Michael Rogan Clinic at Whitetail - 2005/01/27
How would you like to ski with a PSIA demo team member for a day? The Whitetail ski school calls up the PSIA office and asks for Michael Rogan to drop by for a 3 day swing, then gets 36 pros to sign up for either a full day clinic for $80 or 1/2 day clinic for $40 (2 full day sessions for 9 people and 2 half day sessions of 9 per group). Throw in a little tip for his troubles and you've got an experience that can't be beat. Why more resorts don't take advantage of this training opportunity is a mystery. Maybe they simply don't know that this can be done. Whether you want to see if this could be worthwhile for your resort or you just want to read what we covered, these notes will be helpful for you.
This is the second year that Michael has visited our fine resort. Other than knowing that he has an advanced group on Wednesday, a slow group on Thursday and two whatever groups on Friday, he knows that he'll get peppered with all sorts of question about the demo team, Portillo, tech talk, etc. all day long. Although the clinics are mainly focused on personal skiing improvement, Michael never comes with an agenda. We start with a couple of easy warm up runs so that Michael can see what's going on and ask us what we want to cover. Pretty soon a theme and a game plan emerges and we're in the thick of it.
Rusty was late getting his money in, so he ended up in the "slow" Thursday group. As it turned out, this worked out great. It was a perfect sunny day, the mixture of fresh man made snow and groomed out frozen corduroy was great for the turns I needed to work on and the speed of the group worked out just fine since I was recovering from a crash 2 weeks earlier. Thanks Fran, Angelo, Dave, Don, Mike, Bing, Marty and Gary for being such a wonderful group.
One of the common concerns was too narrow a stance width. Michael noted that the "proper" stance width is a debatable and said a lot of stuff that amounted to the standard "functional" stance. We start at feet about shoulder width apart because that's where they are naturally and that's where, on average, we're going to have our feet flat on the ground. If your feet are any closer, pressure will be on the outside edges. Any farther apart and the pressure will be on the inside edges. With the exception that you can make adjustments like moving your knees to compensate. But that has it's costs. We talked about the troubles you get in powder and bumps when your feet get too far apart and how the feet can get blocked from getting on the desired edge when the feet are too close on the groomed and steeps. So to determine how close was too close, we tried to ski with our legs locked together. Most of our group could get our legs together but had our feet apart. It was pretty cool to watch Michael float turns with his feet locked together. We tried a second run and got a little better. Michael noted that for many, this task required more balance skill than what was available. Rusty noted that when his ankles were locked together, the tips and the tails of the shaped skis were doing some real strange overlapping tricks. Next we tried Cowboy Turns. We set our feet just slightly wider than shoulder width apart (this required some feedback from observers - some had their feet too close - some too far apart), then made turns trying to focus on rolling the inside foot to initiate turns. This is because we tend to cheat turn initiation through tipping only. With the wide stance, tipping along can not get the job done. Try it from a standing position. Rusty could really feel this work.
Next we focused on moving the center of mass on turn initiation. We stopped on a not too gently sloped piece of the base area and hopped out of our skis, then stood sideways across the hill in a balanced stance (i.e. our weight slightly uphill) with a slight uphill ski tip lead. Then, by just turning our feet only, we face down the hill (boot toes will be off the ground). Without moving anything else, this automatically puts the weight in the back seat. Michael noted that this would be a good cause for "Z" turning or anyone not rounding out the top of their turns because in this position one is uncomfortably unbalanced. From this position, the quick fix is to turn your feet back across the fall line (i.e. completing the turn). So if we're not moving our hips as part of turn initiation to keep the center of mass over the feet, we're naturally going to minimize the time spent from the finish of one turn through the fall line of the next turn. So then we tried to walk downhill without our poles to help us. The goal was to land steps flat footed. It could not be done. So we practiced with one pole held out in front of us, supporting our weight. This allowed us to make the steps correctly. The forward movement of the hips that was required and the amount of weight on the poles gave a lot of feedback. Marty was given the task of standing at lineup like this for the rest of the season (poor guy).
Most of the group were making turns with our downhill shoulder higher than our uphill shoulder. Someone, whose name won't be mentioned had their hands swinging wildly such that their downhill hand was almost shoulder high. This made it awfully hard to release the new inside ski for the next turn. So Michael had us make turns with our outside hands lowered to knee height. On the second go around, he held a couple of us back and noted that although the rest of the group need to start using the hands to make the upper body change position, we needed to do this more from the feet up without "cheating" with our hands.
This all fed into an answer to a teaching question one that Mike the group member had asked. Mike wanted tips for how to turn terminal wedgers into parallel skiers. The first piece was that Mike showed that in a breaking wedge, the feet are wider than shoulder width apart and that the weight was shifted backward. Before you can get the skier to get to corresponding edges, you must get them into a smaller wedge (ed note - or go the direct to parallel route). Once the ski has been flattened, it becomes far easier to turn. The next piece was to focus on turning the ski tips with the legs as opposed to the feet (because the feet happen). During lunch, Michael did a dinner plate demo with a knife impersonating a ski. Starting at 12:00 going across the fall line, an ideal turn would have the middle of the knife in contact with the edge of the plate all the way around down to 6:00. If you break the turn into little steps, this can be done by turning the tips. But if you turn the tail, the knife "jumps" down into the same position it would be at at 3:00/9:00. This effectively cuts out the top half of the turn. When a person has their weight back, if they try to turn, they must push the tails out and or pick up the inside ski.
