Column, Living the Dream

Footwork skills are required for skiing and skating

Megan Keller, 8, shows off her Beillmann at a Figure Skating Comp.

By Merisa Sherman

I wiggle my legs back and forth underneath me, like a pendulum they swing as I meander along on the Great Eastern. Or what used to be called Great Eastern, I honestly cannot keep track of the name changes. Maybe it’s Bear Cub or something. Just the slightest bit of movement from my toes and my ankles and my knees and my hips, and my skis are off doing what they do best — make all kinds of crazy turns underneath my still upper body.

Next, I start to move my arms and upper body around like one of those Gumby inflatable things outside a used car dealership in middle America. My whole body is going crazy, but my skis stay consistent, my lower body continuing to make two footed power pulls seemingly on its own. Oooh, but then I pick up one foot and make one footed wiggle turns as I keep on gliding along on the flats. These are my absolute favorite.

I was never an ice skater growing up; in fact I don’t even remember owning skates until my little cousin Megan Keller bought some for me at Christmas almost 20 years ago. Megan then brought the BF and me to the rink in Woodstock and damn if that little 5 year old wagged her finger at us. That’s right, I taught Megan to ski … and she taught me how to skate! In fact, she spent the entirety of every public skate teaching us how to do all kinds of figure skating tricks and spins — you should see the BF magically pull off a toe loop on his hockey skates!

We ended up buying punch cards and went ice skating more times that year than I ever had in my entire life. It was awesome. By the end of the season, I had mastered the waltz jump, had even started on my own toe loop and was actually able to grab my foot for a Biellmann while moving!!
( Remember, this was 20 years ago). I was, no surprise to anyone really, much better at skating as fast as I could around the rink and even got asked to join the speed skating team. All that skating to get back and forth to the Killington Ski Club transferred over much better to speed than twirling, apparently.

In those first few days of MiniStars, when my cousin was learning to ski at the age of 4, her coach asked her to push on her big toe to turn. Having been figure skating since she could walk, she immediately turned to the coach and asked: would you like the inside or outside toe and should it be more ball of the foot or tippy toe? We were floored. Here was a 4 year old that had more edge and foot knowledge than almost any adult that I had ever worked with.

Megan quickly moved to parallel skiing and was cruising around the mountain in just a few lessons. It was very obvious, however, that she preferred her skating rinks to be low angle and become confused why she was gaining speed making perfect railroad track turns down lower East Fall. We went back and worked on sideslipping and varying edge angles after that. But coaching her was the moment that I realized kindergartners could understand all the complexities of edge work that we were usually told to reserve for older middle schoolers.

It changed my whole philosophy of teaching young skiers. We talked about how edges work and how to manipulate the ski right from those beginning days on the magic carpet. In fact, I probably spend more time working on flat skills with my athletes than anything else. We learn to skate, to ski on one ski and we wander around through the woods until our skis become merely an extension of ourselves. It is very cool to see little athletes begin to develop single leg power pulls.

One of my athletes, who is now an almost 20 year old young man living out west, recently posted a video of himself sliding a rail when his ski popped off. Without skipping a beat, he finished the rail on one ski, landed cleanly and skied away. I taught him that when he was 5 years old! It was awesome to see that. Perhaps all you really need to know, you learned in Kindergarten?

I was so excited to see the installation of the Johnson Recreation Center Ice Rink in Killington this winter. I got my skates back out of storage and removed the dryer sheets that have been sitting inside them since Megan’s accident and I cannot wait to get back out there and work on my edge skills and power pulls and see if I have any chance of remembering how all those spins worked. I hope you get a chance to spend some time on the ice this winter — Just remember the number rule of figure skating: don’t fall on your knees!!

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