Ski instruction: don't believe them – why do I say this?
I have a good friend, a very nice chap. I want to keep him as a friend. He likes hierarchies and authorities: I don't. I am a libertarian.
He thinks that 'belief' is intrinsically 'good': I don't. He thinks the bible is authoritative. I think questioning is good: I think Doubting Thomas was given a bum rap.
My friend likes to be told by someone arguing from authority, what to do, what to think. I don't – I expect them to be able to justify with evidence whatever it is they are claiming. I respect scepticism.
I don't say that I never fail in this regard myself by the way, I'm talking of principles, and continually doing one's best to adhere to them
What to believe in skiing
Here is a skiing example of what I'm getting at.
Years ago I attended by invitation a presentation by one of the big ski manufacturers. The presentation was given by two well known international ski instructors who were heavily involved with the company and sponsored by them. So far so good.
At the time a trendy new idea had taken hold within the skiing industry. It comprised of inserting a raised platform under the ski-boot bindings, lifting them up away from the upper surface of the ski.
Whether this had any overall benefit in terms of the skis' performance is not relevant here, although the idea was subsequently banned from international competition because (I think) it was considered damaging to, or more risky for the skiers.
The latest trend
The thing was, it was the latest new trend. Industries need a continuous flow of “newness”, or in any case believe they do. So this company was promoting its version of these lifted platforms. So far so good, they're there to make money by providing (suppposedly) better products; all very honourable.
But here is the rub, and you see it absolutely everywhere in all walks of life, politics, religion, business, academe, everywhere – once a meme gets a bit of traction, no one dare question it. It is always a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. For so long as the participants believe everyone else believes it, so will they.
Here is (paraphrased) what the ski instructor/presenter said (it was what he had been told to say, and he believed it) -
“These new lift platforms make the ski go edge-to-edge faster.”
Almost everyone in the room (all of whom I think were instructors) was thrilled to bits. This was new. This was exciting. This gave them something to talk about to people whom they had reason to believe knew less about skiing than did they. Wonderful. Brownie-points! Authority! The idea that they knew something arcane: they knew a 'secret'.
Unfortunately it was rubbish. Whatever the supposed benefits were, (real or imagined) not one of them was “going from edge to edge faster”: not that even to this day I have the faintest idea what this is supposed to mean.
When a ski is tilting one way and then changes to tilt the other way, there is of course a brief moment when it is not tilted, but no one discussed this at the presentation. Provided the ski does not arrest at this moment, the time spent not tilted will be a micro-second.
Apart from anything else, edges don't matter except in a tiny number of instances when the surface is ice and very hard and a sharp edge is necessary for its incision. The vast majority of skiers will avoid such situations.
What was wrong with this “edge-to-edge” faster idea?
Well, I'm less concerned with its putative benefits, and more concerned with the all-too-ready credulousness of the audience, and what that implies for pupils of ski instructors, and ski learning.
I questioned the presenter on the claim, using the simplest reductio-ad-absurdum thinking ,thus -
· The under-binding platform distanced the skier's centre of mass further from the ski upper surface (and indeed the ski's edges if it comes to that).
· Therefore the moment-arm – the length of the lever if you like from ski to skier – was increased.
· Taking this to extremes just as a thought experiment, you could make it 20 feet long, or longer – any length you like up to infinity.
· We now have our skier at the top end of the longer moment-arm.
· For any given imaginable scenario, getting the ski to tilt from one edge to the other in a shorter length of time, would require moving the skier through a hugely greater length of arc in the air.
· To take a shorter amount of time would require her mass to be moved very much faster, along that longer arc. Why and how, I asked, would this manufacturer's platforms be the agency that would bring this about?
How to lose skiing friends and annoy everyone
There might, as I conceded, be benefits to the idea, I didn't know; but “going faster edge-to-edge” could not be one of them. So could the presenter please explain?
No, he couldn't. I was as popular as rain in a ski resort.
The presenter, a famous ski instructor with a big reputation and a successful instructing business, a teacher of royalty and celebrities, could not explain. He needed neither to explain nor indeed to bother understanding or thinking about it, because he was famous.
He had authority. This was not to be questioned, by anybody; which is why the manufacturer had chosen him. Their famous brand supported his authority, his reputation supported their brand. The only loser in the equation was the customer, and in particular the developing skier.
My interjection was not welcomed. I had, though it had not been my purpose, embarrassed him.
Do not believe what your skiing teacher tells you
And that includes me. Why believe me ? Why believe any teacher, of anything, without question.
Be sceptical until you have your own experience to go on. Question, question, question.
This has big implications, because in a challenging physical activity such as skiing, overlaid as it is with very significant psychological aspects, making good progress requires a very high level of present-moment awareness. It is all too easy to misinterpret what is actually happening, or indeed not to even be aware of it.
So, when I give you a piece of skiing advice, or information about how skis work and so on, what I am saying comes from a great deal of experience sure enough, so it might be right. But it might not be – and we'll only find out if you challenge me.
And if you have the temerity to ski with anyone else (the cheek of it!) - challenge them.!
Bob Trueman. Coach.
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