as he should in going from one turn to another, the result is a snakelike path, and skier seems to be dancing a swift ballet down fall line.
Stem ballet: for steeper terrain
Stem ballet is practiced as a long sweeping turn on somewhat steeper terrain than snowplow ballet. The object is to emphasize correct weight shift, correct edging and finishing the turn with skis parallel. Stem ballet starts from a traverse. This means that the first weight shift is from downhill leg to uphill leg and also that all upper-body movement is complete before the skis start turning toward the fall line. The weight shift from one leg to the other is initiated through an almost invisible spring from the weighted leg. Thus, shifting weight and stemming in the stem-ballet turn become rapid simultaneous movements that tend to skid the stemmed ski into the fall line with almost the full weight of the skier on it. If the weight shift is made too slowly the stemmed ski will not skid toward the fall line and the turn will be hard to start. An even worse mistake, made frequently, is failing to put any weight at all on the uphill leg when turning from a traverse. The skier who puts out a timid stem and then steers himself toward the fall line with the weight still on the inside ski will be going too fast to shift his weight successfully to the outside ski. The inevitable result is a fall. So much for proper weight shift. Once you are in the fall line, gravity will pull you straight down the hill unless you dig the inside edge of your outside ski into the snow to steer you out of the fall line again. In order to make that edge bite deeply, you will see that you have to bend the outside knee inward under you, just as in the snow-plow ballet. Edging with the knee from the bent-leg short-swing stem position is easy. Skiers who attempt to edge while the outside leg is straight will find that the knee does not bend inward from this position and the ski consequently does not edge. The last lesson to be had from the stem ballet is that your turn should end with the skis together, thus giving you practice brushing over the snow with skis parallel, as they will be in the advanced turns to come. After running with skis in parallel position for a while, a quick straightening of the weighted leg followed by an equally quick uphill stem and upper body counterswivel will start you off on your next turn.
Start in traverse position, moving at right angles to fall line, poles held parallel to downhill ski and to the ground.
To begin right turn, uphill ski stems out, poles simultaneously swing to position almost paralleling the uphill ski.
Stemmed ski skids into the fall line, with skier bending from waist to put almost full weight on the stemmed ski.
In fall line, outside knee bends inward to increase bite of edge of outside ski. This causes ski to veer out of fall line.
Heading toward new traverse, inside ski moves toward outside ski to enable skier to finish turn with the skis together.
Poles now swing back almost parallel to downhill ski, and body bends farther out to put full weight on outside ski.
Medium-Grade slope with flat runout is a good place to practice stem ballet. Arrow shows skier's path in making single sweeping turn to right from a traverse to the left, ending in a traverse to the right. Snowplow ballet is performed close to fall line, but stem ballet goes from traverse to traverse. Thus stem ballet forces skier to perform fast, simultaneous counterrotation and uphill weight shift in order to get the skis skidding toward the fall line.
Step stem: for tighter turns
In step-stem ballet you lift your outside ski to the stem position, making a quicker weight shift than is possible with the stem ballet. Since you balance on the weighted leg to begin the turn, the quick straightening of the weighted leg now becomes more of a pronounced spring toward the fall line to approximate the strong lift you need to ski parallel. Thus the step stem bridges the gap between the stem turn and the parallel turn. Second, during the middle of the step stem you lift the inside ski, thereby eliminating any remaining tendency to leave your weight on the inside ski. Third, as you bring the inside ski quickly parallel to the outside ski at the end of the turn, you provide a momentum for initiating the heel push that ends all advanced shortswing turns and provides the coiled take-off position for the start of the next turn. When you have mastered a single turn (below), go on to connect a series of turns more and more closely until your skis trace a snakelike path down the slope as they did in the snowplow ballet. The tails of the skis will now be skidding out first to one side and then the other, with your upper body swiveling over the skis to keep you in balance. You are now approaching the action of Wedeln, where the countermovement of the upper body speeds the skidding of the skis, making possible ever quicker turns. Practiced in this manner, the step-stem ballet should correct many would-be wedelers who try to throw the skis toward the fall line with a flip of the hip. The step action of the exercise emphasizes that the skis in shortswing turns should be moved into the fall line through a combination of leg spring and weight shift. The hips must never move toward the fall line ahead of the legs or the arms. Finally, your movements in the step stem should not be jerky; they should be quick, rhythmical and in harmony.
Rolling ridge with fairly sharp drop-off is ideal place to start practice of step-stem turn. Drop-off accelerates swing of skis, makes it possible to initiate heel push earlier. This in turn allows you to swing through a tighter arc than in the previous stem-turn exercise. When you have mastered single step-stem turns, find a smooth, moderate slope and practice closely connected step stems so as to approximate swing movement of the Wedeln.
Right turn starts with skis parallel, skier moving at 30° angle to traverse line. Upper body bends down from the waist to put weight on downhill ski.
Outside ski lifts quickly toward stem position. Inside leg straightens. The upper body counterswivels and starts to shift its weight to the outside ski.
Counterswivel brings weight onto the outside ski just after the ski is set down in the stem position. The inside ski carries almost no weight at this point.
In fall line, inside ski lifts completely off the snow outside knee bends inward to increase edging action. This causes the skier to veer out of fall line.
As skier heads toward new traverse line, inside ski swings quickly alongside the outside ski, then comes to rest on snow parallel to the outside ski.
