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Increasing and decreasing difficulty for best progress?

I’ve seen some thoughts on this idea pop up here and there, especially in @twhisper 's training threads (love if you can chime in here Terry!), but figured it’d be nice to centralize the discussion and see what everyone has to say:

What is the best way manage your progress as a skier in terms of when you increase difficultly (shorter rope or faster speed) and when you decrease difficulty (longer rope or slower speed)?
I am no expert skier (first year in course, 15off 30mph), but I am what most would call an expert drummer, and also teach drum lessons and have studied a bit of practice/performance theory, and I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned there to my skiing.

What I often find is that drums students (and myself) want to progress too quickly. Obviously there’s a desire to be able to do more and more, but if a student doesn’t have a particular pattern thoroughly learned and they try to play it faster and faster, it isn’t really beneficial to their progress. Even if they can sort of "pull it off," its sloppy, it’s not convincing, and it can’t be relied upon for a performance because it might work, might not. It’s better to truly master a pattern before trying to improve on it. I was encouraged by a teacher that when you’re learning something new, play it as slow as you need to play it right, even if it’s painfully/awkwardly slow, because “every time you play something wrong, you’re creating muscle memory of doing it wrong, you’re building a habit of playing it wrong, you’re teaching yourself to play it wrong.” Once you can play it right, you can speed it up, but then again wait at that speed until it’s mastered there before going faster again. There can be some value in occasionally playing it a bit faster than you can, just to get the feel of what it will be like to kick it up, but then right away you go back to where you can play it right.
And in broad terms, my teacher would identify times when he felt like my playing in general hit “a plateau” and I wasn’t making much progress. At those times we’d drop all the complicated stuff and go back to the very basics - breaking things down to the foundation, improving the quality/solidity of that foundation, and then re-building the complex concepts.

Does the same thing apply to skiing? Should we be patient with increasing our difficulty? Do we build bad habits by upping our difficulty too soon? Should we sometimes break it down and “start over” at easier speeds/lengths and slowly build back up again?
Or are music and skiing not really a great comparison? One difference I can see is that in drumming, I can “isolate” one very specific part of a difficult pattern and just practice that. That seems harder to do with skiing (ie, isolating just your offside turn and spending 10 minutes only working on that), given how interconnected every part of a ski pass is, and particularly if you’re on a small ski lake without much distance to “mess around” working on one specific thing, or if you’re paying per set at a ski club.

I’d like to hear your thoughts from your own experiences as skiers and ski teachers. Thanks!


  • SlalomSteveSlalomSteve Posts: 19 Baller
    In my specific case, I can usually run 6 at 30mph, but sometimes better and sometimes worse. I want to pick it up to 32mph to chase a “new accomplishment,” but I’m wondering if I should just stay at 30mph until I feel like I’ve “mastered” it (where it’s easy and I always feel comfortable and consistent). Or I’ve considered going back and forth, perhaps even mixing in 28mph again, doing a set something like 28,30,30,32,30,28. (only possible other factor is I have a 2016 Radar Vapor, not really designed for such slow speed, so part of me wants to get to 34 just so the ski can do its thing lol).
  • skier2788skier2788 Posts: 761 Crazy Baller
    @SlalomSteve I think the most traditional way of progressing is to not move on until you can run the pass back to back. If 32 mph still feels unattainable I would shoot for something more in the middle. Bump up to 30.5 or 31. I know some people who like to take 0.2 mph steps.

    I have used what I call the stairs method in early season. So for me it looks like -28, -32, -35, -35, -32, and -28. Builds consistency. I wouldn't be afraid to try and drop back and do 28 30 30 32 30 28.

