The Turn that Changed the Future

by Bob Soden
Previously published in Skiing History (Formerly Skiing Heritage) – May-June 2011 issue

All rights reserved by author

“The venom with which a skier protects his chosen technique often supercedes [sic] and sometimes surpasses his national allegiance. We ski all day and argue about it all night. At least we stay awake thinking up good reasons why this or that technique is the best. No sport makes hotter arguments. None makes warmer friends.”

So observed Hans Georg (Gee-org), insightfully, in the American Ski Annual 1940-41, in an article entitled “The St. Moritz Ski Technique.” Controversy and venom weren’t strangers to skiing. Not since Zdarski’s and Bilgeri’s rows in Vienna, at the beginning of the last century, over the use of one stick (ski pole) or two. Nor the “ski journals virulent…denounc[ing] of [Hannes Schneider’s] “murder” of the graceful Telemark…,” in St. Anton preceding WWI. Nor the voices calling out “heresy” over Fritz Loosli’s teaching direct parallel skiing in Quebec City in 1939. Georg, a native of Würzburg, Germany, and acolyte of the St. Moritz Ski School (Rennklasse – Racing Class), in Switzerland, had brought a new axe to the grindstone on America’s slopes, challenging the entrenched Arlberg Technique of Schneider in the U.S., and the French Technique of Allais in France.

In the article, Georg said he suspected that “the older techniques…show [by themselves]…why the St. Moritz technique was born…Under the old technique you shoot down the slope in a low crouch, the upper part of your body tensed…When you arrive at the point of the desired turn, you give the upper part of the body a violent twist and force the skis in the new direction…” Hans appears to be referring to a mixed technique of Arlberg-Allais. He suggested that this method often leads to injuries and less successful skiing.

He was enlarging the controversy himself. Georg’s position in the debate was based on a new turn he had learned at the collective [bent] knee of Dr. Eugen Matthias and Giovanni Testa, authors of Natürliches Skilaufen, 1936, and founders of the St. Moritz Skischule. In their turn, he described, “lean your knees and hips into the slope and your shoulders out from the slope [reverse-shoulder and comma position]…As you approach a point of… [a] stem-christiania* turn[,] you weight the downhill ski…At the moment of execution, you merely shift the weight to the uphill ski—which is to be the outside ski in the [coming] turn—and automatically the centrifugal force swings you around…”

The St. Moritz turn of 1936 seems to have pointed more accurately where the modern ski turn would go than Schneider’s Arlberg or Allais’ parallel of the time. The latter two were better known in North America, and had ski schools based on them. Georg appears to have been almost alone in showing the superiority of the weight shift from downhill to upper ski early in the turn and the reduced need for exaggerated upper body action to cause the skier to turn. (Foeger’s Natur Teknik parallel system had elements of early weight change, but did not appear until 1956.)

The stem-christiania*, described above, was essentially a step out to the side and prefigured the step turn or schrittbogen of ski racers in the early 50s (Eriksen et al), Joubert’s “anticipation” in the 60s and marches on today. SKI managing editor John H. Auran wrote in his Nov. 1960 article “Will they Call It Schrittbogen?”, that the step turn “is faster to execute…it initiates counter-rotation [reverse-shoulder] (if you don’t believe it, see if your right shoulder doesn’t come back slightly when you lift your left leg and vice versa); it results in complete weight shift…”

The 1936 reverse-shoulder, comma-position and weighting of the uphill ski (in anticipation of the next downhill) “Kristiania” turn of the St. Moritz Technique of Matthias and Testa (and Georg), was paralleled in 1935 by the “Christiania Parallèle” turn described by Ducia and Reinl in their Le Ski D’aujourd’hui book for the Ski Club de Paris (an ingeniously illustrated tome). (Both techniques were created independently – Kruckenhauser.) WWII came along and halted progress along these lines everywhere. Once the dogs of war were leashed again, everyone was licking their wounds, and it took until the late 40s for things to take-off again.

Hans Georg’s 1940 description of this 1936 turn (unfortunately not found in the same terms in his 1938 Skiing Simplified nor his 1954 Modern Ski Systems books) does seem to be a simpler and more elegant solution to the age old problem of turning a long ski. The turn is more concisely put here in the 1940 ASA than in the Matthias-Testa or Ducia-Reinl books. And there is no Arlberg crouch and un-weighting, nor Allais’ counter-rotation wind-up and “blocage.” Except on very steep slopes and sometimes in powder and on moguls, the modern skier does not usually “unweight.” So Georg’s description of the St. Moritz turn seems quite modern.

Soon after the writer had left the Walter Foeger Ski School at Jay Peak, in 1969, he began experimenting with theories found in Ski the New French Way, by G. Joubert, 1967. Taking a skating step, at the end of which, poised on his uphill outside edge, he rolled it over to the inside, and voilà, a turn inwards ensued. Shades of Hans Georg!