By Dan Balkin
Heeding this advice would have been unwise during The French Revolution. As you may recall, King Louis XVI, his lovely wife Marie Antoinette, and a host of other aristocrats met an untimely demise at the hands of the Parisian mob. Today, however, people clamor to have a faint whiff of royalty associated with their name. For goodness sake, a certain former anti-establishment, rabble-rousing rebel is now known as “Sir Mick Jagger.” How times change.
Well, as I’ve always said “If it’s good enough for Mick Jagger, it’s good enough for me.” OK, OK, – you’re right -I never actually said that – but it has a nice ring to it. So what do real royals, Sir Mick, and a skier have in common? They can all play the aristocratic game.
Bear with me as we take a momentary digression. One of the oldest ski instructor tips is called “big toe, little toe.” How old is this tip: I heard it and tried it before I had a wrinkle or a gray hair. Essentially, “big toe, little toe” is an exercise to get BOTH of your skis engaged in the ski turn. Imagine you are going across a ski run and want to turn left down the hill. In the exercise, you would think about directing your left little toe and your right big toe down the slope. As the turn progresses, the “big toe” ski becomes your downhill ski. For most people, The A-HA moment in this exercise comes from the “little toe” part. Again – turning left – the left little toe guides what becomes (through the turn) our uphill or “inside” ski. Many of us give our inside or uphill ski short-shrift in ski turns because our weight naturally drifts toward the outside or downhill ski. The exercise is simply reminding us to remember to turn BOTH skis – when we don’t do that our skis can easily cross and we will hear our friends’ cat-calls from the lift as we gather our equipment from the ensuing yard sale.
Sooooo… Having said all that – how do you ski like an aristocrat? I shamelessly stole this idea from Ski Magazines January “Instruction” issue. It is an interesting and novel twist on the big toe-little toe business. The instructor said to think about how aristocrats drink tea – they lift their pinky finger up as the cup approaches their oh-so sophisticated mouths. As far as I know, my family is as common as Mississippi Mud, so I have never witnessed this delicate maneuver in person. But I can dream – and I think I have absorbed this pinky stuff while pretending not to watch Downton Abbey with my family at home.
Anyway – it is a reversal of the ol’ big toe-little toe exercise. Let’s do what we did before. Imagine you are heading across the ski hill and want to turn left. This time, instead of thinking about turning your right big toe down the slope you do the exact opposite – YOU LIFT UP AND GUIDE YOUR “RIGHT” PINKY TOE DOWN THE SLOPE. What has changed? Try it at home. You will notice that when you think about “lifting up” your pinky toe that both your ankles will roll more. That ankle “articulation” is actually one of the subtle touches of an experienced and sophisticated skier. Most of the time, our ankles remain locked in place as we do ski turns. We think about angulating with our knees and hips – but the most subtle angulation of all comes from our ankles. When I tried this move on the slope, I immediately felt a tighter and crisper carve – BINGO!!
What passes for American aristocracy? We have all heard someone slip some variation of this into a casual conversation: “My great, great uncle, twice removed on my mother’s side, whose ancestry can be traced back to both the Mayflower and Pocahontas, served as the Postmaster General in President William Henry Harrison’s administration.” With your new found aristocratic skiing skills, you need no longer feel small in the shadow of such towering greatness.