Words by Phil Smith, Director of Snoworks Ski Courses.
Photo: Emma Carrick-Anderson 4 x Olympic ski racer. Very skilful or very technical?
Maybe it’s just semantics but the more I teach the greater confusion appears to exist between these words technique and skill or skills or so it appears.
For many of our guests coming on a Snoworks Course for the first time their perception is that they need to improve their ‘technique’ to become a more competent skier. But what is technique and is it appropriate to all-mountain skiing? Or should you be looking at developing skill or skills? Or are they all exactly the same?
Firstly lets look at the definition of all two words ‘technique’ and ‘skill’.
Technique: Is the method, procedure or way something is done.
Skill: Is the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc, to do something well.
For us at Snoworks the two are very different and this is how we see it. Technique is used to describe an output – the way something has been done. It often refers to a set movement pattern. However developing skills or skill is completely different. Even skills and skill have different meanings.
Skills are things which are used to develop skill. In skiing we have thousands of so called skills which we can use to help develop skill. Slipping skills, skidding skills, jumping skills, edging skills, pressure control skills, pushing skills, balancing skills, recovering skills, concentration or focusing skills, rotary skills, speed control skills, tactical skills, route finding skills, decision making skills, skills for developing self motivation, keeping warm skills, selecting approriate skis skills, ski maintenance skills, skills for developing mobility, speed of movements, range of movements, skills for creating skills, skills for developing the ability to learn. Where do I stop? The list of skills we have available is endless and we can just keep creating them. The only limit to the amount of skills we have is the limit to our creativity.
Simply put, skills can be thought of as exercises or drills whereas skill is the ability to do something well. We say ‘he or she is a skillful skier’. The skier skied those bumps skillfully. That jump was executed with great skill.
Maybe this still sounds the same? So lets put it a different way. Technique is often is used to describe a movement that is repetitive. Throwing a javelin, high jump – the technique of Frosbury Flop, front crawl, breast stroke, a triple toe loop in figure skating. In skiing the ‘parallel turn’, stem turn, snowplough turn. Techniques are often given names, whereas skills are exercises or drills and skill as we’ve already said is how well you do something.
Where does this leave us and why have I suggested that if skiers have the perception that they need to improve their technique thay may well be ‘held back’ in the learning when it comes to all-mountain skiing.
It comes back to one of our favourite subjects at Snoworks – Open and Closed Sports. Sports that are ‘closed’, closed meaning where the environment does not change and very little external factors effect the performance have movement patterns that are repetitive and these repetitive movement patterns are often referred to as ‘techniques’. The technique of executing a perfect triple toe loop for example. In skiing the technique of the ‘parallel turn’.
Sports that are ‘open’, open meaning where the environment is constantly changing and external factors constantly effect the performance have no repetitive movement patterns. The movements are constantly changing in relation to the constantly changing external factors.
At Snoworks we specialise in ‘All-Mountain’ skiing. All-Mountain skiing is very open. The performance is constantly effected by external factors so no movement pattern is ever the same.
Still sound the same? Let me explain from our point of view at Snoworks. When someone comes on a Snoworks course and their perception is they need to develop their ‘technique’ they are often referring to a repetitive movement pattern and ask questions like “how far apart should my feet be?” “which way should my shoulders face?” “how much weight should I have on my outside ski?” “How much should I extend at the start of a turn?” “where should I initiate my turn when skiing bumps?” “In powder should I ski with my feet closer together?”
You can see from an ‘open’ point of view this could hold them back as they are referring to ‘techniques’ for ‘closed’ sports.
When we begin to develop skills and skilful performance it can throw a complete spanner in the works and at first can seem totally confusing. At Snoworks we are developing skills for the open environment where nothing is ever the same. So we may throw in a few drills or exercise as decribed earlier then go skiing. And when we go skiing we work on skiing skilfully – adjusting our skiing to the ever changing environment.
Let me give an example of what we see in skiing and use football as an example. In football players develop skills in training- dribbling skills, passing skills, tackling skills, ball control skills. The skill of ‘keepy ups’ for example. However during a match they play football and are constantly adjusting their play to suit the ever changiing environment. You don’t see a player playing football whilst practising a previous exercise they were doing in training!
However in skiing we constantly see skiers skiing doing exactly the above. Skiing whilst practicing something they learnt as a drill or exercise, facing downhill, standing up and sinking down, pushing into the front of their ski boots, angulating etc. They are practicing things which are ‘CLOSED’, set movemnet patterns for a ‘closed’ environment. In an open environment you cannot do that. In an open environment nothing is ever the same so by skiing trying to reproduce a fixed or repetitive movement pattern, a ‘technique’, will ‘hold you back’.
So what should you do when you ski? The answer to this is ski. Just ski.
Sounds simple but it’s pretty difficult when you’ve spent years working on your technique for a ‘closed’ environment and been taught this. Fixed movement patterns have no place in the ‘open’ world of all-mountain skiing.
So how can you move forwards if you think you’re caught in the ‘technique for closed sports’ syndrome? Firstly don’t aim to develop a ‘technique’. Think instead of developing drills and skills and then when you ski, just ski, adjusting to the ever changing environment.
Make sense or still appears to all be the same. We’ll be interested in your comments below.
The Snoworks Team.