Taking the Red Pill

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Taking the Red Pill

Postby razie » Thu Apr 11, 2019 6:09 pm

So here’s a story that has been waiting to be told… fair warning: a rather long set of posts!

I’m the coach that had the misfortune to get caught between HeluvaSkier and Blue Jacket from this post http://www.pmts.org/pmtsforum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=5410… It was really a misfortune because I could have just continued to play the average parent-coach role: Have fun coaching my kids as they grew, thinking I knew all I needed, wearing my badges and pins with pride, only to eventually have the kids phase-out of racing, like most, around U16, as they lost interest.

The backstory is like most. I was the parent-coach of two passionate club-level ski racers. Having skied very little myself, I sought to learn quickly, followed the only path readily apparent to me (CSCF) and quickly gained some certifications. I learned the hard way http://www.pmts.org/pmtsforum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3864 that certification and regurgitation of what we read in books is not an indication of understanding; something that would eventually forever-change my role as ‘coach’.

Fast forward to 2015, now enters HeluvaSkier (Greg), stage-left, with an invitation to ski with him for a weekend at his home mountain. On our first run, he took us to a run that he calls his ‘training run’, a relentless black pitch that drops a mere 140 vertical meters (that’s a little less than 460 feet in ‘American’, and a fairly intimidating pitch anywhere). “Lucky” for us it had rained the night before and re-froze after they had groomed. I was circumspect, but as he went down, linking tight SL turns down this pitch, my son and I looked at each other and I’m like “@#!!% – it’s for real!!” and that was it — we saw how strong, precise and different that skiing was from what we had seen elsewhere and we knew that we want to ski like that (if you think he’s impressive because you’ve seen his YouTube videos, that’s nothing compared to skiing with him in real life). What was more, was he could describe, in detail, how he did it, and what it would take for us to ski like that.

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Now we had a choice. He made us understand how to do it right meant putting a lot of effort into rebuilding our skiing, giving up short term gains for long-term expertise… and it wouldn’t be easy, but both sons and I had an epiphany and decided to hit the reset button and go for the PMTS red pill. The initial story of the transformation is told in detail in this article http://www.effectiveskiing.com/wiki/carving-blog/Creating_great_skiers… where we managed to rebuild a talented athlete from the ground up, in a matter of weeks—but the real story only begins where that article left off.

I’m still sometimes left thinking that it would have been easier to go for the blue pill — to believe whatever I wanted to believe… After all, we wouldn’t have had to rebuild our skiing, we would have gone on believing we were doing the same stuff as the academy FIS racers, we would have been better-than-average skiers, average racers and a quintessential club-level coach.

Instead of just doing the typical weekend coaching gig — carrying gates up and down the hill like all other coaches, helping the kids, as well as I, could with cliché phrases like ‘get forward’ and ‘pole plant’, I was caught between a hard-working, capable athlete that was focused on evolving quickly and Greg, who knew what to do about it. I had to learn very quickly to analyze and fix skiing at a high level, in real-time. That took not only the knowledge of all of Harald’s books and videos, which I had read and watched many times; but also countless hours of drills, video, slow-motion video review and late-night discussions with Greg, cutting heavily into my beer drinking and Netflix-bingeing.

And that was not enough (my realization at this point… CRAP, they were right). I now had to bring my own skiing game up to speed. That meant even more work and time spent drilling and slow-speed skiing — combined with video, late night review of my own skiing, and on many occasions a large slice of humble pie (1-800-HeluvaSkier). It turns out that learning PMTS gave me a big advantage, from several points of view.

First, I started to understand first-hand the effort it took and how it felt to do the movements, like real flexing (that came late) or real CA (that came even later), and what issues my athletes might experience as they progressed and how to help them work through the various issues would encounter. This meant I could relay those experiences to the athletes as they worked to build the Essentials into their skiing. The fact that I could explain everything and walk them through it all turned out to be a major success factor in coaching them.

