Back to basics: Reporter discusses technique in second part of series |

Back to basics: Reporter discusses technique in second part of series

Day one started off with introductions and a brief explanation of what the NASTC instructors hoped clients would get out of the clinic. After that, the 13 of us divided up into two groups based on skill level, gathered up our equipment and stepped outside into the rain.

Almost immediately, my goggles were glazed over with a sheet of ice that, coupled with the flat light and fog, reduced visibility to somewhere around 30 feet. As we all got on the lift for the first time I kept thinking that one of the reasons I moved to the mountains was to be able to skip days like this. But as we all unloaded at the top of Sugar Bowl’s Christmas Tree lift, NASTC founder Chris Fellows’ contagious optimism began to catch on among our group.

“You wanted to be able to ski in all conditions,” he reminded us, adding that the lack of visibility might actually be a good thing, as it would make us focus on staying balanced over our skis and making turns with proper technique.

We started the day with a number of drills designed to get us warmed up and in a balanced stance. Chris had us making turns on intermediate slopes while shifting our weight back and forth from one ski to the other, or shuffling the ski tips throughout the arc of the turn. He explained that one of the biggest problems many skiers have is leaning too far back to be able to flex their ankles – a motion that is necessary to make the kind of aggressive turns we all witnessed him making and tried ineffectually to imitate.

Many of us in the group were also skiing with our legs too close together. Forget what you learned when long, straight skis were popular, Chris said.

“Let the skis do the work for you,” he said.

He explained that with today’s shorter, shapelier skis, a wider stance is necessary to get the skis up on their edges and allow both of them to follow a smooth arc throughout the turn.

To help us get a sense of how a good turn should feel, Chris had us give up our poles (the first of many times he’d ask us to go without them). He then held us stationary on the hill while we shifted from edge to edge on our skis, paying attention to the feeling of our shins putting pressure on the tongue of the boot. The “Shin-Tongue Roll” – achieved by keeping your weight forward and allowing the ankles to roll into the turn – became our mantra for carving smooth turns. This motion became the foundation we built upon during the next four days of instruction.

Eventually, after getting closer to making the kinds of turns Chris wanted to see out of us, we earned our poles back, and set off to explore different parts of the mountain.

The three pillars

The fact that we were enrolled in a five-day clinic allowed Chris and Mike Hafer (the other NASTC instructor at the Jumpstart clinic) to build up our skills from the fundamentals of making good turns to the tactics and mental focus necessary to ski more difficult terrain under control. And throughout the clinic, they continued to emphasis the three things necessary to become a better skier: Proper equipment choice and alignment, physical fitness, and technical and tactical coaching.

The fourth article in this series will discuss the work NASTC and Jim Schaffner (the equipment guru they work with) do to get individual’s equipment working properly.

To help their clients achieve the fitness level necessary to progress in their skiing, NASTC holds a number of summertime dryland training camps in which they teach people exercises to get them ready for the slopes come winter and get them up on in-line skates to simulate the motions one goes through while making ski turns.

In addition, Scott Williams, a physical therapist at Tahoe Forest Therapy Services, gave an evening presentation about ski fitness that emphasized proper stretching technique, muscle balancing, strength training and the importance of training the body’s proprioceptive abilities – which allow our bodies to maintain balance through all sorts of motions.

The technical and tactical coaching takes place on the hill and continues after the ski day is over with the evening “tech talks” given downstairs in the Village Lodge. During three of these tech talks, instructors Chris and Mike sat down with those of us in the clinic and went over a video of our skiing that had been shot earlier on the slopes. The video analysis was just another tool the NASTC trainers employed to help people visualize what they were doing right and what they needed to work on.

“This isn’t the end-all be-all … this is just one element of the total learning process,” Chris said of the video sessions, which were impressively sophisticated.

Using a software program called the V1 Professional Allsports digital coaching system, created by Interactive Frontiers, Chris and Mike downloaded the raw video to a laptop, and then drew lines on the screen to illustrate body angles. They could slow and stop the film at any point to illustrate body position problems and the symptoms associated with them.

Additionally, through a partnership with Interactive Frontiers, the NASTC instructors can upload the video sessions, along with personalized lessons based on what they see on the tape, to a “web locker,” from which students can download lessons from home and continue to work on the technical improvements after the clinic is over.

“I get a lot of requests from people who want to see their progress year after year, and this is a perfect way to do that,” Chris said.

While the students at my clinic were little wary at first about having everybody else watch their video and hear the instructors’ criticism, they seemed to agree that the video analysis fit in well with NASTC’s holistic approach to ski instruction. And when the clinic was over, a number of them signed up for the Web-based training option.

While most of the other students enrolled in the Jumpstart course with me had been to a number of NASTC clinics in the past, Los Angeles-resident Sabrina Kay was taking her first NASTC course.

“I was really expecting that I would do more techniques where I would ski better the next day. But I think a NASTC course is almost like taking vitamins: It’s good for you, it gives you really good fundamentals. It kind of teaches away your bad habits from the inside out, and puts good technique into muscle memory,” Kay said.

“I would love to come back and do more courses,” she added. “What’s beautiful about learning is that it’s a never-ending process, and I think they have adapted their program to that. It’s admirable because I think most ski schools don’t have a continuing education program; so most ski schools that you go to, you go there once and you learn a little piece of a puzzle without knowing what the whole picture is all about.”

This is the second in a series of four stories about the author’s experience in NASTC’s five-day Jumpstart Your Season clinic at Sugar Bowl ski resort. For more information on NASTC’s programs, see their Web site at or call 582-4772. To learn about the V1 digital coaching system check out

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