The 2005 Snow Pro Jam

The 2005 PSIA-E Snow Pro Jam was held at Killington, Vermont on December 12-16. The one knock on this great event is that there usually is not a whole lot of snow. Not so this year!  We had some fresh natural snow and cold temps for some really soft man made snow through the week. The snow conditions were mostly soft packed powder. This year the Pro Jam had 450 instructors and a total of 600 participants. This is the largest ski instructor training event in the country. If you want to know why, then read on!

Rusty got to Killington on Friday night to do the weekend snowboard mini academy. Rusty's first day on snow was ugly, but the riding did help him get ready for the week ahead. Rusty says if it's at all possible - ski at least a day before you come to the Pro Jam. Otherwise you'll be missing a chance to hit the snow running. Rusty also recommends that you do not bring your new gear to these early season events because there are too many trails named "thin cover". This year, although there were plenty of well covered trails, some of the bump runs had rocks and some of the natural snow trails were being opened for the first time. They were good enough to be tempting, but not good enough for new skis.

Early registration on Sunday happened at the usual 7PM time in upper Snowshed lodge. Rusty says get it done Sunday to avoid the Monday morning crush in the lodge. 

On Monday morning, we packed the main room in the Snowshed lodge. Announcements started a little after 9. There are always Pro Jam deals to be announced. The best one was 1/2 off tuning right at the hill. There was also a 20% discount in the sport shop. Otherwise, we were quickly on our way to join our groups.

There were a good 80 people interested in doing level 3 skiing certification exam preparation, so we were split up by how many stops we'd like to take per run. Rusty was nursing a shoulder problem, but also searching for a clinician he'd never been with before. With some careful hanging around in the right spot and avoidance of group leveling tactics he ended up with Keith Hopkins (aka Hoser) from Killington.

The other members of our group were:

  • Steve Cantos from Jiminy Peak, MA

  • Rusty Carr from Whitetail, PA

  • Andre Herscovici (75 years old!) from Mountain Creek, NJ

  • Bill See from Liberty Mountain, PA

  • Walt Matthews from Liberty

  • Greg Gaspar from Liberty

  • Chris Spagna from Liberty

  • Jim Voyles from Waterville Valley, NH

  • Ted Satterwaite from Camelback, PA

  • Jon Ryan from Liberty

(sniff - Rusty has no group picture)

In 4 years of doing level 3 prep, this was the strongest group that Rusty's been in. You know your group is doing good when the clinician is most worried about dynamic parallel turns. But Hoser noticed that most of us were initiating our turns by standing off the uphill ski instead of initiating with hip movement. He said this causes a slight christy at the top of the turn, but Rusty couldn't see it. Hoser said this move off the uphill ski also caused the weight to shift back a little. One tip we got was to lift our toes up.  That tip did not help Rusty, but we all got better through the week as the various exercises we did all kind of worked back to this theme.

We tried some short radius turns. Rusty got dinged for some inside ski lifting and non-simultaneous edge changes. Ouch!

Then Hoser got philosophical on us. He said that tension on the uphill ski when it was flat caused pivoting. Sure enough, if you're pushing off the uphill ski to start a turn and you have any kind of upper body rotation in the direction of the turn, as soon as the ski gets flat it pivots into the new turn (i.e. tails push out). Then he talked about straight skis. When they would get out from underneath the body, they would not come back to you. With shaped skis, if you tip them, they will come back to the body. The old way of skiing was rise and steer, then sink and steer. Rusty thinks that was a hint about how we were skiing. Hoser wanted us to follow a different path.

Our next task was to find the high spot in the trail, then use the high spot to trigger the hip movement to initiate a new turn. We practiced a few medium radius and dynamic short radius turns and then did video right on the first day! Hoser like doing video analysis. The really cool part was that he picked on his own turns before he picked on the rest of us. We spent a good hour inside going over our runs. One of the cool things we got from the video review was a different way to determine correct pole length. Rest the thumb on top of the pole and turn it into the rib cage (wearing your ski boots). It should meet the solar plexus (the center of the body  just below where the bones in the rib cage meet). 