Skier leans forward slightly and uses momentum from swing of inside ski to initiate important heel-push action that ends the turn in the traverse line.
Traverse ballet: skis parallel
The traverse ballet is the first exercise in which you make the skis weave back and forth together in short, connected turns. Traverse ballet moves across the hill rather than down the hill, and the skis never cross the fall line. The exercise starts with a heel push while you are traversing at relatively slow speed. This puts you in a strong position to start the quick, springing lift with both skis together that is stressed in the traverse ballet. The spring carries the tails of the skis toward the fall line. The spring is an exaggeration of the subtle lift used in parallel skiing and Wedeln. Overemphasis of the leg spring at this stage trains the reflexes for the essential springing movements that provide lift. (In the classic Wedeln, the lift is often so subtle it passes unnoticed.) Keep the hop uphill a short one. The tails of the skis should travel just over the traverse line. During the hop you will have to shift weight and counterswivel energetically to stay in balance. You land in a bent-leg position, skis almost flat. A quick straightening of the legs now supplies the minute lift necessary to start the tails of the skis sliding downhill. As the skis slide back to the traverse line, the downhill movement of the tails is continued without a break and blends into a heel push that supplies the take-off platform for the next turn.
Skier starts moving (left) at slight angle to traverse line, then shifts his weight slightly forward to initiate heel push (second figure from left).
Tails of skis lift rapidly off snow in short arc toward fall line. Upper body starts the counterswiveling movement.
Skis land flat and at angle to the traverse line. Upper body leans quickly into hill to maintain skier's balance.
Heel push, initiated by a slight leg spring and counterswivel of the upper body, returns skis to the traverse line.
A gradual hill is needed for traverse ballet practice. Pair of tracks at left above indicates skis at slight angle to traverse line. Next pair shows position of skis after initial heel push has been accomplished, bringing skier into traverse line. Third pair indicates position as skier lands after lifting tails of skis uphill. Last pair shows how heel push brings skis back into traverse line in position for uphill hop that starts cycle over again.
Hop ballet: across the fall line
In hop ballet the skis are lifted together through the fall line for the first time. The exercise puts a final polish on your ability to lift quickly and accurately. Be sure that you start the turn with leg spring. Let the arms and body follow. On steep terrain there is a temptation to start the turn by counterswiveling with the arms and upper body, an error which leads to improper edging and a probable fall. In this turn you can cut down on the amount of counterswivel so that the upper body faces downhill during a greater part of the turn. Do not abandon the counterswivel altogether, however. Expert skiers always counterswivel when they connect turns even though their counterswiveling may be so subtle it is hard to spot. The shorter the countermovement, the easier it is to connect hop ballet turns. Ultimately you should be able to connect turns in such a fashion that you can progress down a steep slope close to the fall line at moderate, controlled speeds. The long leap of the ballet hop forces you to keep your upper body over your boots—essential in negotiating steep terrain. If you let your weight go back as you start down a steep pitch, your upper body may not catch up to your skis and you are likely to end up out of control.
Large mogul offers best terrain for hop ballet turn. Drop-off on downhill side of mogul reduces amount of spring necessary to keep skis clear of ground until the tails have moved through 90° arc. For connected hop ballet turns, a smooth steep hill with 35° slope or more forms good terrain.
Ballet hop starts with skis moving at 45° angle to traverse line. Body counter swivels over downhill ski, knees bend forward so skier can make his spring.
Skier's spring swings tails of skis in powerful arc across the fall line. Poles and upper body swivel in opposite direction to arc of the tails of the skis.
Skis land at 90° angle to take-off position. Outside leg bends inward at knee to edge ski and prevent tails of skis from swinging farther downhill. At the same time, both knees bend forward to absorb landing impact, provide crouch stance for starting next hop.
Wedeln ballet: smooth turns
Wedeln ballet is the culmination of Part I of the Sprungwedeln learning technique. In ballet Wedeln the lifting action and the counterswiveling action you have been learning are cut down to the minimum necessary to execute a series of smooth, shallow turns. The Wedeln ballet turn is initiated by a lift so subtle that the skis remain on the ground throughout the turn. At left below, the skier is just starting a right turn, lifting to swing his skis into the fall line. In the middle, his skis are in the fall line. At right, the skier has finished his counterswivel and edged his skis to stop the tails from brushing any farther from the fall line. From this position he will initiate his turn to the left. The path traced by the skis will be a snakelike one across the fall line similar to that in the snowplow ballet in the first exercise. Note also that in Wedeln ballet there is no room for old-style rotation-in-the-direction-of-the-turn, which is sometimes erroneously combined with shortswing technique. The hands and upper body in Wedeln barely have time to counterswivel in one direction before they must swing back the other way to balance the skier against the thrust of the skis. (Counterswivel appears slight, because its effect here is to swivel lower body and skis.) Last lesson of the exercise is that Wedeln on smooth, moderate terrain needs very little or no help from the poles, provided the skier uses correct leg spring.
Skier completes left turn, prepares to lift and start right turn.
Skier swings through fall line, skis unweighted but on snow.
Skier ends turn by edging, and crouches to begin the next turn.
NEXT WEEK: THE POLES
In Part II of Sprungwedeln, Willy Schaeffler tells you how to blend the all-important action of the poles into the weight-shift, leg-spring and counterswivel movements you learned in Part I. Result: topflight skiing on any terrain.