Monday, December 13, 2010

The Man Who Taught Us Modern Skiing

Georges Joubert studied world-class skiers and translated their winning techniques into lessons that recreational skiers could learn

By Ron LeMaster
Georges Joubert
Georges Joubert, a giant in the world of ski coaching and instruction, passed away on November 1, 2010. From the late 1950s through the late 1970s he analyzed and described, in print and pictures, the significant movements of skiing being developed by the best competitive skiers in the world, and how the rest of us could learn to make them ourselves. It is fair to say that no single person has had a greater impact on our understanding of how modern skiing works, and how it can be taught.

Joubert was a professor of physical education and the president of the Grenoble University club when Jean Vuarnet joined its skiing program in the mid-1950s. Vuarnet was eighteen years old, and had done little skiing before then. After four years of training under Joubert, he was the French national champion in slalom, giant slalom and downhill, and in 1960 won the Olympic gold medal in downhill at Squaw Valley. Joubert went on to train many top-level racers, including world championship and World Cup winning skiers Patrick Russel and Perrine Pelen, and did an ill-fated stint as head coach of the French Ski Team. Although it is commonly thought that Joubert unilaterally fired the leading members of the French men’s World Cup team in 1973, that action was the majority decision of a panel of five, one of whom was Joubert, who cast a dissenting vote and later characterized the panel's decision as a “gross error.” Yet, over the following decades, he accepted responsibility and suffered the ensuing criticism without complaint. Read more!


  1. From Ales Grucek:

    I read with great interest Ron Le Master's article, “The Man Who Taught Us Modern
    Skiing” in the January-February issue. Georges Joubert's great contribution was virage coupé (which translates in English to “carved turn,”described in his 1966
    book Comment se Perfectionner à Ski(How to Perfect Your Skiing, pages 190, 191,
    200; and in the English version How to Ski the New French Way,pages 189, 190,
    200). But Carl Josef Luther,
    (1886-1968; German ski jumper, journalist, jump designer) mentioned the carved
    turn for the first time in 1914,and his famous sketch dates from 1920. The carved
    turn was sleeping until 1990s,when ski manufacturers like Elan (with its model
    SCX, by Slovenian inventors Jurij Franko and Pavel Skofic), Fischer (Snowrider), and Kneissl
    (Bigfoot)appeared with shaped skis that offered the first opportunity for the additional development of carving technique on alpine skis. And remember, the first carvers were snowboarders! The Elan SCX was chosen as the Ski of the Year in the United States in 1995.

    Ales Gucek
    Ljubljana, Slovenia

    Seth replies: I don’t believe that the description of carving was Joubert’s main claim to fame – carving isn’t even mentioned until
    the last 15 pages of a 205-page book, and Ron’s tribute to him doesn’t use the word even once. In the US, as I recall, we really began to take the issue seriously after Warren Witherell published How the Racers Ski in 1972. Nor did carving begin with snowboarders. The best
    racers have always carved at least part of their turns: just look at old photos of Dick Durrance and Emile Allais at work, and as Witterell made clear the real key to racecourse speed has always been to get on a carving edge a bit earlier, and hold it a bit longer, than the other guyes. It was certainly possible to
    carve turns before the Elan SCX (and before snowboards for that matter) -- good skiers could always do it on decent GS skis on groomed snow if the trail was wide enough. Deep sidecut skis just made carving easier. See our history of sidecut at for more detail about this stuff.

  2. Ron LeMaster replies: I agree with Seth's comment. Joubert talked about carving and techniques for making it happen, but I never thought of it as the centerpiece of his work. Certainly nothing like Warrren Witherell did in How the Racers Ski. Joubert understood that carving is just one of many things a good skier should be able to do. He also understood that most skiers need to learn a lot of other, more conventional skills. Many of the most important movements he described, and for which he developed teaching methods, weren't carving-specific. These include braquage (what we now call leg rotation), anticipation (windup-release), the jet turn, reploiement, avalement, and the surf technique. I think most students of ski technique think or these terms when they think of Joubert, not carving.

    I did some research into the origins of the term "carving" last summer. (I recalled first seeing the word "carving" in a mid-1960s article in either Ski or Skiing, and was wondering when its use first appeared.) I had been corresponding a bit with Joubert over the previous year, and sent him a note asking him about the origins of the term. Below is the repsonse I got. It came not from Joubert, because his health had started to slip, but from Maurice Woehrle, who ran R&D at Rossignol for many years. I hope this provides some helpful information.