One of the tips given out in the video review was to create a strong inside half by looking downhill while turning the outside hip back. The idea is to move the inside hip over the inside ski. In retrospect this explains the more counter/less counter confusion Rusty has had over the past few years. There was a trend a few years ago to do less countering, but over the last couple years Rusty has been getting "counter more" advise. If you counter with the shoulders and the hips, it's easy to get the outside hip ahead of the inside hip. But if you create counter just with the shoulders and not with the hips, the inside hip can lead the outside hip. The shoulders are countered, but the hips are "less countered".

There were lots of little observations that we all can learn a little from. The obscure observation of the day award goes to the comment about "your peroneus muscles (these are the muscles on the absolute side of the leg below the knee) are not firing" as an explanation for a curved outside leg. Another observation was about how a head tilt to the inside of the turn can take the hip movement out of the turn initiation. One of our group had a little tip wobble at times. Hoser says that's a sure sign that torque has taken over. Another group member had a varying amount of space between the feet. Hoser said that's the first thing he looks for in a level 3 exam. Some is ok, but constant change is a sure fail. Rusty was advised to get more counter above the hip, to get the hips forward by steering the legs underneath the body and to twist the femurs more.

For the short radius turns Hoser did not like his slow inside foot (jeez-how picky can you get?). Rusty was shoving his heels out -oopsie. One of our group members had trouble turning their inside foot. Why? Because their weight was not over the inside ski. Hoser talked about using the side edge of the ski to get grip in our turns instead of using the bottom edge (that leads to skidding). We'd get into this more later in the week during bump runs.

After lunch we started a progression to get our dynamic parallel turns to be a little snappier. The first step was called a Crab Walk. Rusty calls this the tractor tire exercise. On a relatively flat trail, start straight downhill in a wedge. But instead of equal edge angles on each ski, have one ski on as high an edge as you can get and the other ski flat. The edged ski should carve a straight line, while the flat ski should skid sideways. Go like like this for 3-5 feet than reverse positions suddenly. This should leave a pattern in the snow that looks like the tread pattern of a farm tractor tire. The carved track of the left ski should make a "T" with the carved track of the right ski. The keys to this exercise are not to use any rotary and not to do any weight shift.

The next step was to incorporate a version of this move into regular turns. At the end of a turn, do a sudden move of the outside knee under the hips. The idea is to do it so extremely that the knee either collides with the inside knee or tucks in BEHIND the inside knee. This brings the outside ski onto an extreme edge which SNAPS it quickly underneath the body. This helps to develop cross under for dynamic turns. 

The last step was to try to get that snap without the radical move. It still had to be sudden and sharp, but just not quite so extreme. Rusty says this really worked!

Monday night Deb Armstrong led an indoor session about recent changes in racing techniques. Rusty was sure there was some good stuff to be had, but when Deb asked us to break up intro groups to talk about the theory, Rusty had the great idea that he could do better group discussion in the Long Trail Pub instead.

On Tuesday morning, our mission was bumps. Hoser wanted us to turn on the high spots. We went to East Fall looking for some more, but they sucked. So we talked about pole swing on steep terrain - short radius turns. Hoser wanted the poles always swinging through the turn versus just swinging to initiate the turn. He wanted to see the poles vertical in the fall line and the pole touch used to connect the upper and lower body. Next we tried a hockey stop type exercise where we crouched, then rose to a stop. The key difference was that we did not flex our legs at the stop. We kept our legs long. This was hard. We added to this by going into another turn instead of stopping and initiating that turn with a leg collapse. So now we were doing a hockey almost stop with no leg collapse then starting a new turn with a leg collapse from the transition through the fall line, then extending the legs into the next almost hockey stop. Finally, because Steve opened his mouth, we did almost hockey stops into a 360. It really was not part of the progression where Hoser was trying to take us, but it did help emphasize the collapsing idea. Okay, maybe we should have filed that last one under stupid pet tricks.

