Unfortunately the lake has been drained until next Spring – so it’s time for photography instead of swimming….
La Grande Motte (3563m) would be our objective on this final day. The cable car climbs to 3456m (11,338ft), quite high enough to affect breathing if you are not used to altitude. The shear faced mountain peak next to the Grande Motte is the Grande Casse (3885m) the highest mountain in this particular area. Mont Blanc – to the North is the highest mountain in the Aps at 4809m. Just being at the top of the Grand Motte has a “feel good” factor that is off the charts!
Today’s video clip is Don’s Yoga Skiing – to the music of The Afro Celt Sound System – “Rise Above it!”
We didn’t actually get around to any technical work (it had been my intention to focus on the steeps and pivoting) but it was an excellent ski down from the top of the glacier and Don took the time to appreciate it. Earlier, during our warm up when skiing down from the top of the Toviere, I mentioned to Don that the objective was really to be mindful of our actions when skiing. Overall issues such as speed, other people, conditions etc. just become peripheral and not the object of focus. In a race when the skier nears the end of the course, if his mind leaps ahead to think about the finish, he probably won’t make it that far! When the mind is focused within the body, whether on breathing or some particular movement, feeling or other sense – then we internalize our thoughts. This focus then allows us to relate accurately to the outside world – and keeps us in the present. Being as fully as possible in that moment we lose the stress and tension that often dominate. Skiing isn’t about wondering where you are going, how fast you are going or what you look like (though it is to most) – it is about being one with your senses and the environment you are in (which is second to none!)
The commercial “holiday” ski industry totally misses this. Even ski racing misses it and bases itself on a violent, destructive process of Darwinian natural selection – producing a tiny number of racers who have unconsciously adapted and understand nothing about what they are doing. When their racing days are over they will quit skiing.
For mindfulness to develop we need to have correct technical information. Standard International ski instruction is about as incorrect as it could possibly be made. It would be hard to achieve this deliberately and can only be paralleled by the same stunning level of incompetence in the medical industry. (Though mainstream science isn’t too far behind these days unfortunately). Martial Arts, Yoga, Meditation, musicians and artists generally work in the right direction but “sports” gets well and truly sidelined – hence the artificial “recreational” and “elite” divisions. You cannot even “visualize” unless you understand the underlying movements. Much of mindfulness lies in feeling but a lot depends on visualizing. Visual perception is not what people think. The brain can only see something that it understands – hence why the newborn child is blind. The child uses all its senses to build a picture of the world. In skiing, when we have the right information then we can successfully and automatically visualize – enormously aiding the “mindfulness” process.
I asked Don to ski the steep parts without gaining speed and to value the feedback from the mindfulness above all. His focus had to be on “getting out of the way” and pushing the outside foot forwards plus working from the core. Don skied this first steep part in full control and enjoyed it.
When instructing I carry out the same instruction myself – fixing my focus on the exact same thing. This is never boring, tiring or even too easy – it is always rewarding and fascinating. Mindfulness is timeless and an adventure “within” that just knows no limits. People often comment on my patience – but I don’t need any patience. They comment often on my passion or enthusiasm – all the same source! A master of anything in life knows that he’s not at the top of a pinnacle of learning – he’s just at an open door that opens onto dozens of other open doors without limit.
Don now has a good understanding of the real fundamentals of skiing and so now it’s largely a case of mindfully applying this. The learning process is feedback driven and you are largely your own coach when working with this information.
Near the bottom of the descent from the Grande Motte Don passed in front of me at a tricky part of the piste and I was immediately worried and hoped he would contain his speed. Unfortunately he let his skis run straight at the wrong moment and being startled by the sharp acceleration he reacted unconsciously and found himself going backwards on his head! Fortunately there was no damage done other than us having a slightly shaken up Don for a while. Returning to skiing after a lunch break was interesting because the shock had put Don on the defensive and his skiing reverted to his previously trained emotionally based forcing. This was the perfect opportunity to apply mindfulness to overcome a problem. Focusing internally is simply the best way to remove stress and get back on track. Additionally, I asked Don to control his breathing by only using nasal breathing – both in and out. This increases CO2 and Nitrogen Oxide levels and returns blood flow to the extremities for fine control. Don recovered possession of his faculties and his skiing skills in about five minutes flat. I was impressed. Once Don was back on form we spent a few minutes shooting the final video clips.
