9th in a multi-part series on skiing/snowboarding on hard snow..
It’s possible to have more than one truth, and for both to be, in effect, true.
Sometimes what we hold as true is only true in the absence of additional information.
And up to that moment, its veracity is solid.
To pursue more information is not without peril. It might mean having to abandon the original truth. That means, to some extent, nullifying whatever identity was based on the original truth.
Deconstruction of identity is not a pursuit to be entered into lightly, as it can be unpleasant, confusing, and complicated. Perhaps also ostracizing and expensive.
And then there’s all that rebuilding to do afterward…
That being the case, start with something simple. E.g.,: “Why do I look at things as I do, and could I be missing something important by holding that particular view?”
A change in perspective can make a big difference.
Altering perspective and taking a moment to re-orient oneself to the task at hand reminds me of a puzzle I did recently. The playing field was a grid of white squares. Some of those squares contained numbers. The goal was to isolate defined groups of white squares by connecting a series of black squares which would course around them in a single, uninterrupted path.
The simple instructions were misleading, to the extent they suggested how one should approach the problem:
” ‘Paint’ some unnumbered cells black to form one continuous chain…”
I tried that for a few minutes, and didn’t get far. Given the binary (black/white) nature of the puzzle, I thought I might be looking in the ‘wrong direction’.
With that in mind, I blackened all of the squares. Then began to expose the groups of numbered white blocks in turn, until the completed chain took on a shape that I couldn’t have anticipated.
Reversing black and white, figure and ground defined for me the possible ‘knowns’ (the white squares were quantified, the black, not so much). It was then easier to ‘see’ where the solution might be.
From there, it was a matter of methodically minding the details.
In athletics, the typical way to develop a technique, to learn to play the game, is to do things; to witness, to grasp, then practice sequences of movements until they become familiar and useful.
With luck, we start out in a constrained, controlled context, then expand outward as our movements become more facile, and scope widens.
As skill develops, we can move farther, and faster.
Learning in this way is an additive process; not an event. In the same way a ski or snowboard turn is a process, not an event. Each consumes ‘area’ with respect to the passing of time.
We learn to do, and then, as we can, we do more. Extra effort and toil is often equated with doing better. So we carry around the debris and detritus of our initial learning experiences, looking for a best place to use it, along with the rest of we’ve learned along the way.
What we worked for so diligently at the start may serve little purpose now. Seldom are we instructed to clean house, to periodically prune the redundant branches from the tree of development, to clearly define the shape of our practice.
In skiing and snowboarding, ‘excess’ can easily interfere with performance by pushing the platform past the point of harmonious interaction with the surface. The resulting ‘noise’ is commonly interpreted as a failure to execute, some lack of effort, rather than input overspill.
If we think of balancing, of maintaining a state of equipoise, we might think of an athlete on a beam, walker on a wire, or simply standing on one foot.
The beam, the wire, the footprint; each describes the boundaries of operation. In order to remain in balance, it’s necessary to stay within those bounds, and movements within that area must be in proportion to each other. Movement that strays outside of that area may lead to an irreversible state of instability.
When skiing or snowboarding, the terrain over which one might move is immense, yet the area of the platform as engages the surface is narrowly defined.
Each platform has only so much base, and only so much edge. In softer snow conditions, more of the available area is engaged: on harder surfaces, less. On soft snow, you stand against the support of the plastic base. On harder snow, you do the same, but the base has become almost as narrow as the edge itself.
It follows that on harder snow, with a shrinking area on which to operate, the magnitude of movements away from that limited area should be minimized, and the accuracy of those within that area maximized in order to enhance stability and performance.
Hard snow can be challenging and especially difficult to ride if one applies movements better suited to, or forgiven by softer conditions. Ice is not a venue on which to ‘try harder’ to do the things that work elsewhere. As a ‘reference surface’, ice provides an opportunity to learn, test, refine and employ the movement sequences found at the core of higher performance riding.
The mechanics of platform manipulation, are straightforward. Technique, an athlete’s personal application of theory, is typically a byproduct of tribal knowledge and interface configuration.
Therein lies complication.
Tribal knowledge can impose limits on perspective, and can pre-empt how one decides to approach a problem. This is similar to how the directions for the puzzle at the start of this article pointed me in a direction that was plausible, but not particularly helpful.
Interface configuration will either remove or impose limits on mobility and movement options.
But interface tuning is iterative, and time consuming. You can’t do it all at once, and the immediate outcome for each variable change can be indistinct, even confusing. While the process is akin to properly positioning oneself to the control surfaces in a car before you drive, the time required for the average athlete is, by comparison, immense.
Obviously, this cuts into the hours set aside for recreation, so ‘good enough’ is where the process usually ends. Up to a point, that’s fine, as groomed snow and ‘modern’ boards are adequate workarounds for unrefined technique.
However, if you remain the sport long enough, you may find yourself wondering why under particular circumstances on particular surfaces, you just can’t ride the way you want to.
And that’s when good enough… clearly isn’t.
The ‘Truth in Ice’ series reviews the components of higher performance riding. If one or more of the movement sequences described are difficult or inaccessible, consistent outcomes across all surfaces will be elusive. The solutions, however, may be hiding in plain sight.