Where we were going with this was to delay our turns in the bumps so the skis would travel onto the up hill face of the bumps with our legs long. We could then use the collapse of the downhill (new inside) ski to "feather" the pressure of the bump and maintain ski snow contact was we turned onto the back side of the bump. This is similar to Rusty's "old man's" way to ski the bumps, but without the approach from the side of the bump.

We finished the morning with a high speed cruiser run trying to initiate turns on the high spot of the trail. Hitting the high spot and letting the legs cross under really made the turns easy. Hoser calls them effortless turns.

After lunch we hit the demo trailers. Hoser's a Volkl guy, so naturally he had Volkl recommendations for people to try. Rusty was already on a pair of 6 stars. He tried this year's replacement for the 6 star, the All Star (Hoser's official ski for this season) . It's a little wider than the 6 star. Hoser said it was slower edge to edge. Rusty concurs. It would be a great ski for out West, but it's no longer a great ski for East coast skiing. Bill tried the bright yellow slalom ski. Despite being warned, he found it to be sneaky quick coming out of the turn.

Next we tried some railroad track turns. Dog gone it! Instead of doing the fully rounded RR turns that Rusty was used to, Hoser did these silly four foot wide corridor RR turns that were a teeny bit skidded. The lesson here is to not have preconceived notions of what exam tasks are supposed to EXACTLY be like. Hoser's RR tips included lifting the toes and driving the shin into the front of the boots. He mentioned the 3 points of foot contact (ball, heel and outside of foot near little toe metatarsal). We always want to have at least 2 out of 3 of those points in contact with the boot.

Tuesday night was sponsor night. Free munchies in the Snowshed lodge and a cash bar. Thank you sponsors. Did you really want to talk with us? Sorry, we had to hurry because Hoser and the Icy Nuts were playing in the Grist Mill. In between, Rusty took advantage of the discounted massages in the room behind the climbing wall. 30 minutes of pounding for $35 - what a country!

Wednesday morning we went back to working on bumps. Hoser said that if we kept out legs long for as long as possible that we would have more possibilities. He asked us to to hold the skis straight for one second in between the bumps and then turn at the last second with the feather/shmear move. We found this wonderful spot (Needles Eye?) that was iced over in between the bumps right before the end of the bump run. Hoser said to go straight over it instead of trying to turn on it. D'oh! Now he tells us. We had so much fun betting who was going to crash on that spot next that we did not bother to tell the other groups. 

What's a level 3 exam without a lane change drill? You start with a left turn on the right side of the trail (or vice versa) for 5 medium radius turns within a (approximate) 20 foot wide lane, but turn big on the fifth turn for the lane change. Do four sets, 2 left and 2 right (that means 3 big turns). Hoser is looking at those big turns. He wants you to keep moving (no park and ride). His tips were to:

  • count the turns out loud: 1,2,3,4, fiiiiiiiiiiiive to help stretch out the big turn
  • stay long through the big turn
  • make the big turn wide (not just one lane over)
  • move the pole swing through the entire big turn

We all did the lane changes ok, except that we all went back to turning off the outside foot. So much for making permanent changes to our skiing, eh? But there's a lesson in this too. The exam tasks are meant to expose our natural movements. When you focus on a task, you're fundamental movement patterns come out from hiding. When your movement patterns are sound, the tasks are easy to perform, no matter what subtle and not practiced changes are introduced. Conversely, when you are performing a task to simply improve your skiing, you know you've got it right when it's easy to do. If you find a task hard to do, then that's a warning sign that you have a fundamental problem with your skills.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pro Jammers had a wide array of optional sessions to choose from. The trick is to get in early on Tuesday morning and hit the sign up sheets before the popular sessions get filled up. First off, there were 70 slots available to ski with one of the 7 Demo Team members. Other optional sessions included: racing, cruising the groomers, black diamonds, women only, exam tasks and a couple of indoor sessions including tuning with Reliable Racing.