Yesterday was the final day of just directly feeding information to Don. Three days is a pretty rapid crash course in fundamental principles that have taken me thirty years to work out. Our main goal so far has been to establish an understanding and common vocabulary – totally different from any of Don’s previous experience in skiing. We got there. Needless to say this is quite a huge task for anyone to deal with but Don handled it well, feeling real changes, progress and overcoming confusion. The main obstacles to this process come from the fact that international ski instruction is based on appeasing people’s emotions rather than challenging them. People are told to “balance”, make a stable snowplough, push out the leg and start to twist the ski into the turn etc. etc. Those are all utterly wrong things to do and lead to skiing purgatory (intermediate plateau) but they are appealing to the emotions. Everything that actually works is initially unappealing to the emotions and totally counter intuitive. Once the emotional moves are ingrained and the pattern burned into the brain – it literally takes over and injects confusion into any efforts to learn opposing but appropriate material. Don has done seriously well in challenging the grip of this process – a grip that some people can never escape.
I asked Don to use his slalom skis again today because they would be useful for both working on short turns and developing carving skills. Unfortunately we only managed to repeat one of yesterday’s carving exercises and didn’t get very far with it because we were consumed with the more pressing need to work on constructively and safely handing steep terrain. For the first time we were involved in a developmental feedback process where Don could receive correction and more specific information going beyond our basic principles.
Steeps Video Clips…
Upper / Lower Body Separation had been in my mind for developing the carving and improving the body rotation issues. My intention was to begin with carving and the more static action of applying “chi-skiing” actions with the pelvis – working from the core – and then bring this into short turns. However we gravitated towards just homing in directly on those issues as they apply to short turns and steep terrain.
Two separate exercises were carried out with skis off. First of all we repeated yesterday’s exercise of scribing an arc in the snow with the ski boot. The exercise was extended further though: Pelvis facing downhill with two poles for support (arms straight) feet across the hill. Outside boot scribing an arc and inside boot acting as a support pivoting on its heel. The key here is to use the chi movement as the leg comes around downhill of the body and to hold the centre of mass uphill – increasing angulation. Then the body (facing downhill) moves across the downhill leg supported by the poles and the process is repeated in the other direction. This is a simulation of the internal mechanics and the overall motions of the centre of mass during a tight turn – with upper / lower body separation.
Exercise two was jump turns in the ski boots but integrating the mechanics of the first exercise. The overall goal was to develop awareness of upper / lower body separation. Video clip “one” followed those exercises and the snappy rhythm and mechanics are largely due to the work done here.
One of the main tenets of dynamic skiing is that the skier orients the body perpendicular to the slope. (This is actually not true for pivoting – but we will ignore that for the time being as it does not involve forward momentum.) A skier in a traverse is in the vertical, travelling across the slope and this is similar to the final phase of a dynamic turn. Going into a dynamic turn requires a tilting of the body downhill so that though the middle of the turn the skier is not vertical but perpendicular to the slope. Supporting the body exiting the existing turn on the downhill ski actually gets the body already close to perpendicular to the slope before the new turn even starts. If we are just following the skis around facing across the hill with the body then we don’t really sense this action for what it really is. Separating upper and lower body so the the upper body is facing downhill at this moment makes it clear that you are launching into the perpendicular very early. Having the body oriented this way (with separation) can confuse movements so in coaching I normally never start using this too soon – waiting until good dynamics and supporting actions are already in place.
Speed is controlled on the steeps by closing the turns – which makes all of the above described issues harder and requires more work. Video clip “two” was of Don working on perpendicularity and closing the turns. Don isn’t quite so fluid here but he is in complete control of his line and speed.
Rhythm is a key component in skiing. Rhythm generates stability and resonance (amplification). Racing is about making and breaking rhythm and courses are set specifically to this pattern. Don was encouraged to generate rhythm to help generate appropriate forces and to feel how it all knits together.
On one run I asked Don to try not closing off the turn and to try to exit the turn early while still on the downhill leg. Most of the speed control would come from about 2/3rds of the way around the turn but not at the end. The idea is to exit the turn before you think it is even necessary. This is the start of learning timing that is used for controlled higher speed skiing, including fast skiing on rough terrain or off piste even in cruddy snow. Don felt the effect and enjoyed it.
Dealing with ice makes most people freak out. Commonly the only advice is to tread on it lightly as if on eggshells. Wrong! Racers simply use even more aggressive dynamics and sharper skis. The key is simply “pulling in” instead of pushing out. Push the skis outwards on ice and you are on your bum. Skiing well on steep ice is best achieved by exploiting the fronts of the skis – with good upper / lower body separation (upper body tilted forwards at the hip) – standing up on the ball of the foot (to activate the anterior tibialis and stiffen the ankle) – pressing on the shin to engage the the front of the ski strongly. You are still pulling the ski inwards but if it loses grip then you slide with it under control. Don managed this and video clip “three” is with him using the fronts of the skis and this stance also frees up his hip angulation and upper / lower body separation.