    Maurice Woehrle replies: I remember that we begun to use the term "virage coupé" in the environment of the GUC -SKI (Grenoble Université Club) when we had Allais 60, just after Squaw Valley Olympics. As they were giving the very new feeling to make turns without side sliding, we needed a new term to speak about it.
    Having been in charge of the R&D department of Rossignol from 1963 and during 30 years, I have been involved in international standardisation works. Among the subjects, there was that of terminology in 3 languages, french, english and german. América was represented by Herman Schultes from Olin and Austria by somebody from ÖN (Östereischische Normung Insitut). The choice of the right word for "virage coupé" was not easy, because it did not exist an equivalent in the german skiing common language and "carved turn" did not designate specifically "virage coupé". This term was related with what we call "conduite de virage", a property of the ski which helps to increase the part of the curved- longitudinal component of the turn and to reduce the part of the side-sliding component.
    I cannot tell you the date of the standardisation meting because I am in my vacation home (savoie) at the moment.
    During some rather recent discussions with Georges, he told me that some racers on wooden skis as Périllat, Bonlieu (on the internal ski) were able to cut shortly when passing the line of steepest slope.

    Best regards.
    Maurice Woehrlé

  3. Ales Gucek replies:

    I do not believe that the description of carving was Joubert's main claim. Counting of pages (15 of 205, American version, original has 207 pages) is a matter of quantity
    and not quality. Seth said: Nor did carving begin with snowboarders. American
    snowboarders brought the new discipline of skiing, snowbaording in Europe in it
    was there opinion that they were first carvers not mine. However I saw the excellent
    carvers to leave a track of the snowboard in the snow like one rail of the railway.

    Seth mentioned Dick Durance and Emile Allais looking on their old photos to get on
    carving a bit earlier and hold it a bit longer … Yes, but not only them even Christl
    Cranz in slalom in GA-PA in 1936 and other racers too. Much more about the
    beginning and development of carving skis and carving skiing is to be find in Dr.
    Arno Klien’s article “… alles schon da gewesen!”, pages from 35 to 38 and Dr. Hans-
    Joachim Unger’s article Carven in Frankreich, pages from 39 to 46 published in
    Festschrift zum 70. Geburstag von Walter Kuchler. Do you remember the judicial
    process at the US court one American ski manufacturer vs Rossignol about the deep
    shape of the skis which ended in favour of Rossignol? Deep shape was known from
    1870 on and skis were exposed in Skimuseet Holmenkollen (in that time in Kristiania)
    from 1922 on etc. (to look at the two above mentioned articles about history of deep
    shaped skis, patents …).

    Ron said: Joubert understood that the carving is just one of many things a good
    skier should be able to do. Yes, but today is carving the main alpine way of skiing,
    not braquage, jet turn, reploiment, avalement … What I wanted to say that Joubert
    payed attention on carving in that time already. I wonder why the developers in ski
    factories did not listen to him. Ciril Pracek, former member of olympic team and I
    did not succeed in ELAN in 1968 to develope carving ski like it was mentioned in
    Joubert's-Vuarnet's book (1966). Nobody in ELAN was listenening us. It was not
    only Joubert but Jean Vuarnet who made new way of alpine ski technics. I believe
    that most students of ski technics think or these terms (braquage …) when they
    think of Joubert, not carving, as Ron said. It depends of their professors what they
    taught them. Slovenian students knew very well about Vuarnet-Joubert braquage,
    anticipation, jet turn and not mentioned in the article S-turn and even carving while
    Slovenian Janez Smitek was in ENSA and two years later in Grenoble at Joubert
    course and Janez was in charge for the specialisation in alpine skiing at the Faculty
    of sports in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I wonder if there will somebody ask “some students”
    about Dic Durance and Emile Allais. I am sure they would say, yes Dick was one
    the best American racers and Emile known by his French rotation method (with Paul
    Gignoux and Toni Seelos in 1938), but they will not think about carvers.

    To Ron’s respond attched Maurice Woehrlé letter: “Virage coupé” is related to
    what we call “conduite de virage”. This are two different terms: “virage coupé”
    is a skier’s “product” – turn, “conduite de virage” is in fact skier’s body action or
    movement. Joubert did not write “conduite de virage” only in relation of “virage
    coupé” (carved turn) but for all kind of turns. “Conduite de virage” can be carved,
    with partly side slipping, plow or stem turns etc. “Virage coupé” and “conduite de
    virage” can be understood as “nomen est omen” (in the word is the meaning). I agree
    that the terminology was and is very difficult if we are talking not about only about
    3 but more languages. I rememeber the two days working meeting in September
    Zermatt in 1968 where many problems about translations besides different ski
    instructors technics were discussed (present: Karl Gamma, Stefan Kruckenhauser,
    Franz Hoppichler, Gaston Cathiard, Ales Gucek, Sepp Ender etc.). INTERSKI 1971
    continued with the above mentioned ski instructors plus Marius Mora, Romminger,
    Ulmrich, Fink etc.


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