It is not a new skiing technique. It is more of a revival, getting skiing back to the way it was before the perfectionists took over. The style is definitely not elegant and rigid rules are out. In the illustrations on the preceding pages the instructors have one thing in common; they are skiing easily. Their legs are apart. They swing along in a natural, wide stance. Their arms are out. They are loose. Seeing them in action, one cannot help but think, "I can do that." One can. Anybody can.
These relaxed, make-it-look-easy moves comprise the American Ski Technique. It became official with its introduction last January in Czechoslovakia at an assemblage called Interski, a world congress of instructors. Max Lundberg of Alta, Utah, coach of the U.S. demonstration team, kept his explanation as simple as his method. The U.S. technique, he said, "was developed through observation...and experimentation by dedicated teachers who desire to improve the service we provide."
When the 10 U.S. instructors finished their routine before a hill full of critics, the response was enthusiastic. "Brilliant! Courageous!" said the Polish national coach, clasping Lundberg in a bear hug. "The time of marked national ski schools is over," noted members of the West German delegation. "The U.S. presentation was remarkable," wrote Editor Al Greenberg in Skiing magazine. "Its effect on ski teaching everywhere could be significant." The reactions were uniform in another respect. As a new teaching method, the U.S. technique promises to lead the rest of the world's skiing countries toward a unification that can only benefit a sport that has been confused too long by distinctive national styles.
This sort of revolution had to come sooner or later, and if the U.S. has fired the first shot, the other nations are just a stem turn behind. "At this Interski," noted Lundberg, "the most significant trend was that there were no extreme presentations. The demonstrations were straightforward and simple. The Austrians had always put on a radically different show of technique. Not this year. They used natural stance—not too low, not too high, just comfortable. They skied with a quieter upper body squared away more to the ski. The Italians had always been way out, with extreme anticipation in the upper body. This year there was none of that, just a gentle uphill movement of the hips, a gentle downhill rolling of the knees.
"Only the French were still skiing the way they always have, using an exaggerated circular projection and avalement, sitting back, swallowing the turn the way French racers do. They had a hard time holding their edges in the long turns on the demonstration hill. Some members of the French team told me that they felt they were not as relaxed and natural in their approach as they would like to be."
That did it. The era of one or two nations influencing the development of ski techniques has finally come to an end. And high time. Austrian domination of the sport goes back to the days of the bear-trap binding, when that country's first ski instructor, Mathias Zdarsky, introduced a classic move called the snowplow in the 1890s. Before and after World War I, another Austrian, Hannes Schneider (who later immigrated to the U.S.), developed the famous Arlberg technique, which included rotating the body in the direction of the turn. It was called the "parallel swing," and it was easier said than done. By 1935 still another Austrian, Friedl Wolfgang, preached shoulder rotation and added another touch: unweighting to the uphill ski as a "direct way to swinging." That's how parallel skiing was born, and thus began the enslavement of recreational skiers under its exacting rules. The menace spread.
Meanwhile, France added a new accent, the French technique as interpreted by Émile Allais. It threw a made into the parallel turn. The student was taught to gather speed before a turn, roll forward while rotating the body and lift his ski tails off the snow in a made or horse kick. The Austrians counterattacked in the 1950s with another impossible maneuver, literally reversing their style. Instead of rotating in the direction of the turn, they introduced counterrotation, an early shoulder rotation away from the direction of the turn, sort of like a pitcher winding up before throwing the ball.
The last confusing technique came at the 1955 Interski. Professor Stefan Kruckenhauser of Austria startled the skiing public with his wedeln style. This is translated as "wagging the tail"—without shoulder rotation—-and for years it served to confirm what all students knew: at last there was a technique nobody could perform.
When the Professional Ski Instructors of America was founded a few years later, it inherited a monster of a system that included counterrotation, angulation (also called the comma position) and wedeln. It was a mess. It incorporated so many different and difficult turns, including one reverse-shoulder number aptly named the mambo, that beginners, faced with a tedious learning process for each move, doggedly stayed with the snow-plow and stem turns and were never able to negotiate an exhilarating expert run. Learning to ski had become drudgery.
But help was on the way. Around 1960 Ernie Blake of Taos, N. Mex. and Clif Taylor at Hogback, Vt. began experimenting with short skis and introduced what was to become GLM—the Graduated Length Method. On short skis, beginners could quickly kick the snow-plow habit and enjoy wide-stance parallel turns. The argument of these innovators was persuasive: Why should the glued-together parallel stance be the only acceptable way to ski? It was no longer necessary to be elegant; the natural look won and, at last, fun returned to skiing.
The rest was easy: Max Lundberg and his gang of 10 instructors incorporated the wide stance into each of their movements and added other dimensions—independent leg action, a feel for the terrain, an awareness of the body's assimilation of bumps and ruts. The wide stance provides stability and balance. Lundberg says, "Our concern is less with the perfection of maneuvers and more with the development of the basic skills required to adequately perform them."
Here are a few fundamentals from the American technique. Stepping around in a circle on skis is a Walking Pie Turn and serves, says Lundberg, "as the first learning phase of stepping on edges and a crude form of unweighting." On the hill, one can step around a turn much the same way; carving is for advanced skiers and something beginners do only to roast beef. The oldtime snowplow no longer exists. Instead Lundberg refers to a "wedge." "In the past," he says, "we drummed the snowplow into students so thoroughly that they could never get out of it. Now we slide into a wedge and avoid hard stemming. The legs work independently, the way they're supposed to work. Now we allow the downhill and the uphill ski to slip a little bit, and they just ease into the fall line anyway."
From the wedge, the American demonstrators progressed to wide-track long-radius Christies with both simultaneous leg rotation and independent leg action. Both ways work. In their closing show, the U.S. skiers poured it on by taking off in all directions, performing all kinds of turns at varying speeds, even displaying a Royal Christie borrowed from ballet skiing and adding a touch of racing with a giant slalom. And there wasn't a stylish wiggle in the works. It was a convincing show of basic skills carried to all levels.
However young, Lundberg's instructors were all teaching veterans. And they embraced the new program wholeheartedly. "In the old days," says Bill Duddy, senior supervisor of the Vail ski school, "we had the snowplow turn and the stem turns, and a beginner had to stay with these until he had perfected them. We are no longer confined to this type of slow teaching process." Chris Ryman of Alta, Utah says, "We have gotten away from the static parallel turn and we finally can enjoy total motion, freedom, versatility. It's what I call getting rid of the paralysis of the parallel."