The second big advantage this gave me was that I became able to demonstrate for the athletes. When Blue Jacket above went to University, this became even more important and impactful—my main demonstrator was gone, but I was skiing with the exact same movements he used. This showed athletes, colleagues and parents alike something very important… fast results and repeatability.

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Anyway… that’s the story. The rabbit hole is deeper than I ever imagined when I set out and embarking on this journey was the best decision I ever made related to my skiing and coaching. It helped me understand what real coaching is, what great skiing looks like and how to reproduce it, analyze it and course-correct it quickly. If anyone reading is in a similar situation, take that red pill as early as possible, especially if you’re a parent-coach—you will not regret it.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby jbotti » Thu Apr 11, 2019 6:23 pm

Welcome back Razie. Nice post!
Balance: Essential in skiing and in life!
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby razie » Thu Apr 11, 2019 6:23 pm

Results in a PMTS-Based Program

I am not an accredited PMTS coach yet, just a regular race coach, but my plan for the past several years has been 100% PMTS, with a lot of success. I initially took 5 – 6 U19s that were skiing all over the place from a technical perspective and started rebuilding their skiing. They were initially in shock at the rigorous and very specific program—nothing like they had experienced before—but soon most learned to trust it, even as their skiing completely fell apart and was then rebuilt movement by movement. Luckily, they had Blue Jacket as a model and they all wanted to ski like him. Some having been trained and raced in Europe under a different model, initially rejected the technical training. Quickly, others with much less training and racing experience closed in on their results, and the buy-in happened. In time, after rigorous technical training, changing equipment, setting up some boots etc., the group started doing better in Division 2 and then started to dabble in FIS racing and were able to finish! That was the first step… and it got them all fired up!

They were fully aware they didn’t stand a chance at great results, pitting their 40 days on snow, 10 course days and 10 starts a season against 150 days on snow, 80 days on the course and 50 starts per season… but they love the fact that they can even compete at this level. Simply finishing 45th in a field of 90, where the handicap is low-double or even single digits, puts a big grin on anyone’s face!

The second year, the group almost doubled in size, even as most club racers quit around 15, and almost all of them wanted to race FIS—this time at the highest local levels. I don’t know how many here understand what a full FIS race is like: the courses are set very tough, with a 50% failure rate among Provincial team members and private academy racers, sometimes National team skiers and even WC racers that show up sometimes struggle (Redneck Racing are awesome btw and need your support, look them up). There is no comparison to HS or even Division 2 racing or even ENL-FIS! In the end, this “new” FIS program that I was coaching got so successful, with so much more interest declared for next season, that the club is now looking to hire a full-time coach and turn it into a premium program.

It has been great to see the kids reaping the rewards of the work they have put into transforming their skiing—not as fast as Blue Jacket, but fast by any other measure. Some in one season, some in two. Of course, they all still need a lot of work, as we all do, but they ski technically similar to one another, recognizably different from their peers, better, are having a ton of fun doing it, and are getting good success at races that they, themselves, acknowledge would not have had otherwise. These successes include all kinds of regional and provincial wins and podiums in High School and Division 2, and now most of them are FIS-racing junkies, planning their UNI-FIS racing careers, something they never dreamt of before.

The entire group is now skiing very visibly different, with high-performance skiing from all and it’s visible to the entire club… The race results are good, but the real win is that their skiing is much better. Simple things, like being able to carve a black run top to bottom with Slalom turns, became possible for them! Some are even looking forward to getting accepted in University FIS teams, etc.

For me, it has been a great journey that has 100% validated PMTS and the value of serious technical training as well as the importance of the boot setup and equipment selection. I don’t think it’s possible to ski or race effectively without a solid command of the Essentials. In travelling to some very high-level FIS races, it has been interesting to compare other athletes’ free skiing during warm up runs with their racecourse skiing… more often than not the freeskiing is terrible, while the top skiers are using textbook PMTS in the course. These are the lucky few who have learned to compensate for the lack of a technical foundation with athleticism and talent—but why leave it up to chance? Harald’s genius is, I think, not necessarily in finding each of these movement categories but in putting them together in a simple but complete system, which can be used to instruct, analyze and explain all other “explanations”. Those who don’t see the genius in the simplicity don’t have the understanding because they have not taken the time to actually learn to do it.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby h.harb » Fri Apr 12, 2019 11:15 am

The experience for a race parent in ski racing is a journey fraught with many obstacles. Razie is one of the few who came to realize that regular coaching at regular ski race programs is really terrible. Helluva found this out about 10 years ago.

