A Day with Michael Rogan

One of the perks of being a ski instructor is getting access to the best instructors to help improve your own personal skiing. At Whitetail, we were lucky to get Michael Rogan (one of PSIA National Demonstration Team members) to visit us this January, 2004. Here are the notes from one of Michael's 3 days of clinics where Rusty and 7 other fellow Whitetail pros got to spend the day making turns with one of the best ski pros in the US.

Michael's a low key guy and the snow was in great shape. So we took quite a few low pressure warm up runs. As we worked our way around the mountain, many in the group took the opportunity to observe Michael's turns close up or even follow in his tracks. Michael, in turn took the opportunity to observe our turns and start planning things. 

On Far Side, Pete found some fresh man made snow that was a little grabby. We talked about how sudden moves by our bodies prompted sudden reactions from the snow against our skis (i.e. trouble). When the skis sink into the snow, we don't need to edge them as much. If we do, they tend to lock and run straight instead of continue turning. Or maybe turning the tips onto edge too quickly exposes a nice big flat surface for the snow to catch and deflect from the intended line. Michael also explained that excessive foot to foot movements can cause one foot to sink in and the other to rise up and thus cause more unintended ski movements. So the focus became developing "touch" and smooth progressive movements.

One exercise we worked on was sideslips while standing on the uphill foot, then switching feet back and forth. Rusty found that stepping from foot to foot caused the skis to grab and jerk in the sliding movements. By making the steps from foot to foot smooth progressions, he was able to maintain a smooth sideslip. We transitioned into falling leafs where we tried to focus on directional tracking to help fine tune edge control. From there we transitioned into whirlybirds (multiple linked on snow 360s). Dewayne's advice was to change directions after 4 spins to avoid getting dizzy.

At the bottom of Fanciful, we had some fun with backwards railroad track turns. For this we had a partner riding behind us to provide directional warnings. No names mentioned (Emily) was so engrossed with Wirt's turns that she forgot to warn him about the netting - ooops! Michael did caution that there was a natural tendency to reverse wedge when going backwards. We needed to first get comfortable to avoid the wedge before we could get the RR tracks to start working.

Another exercise we did with the weight on the uphill ski focus was in the terrain park. We'd approach hits from the side then ride along a bank only on our uphill foot. This was especially tricky when the sides had not been buffed out (Maury did give us some dirty looks for this). Not to mention how tricky it was when we attempted to do this skiing backwards. 

Next we worked on Cowboy turns. This exercise is essentially railroad track turns using a stance where our inside edges were shoulder width apart or greater. The end result is a stance like a cowboy. The initial reaction when attempting to do this is a slight wedge to initiate turns, but you should try to get to pure rr type turns. Michael explained that because the upper body can stand over one leg or the other, that the lower body has to do the work to make turns happen in this stance.

Finally, before lunch we played cat and mouse. The mouse in the lead was supposed to "shake" the cat. The cat was supposed to follow exactly in the mouse's path. Straight speed is not allowed as a getaway technique and worm turns and 360s are not allowed for safety reasons. The idea was to vary turn shape and speed. Frannie got eaten by the cat.

After lunch we dumped our poles and borrowed some bamboo (sorry Jack!) to work more on upper body discipline. We first held the bamboo up against the trail side horizon, to get used to matching the pole angle to the slope angle. Then we tried to just carrying the boo in front of us trying to keep the boo angle even with the slope pitch. Michael encouraged us to make the matching by tilting from our lower back/hips instead of just tilting our shoulders. But the real breakthrough started when we held the boo on our shoulders behind our neck with an arm on each end. This really locked in the upper body and forced us to let our lower bodies really get into it. At first some of us needed to work on getting the outside shoulder down at the end of our turns, but eventually the focus became getting the slope matching to occur earlier in the turn and with a smooth movement. It took us a few runs to really get the hang of this, but it made a big change in all of our turns. Once we started getting comfortable Michael had us do countering rotation with the boo on our shoulders. Before we started a new turn, we'd counter rotate so that the boo was parallel to our skis. Once we finished the turn into a traverse, we'd counter rotate for the next turn. We were cautioned to not do this move too early and that it was only an exercise (i.e. way too much counter for "normal skiing"). But this really helped us get a feel for "strong inside half". 

Mike Hicks got some video of these exercises if you're interested in seeing what they look like. Rusty offers advice to hold boo above the snow so it won't break (Dirk) and to carry boo over your shoulder when getting on the lift and to hold it tightly so you won't drop it from the lift (Anna).

Throughout the day, our group took turns pestering Michael with tons of questions about Portillo, the demo team, technique, equipment tips (he waxes his skis every day!), etc. 

We finished off the day with a couple of fun runs to put it all together and then some personal feedback during the wrap up. Michael promised us he'd come back even if the snow was not so great. Rusty would like to publicly thank Mike Hicks and Dave Gniewek for their work in arranging Michael's visit as well as thanking Michael for the great tips, fun time and fabulous results.