The 2003 Snow Pro Jam

The 2003 PSIA-E Snow Pro Jam was held at Killington, Vermont on December 8-12. Although there was a dearth of early snowmaking weather and not many trails were open/skiable, the Beast of the East received a 3 foot dump the weekend before the event. The result was 3 beautiful days of wonderful soft snow. Although conditions were a little wet on Thursday, there was enough snow on Thursday night to make Friday's snow "fast" instead of shiny.

Early registration on Sunday allowed us to reconnoiter where we were supposed to be and eliminate long lines on Monday morning. This year the registration was set up to encourage folks to get in, get their business done and head out. We did pick up a nice ditty bag with freebies like a Cliff Bar and can of Red Bull.

On Monday morning, we filled up a couple of rooms in the Snowshed lodge. Announcements started promptly at 9. After getting the logistical issues announced we were encouraged to visit the sponsor booths in the main room and advised to take advantage of the demo skis available throughout the week (Elan, Volkl, Dynastar and Rossignol). As usual, the Green Mountain Orthotics guys were busy from the start. Soon we were outside hunting to get in a group.

Our groupís focus was level 3 certification preparation, specifically for part 1 - skiing, specifically planning on taking the exam this year. Our clinic leader was Bob Shostek from Elk, PA. The other members of our group were:

  • Mimi Weisbond from Bellayre, NY

  • Steve Burns from Seven Springs

  • Jace Pasquale from Seven Springs (a Ski top 100 instructor!)

  • Art Lynch from Elk, PA

  • Hank Duben from Whitetail, PA

  • Diane Kerr from Nashoba Valley and Sunapee

  • David Beckwith from Southington, CT

  • Lionel Schwartz from Stowe, VT

  • Jim Hart

  • Rusty Carr from Whitetail, PA

Bob took one look at our group's warm up runs and said "Ten Toes". We were all making pretty good turns. Bob's observation was that the usual Eastern technique was for skiers to turn across the fall line. Bob wanted us to turn to the fall line, get all ten toes pointing down the fall line and then continue across. He wanted us to take some vertical in each turn. He still wanted us to make round turns. He just wanted us to spend more time in the fall line (more like a Capital C instead of a lower case c.

At lunch we did an exercise on the steps in the lodge. While walking down the steps, Bob wanted us to focus on the weight bearing leg and notice the continuous flexing that naturally occurred. He wanted us to keep our feet straight while going down the steps, but imagine that the weight bearing leg was the inside ski at turn initiation. 

Back on the slopes we found some terrain with a little scraped off snow and a few bumps. Bob encourage us to listen to the sounds. If we could absorb the terrain instead of fighting it, we'd have less scraping sounds to our skiing. Bob had us do an exercise with our hands. He would push his hand against our at varying pressure while asking us to maintain a constant pressure against his. He then switched it so we were trying to move his hand with constant pressure, while he used more or less resistance through the movement. This was the objective we were trying to achieve with our feet pressing against the snow. Don't get heavy or light, maintain a constant pressure on the snow. It was important to give immediate and constant feedback when performing this exercise.

The next exercise we worked on was focused on the inside ski. We started by lifting the inside ski to flex the inside leg progressively through the turn. Next we left the tip of the ski on snow and focused on bending the tip throughout the turn. Finally we left the whole inside ski on the snow and focused on bending it by adding pressure to it through the turn.

Our next exercise was railroad track turns. The focus was on inside ski flexing. Bob wanted to see movement forward instead of laterally.

The official night time activity was a presentation from Interski. But since Rusty had already seen that at National Academy, he focused on serious relaxation. In the bar that night, Rusty picked up a tip for skating. Land your skate step on the outside edge then slap your thighs together while taking your next skate step. Seriously, this tip was received while I was still sober. On the way home (still sober), Rusty stopped off at the Basin ski shop. Rusty's guest Cheryl had some new skis that needed mounting and some advice from Brad (her Killington instructor) to get her heels higher up in her boots. Rusty also had a "Booster" strap installed on his boots. The Basin guys did an outstanding job. Back at the condo, the Whitetail people went to Arleta's place for our traditional Whitetail gathering. The joke for the night was "How many Whitetail people does it take to trash a condo?". Ah, the joys of being able to stagger home.

On Tuesday, we started out with video. Bob does not like video because it uses too much  time (but it's part of the program). We agreed to hold off looking at it until Thursday when it was going to rain. We did more railroad track turns, then some medium radius turns focusing on ten toes and then the release move to initiate a new turn. Bob did voice over comments while the video was shot. This was very helpful.

On the gondy ride up, Rusty made the mistake of asking Bob what he thought of the booster strap concept. Bob agreed with the concept of using the power strap inside the boot flap, but proceeded to give Rusty grief for having his upper boot to loose. Because Rusty is a whiny pussy, he had his boots so  loose that you could stick fingers down the front. This means that forward movements are not immediately translated to the ski.

