Walter Foeger and Natur Teknik … An Overlooked part of Skiing History

The quest for an approach to the ideal in ski instruction goes back a number of years. In 1937 in Austria, in the book ‘The Wonders of Ski-ing’ by Hannes Schneider & Arnold Fanck, Fanck closes his introduction to the second edition with, ‘We hope, however, that the standard of ski-running will improve at such a rate that we shall have to use these terms stem- and open-Christiania only in Ski School. Here the forward-Christiania must always be learnt by means of stemming. But the style of the future will be that of turning on both legs with evenly weighted and parallel skis.’ 25

Also in 1937, in France, Emile Allais, the 1936 world champion skier, published ‘Ski Francais,’26 a well written and illustrated ski teaching manual, in which he advanced the idea of teaching beginner skiers to ski parallel without the use of a stem turn or stem christie; the latter steps he felt would require the skier to give up the idea of one day becoming a fast skier.27 He did however see a case for the Snowplow, and recommended it be taught to beginners for slowing down and stopping, at slow speeds, in the fall line, but never in traverse nor turns (side-sliding better).28 Allais’ French method taught the following steps: straight running, snowplow, side-sliding, and ‘pure Christiania,’29 followed by a few other more advanced steps. Allais’ pure Christiania started with a slow counter-rotation of the upper body opposite to the direction of the intended turn30 (as a sort of wind-up). This was followed by a quick ‘rotation of the entire body, as a unit or block (‘bloc uni’), in the direction of the turn,’ with simultaneous unweighting of the ski tails, through an increased forward lean of the upper body, retraction of the heels, and bending of the knees and ankles. The rotational momentum was transmitted to the skis and effected the turn.31 While rotation is less evident today, Allais’ turn is basically, a very efficient, elegant and modern banked turn. Effective side-sliding, which was considered a replacement for stem, was an essential part of the system. No doubt some of the enhanced upper body action was to compensate for the less than firm support of ski boots, their attachment to the skis, and the less-groomed character of the slopes that existed at the time.

In 1941 in Canada, a Swiss ski instructor by the name of Fritz Loosli published a ski teaching manual for beginners entitled ‘Parallel Skiing,’ another well written and illustrated book. Loosli had earlier been inspired by the controversy that, even then, was provoked by Allais’ approach to teaching parallel.32 Loosli, however, felt beginners could be taught to ski parallel from the start with neither snowplow nor stem turns in the program. He stated that ‘one would never learn to ride a bicycle by riding a tricycle. The only way for the beginner to master the balancing of the bicycle is to start out on it from the beginning, and it is that way with skiing. In this analogy, Parallel Skiing is the bicycle of the sport.’33 Loosli’s method had the following major steps or sequences: downhill running, balance exercises, elementary turn to the mountain, elementary downhill turn, step turn, side-slipping, skating, and finally pure Parallel Swing.34 His Elementary Turn employed a type of scissors christie which he termed a ‘Modified Open Christiania.’ The turn was initiated by advancing the future inside ski (inside of the turn), edging the inside edge (inside of the turn) a little more, flattening the inside edge of the outside ski, and opening or spreading the ski tips slightly. ‘And just as easily … his skis will swing around …’35 Loosli’s Parallel Swing built on his Elementary Turn, adding the step turn, side-slipping, skating, knee-action (weighting and unweighting), and shoulder action (both ‘regular’ (counterswing and rotation) and reverse shoulder.)36 The whole procedure was very logically laid out and produced a fine parallel turn without ever resorting to snowplow and stem. The practice of splaying or opening of the ski tips to initiate the parallel turn seems not to have been a key feature of many subsequent systems (except, some might argue, in some form in racing).

In 1958 in the USA Walter Foeger (a native of Innsbruck who had won the 1936 Hahnenkamm Combined junior division at 18)37 published ‘Learn To Ski In a Week,’ a concise and well-illustrated book. Here Foeger described in detail how a complete novice could progress, in a 7-day ski week, from basic exercises to linked parallel turns in the fall line on a moderate slope. The sequences were laid out as follows (in abbreviated form): Day 1 – basic exercises; Day 2 – skating, stationary ‘hop’ turns, traverse with hop Turns to the Mountain (TM); Day 3 – TM’s with hops at varying speeds, side-sliding (-slipping), connected TM’s with kick turns; Day 4 – TM’s with side-sliding, stop turns with hops from fall line; Day 5 – stop turns, side-sliding on steeper slopes, short ‘wedel’ hop turns in fall line; Day 6 – Downhill (DT) turns with hops on gentle slope, DT’s with side-sliding; Day 7 – continuous DT’s moderate slopes, short DT’s, stop (or hockey) turns, continuous DT’s on moderate trails.38

In more detail Foeger’s parallel downhill turn was executed thus: for a left-hand turn the skier was in a balanced position in a traverse to the right, with weight slightly forward, on the inside (uphill) edge of the downhill (or left) ski, uphill (right) ski, shoulder and arm slightly advanced, downhill (left) arm and shoulder trailing. The upper body was bent lightly at the waist out over the downhill ski in a ‘comma’ position, chest facing partially downhill. At the start of the turn the skier made a down, up and forward action (a hop, or coiling-uncoiling) to unweight his/her ski tails which, while unweighted, were shifted sideways in a heel thrust to the outside (to the right) of the new turn. The skis were pivoted about their tips, which never left the snow; the unweighting, pivot, and heel thrust accomplished an edge change. To counter the twisting of the lower body, the upper body would follow with an equal but opposite twist. The upper body was now leaning out over the right (or new downhill) ski in a mirror-image of the former ‘comma’ position. As the skis touched the snow at an angle to the original traverse on new edges, the skier absorbed the small impact of landing by sinking softly down in the knees and ankles, weight now on the opposite (or right) ski, inside edge, and still forward. The sideways thrust was feathered with a smooth and controlled side-slide about the ski tips to produce a rounded turn, ending in a traverse to the left.39 As the student progressed to carved turns with practice, confidence, and increased speed, the initial hop, or lifting of the ski tails, was reduced, then eliminated. Skills of fore-aft and side-to-side balance, edge-control, side-sliding, and down-up-down unweighting (rather than hopping) were increasingly stressed as the ski-week progressed. Natur Teknik taught a skier parallel turns without the use of snowplow or stem.

In 1962, Foeger followed up his initial publication with an updated book ‘Skiing for Beginners’ based on the same basic principles as his earlier work. The new textbook had improved illustrations and expanded explanations.40 It should be noted that the Natur Teknik 7-day ski week included fourteen 2-hour lessons, and that Foeger’s ski schools guaranteed that the student would ski parallel, or the entire cost of the course would be refunded.41 The ski schools preferred if the student could take the lessons in an continuous unit, rather than in random sessions. The program was obviously rigorous and demanding.