It's time I pointed out what happens with race parents. After a child ski racer is ready to leave their home program to either attend an academy or bigger program; parents and racers alike look at programs for their kids that have racers with success. In the Eastern part of the US, the most likely programs are Burke Mt Academy, Stratton, Waterville, or Green Mt to name a few. The tuition with travel and training camps can easily reach $60,000 at the FIS level which starts at 16 years old.

I'd like to inform parents about what they should expect even in these respected programs. The coaching is mediocre, the knowledge of boot set up and equipment selection is dismal, the fixes when attempted are rarely correct. In fact, at Burke, they don't do the alignment at the Academy; they send their kids to P.J. Dewey in Vermont. P.J. who is still doing old Warren Witherell stuff that is hit and miss, mostly miss. How do I know this? I have athletes I've coached from when they were 6 years old, that were on the right track in all respects and they were moving up through the ranks very well. At the age of 14 or fifteen, these athletes either decide to go to an academy or stay home. Some go east, some stay west, and attend a western academy like Sugar Bowl, Vail or Sun Valley.

So some will now ask the question, "but there are kids that do have success coming out of these schools?" Sure there are some, where are they now? Where are the other Schiffrins, has Burke in the last ten years made another Schifrin? If Burke or any other academy where that good where are the other Schiffrins'? Just because Schiffrin came out of Burke, doesn't mean your kid will be a Schiffrin if you send them to Burke. Just like Anti Kostelic coached two racers to be top-level world cup skiers, his own 2 kids, that doesn't mean he can do it again. He coached for 20 more years in Croatia and never produced another world cup winner. It is the athlete, that makes their success, not the coaching in these cases.

Basically, what happens at these places is they have people called coaches that set race courses, and that's it. Coaching to make the changes needed that will further a skier with the world cup standard technique doesn't exist. I have seen it first hand, with actual athletes who have hit a dead end because they have made no progress with their technical development in 3 seasons. The reason parents don't talk about it when they realize their kid is at a dead end. They are sold a bill of goods by the Academy and the bill comes to $60K a year, so what are you going to do, tell everyone how you wasted $180,000 over three years. No parents won't do that, they won't come out and say it. They are too embarrassed to mention it, so they actually make up excuses for the programs. It is a vicious circle, and no one finds out.

Some will be told by the coaches, your kid just doesn't have the talent, and that's the end of it. However, if the kid then goes to college he all of a sudden after even one year can ski well beyond his previous ability. There are obviously things happening in college that don't happen at the US Ski Team or in the Academies. The word to the wise is, save your money, stay home, train at home, go to college.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby mark_l » Fri Apr 12, 2019 11:36 am

The other cool thing is that beyond racing when most move onto other things their skiing will remain hugely enjoyable and accomplished. Few for whom the skiing bug bites leave the sport entirely for long and this training will continue to serve them for many years.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby h.harb » Fri Apr 12, 2019 11:44 am

MArkj yes after spending $180,000 I would hope the kid would have skills that go beyond what a regular recreational skier would have, in some cases they don't!
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby HighAngles » Fri Apr 12, 2019 5:04 pm

I just want to add to the welcome back for Razie. For those unfamiliar with Razie, I believe that, even better than his skiing (which is incredibly great now), are his communication skills. It should become apparent that his command of the English language is luckily shared with us through some excellent writing on skiing. He has helped me better understand some of the more tricky problems in my own skiing and I look forward to getting the chance to ski with him again. Skiing with Razie and Heluva is a one-two punch to the bad movements in your skiing.