On the top of the mountain we did a handshake exercise to demonstrate forward movement for turn initiation. With Bob standing on the right side and just slightly ahead of me, he held my left hand while I initiated left foot inside ski movement strictly through flexing. If you leaned to the inside you either got a stern rebuke or in Rusty's case a "let go" followed by a plop to the ground. Rusty got the movement right when he did a little tip lead movement, but he's conscious that there should not be too much of this.

Editors note: Rusty needs help with this one... did he get it right?
The next exercise was to lift, point and place (hop to?) the uphill ski on the downhill edge. We were trying to develop a release of the inside ski instead of a step. Next we tried to get some pep in the uphill foot step. Finally we tried to keep the pep without the ski coming off the snow. It was ok to lift the tail of the inside ski during this move. Although the uphill ski should be pointed into the new turn, it should not be pointed down the hill. We also wanted to make sure we did not "land" on the inside ski. The last focus was to hop to the edge, then guide it through the turn.

In the afternoon Bob talked about the difference between skiing "in the bumps" as opposed to "skiing the bumps". Skiing in the bumps is finding the holes and navigating your way through. Skiing the bumps is making turns regardless of where the bumps are. (note: some of us remembered differently about which term had which definition - the terms are not important, but the distinction between tactics is) There's nothing wrong with skiing in the bumps. We watched a number of people make great turns doing this. But skiing the bumps is more efficient and a smoother style. And something that is evidently looked for in the level 3 exam.

We stopped by the demo vans. Strangely enough (could it be that Bob is a Volkl rep), we stopped at the Volkl van and Bob had recommendations for what skis people should try. Bob mentioned that a lot of people are riding on skis that are too stiff for their skiing. Since Bob did not have a recommendation for Rusty, he tried a pair of 6 Stars. Rusty had fallen in love with these skis last April, but held off getting them this fall because he was too lazy. Bob explained that these skis had a tighter sweet spot than the 5 Stars and required a more athletic skier to get the most out of them. Rusty had trouble getting the 6 Stars to work this time, but after a couple of small adjustments to his technique got them to start turning like they did at Snowbird. The 5 Star is an outstanding ski. The 6 Star is even better, if you can work it.

We finished the day with focus on moving the navel towards the inside toe piece or inside ski tip in the same manner that it does when you are walking.

Tuesday there was a session about Snowsnake. This is an Indian game where sticks are thrown uphill on a prepared track for distance. Hmmm - the crazy things we do for fun.

Wednesday mornings exercise experimented with a focus on flexing the outside leg versus the inside leg. We started with a traverse and lifting the inside ski to get the uphill leg flexed. You need to get the belly button moved over the uphill toe piece. Next we took the lifted inside ski and tipped it to the inside. Then we increased the angle of the traverse towards the fall line. We tried to stay on the outside ski through a short radius turn where the trail narrowed and for some reason this was tough, so we tried taking the flexed "outside" leg into a turn uphill out of the traverse. Hmm -kinda makes it a flexed inside leg, huh? Finally, we tried traversing, then lifting the uphill leg above the fall line and then continuing the turn on our inside ski. Bob reminded us of the moves we make when walking and the moves we made when descending the steps in the log. He wanted us to get the same "natural" flex in the ankle and knees. He noted that when people have trouble with this exercise it is usually because they are moving laterally instead of to the tip.

"Anyone can edge." You must learn to release the edge and bring momentum into the next turn. The release should create a pulse of energy from the acceleration through the fall line. Does this make us ski faster? It seems so, but we're really just speeding up and slowing down.

Bob talked about teaching finishing a turn by focusing on initiation. Mike Hicks of Whitetail talks about thinking of a turn as going from down the fall line to down the fall line so that the continuous movement from the end of one (across the fall to across the fall line) turn through the beginning of the next (across the fall to across the fall line) is not broken up. Bob talked about getting on the outside ski during the second quarter of the turn (above the fall line). He noted that tail and wash chatter occurs if one's inside move is more lateral instead of with the skis.

Wednesday afternoon was optional sessions. Rusty did video with Lani Tapley and two other people. The small group allowed us all to get a number of clips on film. Lani's a fun guy but on first impression this session was mostly a waste on the technical side. We did have some fun doing synchro skiing and getting in a run on the race course. After reviewing the video at home, Rusty decided that there were enough plain clips to help him with the mission of improving his skiing. Other sessions on Wednesday included ladies groups, exam tasks (very popular), the CE Burbridge race and Snowsnake. Rusty advises folks to pay attention to the sign up table because unadvertised optional sessions tend to pop up.

