The 2008 Snow Pro Jam

The group (minus Geo).... Eric, Mark, Martha, Michael, Rusty, Shawn, Ralph, Ned and Ward.

The 2008 PSIA-E Snow Pro Jam was held at Mount Snow, Vermont on December 8-12. Why go to a ski clinic this early in the season for this? This is the largest ski instructor training event in the country. Because it's large, it's easy to get in a group where everyone is skiing at close the same speed and working on the same kinds of things. Because it's early in the season and has great clinicians, pros get to jump start their season, shake off the rust, design an improvement plan for the season and take some fresh ideas back to their home mountain.

This year Rusty attended the master’s academy. This is just a fancy name for level 3 certified pros attending the same event. Rusty guesses there were about 6 or 7 groups totaling about 50 pros. Although Sunday night arrival was too late for early registration it was pretty cool to step into 6 inches of fresh in the condo parking lot.

On Monday morning, registration was a breeze and even skipping the mass welcome announcements was refreshing. We went to straight to our meetings areas at 9AM to split into groups. Rusty spotted Shawn Smith and managed to fool the rest of the group into thinking he could keep up with them. Shawn is a demo team coach emeritus. The rest of the level 3 schmucks had to settle for current demo team members to ski with. (O yeah - Terry Barbour and one other ex demo team guy was also there). Shawn is currently working out of Steven's Pass (Washington). The other members of our group were:

Ward - holimount
Michael – holimount
Mark Kaufer – (DC) unaffiliated
Martha – Mount Snow
Rusty Carr - Whitetail
Ralph – Elk
Ned - Windham
Eric Timmerman - Stowe

When Shawn asked what we wanted to get out of the week, one common theme emerged: moving forward during turn initiation. The low overnight was 4, so we definitely needed a few warm up runs. Between the cold and the grooming, the freshies were gone and the firm spots were, uh, well, firm. And boy the trails were crowded. 

Shawn started with a drill to lift the inside ski. We were supposed to lift it after the edge change and set it back down before the next edge change. The point was to find out where the feet are relative to center. Without specific instruction of where to place the inside foot back down, it will be placed in a natural location. All of our group set our feet down underneath us, but other skiers may tend to set the inside foot down in a forward position. As an aside, Shawn told is he does not like the "pull your feet back" tip because it fixes a symptom (feet ahead of the body) instead of the cause (body not moving forward to stay with the feet). A traditional test of the lifted ski drill is to check whether the lifted ski is level, toe up or heel up. We were all either level or heel up, but toe up is a clue that weight needs to move forward. So on the second pass we  focused on keeping the lifted ski tip down and pressured. On the 3rd pass the focus was to tip the pressured tip into the new turn. After that we started to work on setting the ski down earlier in the turn phase. Finally, Shawn asked us to add pressure to the tongue of the boot. Doing this after setting the ski down did not work very well, Shawn demonstrated doing it with ankle movement before setting the ski down. In the summary discussion Shawn noted that 
racers who have a locked in carve end up in a position where forward movement is too forced. Later in the week we would learn more about this.

After lunch we started doing shuffle turns. The task was to observe at what points in the turn shuffling was hard to do. For those of you following at home, if you can't shuffle all the way through the entire turn, you're not yet ready to continue on with subsequent variations of this drill progression. The first pass was a little skiddy due to flat skis, so we did another pass where we tipped the skis more while shuffling. This was a little harder. Next we tried carving the top of the turn and shuffling out through the bottom of the turn. After that was shuffling in and arcing out. These variations helped us feel how shuffling was giving us better transitions. Finally, we started doing the shuffle only during the transition, with one run doing it just a fraction before initiation. Although Shawn was claiming shuffling can't be done from the back seat, Mark showed us this while in a static position. Rusty says the main point is that shuffling shows that if you're in the back seat during the transition, it's hard to move forward and if it's hard to move forward, one is likely to do something else (i.e. less efficient).


We had 2 inches or so of new so over night and flurries in the morning. Temps rose  to above 32 by end of day. The conditions were super soft and more trails were open, relieving congestion. We had worked the lower body all day Monday. Today was upper body day.

Counter? – Shawn says we’re ok in fall line portion of the turn (hmm, that's where you need the least amount of counter), but that our turn entry and exits had issues. So he introduced us to 
"Gay Haitian" turns (this drill goes by many names - Heisman turns because the skiing position resembles the trophy statue would be more politically correct). The first thing is to find a good spot to leave your poles behind. Then you ski with your outside hand on your hip, and your inside hand pressed forward. Do your edge change first, then switch hands. We watched Shawn do the demo that way, yet still tried it opposite of that. It didn't work. Edge change first, then lead with your new inside hand. After that, we had added shuffling. First we shuffled for the whole turn, then only at transition. Things were now starting to come together. With all that focus on placement of the hands, don't forget to still keep them level!

After lunch, Shawn offered up this concept:  arc to the fall line versus arc away from the fall line. How many skiers just arc away from the fall line? If you focus on arcing into the fall line, the bottom of the turn takes care of itself. Shawn said that when he's doing this he feels pressure build at the ski tip at the top of the turn. 