If you haven't seen Razie's skiing as of late, maybe we can convince him to post some video in the new MA Forum Rules thread.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby Basil j » Sat Apr 13, 2019 7:44 am

My own daughter, now a U19 has journeyed down that same parallel universe. Racing at a very competitive NH program, she has basically lost interest in competitive racing. Coaches spend most of their time with the top 2-4 girls, the rest of the girls endlessly run gates and get little pointers between runs. I asked the coach to look at her alignment due to a slight A frame and he fooled around with some duct tape on her bindings with little success. After watching one of Haralds videos on boot alignment I did some preliminary adjustments at home that ended up helping her more than her coach.I don''t think it is coincidence that most of the eastern programs start to thin out after U16. Coaches often have their own kids in their programs and focus on the to performers and their own, leaving the rest of the pack to mediocre skiing. I work lots of races and listen to coaches on the hill and I scratch my head often with what they focus on. My daughter is a good skier who used to love racing, who now just wants to free ski and occasionally run the gates. Last year she was begging me to send her to Burke. I am saddened in once sense that she has lost interest in racing, but relieved I dodge the academy bullet. I witnessed some Burke racers this year at regional''s that skied no better than kids from any of the local ski teams. The focus needs to shift from running gates to focusing on fundamentals in a big way or the cycle will just continue.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby mark_l » Sun Apr 14, 2019 3:32 pm

Basil j wrote:My own daughter, now a U19 has journeyed down that same parallel universe. Racing at a very competitive NH program, she has basically lost interest in competitive racing. Coaches spend most of their time with the top 2-4 girls, the rest of the girls endlessly run gates and get little pointers between runs. I asked the coach to look at her alignment due to a slight A frame and he fooled around with some duct tape on her bindings with little success. After watching one of Haralds videos on boot alignment I did some preliminary adjustments at home that ended up helping her more than her coach.I don''t think it is coincidence that most of the eastern programs start to thin out after U16. Coaches often have their own kids in their programs and focus on the to performers and their own, leaving the rest of the pack to mediocre skiing. I work lots of races and listen to coaches on the hill and I scratch my head often with what they focus on. My daughter is a good skier who used to love racing, who now just wants to free ski and occasionally run the gates. Last year she was begging me to send her to Burke. I am saddened in once sense that she has lost interest in racing, but relieved I dodge the academy bullet. I witnessed some Burke racers this year at regional''s that skied no better than kids from any of the local ski teams. The focus needs to shift from running gates to focusing on fundamentals in a big way or the cycle will just continue.


Sobering reading. Poor coaching seems to be an epidemic in every technical sport I'm involved in (skiing, tennis, rowing).
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby h.harb » Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:07 pm

If you want some tennis advice post to me, I taught for John Newcombe for 5 summers. And as for US ski coaching and ski instruction, yes it is terrible, far worse than anyone thinks. There is a reason the US is ranked about team 7 on the world cup. If not for Shiffrin we would be lower than Croatia and Slovenia.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby tangem1 » Mon Apr 15, 2019 11:58 am