On Thursday it rained. We started out reviewing video (ahem indoors) in the morning. The Snowshed lodge has a series of wonderful cubicle style video stations where our group of 12 could just barely fit in and watch our tape. Everyone was making pretty good turns on the tape. But everyone got some tips for things to work on. Bob even critiqued his own bump skiing (a little in the backseat and blocking with the hands). Rusty's feet were too close together. Bob talked dividing the body into left and right parts. He wanted us to think left foot, left knee, left hip, left rib, left pec, left arm, left cheek, left ear and the right counterparts. The goal in a left turn is to get the left parts higher than the right parts. Bob could get real picky watching your turns. For example, he could notice when then the pecs and the ribs were not doing the same movements. Bob talked about the natural pelvic tilt of a human being on an incline.

Bob asked us to watch our hip rotation through the turn. Is it ahead or behind? Same thing with the shoulders. Does this match up with higher and lower parts? Rusty says yeah. If we reduce the amount of counter and get the inside hip to move ahead at turn initiation, then it's easier to keep the uphill parts higher than the downhill parts. And the turns start to rip.

Bob also talked about weight transfer versus weight redistribution. Weight transfer occurs when you step onto the outside ski during the turn. Weight redistribution happens when you let more weight build up on the outside skis as a result of turning.

We practiced walking versus strutting (moving the feet forward without moving the hips). We don't walk this way, but sometime we ski this way without thinking about it.

The next exercise was the best one of the week. From a standing position we lifted the downhill ski, but we did it without any upper body movement. This is where we had to be for the next part. We traversed across the hill and lifted the downhill ski. Bob wanted to see the ski horizontal. Next we lifted the downhill ski and crossed it over the uphill ski (i.e. a javelin turn). Bob told us to flex the ankle to stay in balance and to make sure we did not set the ski down on the snow while it was crossed (haha). The next move was the best. While the ski was lifted and crossed, we were to point the inside knee into the new turn. This meant moving the knee and the hip into the new turn ("lead with the knee"). To do this you had to extend off the outside ankle and it was almost impossible to move laterally into the new turn. Some us were tempted to compensate with shoulder rotation versus fully committing to moving the lower body.

We talked about how all of the body parts must move together through the turn. When we do exercises we tend to focus on one body part and either that part gets stuck (i.e. not moving) or other parts get stuck. If we can keep all parts moving during the exercise that is great. If not, focus on learning the desired movement as a continuous movement to the point where it becomes a natural move, then "just ski" to see if you can get back to all parts moving.

Thursday night was the banquet. The music was good, the food was great, the lines were short and the pictures were incriminating. Whitetail's own Fran Vall won an award. And the rain turned to snow for a little bit.

On Friday the snow was "fast". We started with a rotary exercise. Lift a ski and have buddy push the tip with his/her pole. Resist the push (with even pressure). Next use your ski tip to push the pole away at an even speed despite uneven (e.g. increasing) resistance from the pole holder.

Next Bob talked about barstool skiing. We were encouraged to imagine sitting on a barstool with our inside butt cheeks at the start of a turn. Rusty notes that this is a bit tricky because you don't want the downhill shoulder to get higher than the uphill one but you also don't want to throw your upper body down the hill either. You also don't want to rotate the shoulders to the outside of the turn. Rusty personally gets a better visual from imagining the uphill butt cheek on the bar stool. Bob talked about the power of the vertical femur (extended) versus the horizontal femur (flexed). So even though we want the inside leg flexed relative to the outside leg, over flexing relative to the turn shape and speed reduces the ability of femur rotation to help the turn.  This compliments what Rusty was told about femur rotation for the outside turn at last April's National Academy.

Finally we revisited the walking thing. Walking in our boots on a flat portion of the slope we noticed that the whole foot was in contact with the snow. On a pitch, we only had half the boot in contact with the snow (little toe edge on the uphill foot). If we tried flexing the downhill foot on the pitch, we had less balance and it slid out pretty easily. This is why we keep the outside leg long.


Around lunch time the group started breaking up. Some of us went for one last run from the top before calling it a week.

Shameless plugs by members of the group:
- Has a fitting process preferred by some group members over Green Mountain Orthotics. These people propose the ludicrous idea that ski boots do not need to be painful. Rusty has had painful boots for most of his skiing career and is somewhat skeptical of miracle promises. Rusty likes the concept of having multiple locations to go for fit adjustment. Rusty just wishes that there was a store in the DC area. 

Froggtoggs - unusual  looking but effective rain gear. After watching this gear perform on Thursday, Rusty says "very tempting".

The single most important benefit of PSIA membership is the opportunity to get training from some of the best instructors in the country (i.e. our examiners and demo team members). The PSIA-E Snow Pro Jam is the largest ski instructor training event in the country. It is well attended because it is a high quality product offered at a tremendous price. If you like what youíve read, let Rusty know if the tips in this article have been helpful. If youíve never attended the Pro Jam and think you might want to, plan on signing up for next yearís event as soon as youíre allowed to. The spots fill up fast!