Skiing: Carving's not for turkeys

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The Independent Online
If you're hoping to cut it on the slopes this season, says Stephen Wood, it's time to turn on the TV and get up to speed.

Last season, you could get away with it. Carving skis were the new thing, and the admission that you had never carved a turn would provoke sympathy rather than disdain. But this season they have become the only thing: look around the equipment shops and you will struggle to find a ski that does not have the characteristic broad tip and tail and the narrow "hourglass" waist beneath the binding. Alongside the racks of skis are "carving" boots; and, since anything that doesn't carve just won't cut it now, there is "carving" skiwear, too.

Face it: you want to be on carving skis this season. Even if you rent rather than buy they are the obvious choice, because all the new stock in hire shops will be carving skis (and any traditional pair will have at least a season's wear on them). But how can you get up to speed with the technique for using them? Well, the equipment shops have another product for you: most will stock at least one of this season's three new videos on carving technique, all priced between pounds l4 and pounds 15. I have watched them all, and at least one is worth buying.

The principle of carving skis is very simple. The wide tip and tail dig into the snow when you put the ski on its edge and apply pressure through your boot to make a turn; at the same time the waist - which is narrower, and therefore more flexible - will bend. And because it is cut inwards at either side of the waist, the middle section of the ski's edge can move outwards before it comes into contact with the snow.

Since all these videos are full of "helpful" analogies, let me offer one of my own. Say you placed a wooden ruler on its edge on your desk, canted it away from you at an angle of about 45 degrees to the desk-top, and then tried to push the middle to bend it. You would not succeed, because the edge would be in contact vith the desk along the ruler's whole length. But the middle part of a "waisted" ruler could be pushed, until that part was touching the desk. It would bend ... just as a carving ski bends. When it does so, the ski presents a curved edge to the snow, so that - as all the videos say - it "makes the turn for you".

The ruler analogy may be difficult to grasp, but it's better than nothing - which is what you get from the three videos. Although they deal with a new skiing technology, none of them bothers to explain how it works. The Ultimate Learning Experience 2, a "definitive guide to carving", opens with the bold claim that it will provide "a comprehensive run-down on exactly what carving skis are, and which are the right ones for you".

It does neither. Nor does it deal properly with "angulation", an essential part of carving technique because it is what enables the skier to put pressure on the skis. Instead, the video stresses skills (such as "pole plant positioning") which are marginal to carving, and pursues analogies which range from the obscure (goalkeeping, diving) to the misleading (motorcycling).

At least the analogies in Ski Tips 5: Carving Skis are more transparent. This video lasts an hour, about 20 minutes longer than the other two - but that's because, apart from the re-runs of clips from earlier Ski Tips, so much time is spent featuring the products of its sponsors. Drawing a comparison between carving skis and a car's power steering may not be very helpful, but at least it justifies footage of the four-wheel drive vehicle provided by one sponsor. (Unfortunately for a ferry line, one of the other 13 sponsoring companies, the producer failed to find a parallel between carving skis and cross-channel ferries.)

But set amongst all the product placement, the video does include some useful stuff on carving technique. It makes the point that, contrary to popular belief, basic skiing skills such as snowploughing and sliding turns are applicable to carving skis. And it lays the right emphasis on angulation - although I am not convinced that holding a three-legged stool against the buttocks while making a turn (as the presenter does in one sequence) is an instructive way to improve anyone's body angle.

Much the best of the three videos is Carving Skills with Martin Bell. The commentary, written by Bell himself, is confident and clear (he talks about skiing, not power steering or diving), and deals almost exclusively with body angles, the key to carved turns. As Britain's most successful Olympic skier, Bell also has the skill to demonstrate beautifully the correct application of carving techniques - and, vividly, what happens if they are applied incorrectly. The sponsors' names (apart from the ski manufacturer's logo, which has a cameo role) appear only in the credits; and the production values make it look - unusually in this company - more like a TV programme than a home video.

But even Martin Bell is stretched to fill a 40-minute video with the basics of carving technique. By the end he loses the plot, wandering into an equipment shop, visiting the gym, and doing some grass-skiing before a snow-ball fight finale - almost as embarrassing as the "dinner party" at the end of Ski Tips 5, in which the presenter toasts the hotel that has provided board and lodging for himself and his crew.

It's a pity that, as well as all the fillers and advertisements that are featured, none of these videos spared a couple of minutes to explain what a carving ski actually does. Still, you don't have to buy a video to understand that. You've got a ruler, haven't you?

`Carving Skills with Martin Bell', pounds l4.99 from Paul Paley Productions (0171-229 7712).

`Ski Tips 5', pounds 13.99 from Maverik Productions (01273 325260). `The Ultimate Learning Experience 2', pounds 14.99 from Ski S&S (01442 266449)