I appreciate this post and can say this matches up with my very limited experience in the ski racing world for the past 4 seasons but it is very disheartening to read none the less. My 9 year old daughter loves ski racing more than anything and my wife and I have tried to help her as much as we can but neither of us having a background in ski racing and living in the mid-west hasn't helped her much. I found out about PMTS last season and we started working through the books and videos with some help from Diana and Peter and have seen strong progress in her free skiing and race results. This season some of the essentials started appearing from time to time when she was racing but its been quite sporadic, though encouraging to see. As her interest has grown each season, I have taken her to more and more race camps each season but other than getting time on snow they really haven't helped her develop technically. In fact in some cases if anything they only further ingrained some bad habits. I will say she has learned a lot about racing tactics, which are important but in my opinion having a strong technical foundation would make it much easier for her to apply the racing tactics effectively. Watching her and the coaches at the race camps it has largely been exactly what Harald describes where coaches are really just course setters. Even asking some of the coaches at camps about what she should work on I have been told more times than once that she just needs more time in the gates and she will figure it out eventually. Other than that its the standard get forward and increase the stance width.
With all that being said, with my limited knowledge and the very short season at our home hill, 3 months if we're lucky has made a ski academy often times seem like the only viable next step for her if she wants to keep developing and continue to be a competitive racer. One of the kids on her team joined a winter term program so she has been begging to do that in 2 seasons when she is old enough as she heard about how much he gets to train each week. After reading the previous posts here it makes it very hard to know what the right next step is to help her. We could do as Harald said and stay here at our home hill and get three months of skiing in on a hill that only has a couple hundred feet of vertical and hope that's enough to give her a chance to race in college but given how competitive that is it hardly seems like it would be enough. It also doesn't make it any easier when the most successful racers to come from our local race team all left and went to various academies around age 12, some of them have been quite successful but again that probably has more to do with the individuals than the programs they have gone to. To be fair, I know the probability of either path leading to the desired outcome of her getting to race in college is small but its hard to tell her that her dream isn't realistic, especially when ski racing has already taught her so much. This is the only sport/pursuit she has really been passionate enough about to learn the important lesson that hard work, focus and good instructors are the most important and controllable factors in achieving your goals. Still not sure what we will do but the idea of spending large sums of money and having little impact on the outcome doesn't sound very appealing.
If she didn't get so much pleasure out of skiing and specifically ski racing I sometimes wish we hadn't let her join the ski team.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby razie » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:41 pm

Hey @tangem1, my post was meant to encourage, rather than discourage! Well... warn, but also encourage.

There are many ways that you can look at this. It’s true that all those ways that I care about discussing require your active participation and effort, but… still, there are many ways...

If you’re starting at 9, you have 6 years on me! Wherever I was 3 years after I started, you’d have 9 years to get to… so that’s encouraging!

She’ll have fun racing and she’ll be a better skier than otherwise for it unless there are some serious PMTS programs around that you can take her to! The social aspect of racing is also important - they’ll forge great friendships and racers tend to socialize well, as they share a certain mentality. Mine had at times more close friends in their race group than elsewhere - and they spend just 3 months together!

By participating directly, you’ll get to spend *a lot* of time with her and that’s a big deal, down the road!

Racing is also more diverse… the entire story is more convoluted and would take maybe a book series to get out; you know, all those little juicy details... for instance this one: after that initial break-through with Blue Jacket - we were lucky because I only had 1 month with him in that first PMTS year… literally and without exaggeration, right after that “breakthrough” run, he started his regular program with other coaches, great guys and good friends otherwise, but who actively tried to undo what I was doing… they were coaching what they were taught, but the result was to try to erase what we had just achieved. He quickly learned what to listen to and what not and I had only 30 minutes daily, before the program started, to work on the topic he had to focus on, do our video reviews whatnot and I had no control over his race training or racing that season. Being busy coaching another age group, I also could not help him at all on course etc.

As a result, we focused on HS racing instead, where I volunteered to coach training and races as well, where he did very well - pretty much dominated region-wise, starting with that 10th grade… which says something, because all HS years race together, so he was racing against 12 graders from private clubs at times. He won more times than just podium there, won one or two regional championships over the next 3 years and ended up in the provincials that first year, too, with a decent showing nonetheless!

So - that’s one other dimension of racing that you can be successful in and have a lot of fun… it’s not all about FIS, college and WC! These also help with the mental aspect of racing: rather than beat them down and grind away at their enjoyment with 40th place results in division 1, get them to see some successes in lower divisions etc - a careful plan must take this into account, as well.

It’s important to get them to enjoy skiing and become good skiers and appreciate the value of good technique and good fundamentals, create a ski family attitude and help them reach as far as you/they can! If you’re aiming higher, it can take more than one generation… it’s not often emphasized maybe and not taken into account in the current structure of racing as well as it could be, but if you think about it, it can take more than one generation for the stars to align (a lot of skiing, focus on fundamentals, some talent, the right personality, athletic abilities, a bit of luck etc). For instance Blue Jacket’s kids have a much better chance at big success - they’ll have him and me as ski nuts, plus a ski family mentality, which he did not have and maybe they’ll actually visit the gym more than he did - and that could be part of your bigger plan as well. For you to inspire her and for her to inspire hers and so on! Getting to ski with those there grandkids at the NORAMs isn’t a bad retirement plan, eh?