Wednesday afternoon brings the optional sessions. Rusty chose to ski with Lani Tapley doing level 3 exam tasks. The first request was for hop turns. Thankfully and maybe a small hint in itself, this turned into leapers or what Lani called hop and scoop turns. This is where you jump up from your old edges with both feet and land in the fall line on your new edges. Next we did some bumps. Lani emphasized that tactics in the bumps get rewarded more than brute strength and speed. Next we did medium radius turns through the bumps. Lani did those fast. Lani wanted to see more edging and less extension in those. Next up, we talked christies. We reviewed the traditional stem christie with the uphill ski step (or slide) uphill and the center of mass moving uphill at turn initiation. Next Lani mentioned the "Modern Stem Christie". this is where the center of mass stays between the skis and the skis turn into a wedge without the skis moving uphill (hmm is opening into the wedge with a pivot from the ski tips ok?). Finally, the wedge christie also turns into a wedge with the tips and the tails moving equally and the center of mass moving over the inside ski. Lani said any or all these christies could be exam tasks, but that the modern stem christie was more likely than the traditional stem christie. Lani mentioned a teaching visual for christies: fish escape from the tips but get squeezed by the tails (it sounded better in person). Next up was one ski lane changes. Keep the off snow ski low to the snow. Flex and extend the off snow leg like it was on snow. Tip and guide your on snow ski. Use pole touches. Rusty liked the next one: skate to shape. Start skating down the fall line. As you get up to speed, start shaping your steps, then take those into short radius turns. Finally we practiced White Pass turns: set the outside foot down in the fall line, inside foot comes off the snow, take one ski into the next turn until you are in the fall line and switch feet (i.e. you initiate turns on the inside ski and finish turns on the outside ski). Lani started these turns by taking the outside ski all the way through the first turn. One of our group mentioned that the White Pass turn was invented by the Mahre brothers when they worked at White Pass. It was originally intended as a racing move where the outside ski was set back on snow at an angle intended cut turns short at a gate.

On Thursday, Hoser was bound and determined to whip us back into shape after our Wednesday morning set back. Enter the Dragon, or at least what Hoser called the Dragon's Tail. We started doing wedge turns, then finished the wedge with a SHARP move of the old outside knee into or behind the old inside knee. This was like the crab walk exercise, but now we were using it in turns. This one took a lot of practice because most of us just felt like the movement was simply not physically possible. But there was Hoser doing it over and over again. The idea is to get that ski to jump underneath the center of mass. We took this move into doing the snap with both knees and doing it in parallel turns. This delivered the cross under snap that is supposed to be in dynamic parallel turns.

Next we did some bracquage. This is French for foot steering. In PSIA it's pronounced "Pivot Slips" or "Yet Another Exam Task". Although you'd think all you have to do is a straight side slip, examiners are looking at flexion and extensions, turn initiation with hip movement over the inside ski and appropriate use of counter rotation during the side slip portion. Rusty tended to drop his hip and counter rotate to start the turns instead of using foot steering for the turns - ouch. We transitioned this to a simple hockey stop. Hoser wanted to see pressure on the boot front and no lateral (across the hill) movement during the skid to the stop. Doing a linked series of these would create a stacked set of capital "T"s in the snow. He said he liked this as an exam task. If you sit back, you'd get forward movement on the top part of the T and you would fail. 

After 4 days of below zero weather at night, lower Superstar had been transformed from a foot of natural snow over grass into some glorious packed, but soft powdery bumps. Hoser wanted us to get our hands forward in the bumps. He gave us the tip that when the sun was at your back, you should see the shadows of your hands in front of you when skiing the bumps. He encouraged us to ski the ridge lines in the bumps versus the low spots (yet another exam task).

On our way to lunch, Hoser noticed that one of our Liberty boys was unable to ride a flat ski on the cat tracks. So we started talking about canting. Hoser told us a story of when he was having trouble getting his skis on edge during his turns. He thought he needed canting on his inside edges to get more edge. He had Warren Witherall look at him. Warren said he had too much edge, that Hoser was moving his outside hip ahead to reduce his edging and that what was holding him back from moving his inside hip to get good turns. A little outside edge canting solved his problem.