Classic photograph today of the common fog bank on the Italian border. The other side of the ridge is the Aosta valley leading up to Mont Blanc (peak in the image). This side is La Rosiere ski resort in France just down the valley from Val d’Isere and Tignes.
Another day of clear progress for Don. The first part of the video is an application of Chi-Skiing to counter turn the pelvis against both the turn and shoulders – activating the core muscles and preventing rotation – while protecting the spine. Don experienced fluid skiing for the first time as the body rotation problems vanished and his arms started behaving naturally (instead of reaching with the pole) spontaneously. The second part of the video is on very steep (slalom stadium) terrain controlling the speed with careful use of “get yourself out of your way” dynamics, adductors and feet-forwards technique. Don succeeded and it was important to go this far because it supplies the tools for safety on steeps. From here on in we will work to consolidate and improve on the skills already defined over the past three days.
Following today’s warm up run Don expressed some understandable frustration at not quite being able to see the big picture of what we were aiming for. He wanted me to ski and simultaneously call out what I’m doing in the terms we had been working with. Although I do have a conscious dialogue in my own head when focusing on each aspect of movement the reality is that there are many layers of this in the subconscious where about 95% of all activity is controlled. I had to recalibrate my brain quickly into “demo mode” and just call out the points relevant to dynamics (into and out of the turn), skating and timing. To be able to do this I had to explain to Don that if starting a turn from a traverse, where the body is in the vertical (to gravity) and you are moving forwards, you have to stand on the lower ski / leg and fall over it downhill, taking over with the uphill leg as your body crosses over the skis. When turns are linked then the flow of the body across the skis is a rhythmic continuation of the end of the turn. Once this distinction was clarified we were able to proceed.
I put Don’s concerns to rest by explaining that at this stage I’m focused on specific isolated universal skills which will make far more sense to him when they all start to work in harmony. We can’t have the whole without the parts being made first – and ultimately the whole is very much greater than the sum of the parts anyway. Still, it’s reasonable to want some overall idea of where we are headed and Don felt that he required a sort of sketch of that picture to be able to feel comfortable. This is probably useful as it may also help to coalesce all the parts more effectively – or just simply instill some confidence.
Some aspects of perception are developed in sudden shifts – “paradigm shifts” are common. Other issues only slowly come into focus – like a stereogram image that mysteriously takes shape as the brain reorganizes the information. I expect both of those developments with the material being studied here. I’ve seen some people take five or ten years for the “penny to drop” on some of those issues. The great thing is that when it happens it’s always rewarding and worth the wait. Most real skiing skills are extremely counter intuitive – which is why perception is challenged and why it is eternally fascinating and enjoyable. It’s also why there are a lot of numpties out there who bomb around out of control, deluded about their ability and utterly oblivious.
Yesterday I mentioned how the process of learning is really determined by “self organisation”. In any complex system where there are a few rules and constraints between interacting parts then the system self optimizes. Edward de Bono termed this phenomenon “lateral thinking” but that’s not a good description. Like de Bono I found this process out for myself through studying the relevant hard science on “self organization”. This is an “out of control” process and the skills coalesce into a sort of meta-skill. The reality is that for most complex systems there’s no big picture – just an emergence. What emerges depends entirely on the parts and their relationships. We don’t have a linear path to learning that we are in control of – and holding on too hard to that illusion can be detrimental. Always trust your own feelings – pay attention to them and don’t always allow logic to systematically override. Almost nothing about science discovery involves logic – it’s not logical it’s phenomenological.
Some details on the phenomenological aspects of dynamics…
The main goal for today was to address Don’s body rotation issues – but not directly. I wanted to try to teach a special awareness of internal body mechanics that when done correctly might have the desired effect on rotation. I gave a brief explanation of “chi walking” from the brilliant author Danny Dryer as an introduction but then moved on rapidly to the relevant application (which Dryer himself did not think possible in skiing!). Conventionally people are taught to have their shoulders facing downhill towards the end of a turn. Meanwhile the skis pull the legs around the turn and also the pelvis – always causing some degree of twist in the spine below the 12th thoracic vertebra (bottom ribs). The problem is that this twist is in the wrong direction and causes posture to fall apart and for the lower back to be destroyed – plus it blocks the turn development with the lower hip and leg becoming an obstacle.
