Feel the snow, feel your toes, feel your edges, feel your knees. It is "inner skiing," the hottest thing to hit the slopes in years. It is skiing as an experience. It is checking with your body to find out what is right.
But the gurus of the expermental approach have not yet left their (Rocky) mountains to come to the foot-hills of the Mid-Atlantic region. Timothy Galwey and Bob Kriegel, authors of "Inner Skiing," and Morton Lund, spreader of the gospel, do not run clinics in Virginia and Maryland. Locally 'inner sking' is as rare as real powder.
It does exist, however, if you take the time to find it (and the money to pay for it.) Camelback in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains is planning inner skiing weekends. Snowshoe in the mountains of West Virginia has incorporated some inner-skiing techniques into most of its regular lessons.
Most of the other areas contacted in a random sample said they did not have any inner sking in their ski schools, and had no plans to include it. Dick Whitney, ski-school director at Ski Liberty in Fairfiled, Pa., said the training for instructors was expensive and not worth it. "The students don't want it," he said. "They want structured classes and detailed explanations. They want reasons."
At Camelback, ski-school director Marilyn Hertz rejects that argument. "Nobody asks skiers what they want. Everyone assumes they know," she said. "That's one of the things you learn in inner sking -- to ask the skier."
Hertz and two of her instructors completed a two-week training program in inner skiing at Stratton Mountain in Vermont early this season. With passion she avowed, "It changed my life. I don't assume, I ask people how they feel and what they want."
Hertz said that inner sking is based on awareness, that the instructor's job is to help the skier become aware of how he skis so that he can correct his mistakes. The instructor cannot tell the skier what he is doing wrong, he can just ask the skier what is happening.
By forcing the skier to focus on what his is doing, the instructor helps the skier improve his sking. It is a little like those diets in which you write down every bite you put into your mouth. As you notice what you eat, you eat less. So with skiing: as you become aware of your bad habits, you stop them.
Hertz said that at the training session she skied with a woman who could not make more than three turns in succession without stopping because she her built up too much speed. "I knew her problem was that she was not checking, but I couldn't tell her -- I had to let her find it out for herself."
Hertz asked the woman what she thought her problem was. She said perhaps she stiffened her leg in the turn. Hertz drew an arc on the snow, and asked her where she stiffened her leg. The woman started to show her, and Hertz asked her to ski a bit and then tell her. After a few turns the woman was certain about when she stiffened her leg. "Did you do it this time?" Hertz asked.
"No, but I know where I would have done it," the woman answered.
Hertz had her ski down several slopes, waiting for her to say she was stiffening her leg or going too fast. The woman finally said, "I think these slopes are too gentle. I'd be able to show you when I go faster on a steeper slope." So they skied steeper slopes, faster and faster, and not once did the woman stiffen her leg.
At the end of the lesson the woman hugged Hertz and said "I'll never forget you. I skied today the way I always wanted to ski."
Hertz is somewhat at loss to explain why it works so well, but she is convinced it works -- so convinced that she is planning to run inner-sking weekends.
At Snowshoe, ski-school director Marty Douglas says she does not use the term inner skiing, "but any good instructor has used it for years." She said it is standard at hr school for instructors to help students tune in to what the skiing feels like or what the snow sounds like.
At the other extreme is Lars Skylling, ski-school director of Seven Springs in Pennsylvania. Skying, a Swedish traditionalist, thinks inner skiing is "theoretical and bull --."
"You can't learn skiing in the classroom," he says. "Some people are trying to make skiing a science. It isn't."
Skylling says inner skiing is geared to skiers who are afraid of ice, moguls or steepness. "If people are that drastically timid, they won't stay in skiing anyway. You have to have some kind of guts to ski."