    One thing that I think is somewhat overlooked but very important is to always end on a clean complete pass. We are building muscle memory and the last thing you want to do is learn bad habits. Even if it means the last pass is 28 run the last one early and wide.
    Travis Torley
  • twhispertwhisper Posts: 113 Open or 55K Rated Skier
    @SlalomSteve great comparison. I believe you laid it out perfectly. The tough part, like you said, is isolating any one component and so I believe the fundamentals are just that much more important. The better your fundamentals the more possible it is to work on one aspect of your skiing while allowing the other elements to take care of themselves. I would love to see more skiers follow your methods.
  • ALPJrALPJr Posts: 2,096 Mega Baller
    edited October 2019
    Really like ending on a good pass - coaches across many sports emphasize that - batting practice, free throws, driving range, surfing..
  • Dacon62Dacon62 Posts: 735 Crazy Baller
    edited October 2019
    A great stepping stone would be to send @twhisper a video of you skiing the course.
    He then does video/audio of himself and you in a split screen showing you key areas to improve.
    He will likely send some other videos with specific drills you can do to improve these areas.
    Had this done a few weeks ago and it’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
    It’s like getting a drumming analysis done by Neil Peart.
  • ScottScottScottScott Posts: 915 Crazy Baller
    I have a music background like you. I've spent hours in the practice room as you say, slowing things down till I can do it correctly/consistently, then inching the speed up. I try to apply that same concept to skiing, but like you said, can sometimes be impatient. I think a good balance has you running passes you can do comfortably while you work on form and beat those good habits into muscle memory. But it's also good to do a couple passes at that next line also as you will need to get used to that extra speed to be comfortable and not tentative, but too much of those harder passes and scrambling to get to the next ball will start inforcing bad habits.
  • ClydesdaleClydesdale Posts: 43 Baller
    Guitar player here. 😊. I tend to err on the side of caution rather than push too far and pick up bad habits. When increasing speed I increase by only .3mph at a time and video myself until it looks good. I don’t need absolute perfection, but at least proper position on the ski hips out, shoulders square, rope low... if it looks good and I can nail all 8 passes then time to move up. Take this for what it’s worth. I’m certainly no pro skier and I just made this up myself based on my experience with guitar....
  • SimpsonSimpson Posts: 9 Baller
    edited October 2019
    @Slaomsteve I think you analogy is absaloutly true and I am In no position to be giving "coaching" advice. All I can do is share my experience. I'm currently skiing 34mph into -35. What I have learned in slaom skiing is the the drastic difference between any increment change either speed or rope length, for me cause a semi shellshock effect. I got to where I was running -28 most every time but would only run 1 maybe 2 bouys @ -32 due to how much faster everything happened. So I changed my approach and began my sets [email protected] -35 [email protected] -32 [email protected] this helped me understand the importance of my efforts at learning the basic steps necessary to running any pass and also allowed me to feel what's necessary to run my hardest passes. I was also able to end each set on a high note usually running several easy passes as they got exponentially easier rather than harder. I know there is no exception to the proper muscle memory in proper position but for my weekend warrior operation I am regularly skiing into -35 when I wasn't even close to that score. So I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Get the basics down and then make it exponentially easier rather than harder. Just my experience.
  • jhughesjhughes Posts: 1,013 Mega Baller
    edited October 2019
    @Simpson now that's something new. So you're saying when you could not run -32 you actually started your sets one pass harder than that, scrapping what you could at -35, then lengthened to -32, scrapped on that a bit, then ended the set at a makeable -28? I'm intrigued by this if so.

    Effectively rather than building the set with a 15, 22, 28, 32 progression, pounding in bad habits with passes you could make, only to end with total failure you effectively reverse that. I'm trying it.
  • PacManPacMan Posts: 71 Baller
    Quite curious about that approach as well. I tend to struggle with my -32 pass but feel pretty solid at -28 but feel that I'm trying too hard therefore making too much speed that I can't turn well at the ball.

    @Simpson if you could try to describe more how this worked for you and what area this seemed to help you with in skiing?

    @jhughes if you try it this year yet I would be interested in what you thought of it. My season course skiing is at an end (northern Wisconsin) but for next year maybe it can help me.
    If your not having fun your not doing it right.
  • SimpsonSimpson Posts: 9 Baller
    @jhughes @PacMan doing this mostly helped me understand how important my gate and 1 ball were and being consistent with them. At -28 I can be for lack of a better term lazy I.E. not pull out far enough or be strong enough through the gates and still be just fine for 1 ball. Also the timing at the start of the pre-turn. It has to happen so much faster with each progression that without trying it I had no idea how much faster it had to happen hence mostly just getting to 2 ball at -32 I never knew what to expect.
  • ShakeskiShakeski Posts: 117 Baller
    @Simpson - I was just going to say the same and I am very intrigued/pleased that someone else is trying this approach. I did not go as far as starting with my hardest (however I will be trying that now)! But I find if your goal is to be a skier who is running into 35 off at your tournament speed (and you feel you do indeed know how to complete a good pass) then you should spend more time closer to that goal and back into the "easier speeds/passes" as it enables your mind more time to think in course/practice because it all feels slower when you do drop back down.

    When I made my speed jump - I went from 32mph to 36mph (skipping 34mph). I had a lot of people tell me that was wrong, however it pushed me through a major breakthrough much faster than those around me. I spent a lot of time crashing around 4 ball or getting off rhythm and frustrated in the beginning. However, almost all at once, when I made my first 22' off at 36mph, I immediately ran into mid 32'off at 34 MPH with the best form I have ever had (all in one season). 34 felt so slow to me that I was able to implement what I was working on right away. I then took the confidence from my 34mph passes back into 36mph and yet again - another breakthrough. For me, if I stayed trying to work down the line in a more traditional fashion, I likely do not think I would have progressed into where I want to be this fast.

