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What made Ligety split?

By Frank Covino

It was a beautiful spring day at Sugarbush when ski school director Sigi Grottendorfer assembled all the ski instructors for an important announcement. "From this day on, we no longer teach skiing with the feet together. The average American does not have the athletic ability for such balance. Many of them even walk with their feet wide apart. They cannot master the classic Austrian style. From now on, we separate the feet. They feel more stable. They squat and twist. They make a basic turn. They go home happy, feeling like an athlete. They come back. Sugarbush makes more money. This is why we are here."

Every instructor looked at each other in disbelief. A few of us were teaching the sport long before Sigi's Austrian immigration, when Stein Eriksen headed the school. Stein was firm, in striving for the most efficient turn posture with absolute elegance, precision and control. Much of the draw to Sugarbush was the perfect form taught by our ski school. Surely, the open stance was more stable, as a tricycle is more stable than a bicycle, but, what about grace, precision and elegance? "I'm outta here..." were my last words to Sigi.

Dramatically, the sport started to change. Even the equipment changed. Skis became shorter, fatter, with more flexibility in the shovel, facilitating the new squat stance and a propeller-type turn. Heli, one of our ski school's finest Austrian instructors, a skier of Olympic capabilities, surprised me, a few seasons later, with: "It does make turning easier, Frank." I couldn't help but think about the tricycle analogy.

Putin's foolish choice of location rendered the snow for the Olympic event spring-like...less fast...clumpy...rut susceptible and, with memories of California skiing, what we used to call Sierra cement. Such a glue-like condition makes it imperative to stand upon the ski that is outside the turn, when skiing at high speed, by angulating the torso to the outside of the turn. I used to teach: "Keep the torso at a constant 90 degrees to the angle of the slope, whether you are facing downhill or traversing."

Triggering his demise, Ligety's entire body was tilted uphill, inside the turn, placing far too much of his bodyweight upon his inside ski. The modern, wider shovel, spooned into the Sierra cement, digging deep, since he was not angulating, amplifying his wider stance and blowing away seconds of his racing time. Ligety's powerful thighs partially recovered, but seriously distracted his concentration and made him realize it was over. Had he maintained his bodyweight upon the outside ski (with proper angulation) with his feet closer together, he could have taken home the men's slalom gold. It wasn't the course, Ted.

Changing the length and shape of the ski and the mechanics of the turn to accommodate the lack of athleticism among the sport's occasional participants has kept pace with the modern educational system of encouraging our children to not strive for excellence of performance. Everybody gets a trophy. How soon will it be before bicycles are retired in deference to the ease of balance upon a tricycle?

We really miss you, Stein.

Frank Covino lives in Fayston and is a 12-year veteran ski instructor at Sugarbush.

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