An Enduring Dilemma in Ski Teaching – Platform or Balance

Walter Foeger - Jay Peak HistoryWalter Foeger - Jay Peak HistoryWalter Foeger - Jay Peak HistoryWalter Foeger - Jay Peak HistoryWalter Foeger - Jay Peak History

Walter Foeger publishes “Learn to Ski in a Week,” also in 1958 (a popular year in the U.S. for ski books). Foeger, like Allais and Loosli before him, is solidly in the Balance school of approach to skiing. He believes that neither Snowplow nor Stem should be taught to beginner skiers, though it may be used by strong skiers to negotiate a narrow icy trail, for example. After tipping his hat to his various teachers and influences, from Seelos, to Karl Seer, to Ducia, to Dahinden, to Hutter, to Joubert, etc., he proceeds to describe his “Natur Teknik,” a Direct to Parallel method, logical series of inter-locking steps, which will enable a complete beginner to learn to ski parallel in seven days. Foeger uses a method of Angulation, Unweighting the ski tails, Heelthrust pivoting about the ski tips, and Counter-Rotation to effect turns. His exercises go from a simple Parallel Turn to the Mountain, through Parallel Downhill turns, to Wedeln and Mambo. He downplays the use of poles at the early stages. No other ski instructional manual to date has so completely taken such a focused, linear and step-by-step approach.13 The American Ski Teachers’ Association of Natur Teknik (ASTAN) is incorporated in 1960 to train instructors, and maintain the level of quality.

Wedeln – The New Austrian Skiing Technique - Jay Peak HistoryWedeln – The New Austrian Skiing Technique - Jay Peak HistoryTwo years later, in 1960, “Wedeln – The New Austrian Skiing Technique,” is published in the U.S. by Clemens M. Hutter. This, too, is an updated, very updated, Arlberg method. Hutter starts out teaching Traverse, then adds Sideslip, Heelthrust, and linked Parallel turns with Heelthrust and Counter-Rotation (or Reverse Shoulder), all good Balance material. He then follows with Snowplow and Stem-Christie turns, and then the Heelthrust (or Schmieren) Wedeln and Sprungwedeln with Hops.14 Though flirting at the outset with the Balance school of skiing approach, Hutter decides to stay with the Platform-To-Balance school.

Instant Skiing by Clif Taylor - Jay Peak HistoryInstant Skiing by Clif Taylor - Jay Peak HistoryInstant Skiing by Clif Taylor - Jay Peak History“Instant Skiing” by Clif Taylor introduces to the U.S., in 1961, the concept of a direct parallel approach through the use of short skis. Taylor’s “Step-by-Step” approach, like Foeger’s, is a direct line to the finished product, and also relies on Counter-Rotation or Reverse Shoulder, to effect the Heelthrust or “Twist” that is central to his method. He also downplays the use of poles.15 “GLM” (graduated length method, where the length of skis is gradually increased as the lessons progress) will in 1973 incorporate Taylor’s short ski approach to parallel. Here equipment evolution played a part in offering an alternate approach. Both Taylor’s Short Ski technique and GLM eschew the use of Snowplow and Stem, and are without a doubt in the Balance approach camp. (“Wide-Track GLM,” a variant of GLM, does, however, use a Snowplow).

The Professional Ski Instructors of America association is founded in 1961.16 The PSIA’s guiding method is the Arlberg, or Platform, system of Hannes Schneider, and, within a decade, the association’s ski schools will become standard throughout U.S. ski areas.

Today, in 2004, most ski areas in North America have ski schools sanctioned by the PSIA or the CSIA. These schools teach an evolved, streamlined version of the Arlberg technique, often incorporating a type of wide-track graduated-length-method. These schools have thus adopted the Platform-to-Balance approach. Yet, some of these schools have recently begun to unofficially experiment with various Direct to Parallel (or Balance) approaches. Equipment advances, such as the shorter, shaped ski (a length-challenged, Norheim’s waisted Telemark ski on steroids), have played a significant role here. Also, possibly the example of snowboarders, who never understood what the controversy was all about, anyway, and by necessity used the Balance approach from day one. Hmm . and so we beat on …

Thanks, Sondre! It hasn’t been a dull 150 years on the slopes!

1-16 For endnotes/footnotes – please apply to author.