At lunch we asked why Michael did not go to Portillo last summer. He explained that he got out voted. He talked about his consulting work for Nordica. He was instrumental in getting them to change their marketing approach from "here's a bunch of skis - help us sell them" to "what do you need?". One result is that the US market has a lot more mid fats for sale than the European market. He talked about the process where he tells them he wants more or less stiffness in certain parts of the ski, they make 5-6 pairs different ways, do their own machine testing, then he skis them and goes - that worked - that didn't and so on. Although he works on helping to design skis 2 model years ahead, he also demos next years skis. This year Nordica showed him a pile and said take 3-4 pair. Nice guys, huh? Michael risked ruining his lunch by doing some hands on experimentation with Don's boots (can you say stinky fingers?). Michael had guessed that some of Don's problems on the hill were boot related. He was even more suspicious when his one shell size larger boots fit into Don's bindings. He had known many people with Don's brand of boots (ed note - bug me and I'll follow up with Don to find what the brand was) who had needed work to get them right. Although the brand has a reputation for larger volume in the boot, Michael suspected that Don had too much room behind the heel and that therefore Don's foot would be moving back and forth inside the boot. This would explain some of Don's wild swinging and hunching over at the waist. I would have gotten the results of the investigation, but the stench was overwhelming. Michael told us his demo team responsibilities amounted to about 50 days/year. He indicated that basically only Hunter and Whitetail do "private" clinics like this and that he'd love to see more resorts do it too. He has encouraged the new demo team members to try to get hooked up because this kind of thing is not obvious. Rusty was shocked to hear that Michael is not totally booked for privates when he is at his home mountain (Heavenly). He often teaches beginner groups (they have no idea who he is) and if he is in town and you request him for a private lesson, you have a very good chance of getting him at the standard rate!
When you're in these kinds of clinics, you need to take advantage of lift time and waiting for the group to reform on the hill time to pass along what you want out of the clinic, soliciting feedback and letting the clinic leader know what you are working on. Early on, I had let Michael know that I was working on upper lower body separation. During the morning, he had passed on "yup - that needs work". Just before lunch, he had held me back and asked me to do hop turns. Sure enough I turned my hips to get my sloppy hoppies in. We did a little hands on boot drill exercise so I could turn my feet while he held my hips in place. He then grabbed my poles and had me ski with my hands on hips with my hands underneath my jacket so I could actually feel my hips not moving. Sorry Michael, with my thick gloves and bashed up wrist that part did not work too well for me. I must have been really bad, because after lunch we all went over to the beginner terrain to do wedge turns and railroad turns with our hands on our hips. We really stunk, so we tried it again with our poles attached to our hips. You know the old drill - stick one pole tip into the hand loop of the other and vice versa with your hips in the middle. The new graphite poles really stick to you this way. Make your turns with the poles pointing to the side of the trail instead of downhill. Rusty knows that you steer to create counter. His short turns were doing it. But for longer radius turns, Rusty realized that the advice he gotten to start using less counter had been taken too much to heart. My personal feedback is that I was turning my hips too much in my turns. Now I've got a fix. We did some more railroad turns and pivot slips on our advanced beginner terrain while we waited for a clinic rookie to get rehooked up with the group. Here's a tip people: when you lose the group, park yourself at the bottom of the lift where they last saw you and stay put. No names mentioned, Dave.
We finished the afternoon with a couple of bump runs. The speculation was that the group was way to sloppy to more than just survive. However, it was amazing how all of the days tips came together and made the bump skiing work for everyone. Before we started out, Michael made clear that the bump run was optional. Anyone wanting to take it easy, and that was recommended could take the non-bump trail and meet us at the bottom. One group member was definitely doing the detour (with positive group feedback), but changed his mind when no one else went with him. (Clinic leader note - be the last person to depart from the starting point in these situations and give them a task to do so that they won't be so tempted to change their mind.) Michael talked about the pole PLANT as opposed to the touch. He wanted the pole plant to be in the uphill face of the bump (planting on top of the bump is too easy to miss and get it on the back side) in order to make sure the plant was effective in stabilizing the upper body to facilitate upper lower body separation. He also encouraged us to reach down the hill with the pole plant so that it would not get in the way of the turn. Michael talked about tactics for getting the skis more across the hill, yet still avoiding the steep "across the rut" path that sets you up for failure. But mostly we just had fun putting it all together.
For two years in a row, Mr. Rogan has come to Whitetail and had absolutely sweet conditions to ski in. He has rewarded the ski school staff for this luck by sharing his teaching knowledge and improving our skiing. It is such a thrill to see in person a demo team person making turns on your home mountain and to follow in their tracks. Thank you Michael. We're already making plans for next year. You should be too!