After lunch, the bumps were too good to resist. Rusty got the sense that the group was just barely good enough to have their bumps skiing pass, but not so good that we couldn't benefit from more practice. Finally Andre needed some comic relief. Hoser had us practice skating (yet another exam task). The obvious key being looked for is stepping from inside edge to inside edge. Hoser also showed us how to be really fast when skating by keeping the upper body between the skis instead of following the steps and to double pole touch every skate and push when stepping off the weaker foot. He wanted to see speed gain on every step.

For more comic relief, Hoser stopped suddenly on a cat track and asked us to do a straight run to a gliding wedge. Do NOT overlook this kind of obvious task when preparing for a level 3 exam task. Rusty did this task poorly even though he teaches this maneuver in clinics at home and in lessons almost every day. Gaaack! Ptui! Instead of turning my toes in, Rusty pushed his heels out. Instead of extending and flexing, Rusty just stood there like a robot and then put his skis to much into a breaking wedge. Sigh.

Somehow the discussion came to Dalbello boots. Rusty was interested because Whitetail just got a whole bunch of these in the rental department. Hoser said the bottoms of these boots are like aircraft carriers - buckle them down hard to get good foot to ski transfer of movements. Since we were doing random topics - the acronym MITS came up - mountain, intensity, turn shape and speed. Something useful to think about when managing groups. The original acronym had terrain as the first word, but the politically correct police objected. Finally Hoser left us with the observation that a stem christie leaves and inside ski edge track, while a wedge christie should leave an outside ski edge track.

Thursday night was the banquet. Rusty, being a wait list last minute add on did not have a banquet ticket. But Jim (who was departing the group in advance of an impending snow storm) gave Rusty his ticket (thanks buddy!). The lines at the bar were ridiculous. They ran out of red wine. There were the usual awards to the old people. Somehow they the kitchen managed to turn out 450 plates of salmon without ruining them. A bunch of people won stuff in the raffle. No silent auction this year. And the Icy Nuts played once again. They were the best banquet band Rusty has ever seen at the Jam (can he get the suck up award for this?)

Friday was a powder day. Killington officially reported 13 inches, but we were skiing in about 10 inches most of the day. The beauty of a powder day with a local is that he knows where to go to get the goods. The bad news is we spent all day going everywhere to get the goods (i.e. lots of cat tracks and skating). The best quote of the day: "that can't be the right direction - it's downhill". Since the Gondy was down, we did laps around Rams Head to Superstar looking for natural snow trails opened by patrol. We got some history of the old superstar trail. We found out that lower Ovation (not opened yet) was the steepest trail at Killington. Hoser said there was a wonderful local's trail (glade run) (with a colorful history) that we could have skied except it's now called Patsy's and was closed by Patrol (insert rant here).

The beauty of Pro Jam is that you can get in a group that is skiing just how you want to ski and focused on exactly what you want to focus on. This year there was good selection of terrain and some great snow conditions and weather. Despite the caution on thin cover, Rusty managed to get through the week without getting any base damage on his nice skis. Hoser did a great job of improving our skiing and giving us a great sample of exam tasks to practice and tips for what was needed to pass. Although he was tight lipped about who he thought would pass (he preferred us to make our own self assessment of what we had trouble with), he was straightforward in his personal feedback when one of us "blew" an exam task. Some years it's a crap shoot when you try to find a "good group" to get in, but at Pro Jam, the odds are very much in your favor. This year Rusty hit the jackpot. Rusty extends his thanks to his fellow group members for making it such a hugely successful week. We showed Hoser how thankful we were on Thursday with the Moo Jazz Gracias card. If you couldn't make it to Pro Jam this year, maybe these clinic notes can help your skiing or teaching. Or maybe these notes will help you decide to come visit Killington next December and see for yourself why Pro Jam is the most successful ski instructor clinic on the planet.