Back to the Basics – USST Technique Clinic Report

FasterSkierOctober 15, 2008

On September 23rd, USSA announced the release the first part of a new Coaches Education Certification program. Effective October 1st, this program currently provides certification criteria for level 100 only. Additional levels will be added in the future. One of the key components of the certification process is attendance at a US Ski Team approved technique clinic. As part of the announcement, a series of clinics around the country were scheduled, with more to come.

This past weekend I attended one of the clinics in Lake Placid, NY. With the US Ski Team in town for two weeks, this was the second consecutive weekend with a clinic. The two-hour session was originally scheduled to be led by USST Development Team Coach and architect of the new certification system Matt Whitcomb, but a scheduling conflict with a High Peaks Cyclery/Salomon clinic resulted in a change. Garrott Kuzzy — member of the US Development Team and CXC Elite Team guided the roughly 60 participants through a series of drills and guided instruction. USST coaches, Whitcomb, Justin Wadsworth and Chris Grover were present to assist.

The following is a brief recap of the clinic and the concepts covered — it is not meant as an exhaustive presentation of basic ski technique!

As one would expect from a level 100 clinic, Garrott covered the basics, starting with body position. On foot, we formed around a large circle and assumed the stance that forms that foundation of skiing technique — weight on the balls of the feet, knees relaxed and somewhat bent, upper body upright with shoulders rounded forward, arms loose. The first drill had us swinging arms loosely and relaxed, but working to get good extension at the shoulder as measured by the angle between the triceps and the torso. We changed the tempo, moving from the easy moderate poling to high speed and back again.

From this basic position, we moved onto forward body position, falling forward at the ankles to be caught by a partner. After several more drills emphasizing this concept Garrott moved on to poling technique. The coaches emphasized, that in general, it can be good to isolate different parts of the body when working on technique — focus on the either the legs/lower body or the arms/upper body, but don’t try to do everything at once.

The main theme on the poling front (with it being noted that this technique will be the same whether double poling or V2ing) was initiating the motion with a strong crunch from the core, and leading the arms with an explosive downward motion through the elbows. Another partner drill emphasized proper hand position — one person resisted while the other “poled” down with extended arms (weak position, easily resisted), then switching to “pole” down led by the elbows (elbows 90 degrees or less, hands compact to body, motion initiated with crunch, difficult to resist). The difference was extreme — my partner could hold my hands relatively stable as I pushed down with straight arms. Switching to the proper technique resulted in easily blasting through the resistance and an accidental fist in the throat…

Following the foot drills, we strapped on our skate rollerskis and proceeded to a quiet road with a beautiful backdrop of Adirondack foliage and the Lake Placid ski jumps glowing in the afternoon sun. We practiced the same concepts with the added element of motion and poles, again focusing on forward fall and the crunch of the poling motion. We performed the forward fall drill of standing in a skate position, and hinging forward at the ankles until you roll forward.

The idea of forward momentum and efficiency permeated the entire clinic. At one point Garrott had us drop our poles and line up across the road. We had to get to the other side keeping our skate skis parallel and generating forward movement with the forward swing of our arms. This was an excellent illustration of how much force can be the arm return phase — a part of the skiing motion that is often ignored.

Following some double poling (again focusing on the core crunch) and head to head no-pole races we were broken into three smaller groups with different coaches leading each. This was an opportunity to get some personal attention and ask more questions. I was in a group led by USST coaches Justin Wadsworth and Chris Grover, and it was great to have a chance to pick their brains on various technique questions.

While this clinic was considered level 100, we covered quite a lot of technical ground — these basic principles are critical to good technique — if you can apply these level 100 elements, you will be an excellent skier — everything else is tweaking. For this reason I highly recommend attending one of the USST approved events. Even experienced coaches will find them useful. Personally, I did not learn anything particularly ground-breaking, but it was great to have a refresher and to feel secure that what I have been teaching my athletes has been correct. It is also always good to hear how other coaches present similar material and to learn new drills. And because technique and the terminology used to describe it are constantly evolving, it is important to stay up to date. Subtle changes in focus and teaching method can grow over time. If you haven’t attended an instructional clinic like this in the last three years, you will probably find quite a bit of new information.

Summary of major concepts covered:

Stance (forward position with weight on the balls of the feet, loose relaxed and somewhat bent knees — covering toes, rounded shulders and upper back, relatively vertical at the waist)

Forward body position/fall (body falls forward at the ankle, maintaining hips forward, not collapsing at the waist)

Double pole — (initiate with strong core crunch, lead with elbows, strong forward arm-swing to build momentum)

Skating (good bend at ankle and knees, knee covers toe, upright position without collapse at the waist)


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