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Steamboat Springs Locals Try the Clendenin Method

12/03/2015 16:56 ● Published by Dan Greeson

Late afternoon shadows fall across White Out as a group of men descends the steep mogul run on yet another BC Lift Line/White Out loop. They’ve picked a tough line—the mogul specialists’ line on skier’s left, where the bumps are huge and rock hard, shaded by large evergreen trees that border the run. They ski it smoothly, flowing like water from one bump to the next.

What’s remarkable about these skiers is their age, which ranges anywhere from 50 to 80. The fact that no women are with them on this particular afternoon is atypical. Some of the best skiers in their usual group are female.

Increasing numbers of older skiers are finding a way to extend their on-slope careers, sometimes into their late 80s. Not only are they on the mountain almost every day, they’re enjoying it and steadily improving their skills.

Their secret?

They will tell you, fervently, that it’s the Clendenin Ski Method, an easy-to-understand technique that teaches solid skiing fundamentals. Its founder, two-time world freestyle champion John Clendenin, brings his staff from Aspen to the Steamboat Ski Area for a couple of clinics each winter. Veteran members of the Steamboat SnowSports School, including Chip Shevlin, I.J. Fisher and Bill Stuart join the Clendenin team to teach local clinics.

John doesn’t market to a senior audience; the skills he teaches are applicable to any age, but “experienced” skiers are among his strongest advocates. “The Clendenin Method was a game-changer,” says 60-year-old Jane Blackstone. “It will allow me to ski the entire mountain with greater efficiency and enjoyment for many years to come.”

Like many veterans of the local Clendenin’s Steamboat clinics, Jane heard about them by word-of-mouth. Tom and Connie Saddlemire, whom she met through the clinic, are the ones who originally introduced John to Steamboat. Connie and he went to high school together. She ran into him years later and invited him to talk to the “gang” in Steamboat – referring to the Over the Hill Gang. He was expecting a small gathering, but instead spoke at Library Hall, with an audience of more than 100. Some students say he is better known here than in Aspen, where his clinic is headquartered.

You don’t have to ask, it’s not a secret; John will tell you he stole his ski technique from Olympic gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy, after he skied a run with him in Val D’Isere. In that short time, John noted Jean-Claude’s efficiency, grace and effortlessness. “It’s hard to tell how he initiates his turns,” John notes. “He’s so still on his skis, you can’t see what’s making him move so precisely.”

Careful analysis of Jean-Claude’s skiing style led to significant conclusions on John’s part, and the result is “The Clendenin Method,” a precise instructional approach. The theory behind it is complex, but the result is distilled down to simple steps that take a lot of the guesswork out of skiing.

We’ve all seen classes standing along the side of the run, debating ad nauseum the relative merits of ski brands, inside vs. outside edges and the dynamics of gravity. The in-depth discussion can leave students confused and with cold feet, literally and figuratively.

Most skiers concentrate too much, John contends. Skiers don’t need to think so much about their big toes, which have developed over millennia from claws. People automatically dig them in for stability. What does require training is how skiers use the little toe side of their feet.

All that focus on the big toe side ‘stems’ from John’s anathema: the stem turn, a popular learning technique in the ‘70s. He maintains that it counteracts shaped skis’ natural design and is the greatest obstacle to downhill flow. He describes it as the “skier’s flu.”

The Clendenin Method uses a number of patented terms, ranging from the “Keys to the Kingdom,” (basic exercises to create muscle memory) to the “Epiphany Pad” (the little toe side of the foot) and the “Love Spot” (the point at which skis are not edging but are floating through the turn). The words may be corny but they are memorable. The terminology does not vary from one Clendenin instructor to another, nor does the meaning of the various phrases.

“They put what you knew already into an original format, and make modifications along the way,” says three-time clinic veteran John Rostenberg, 77.

“Touch, tip, drift, center,” Clendenin coach Mark Broderick calls out time and time again as he demonstrates turns. These four words form the basis of the Clendenin Method. Each turn begins with a pole plant, the touch, which triggers the feet tip into the turn, after which the skiers drift, or shape their turn. Throughout the process, a skier must maintain equilibrium, or stay centered. “Stack your bones!” John says frequently.

Clendenin clinics are not bump clinics; they are all-mountain classes designed to put skiers at ease regardless of the terrain or their age. Float, rather than edge, glide rather than carve: smooth skiers ski longer.

“The way that you use your body (with the Clendenin Method) makes it easier on your body. I’m a better skier today because I have great tools to use. At 77, that’s extremely helpful,” John Rostenberg says.

“Every skier only gets so many thumps in a lifetime,” John Clendenin says, and he used all of his up in his competition days. “This is a no-thump zone!” he proclaims. That doesn’t mean his students don’t ski in the moguls, it only means that they flow smoothly around each bump, rather than hop with bone-jarring thumps from one to the next.

“Heel, heel, heel,” John suggests whispering to yourself as you move through the moguls. The secret to bump skiing is to find the new heel quickly. No need to shout, he says. If you’ve trained your feet, they just need a reminder.

Each of the Clendenin coaches brings his or her own, oft-humorous, style. With his brash Aussie approach, Mark keeps his students in stitches. His colleague, Andrew Aldercotte, is a tall, slender man with style that is clearly reminiscent of Jean-Claude in his Olympic days. His ability to demonstrate his point on the slope is remarkable. Crystal Newton, an experienced instructor in her own right, brings order to both the clinics and – one senses – to John’s frenzied agenda.

Chip and I.J. bring their Steamboat expertise to the party. Each not only has 20 years’ experience but also their own following, plus an acute knowledge of the local terrain. “The method came easy to Bill, who already is one smooth skiing dude,” John says.

“The folks he’s got with him are marvelous,” John Rostenberg says. “His team is very knowledgeable and knows his method, and our local instructors know the mountain.”

Clinic participants all clamor for a turn with John, whose own blunt, amusing style embodies his patented “Tough Love” approach. “Train your puppies!” he emphasizes repeatedly. “If you don’t want your puppies to pee on the couch, you’ve got to train them.” (Your feet being your puppies, where good skiing originates.)

“It all happens on the dance floor, and the dance floor of great skiing is small,” John says, indicating a square box around his toes and heels. The dance floor may be small, but the whole mountain is fair game for graduates of the Clendenin program. Fear no more the bumps, the crud or the steeps. It’s all one big Love Spot.

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