I must be suggestible. I mean the type of person who is easily hypnotized.
My first day skiing this winter at Telluride, I skied very much the way John Clendenin would want me to ski. Clendenin was one of the first wave of pro freestylers in the 1970s – wild-haired and hugely talented “hot-doggers” (Clendenin favored headbands and harlequin-striped stretch pants) who careened through moguls as if they were red-hot coals.
Calmer now, he lives in Aspen, and under the banner of The Clendenin Ski Method teaches baby-boomers (mostly) to smoothly handle bumps and powder. Just before my first day out he sent me his new DVD, Finding the Love Spot. And that’s what I was doing in those early-season bumps on the Plunge.
Clendenin defines The Love Spot as “the edgeless moment,” that floating, fleeting transition between the end of one turn and the beginning of the next. (Like William Carlos Williams’ rose: “It is at the edge of the / petal that love awaits.”)
Clendenin’s teaching progression, laid out in his book and DVD and in sold-out clinics in Aspen and Portillo, Chile, is devoted to finding this ecstatic key to expert skiing. And, having absorbed the video images of John “cascading” down the hill, I dutifully, somewhat magically, was able to mimic his moves on snow.
The very next time I went up to the hill, I was under the sway of another friend and guru, Lito Tejada-Flores. Lito and I came to Telluride together as part of a new ski school in 1976. Lito’s 1986 book Breakthrough On Skis: How to Get Out of the Intermediate Rut became the biggest selling ski-instruction book published in America. His three-part Breakthrough video series was so successful he used the profits to build a house in the San Louis Valley outside Crestone. And another one on a lake in Patagonia.
Lito sent me his slim new volume, Soft Skiing: The Secrets of Effortless Low-Impact Skiing for Older Skiers. Sixty-eight now, and with a distinguished white beard, Lito no longer runs his hugely popular clinics, but he is still thinking and writing about what he calls “classical mainstream expert skiing.” This stuff is not just for older skiers, but, like Clendenin, Lito has found that the people with the cognitive discipline, the desire to improve – and the time to devote to it – are often “of a certain age.”
Both Clendenin’s DVD ($24.95) and Lito’s book ($16.95) are available for online purchase – maybe not in time for Christmas, but certainly in time for the heart of the season – at: apsenmethod.com; and breakthroughonskis.com.
Lito comes to technique from formal ski schools and a formidable intellect, but his “secrets” are very much the same ones Clendenin discovered. Both start with the inestimably important balanced stance; Clendenin invokes Jean-Claude Killy, Lito remembers Ingemar Stenmark. Both stress early weight-shift to the outside ski. And both are believers in doing as little as possible to elegantly, effortlessly schmooth down the hill.
In Soft Skiing, Lito distills all technique (all but a few desperate turning skills) down to one simple nugget. The secret, he says, is to begin a turn by relaxing the downhill foot and leg. That’s it. No edging, steering, twisting, stepping – nothing. Just remove the weight from the ski that has brought you around the last curve. It has done its job; now give, fold, let go the muscle tension, collapse, slump – whatever image works (Lito ultimately likes “letting the support of the downhill ski, foot, leg suddenly vanish”) – and wait for what happens next.
What happens is the body “falls” toward the center of the next arc. Your weight inevitably presses onto the new controlling ski. And you’re off in the new direction.
Clendenin comes to essentially the same conclusion with slightly different words. His four Keys to the Kingdom are: Drift, Center, Touch, and Tip. The pole touch “cues the release” of the downhill ski – here comes The Love Spot! – which “automatically moves the center of mass downhill,” and guarantees a parallel entry into the new turn.
Both men are enthusiastic, convincing teachers. Soft Skiing reads like a lesson-in-progress. Lito is conversational, intimate, almost hypnotic. You are becoming a better skier. You are relaxing. You are falling into the turn. . .
Out on the hill, I zoned into the idea of collapsing my inside leg. Maybe it was just a mental trick for something I do anyway when things are going right. Whatever, it had the genius of simplicity. And it worked every time, like a spell linking one beautiful Love Spot to another.
– Peter Shelton's blog is peterhshelton.wordpress.com