It was time to start bringing our poles back into it, but slowly. Instead of pole touch, we dragged the pole tip still using the Heisman move. As we transitioned back to traditional pole swings, Shawn noted that a pole touch too close to the tips of the skis closes out counter rotation (i.e. squares up the shoulders with the skis) before the edge change. Uh oh!

Finally, fallen timbers opened up and it was time for bump runs! If we used a pole touch on the back of the bump, we could facilitate pushing into the new trough and get exactly the same movements we'd been working on earlier. The bumps were soft and cushy and pretty big too. It did not really matter if we reverted a bit, it was time for some fun,

Tuesday was the first demo day. Rusty tried out the Blizzard SLR race ski in the morning and their all mountain ski in the afternoon. The all mountain ski was nice, but the race ski was impressive. The buzz was that Technica was bringing Blizzard into the top ranks of ski manufacturers.

Wednesday was, ahhh, a little damp. Ok, it was a great test of how good your rain gear was. Already in the morning you could see runs that were skiable with natural snow the day before were mostly washed out. The runs with man made held up ok and at least the snow was soft. Rusty tested the Volkl tigershark 10 in the morning: nice ski – nothing special. We continued our upper body focus. The first drill was to drag both poles. The idea was to hold your arms level and cock your wrists forward to get contact. The intent here was to replace up and down vertical movement with forward/lateral movement. This drill also works great at leveling out the hips and shoulders to the snow surface (vs tipping shoulder uphill into the hill).

Next Shawn introduced us to the concept of "Kneepoint". He's had success using this concept with the US women's alpine team. The idea is that we want to keep the knees "pointing" forward throughout our turns. If the knee is over the toes, then the line from the foot to the knee to the hips is an angle that is an arrow or pointer. This requires ankle flexion. If there is not enough ankle flexion, there will be excess flexion in the knees and hips. The knees will be over the ankles instead of the toes and the thighs will be more parallel to the snow surface than vertical. In this case, the kneepoint forward will be lost (the angle of the knee joint is now pointing 45 degrees up instead of parallel to the snow surface). Yes, this is just a fancy cue for noticing that one's weight is in the back seat, but it seems to work for some people.
It was important to practice this concept off the skis first. As usual, we added shuffling to help reinforce the concept. We moved on from "shmedium" (short to medium) to short radius turns, trying to focus on keeping vertical thighs.

During the day Rusty relearned an old adage about worn out goggles. When the foam is worn out from the top vent, they need to be replaced. When rain gets on the inside of the lens, you're toast. Ah, the beauty of having backup goggles in the car to switch to at lunch. Nonetheless, it's hard to make turns when you can't see a ^%^%&% thing.

On Wednesday afternoon we had our optional sessions. The most popular one was called Octoberfest. That was held in Cuzzins. Rumor had it there was beer drinking and games. Rusty did the race training clinic with Brian Whatley and Matt (who?). This was a lot less intense than expected, but still fun and informative. We had three mini courses of brushies (6 inch high "gates"). The first was a set of 2 brushies per "gate". The first brushie marked where we were supposed to begin our turn and the second was the gate we were supposed to turn around. The idea here was to focus on round turns and not speed. The second was 3 brushies. This was the same idea as the first, but was set on a steeper pitch. The idea here was to focus on round turns and speed. The third was a semi tight flush set on a flatter pitch. The idea here was to do RR track turns and build up more and more speed with each pass. This required developing angulation. We did laps, getting individual coaching as we passed through. The personal feedback Rusty got was spot on. First he was told to do continuous turning (yeah that long brushie sitting in the middle of the 3 set course did tend to screw me up a little). Next he was told to absorb those little ripples in the snow between the gates (ripples? I can barely see those neon things through these rain spotted goggles. What ripples?). Nonetheless it was interesting to note how much faster lateral movement through turn initiation was compared to vertical movement.

Light snow to start the day turned to freezing rain starting at 11. By afternoon We were all caked in ice. Rusty learned another fresh adage: load the camera with fresh batteries. Rusty demoed the Dynastar 172 slalom ski, but could not buy a turn. One run and done. The snow was remarkably soft relative to the temps.

Today was video day, we did a couple of warm up runs. The last one was a preview of what we would tape. We did 4 segments for video:
1) medium turns
2) shuffle at transition
3) short radius
4) anything with energy
It was very foggy, but the video came up quite well. The snow we skied was relatively firm. Right away we noticed that Shawn had more vertical movement than usual. Suggestions during the taping included: watch for tail pushing during short turns, don’t worry about the snow knocking your feet around and getting too foot sequential. try to increase the edge angle.