I hope you see the very positive and encouraging aspects of your position! You have to put in the effort though! That’s a curse in some ways, but it can also be a blessing, really - it definitely is not easy to dedicate as much effort to this as I have, but you have a lot more time at it, too!

cheers
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby h.harb » Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:50 pm

The post I wrote about US coaching is very discouraging. Ski racing can be discouraging, but skiing is the greatest sport. It's the reason I wrote my books produced all my videos and published over 40 videos for youtube and also why I have a free blog and free videos that anyone can learn from. Many parents have used my information to coach their kids. One parent I know who has the three best racers in their age group in the eastern division coaches them only with PMTS. He doesn't allow any USSA coaches to come near them. Sorry, but Canada is even worst.

Your kids can still have a good time ski racing. Find an open-minded coach, a supportive coach and tell him what you are doing. Support is very important. Ski racing gets brutal, it's a brutal sport and it's tough. If kids learn anything at places like Burke, they learn to be tough. In ski racing, if you find you aren't tough enough you end up quitting, nothing wrong with that, it's the nature of the beast.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby tangem1 » Tue Apr 16, 2019 7:05 am

Thank you Razie and Harald for your posts. Just to clarify my last post a little bit I am definitely not disappointed that I introduced her to skiing, the points you made in your post Razie are exactly the reason why I introduced her to the sport. I have had some of the best times with her skiing in the trees on powder days, which we both love. I also look forward to hopefully still getting out on the mountain with her in 20 years. It really is a great lifelong activity that is fun to do with friends or by yourself. What I sometimes question is the decision to let her join the race team. At the time I thought it would be like all the other sports she has participated in where she would have some fun and make some friends, which has happened and is great to see but she has also for the first time shown actual passion and as I said before its really for the racing aspect of the sport. Don't get me wrong she loves free skiing in the trees but if there is a course set with timing on one run and she has a choice between running that course and skiing the rest of the mountain, she will usually pick the race course.
My real disappointment is with the posts about the quality of coaching in ski racing and my inability to really help her improve beyond a basic level. A little more personal disclosure, I am a snowboarder, not really by choice but after a crash bike racing nearly 20 years ago that did some damage to my hip and knee I just couldn't ski comfortably any longer. At the time I both skied and snowboarded so after realizing I could snowboard without any pain I made the switch and haven't been on skis since. The good news is that with all the great videos Harald and Diana have created I have been able to coach/educate her on the essentials and then with help/coaching from Diana I have been able to get feedback on her movements that have kept her moving forward. The problem I have run into comes with a point that was brought up in another thread, if you can't demonstrate a world cup turn you have no business trying to coach athletes to do one. I agree with that to a large extent, and I am probably never going to be able to properly convey to her how to ski at the highest level because I never have and because of past injuries I am unlikely to learn how to. I really want to help her pursue her passion at the highest level but its disappointing to know that I can't help her as much as I would like and that sending her to an academy whose purpose it is to develop strong ski racers very likely won't do that. We will continue on as long as she wants to but knowing the outcome she is looking for the path to get there isn't nearly as clear as it is other fields.
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Re: Taking the Red Pill

Postby h.harb » Tue Apr 16, 2019 2:34 pm

Very simple, read "Book One", apply. Very simple, read the "Essentials", apply. Very simple, read the posts on my blog all of them; apply. Let her figure out the rest. If there are contradictions from outside coaches ignore! If you want more detailed info read book 2. Get her boots aligned properly. That's it. There is more information in these resources than anyone needs. Just don't get pulled into the USSA approach which is basically the PSIA, "We can't ski" approach.

The rest is dependant on talent and hard work. The social issues I can't comment on, some like the ski racing scene and the kids, others do not.
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