I'm a skiing fanatic. But I'm even more fanatical about learning and improving.


As a skier, I'm self-taught— and not an expert. In fact, I'm the guy you constantly see  on bunny slopes and blacks alike trying to improve my technique, making slow arcs and watching his feet. I've forever searched for ways to practice without being on the slopes. I never found a viable solution aside from gym workouts and balance exercises. Everything else has to be done on the mountain.


I would say that learning to ski on your own can follow the same model as self-help books --- tons of different instructors with different routes to the same endgame: getting you to carve very neat turns down the mountain and maintain control matter what the conditions. (For people who are really into learning from the comfort of a DVD or book, there are some ski gurus that stand out— Harald Harb, John Clenendin, Lito Tejada-Flores, Martin Henkleman; the list goes on. That's a whole 'nother blog post altogether.)


So to add to my instructional repertoire, I recently got a Nintendo Wii, followed shortly by the Wii Fit Balance Board.


If you're not familiar with the Wii, it's basically a video game unit with motion-sensitive remote controllers. The Wii Fit balance board is an add-on: a 1' x 2' board that you stand on akin to a skateboard. Sensors on the balance board detect shifts in balance, areas of pressure under your foot, weight, and other factors that allow you to control your game with even the most minute shift of your body. It's especially useful for physical activities such as yoga and calisthenics where the balance board can detect, for instance, whether you do a push-up, are raising one leg, or even swinging your arms to and fro. Working in concert with the controllers and board, the Wii game on your TV screen can be controlled in some very exciting ways.


Now back to the skiing. Pretty much any ski guru will tell you that skiing is all about balance. So the balance board along with a Wii skiing game seemed like a natural fit. No matter what the method, I always saw it as a great opportunity to  practice techniques in the skiing "toolbox" of skills. 


Then I got the skiing games.  


My first disappointment: Wii, as great a device as it is, uses childish cartoon characters as your on-screen avatars. Very Disneyesque in nature ---these little tiny imps with pudgy bodies and giant heads speak with nothing more than linguo-generic squeaks (with the occasional English word thrown in.)


Nonetheless, having faith in the ingenuity and marketing skills of Japanese game makers, I rushed out to buy their premier skiing game, "We Ski" (now with a newer version called "We Ski & Snowboard.")  I also bought Winter Sports: The Ultimate Challenge and checked out the default skiing mini-games that came on the Wii Fit balance board disk.


Second disappointment: Learning that in most of these skiing games, the way to control motion on the "slopes" using the balance board was the opposite of true skiing.


Example: In real-world skiing, if you want to make a left turn, the logical motion is to put weight on your right foot and lighten the left foot. That's the intuitive method taught by the ski guru whose technique I follow, Harald Harb. Harb is the creator of the PMTS ("Primary Movements Teaching System"). I believe "lightening the directional foot" is also the principal that the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) teaches at most every resort ski school.


However, in Winter Sports Challenge and Wii Fit Slalom Skiing, in order to control your skier avatar down the mountain, you put weight on the right foot to turn...right.


Logical? For a game, yes. For on-mountain, no.


There is a happy ending, though.


With a little exploration, I found the creators of We Ski had done us skiers right. They included a preferences setting where you could reverse the balance board's control for foot pressure. I was able to set it so that when you put weight on your right foot, your avatar would —just as in the real world— turn left.


Even though We Ski got the method right, theoretically, it still wasn't an extremely accurate exercise, much less helpful with respect to ski technique. Weighting one foot while lightening the other in order to turn, in this game, would have you making a very, very sharp turns. Not extremely realistic. But workable.


I see opportunity here.


Lots of people drop out of the sport because of disappointment in their technique and the steep learning curve it can take to becoming an "All-Mountain" expert skier. In Wii, we have the perfect tool for people to be able to hone their technique and learn proper skiing at home when they can't be on the slopes.


Nintendo has something magical in this device --- now all we need is a serious developer to create a program that's as accurate and adult as the yoga and strength training programs that Wii Fit is known for.  Then they need to market it to those of us who really want to take our love of perfect turns past the cartoon avatar stage.


Harald, Leto, John, Salomon, K2, Nordica.. or whoever: Are you listening?

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