During the review Shawn advised to start at snow level and look at the turn transition. The medium turns were pretty much warm up throwaway because the fog made the segment too short. Shuffle turn observations included:
Eric – now moving more forward versus lateral
Michael - more consistent and upright
Ned –  hands no longer blocking the new turn – this let’s the feet work more
Ralph –  Stance more forward after edge change versus settling
(this meant 1 move versus 2 during the transition)
Rusty – not committing to forward vs focus on shuffle – rising too much
Ward – really strong lower body position – really smooth
Mark - Focus on away from the camera segment – you'll see the leveling
Martha – stance is good – need to calm down the tails. Going away from the camera see the tips turning into the new turn – today lost lead of inside half versus yesterday

Short turns
Eric – lost knee point. Better deeper into the run – good upper body
Michael - best roundness and consistent and active
Ned – old way was short turn + pause; now there is a connection and active movement
Ralph – focus on the bottom of the turn where hips are moving – (vs settling and edge set)
Rusty – hands too wide = not enough knee point -> miss early turn pressure
Ward – started nice then settled a little after passing the camera
Martha – hips back from yesterday

Last run
Eric – work on ankles and knees – gets sloppy when you slow down (too lazy)
Michael – look where you’re standing (Michael credits good form to his new skis – you can buy a turn)
Ralph – look at angles in the fall line- see how stable the upper body is
Mark – Rusty missed the comments because he was too busy observing how Mark's outfit  contrast worked great for showing upper lower body separation

After reviewing the video we went over to the North face section and did laps scaring the level 2 groups. It was a little crowded because the high speed chair broke down. We got more personal feedback. Rusty's old boss (Mac Jackson) passed on some good advice (stop with the vertical movement - gees where've we heard that before?). Ralph- where you the one that observed that the double pole drag drill  does wonders for counter positioning – fixes pole swing issues? At the end of the day we did a run on the old Summit triple chair for old times sake. Ah, there's nothing like an 18 minute lift ride to remind you why we pay $80+ for lift tickets.

Friday was a washout. First, all the chairs were frozen solid under a ton of ice. Although the mountain worked feverishly to get some chair open, the power went out for good about 10. Some groups hiked for turns. Most groups just did a review indoors. By noon, almost everyone had gone. Later on, the resort closed down for good.

Our group huddled up stairs and shot the (oh wait, this is a family web site). Shawn talked about some guest service stuff they were doing at Steven's Pass (e.g. de-icing cars in the parking lot for guests, lighting parking lots, encouraging only the drivers to go to the remote lots, then come back and pick up the gang at the resort). Shawn noted that the demo team guys pool their tips at Pro Jam to account for uneven groups. Then we practiced the farmers hand shake and the upside logger handshake equivalent (needs pics - oh wait, this is a family web site). Side note to a trivia question "what is the difference between Bracquage and Pivot Slips?": Answer is Bracquage is pivoting. It is used in pivot slips.

So we were supposed to be reviewing what we covered during the week. We started with a focus on the feet even though the group already had pretty good position. By lifting the inside foot, it helps us to identify where we naturally should have it for balance and when we set it down it tells us where we habitually set it for lead change. When we focused on setting the tip down pressured, the idea was to create the pressure as a result of moving the hips instead of using the legs. 

The shuffling drills identify positions within a turn where fore aft balance is a problem. The 2 common points are at transition and in the fall line. What we're looking for is whether the tips displace or the tails displace. When the tails displace, you get vertical movement. In this case, flatten the terrain to get it right before moving to steeper terrain. One benefit of the shuffle drill is that it makes both feet active. Another variation is shuffling only one foot.

The Heisman drill. Focus on the hand position first. Get patient and comfortable. Tail pushers don't do this drill well. Results come from getting the timing of the hand position change (Rusty says Amen to that). This drill fixes too early pole swing which realigns the skier square to the skis at the end of the turn (destroying counter).

For short turns we were trying to get "connection" to replace vertical movement. We want more diagonal movement (aka what Mac Jackson calls fore-agonal). The kneepoint idea was a way to keep ankle bend from being replaced with hip bend (aka back seat). During the pole drag drill you need to watch to make sure people start lifting the poles off the snow or letting their hands drift back.  Mark's concept was that the grips are the only thing you should use the poles for (i.e. the grip should be the only thing under your hands). Using a pole touch with a wrist flick causes hips to go back.

Next we talked about racing. A lot of racers get coached to pressure the outside ski earlier in the turn. The problem is that this is an outcome, not how to do it (e.g. via maintaining knee point). The fastest racers arc to the gate versus away from the gate. Junior racers tend to turn at the bottom of the turn, after the gate.

Fishing at the bottom of the barrel we came up with good  upper body position leads to good hand position, but hand position can take the upper body out of position (which came first - the bad hand position or the bad body position?). Rusty asked another party topic question - "What is a strong inside half?" (clearly Rusty needs to find more interesting parties). The cool part was that everyone in the group knew what was meant, but would not answer the question with a single sentence. When pressed, Shawn advised taking off the skis, rotate the lower body and feel the tension in the upper body. Tension = strength. You can also stand and rotate just half of your upper body and feel the same kind of tension. Rusty is thinking that counter + angulation lead to strong inside half, but that will have to wait for another clinic.

So, despite (relatively) bitter cold, a day full of rain, a day iced out, limited terrain, blah blah blah, the beauty of Pro Jam shines through once again. Rusty went from feeling way out of place to super confident skiing and came home with a better understanding of skiing that he can share with his buddies back home. Being low man on the totem pole was a humbling experience. The level 3 groups at the Master's Academy sub piece of Pro Jam truly move on a much higher plain  than the level 2 groups.