Go Open

PHOTO: ‘Going open’ with Snoworks

Phil Smith from Snoworks Ski Courses discusses the nature of skiing and why thousands, if not millions of skiers around the world develop learning plateaus, unable to progress no matter how many times they sign up for ski school?

What are ‘open’ and ‘closed’ sports?
Firstly it’s important to understand the difference between open and closed sports. ‘Closed’ sports are where the environment does not change such as running in lanes, swimming in lanes, javelin throwing, discuss, hammer etc. ‘Open’ sports are where the environment is constantly changing such as football, rugby, tennis, sailing, surfing etc. The environment means everything that can affect performance so it’s not just weather. It’s terrain, surface texture, hazards and other people.

Is Skiing ‘open’ or ‘closed’?
Skiing is probably one of the most ‘open’ and dynamic sports there is, yet somewhat alarmingly, much of the ski teaching industry has built its understanding and foundations of skiing and teaching skiing on ‘closed’ sports methodology.

Many skiers have become trapped in this ‘closed’ sports methodology and hence are limited to indeed where the environment is more ‘closed’ such as well groomed pistes, nice sunny days and great snow. For a huge amount of skiers this limit is pisted red runs with the possibility of attempting the odd easier black if you are gutsy and that’s where it stops. The limit is where the environment becomes ‘open’. Bumps, ice, steeper terrain, powder, off-piste and even bad visibility. This block that many skiers hit is often referred to as the ‘Intermediate Plateau’ and matches where the environment moves from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ but unfortunately the performance remains closed. It’s where a closed performance meets open environment. Ring any bells?

Are you a closed skier?
If you are experiencing a block in your development than ask yourself if you are a closed or open skier. Statements such as these below demonstrate a ‘closed’ approach to skiing. Do you find yourself saying any (or all) of these? Are you what we call a ‘variables victim‘? In other words do you need the environment to be ‘closed’ (constant and predictable) to ski well.

– I’m ok providing it doesn’t get icy
– I can ski powder but when it begins to get varied I struggle
– I’m ok providing it doesn’t get steep
Other skiers put me off
– I end up skiing too fast and lose control
– I’m ok providing the bumps are nicely spread out
– I struggle in bad visibility
– I struggle in slush
– I struggle on narrow paths
Trees put me off
– I can’t keep up with other skiers

Each statement above has a variable attached to it; slope steepens, hazards appear, visibility changes, snow texture varies, other skiers get close or speed increases. If any of these statements ring true, then it’s time to go ‘open’, because if you have learned a ‘closed’ method of skiing, you will always be a victim of skiing variables!

To clarify the difference between ‘open’ and ‘closed’, it’s useful to understand the difference between why we have been taught to learn these methods in the first place.

When learning skills for ‘closed’ sports, the movements tend to be repetitive, there’s a start and finish to each movement pattern, like throwing a javelin – where the movement pattern can be described accurately.

When learning skills for ‘open’ sports there’s no start or finish to the movement patterns, they have to be continually adapted to the changing environment.

Of course skiing is a sport that begins in a ‘closed’ environment; well groomed nursery slopes and pistes but eventually goes ‘open’; bumps, steeper terrain, ice and powder. Hence the confusion. Starting closed then moving into open.

A simply analogy I constantly use to describe ‘open’, would be trying to describe (and then teach) the movement patterns of running through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks! To accurately describe what is happening and how to copy it, is impossible – the probability of the same thing happening again exactly is like winning the lottery twice. Set movement patterns would only work if you ran through the bar where each time everyone and everything always stayed in the same place. But of course, this would never happen; more people may have arrived, creating more obstacles, the furniture may have moved and the floor may be more slippery. The variables are infinite.

To understand if you have been taught ‘closed’ skill methodology. See if any of these phrases sound familiar?
– Face downhill
– Keep your weight forwards
– Stand up, sink down
– Push into the front of the boots
– Don’t skid
– Keep more weight on the outside ski
– Plant your pole and stand up
In off-piste
– Bounce up and down
– Equally weight your skis
– Get a rhythm

All the above are statements describing ‘closed’ techniques. There is no consideration to any variables. By practicing any of the above, you will simply end up at a plateau when performance doesn’t match the variable. It’s a vicious circle.

How do you go open?
Instead of learning set movements that are repetitive and never change, you need a toolbox of skills which you can employ, adjusting to the varying environment. Just like running through a crowded bar carrying a tray of drinks.

Learning ‘open’ skills will enable you to develop your skiing much further and much faster than you would have thought possible. Learning ‘open’ skills gives you total control, connecting you with the snow, terrain and the whole mountain environment.

Learning to ski ‘open’ may sound rather ‘out there’ and not ‘tangible’ and at the beginning, this may be true because you’ll no longer be told exactly what to do. You’ll learn skills that you can adjust according to your task and the environment so it may all sound a bit, could I say ‘open’.

However learning ‘open’ skiing comes with a warning: you’ll wish you’d discovered it years ago.

Skills learning for ‘open’ environments is the Snoworks philosophy.

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