    All of this however came after me gaining a solid understanding of the course. 3 years skiing at slower speeds (30/32mph) learning more proper technique.

    I am very interested in what others are doing or did to get to the 35' off at tournament speed mark - great thread!
  • John BrooksJohn Brooks Posts: 367 Crazy Baller
    For me I have found that if something is not working at my hardest pass, it's usually that I have not been doing some part of the technique in my easier passes. I have found it helpful to ski an entire set working on technique at one pass, for me, typically what I would classify as my 2nd pass in a tournament set. This seems to help me build muscle memory (hopefully the correct memory) and I can also refine/improve technique.
  • ScottScottScottScott Posts: 915 Crazy Baller
    I do think I like working "up" the line overall, but today spent most of the sets on a fairly comfortable pass, trying to build into muscle memory some good habits, then going for 2 passes at my hardest line (that I rarely complete,) then I went back to that comfortable pass to end the day on a good note. That may be something I continue trying. Certainly preparing for tournaments, going up the line to get the feel of the progression in intensity needed from an easy pass to harder passes is needed. In fact I have done some sets where I go back an forth between my opening pass and the next to get used to that change.
  • SimpsonSimpson Posts: 9 Baller
    I should just note that for me this is strictly practice.. about two weeks before an event I ski nothing but tournament sets.
  • jercranejercrane Posts: 321 Crazy Baller
    edited October 2019
    Only slightly ahead of you @SlalomSteve. I was where you are about 2 years ago. So take this with a grain of salt.

    I find two types of practice sets really productive for me.

    1) I stay at one speed and 1 line length the entire set and just work on trying to make it perfect. I never get it perfect but I can generally make it feel more "fluid". Typically I like to do this when I am with a good coach. Work on like 1 thing every pass with their guidance and just ignore my ego. I find this personally to be best at a speed and length that is makable 100% of the time but not so easy you can get away with really terrible stuff. For me this is currently 22 off/34mph. I do one warm up pass at 22off/32mph and then go to 34 and stay there for 6 or 7 passes.

    2) The second one is what I'd call more of a pyramid. I just started doing this at the end of the summer. I start with my tournament start speed and length (22off/32mph). Then I go up until I'm not making it or if I just barely make it. Currently that is usually in my 28off/34mph pass. I take 2 shots at this. Then I progress back down to my gimme pass. I usually do this when I don't have a coach and its just me and my buddy skiing. I really like this approach because I'm still relatively fresh (around pass 3 for me) when I get into the hard stuff so I can push the boundary a little. Then I end it on very clean passes that feel incredibly easy. Essentially go to failure and then end back it down to easy success.

    I have no idea if my second type is helping me at all but I like it a lot and it keeps me from getting tired of the same old same old. Strokes the ego just a touch without it being totally counter productive. I'd say about 75% of my sets are in bucket 1 and 25% in 2.

    This past weekend I did mainly what I'd consider traditional sets with a coach, going up the line and ending on my hardest when I was most fatigued at around pass 7/8. I didn't really care for it. I didn't PB and I didn't nail some core fundamental so instead of walking away from each set fired up I sort of walked away feeling mildly defeated.

    just my 2 cents to add the pile of loose change.
  • david_quaildavid_quail Posts: 158 Baller
    I'm a massive fan of spending most of my sets (75%) at a relatively easy line length. Any time I deviate from this and start chasing buoys, my skiing suffers.

    That said, it's important for me to every other set or so, try my hardest pass. This exposes areas of weakness that I can focus on at easier line length.

    My ideal is 2 sets, with ~15-30 minutes in between. First set is spent entirely at 34mph, 15 off.
    Second set I start there for a couple passes and then cut the line after each pass I make, eventually getting into 32 off (which I've yet to run).
  • gsm_petergsm_peter Posts: 785 Crazy Baller
    I have tried stay at [email protected] for many sets.
    Well, I ski them better and better. Can do more errors and still make the pass (recently I missed the handle with one hand and still made the pass).
    32 is harder. Best case I make 2 passes per set. High 31 works great and are more fun to ski.
    This does not give me any progress.

    Now I alter from solid sets at 30 up to 31,8 and sets with a lot of 32, 33 and 34.
    This does not work well either.

    My low level goes up and my high level goes down... (same trend during last 5 years)

    Higher speed is more fun. The fun starts at 32.
    30 is harder on the body.

    I belive that alter between solid sets and faster sets will help me to improve.
    If not it is at least more fun.
    When everything is bad I take a trick run.
    Life is too short not to enjoy every day!
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