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For the week of Jan 30 - Feb 5, 2002


Ski like a chick 
with pride

Equipment adjustments 
make the difference

Express Staff Writer

Let me just start with this pronouncement. Jeannie Thoren is my guru.

Jeannie Thoren, skiing on Baldy, shows how equipment adjustments have worked for her. Express photo by Willy Cook.

Having explored the guru option a few times in the past in my search for harmony and balance in my life, never—until I met Thoren, who literally changed an aspect of my life—did I feel satisfied. And it was so simple.

Thoren specializes in ski clinics for women that seek to change they way they approach both their skiing and their equipment.

Her clinics begin with a very amusing and anecdote filled lecture. Ours took place at Thoren’s host ski shop, Sturtevants, at the base of Bald Mountain. She proceeded to inform me and several other hopeful women that we were right side up pears and men were upside down pears. And that ski shops had been selling and tuning our skis for us all these years based on men’s inverted pear shape.

That is to say, that women carry weight lower and further back in our wider pelvic structure, but ski equipment has been made and tuned for someone with weight that is carried higher in the body, across the upper torso.

It has always been wrong for us, and Thoren has spent decades not only proving this point to the ski industry at large but fine tuning changes that help women to ski to their potential instead of struggling to make it down the hill without looking either like a fool or falling and hurting ourselves.

Thoren and her husband Tom Haas, who live in Duluth, Minn., travel up to 22 weeks of the year to various ski resorts around the country. She runs a three-day clinic in which she attempts to turn wary, worn out women into empowered alpiners. Her theories also work with skate and classic skiing.

The Thoren Theory is this: women’s pelvises are wider than men’s; their feet are smaller, and their weight in centered lower and further back. Equipment must be adjusted for each of these conditions.

Moving the bindings forward just 2 centimeters alleviates the problem of over-rotation. When a woman is standing in the proper position on the ski, less raw strength is needed to make the ski turn. Fewer exaggerated body movements—swinging the hips, or steering the turn with the arms—are needed. Instead, a woman should be able to flow into a turn instead of forcing it.

And forward binding settings also help women be "on top of her skis" rather than "in the back seat," thus creating smoother, quicker, and more controlled turns. Thoren also places cants under the bindings to help with leg alignment problems.

The morning after her lecture, Thoren continues testing her theory on each client while on the mountain. She demonstrates this by having each client us her own equipment, which have certain aspects that can work against us.

For instance, skis clatter together and cross when there is too much ski ahead of the boot. Shorter skis and moving the bindings forward help with this common situation.

Another prevalent problem for women skiers is bending too much at the waist. Heel lifts—basically wedges put under the boot liner—tips the pelvis forward and establishes a natural stance with greater stability, and more connection with the bottom of the ski, since heels don’t lift out. Since the heel is higher, a greater amount of forward torque can be generated by the woman with less forced ankle and knee flex. This helps the woman skier keep pressure on the forward part of the ski much more efficiently, especially on steeper slopes, without having to bend at the waist.

Heel lifts also help by lifting the ankle out of the restrictive top of the boot, which can pinch off the blood circulation in the feet. It is a common cause for the oft heard—and poo pooed—cold feet complaint.

"It’s not a rad feminist argument here," she claimed, but a matter of simple anatomy.

Bicycle seats, ice skates, soccer cleats and basket balls are all examples of sports equipment that has been altered to deal with the difference in men’s and women’s physiques. So why not skiing?

Thoren, who developed many of her theories and solutions while living here in Sun Valley, has become highly regarded for the changes she’s instigated in the ski world. She was named one of the 25 most influential people in the industry by Ski magazine, and Skiing magazine ranked her as one the Top 100 North American ski instructors, She’s also an inductee of Skiing for Women Hall of Fame, and a long time ski and boot tester for both Ski and Skiing.

And it all works. During the lecture, Thoren talked about how each time she discovered how her ski control improved while utilizing these adjustments, she’d go into the woods, sit on a log and cry.

As for me, I skied on a pair of K2s that have not even debuted in this country, called the Spire. It belongs in their K2 T-Nine Series (Title 9). "It is going to kick butt!!" said Thoren.

I smiled broadly as I zipped down Baldy, realizing that it was indeed possible for me to ski far better than I have since I was a fearless and agile teenager, with much more confidence, not to mention grace.

As a Sun Valley skiing institution, Thoren was voted all around women’s skier Sun Valley in 1979, well before she had orthotics, heel lifts or cants to improve the equipment. Also before heel lifts were developed she duct taped match books under her boot liners to lift her up.

Thoren calls her clinic "a clinic in know thyself. You must address that in skiing." For instance she has extreme knock knees and one leg is longer than the other. Cants have changed it so much for her that X-rays showing her legs with and without them make the concept dramatically visible. Without the cants her knees point at each other, with them they point ahead.

Thoren, who emphasizes points with an exaggerated Minnesota accent, as in "you betcha," comes from Scandinavian stock and hurls jokes almost as fast as she skies.

Hauling a 28-foot trailer with them on their yearly ski clinic tours, Haas and Thoren have 105 pairs of demo skies, and 90 pairs of boots, a full service tuning shop, cross country skis, demo helmets and goggles.

"Its fun to see what kind of effect you can change through the equipment," she said during the evening lecture. A woman in the attentive audience smiled. Her name was Carol and in a video from a previous clinic we could see that she was out of control in her own equipment and totally in control in Thoren’s equipment with the heel lifts and orthotics added. Her husband patted her knee and smiled. He was one of the few men in the room at Sturdevants who weren’t there as instructors looking to help them with their class techniques.

Haas, who handles all the equipment adjustments, tuning, and demos, calls his wife a "marriage counselor on skis," because so many women, who had all but given up the sport, were inspired to try again and loved it, after working with Thoren.

Sun Valley glowed the day she gave her clinic, corduroy snow, blue skies, and brilliant warm sunshine. Rob Santa and his crew at Sturtevants-Greyhawk bent over backward in all regards, from helping with equipment to allowing the occasional occupation of the store by the whole group.

Despite the distance and the years, Thoren still has a soft spot for the area. She calls "Sun Valley my spiritual ski home in the Universe. I always miss it so."

And until she returns, we’ll miss her, too.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.