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Adaptive Performance Map Applied to Monoskiing – Erik Kondo

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Photo Description: A graph showing the Adaptive Performance Map.

There are two basic performance levels of monoskiing, Static Skiing and Dynamic Skiing. The primary factor that differentiates these two levels is the ability to carve a turn. Skiers who are able to ski dynamically are also able to ski statically. The reverse is not the case. The ability to static ski comes before the ability to ski dynamically. But the progression from statically skiing to dynamic skiing may never happen for many monoskiers. There are plenty of monoskiers that are able to successfully navigate ski slopes, yet they have not learned to carve a turn on demand.

Referring to the Adaptive Performance Map Level I is Static Skiing and Level II -Dynamic Skiing.

Static Static skiing typically involves heavy dependance on the outriggers to maintain balance. Turns are executed by steering pressure from the outriggers. Ski edging is created by banking the monoski into the hill. This method of skiing works for navigating beginner to expert slopes. A Static skier’s ability to navigate the mountain will progress over time as the skier becomes more experienced and proficient.

A monoskier WITH Functional Trunk Control (FTC) will typically use a seating system that allows for a high degree of upper body/lower body side-to-side hinging which is critical for creating angulation. Angulation is required to carve the turns that define Dynamic Skiing. For those with FTC, the progression from Level I Static Skiing to Level II Dynamic Skiing typically occurs along the smooth Desired Pathway as shown on the chart as the skier steadily gains more confidence and balance. The skier learns to transition from banked skid turns to angulated carved turns.

The monoskier with WITHOUT Functional Trunk Control (WOFTC) is typically faced with a different pathway. This skier requires a seating system that stabilizes their upper body through the use of rigid and semi-rigid means. The restrictive seating system and use of the outriggers keep the monoskier’s upper body from falling over while seated in the monoski. In addition, the seating system must also enable the skier to keep the monoski from balanced while skiing. The WOFTC has to balance BOTH their upper body and the monoski at the same time, while the FTC has to only balance their monoski.

Imaging balancing a yard stick on your finger. It takes a little practice, but it is not that hard to learn. Now imagine a folding yard stick has a hinge in the middle which allows the upper part of the stick to bend independently from the lower part in two directions. Such a stick is much harder to balance on your finger. Rather than the stick either falling to the Left or Right (two degrees of freedom), both the bottom and the top could fall to the Left or Right (four degrees of freedom). This is the challenge faced by the WOFTC. The degree of difficulty in learning to ski for the WOFTC is not linear (as it is for the FTC), it is exponential.

The commonly devised solution is to support the WOFTC monoskier’s trunk upright which results in the monoski no longer hinging in the middle (bends from side-to-side). The skier’s upper body and monoski become one semi-rigid system transforming four degrees of freedom into two. The result is that the WOFTC is now able to keep the monoski upright with heavy use of their outriggers but is unable to create sufficient angulation (upper body/lower body separation) to carve turns. Turns are initiated by leaning forward and pressuring the outrigger into the snow (steering) Turns are skidded and banked by leaning into the hill. The restrictive seating systems needed and used by WOFTC are conducive to Static skiing, but not for Dynamic Skiing.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Static Skiing. But Static Skiing does not allow the ski to be skied as it was designed to be skied. Skis are designed to carve a turn. Static skiing has lower performance metrics than Dynamic skiing. Dynamic skiing allows for higher speeds and greater turning/edge control. Dynamic skiing requires the skier to have the ability to balance the monoski on the skis’ edge as well as on a flat ski. Static skiing only requires balancing the ski on a relatively flat ski. Therefore, Static skiing ability does not necessarily lead to Dynamic skiing ability.

In order for the WOFTC to learn to carve a turn, they must be able to create sufficient angulation which means creating upper body/lower body separation. Therefore, the restrictive seating system of the WOFTC must be modified to allow for more side-to-side flexion. It is this Modification that creates the different pathway of the WOFTC. On the other hand, FTC don’t require a modification since they learned how to balance using their trunk muscles in an unrestrictive seating system in the first place. All things being equal, they naturally learn to angulate with experience and proper instruction.

WOFTC are mechanically hindered from angulating until their seating systems are modified to allow for greater side-to-side flexibility. But this Modification will result in an immediate reduction of Static Skiing performance due to the creation of the four degrees of freedom as previously noted. The WOFTC will likely lose some control ability, fall more, and progress to the points of Fear and Frustration on the pathway. It is this demise into Fear and Frustration that discourages many WOFTC from making the Modifications required to transition from Static to Dynamic skiing. As a result, many continue to Level I ski and don’t progress to Level II.

The essential difference between Level I and Level II is the ability to balance the ski on its edge (carve a turn). The only way to develop this balance is through consistent practice. But unless you can get the ski on its edge, you can't learn to balance it there. For example, you can’t learn to balance the wheelchair wheelie if you can’t get into the wheelie position in the first place. You go from only being able to briefly pop a wheelie for a few seconds to being able to wheelie for any amount of time on demand. What has changed is your neurological skill to balance. The same goes for carving a turn. You need to develop this neurological ability.

But remember, the WOFTC not only has to balance the monoski while carving a turn, they also have to balance their upper body simultaneously. Lose control of your upper body and you lose control of the monoski. If you high side fall, you fall hard. If you lock your ski into its edge from over leaning in an unbalanced manner (essentially holding yourself up with your uphill outrigger), you risk not being able to release the turn before you cut across the hill into the woods. All of these reasons greatly increase the temptation of the WOFTC to take the Quit and Revert pathway or to Give Up entirely.

It takes perseverance to get to the point of Initial Understanding. How long it takes depends upon multiple factors. It is not just the neurological/athletic ability that matters. The environment also makes a difference. It is much easier to balance a ski on its edge on packed powder of the West than the icy conditions of the East. This situation is analogous to how it is easier to balance a wheelie on a soft surface than it is to balance on a hard surface when learning. Not to mention that falls hurt a lot less on soft snow. Given that carving a turn is primarily a learn to balance before you give up problem, it makes sense to make it as easy to learn as possible.

Once you reach the point of Initial Understanding, continued practice will lead to the Deeper Understanding pathway as you learn to ski dynamically and carve turns more and more at will. There will be setbacks along the way, but if you persist, Level II skiing will likely be achieved.

As a final point, it is important to recognize that skiing is essentially a physics problem. The principles of skiing are well established. What is unknown is how any human will apply the physics. Or if they have the neurological (physical/emotional) ability to properly apply the physics given the real world consequences of falls and crashes. Every skier will chart a different pathway as their skiing skill progresses. The purpose of using Adaptive Performance Map is to make this pathway as efficient and as enjoyable as possible by acknowledging the inherent difficulties, reducing the dip of Fear and Frustration, and accelerating the progression from Level I to Level II performance.

Photo Credit: Mike Hitelman

Photo Description: Erik turning his monoski on a ski slope.


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