An Enduring Dilemma in Ski Teaching – Platform or Balance

by Bob Soden
Previously published in the Journal of the Ski History Congress – 2004 – Murzzuschlag, Austria

All rights reserved by author

All skiers should revere the name of Sondre Norheim, a carpenter from Morgedal, Norway, who in the 1850‘s developed both the Telemark and the Christiania ski turns, as well as the heel strap and the Telemark ski1 (the forerunner of the modern waisted ski)! Little did Sondre know, however, that he had set in motion a contest of approaches to ski teaching that continues to this day.

Sondre Norheim - Jay Peak HIstorySondre Norheim - Jay Peak HIstorySondre Norheim - Jay Peak HIstory

The Telemark turn, with its angled T-like arrangement of the skis during a turn, utilizes a dual-axis platform for stability. The Christiania turn (named after the Norwegian city, now Oslo, where Norheim first demonstrated his amazing turn before a wider audience), where the skis are held parallel throughout the turn and have no secondary axis of support, relies upon a skier’s balance for success. Ultimately, all skiers (except perhaps some of today’s retro crowd) likely wish to be able make parallel turns. The question has always been: how does one get to this point? Sondre was able to make both types of turns because he was a gifted athlete. But how do you teach a beginner to turn his/her skis? By using a secure Platform approach – or by relying on his/her own Balance? Part of the answer would eventually come from technique, and part from equipment.

Dr. Fridtjof Nansen - Jay Peak HistoryDr. Fridtjof Nansen - Jay Peak HistoryDr. Fridtjof Nansen - Jay Peak History

Lilienfelder SkiLauf Technik - History of Jay PeakLilienfelder SkiLauf Technik - History of Jay PeakEarly on, an answer began to emerge from the snowy mists (and is not seen with full clarity even today, 150 years later). In 1891, after reading Dr. Fridtjof Nansen‘s book “Paa Ski over Grönland,” Mathias Zdarsky began a self-instructional skiing program in Lilienfeld, Austria. With the Norwegian techniques as a point of departure, he soon developed the Stembogen, and then with input from Col. Georg Bilgeri, a fellow Austrian, the Snowplow. Zdarsky’s 1896 “Lilienfelder SkiLauf Technik,” became the first illustrated ski technique manual, and he was probably Austria’s first ski instructor of organized classes. Both the Snowplow and the Stembogen (Stem) were an evolution of the Telemark school of thought, as they used a Platform for control (in this case a V-arrangement of the skis).2 Unlike the Norwegians who preferred an erect stance, the Lilienfelder technique stressed a crouching style.

Der Ski - Henry Hoek - Jay Peak HistoryDer Ski - Henry Hoek - Jay Peak HistoryIn 1906 Henry Hoek (Hoeck), of Germany, wrote “Der Ski,” wherein he took the democratic approach of describing the Snowplow, the Stembogen, the Telemark and the Christiania turns as separate items, not necessarily as a progression.3 The reader would obviously choose what was right for him/her. By including the Christiania turn as a stand-alone turn (prescribing no prerequisite) he advanced the case of the Balance school of skiing, which had begun to fall a little behind. It was but a moment’s advance, however.