The correct way to organize the body is to pull the hip back (outside leg) as the ski proceeds around the turn. The hip comes further back than the shoulder making a slight twist in the lower back in the opposite direction from the conventional approach. This twist aligns the femurs correctly for using the adductor muscles and the subtaler joints below the ankles plus it allows the postural reflexes to be activated in the muscles of the lower abdomen and around the spine as well as access to the core muscles. The difference is dramatic. It also refines the “get yourself out of your way” dynamics and allows incredibly fluid turn transitions – which is what Don actually felt.
While teaching this to Don I demonstrated the postural reflexes by asking him to grab a pole horizontally in front of him and lift me up. With the spine in the wrong (conventional) position he just felt his back. In the correct (Chi) position he felt nothing in his back – but instead felt the abdomen contract to protect the back. This is reflexive caused by pressure sensed through the feet and facilitated by good alignment.
http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/2012/03/energy-illusion.html (Article investigating the validity and surprising relevance of “chi” as an energy concept)
Returning to carving exercises (with slalom skis for precision feedback) but now including the new found hip angulation from the Chi posture, Don was able to far better hold an edge on the traverses. This is the first step towards being able to eliminate all the tensions currently blocking the attempts to carve. At lower speeds or tighter (slalom) turns much of the edge angle comes from the hip and this is impossible where hip rotation exists. Don’s “snowplough” and “face the shoulders downhill” history had taken him down a path of pushing the skis out and blocking with his hip/body rotation and eliminating all natural “get yourself out of your way” dynamics. Good progress was made here and practice is now necessary to take this further.
We finished the day by adding the sensation of pushing the outside foot forwards. This was first done in a static exercise with the skis off – pushing the inside edge of the boot around – cutting an arc in the snow – but preventing hip and body rotation! Don did this with remarkably few complications. Once the “push” sensation is understood it can be applied on skis – the outside ski from the start to end of a turn. The push – combined with dynamics – is the main mechanism for controlling turn radius. This is critical for control on steeps and in racing. Don immediately felt the turns easier and tighter. Initially on the steeps he struggled because he baulked at coming over the downhill ski and so blocked himself. Once this was pointed out it was quickly corrected and the result is recorded in the video clip above.
Today began by correcting the canting alignment of Don’s ski boots and ended with him skiing with overall improved control of speed, turn completion, grip and coordination – as seen in the following video clip.
Don’s bone structure was placing him slightly on the outside edges of his feet - hence also the skis – thus contributing to a lack of grip. To correct for this the upper shaft of each ski boot had to be tilted slightly outwards. The boot’s mechanism required both canting bolts to be loosened and the rear forward tilt/flex control bolts also loosened. The adjustment mechanism is a bit tricky without a specialized tool but it was manageable and the canting achieved was appropriate. Later in the day Don remarked that he felt the boots were allowing him to stand flat now.
Poor equipment alignment adds to and compounds the type of skiing issues that Don has been dealing with – the lack of grip – snowplough – pushing skis outwards during the turn - rotating – stiff outer leg etc. etc… Alignment has nothing at all to do with footbeds and must be measured with the skier seated and legs locked out straight and parallel in front – with the hips flexed and pelvis / spine in correct upright posture. Shops never do this – they have the skier standing, legs bent and feet arches and ankles collapsing but hidden by the stiff boots.
Following our warm up run we went straight into a special form of sideslip – forward diagonal in direction, standing on the uphill edge of the uphill ski only, while on the inside edge of that foot to slightly flatten the ski. This exercise is partly to develop the coordination of standing this way – separating the edge of the foot and edge of the ski – being on only one leg and this being also the uphill leg.
Most turns are actually unconsciously started from this position anyway in parallel skiing but by happening in a fraction of a second people don’t spot it. Any turn where there is very little forward momentum needs to be started from this position and often even fast carving turns can use this too when the skier needs to change line by stepping, skating uphill or having to traverse the hill.
The exercise is also a prelude to ensuring strong pressure on the outside leg of the upcoming turn – which can be started on either edge of the ski depending on how dynamics are being employed. If there is only a traverse before the turn then standing up on this edge allows the skier to fall freely into the next turn on a strong supporting leg. (we’re not ready here to explore all the combinations and possibilities introduced by dynamics here yet! – so I’m keeping it simple…)
Skating across the hill can be done by employing the same foot/ski edge separation of the uphill leg/ski as used in the sideslip. Basically we skate across and only use the uphill edges of the skis. The exercise begins with several skates and on the final one just standing up on the uphill leg and allowing the body to fall over with gravity freely into a turn.
One major advantage of this exercise is that by standing up on this uphill ski on its uphill edge the turn can only be initiated by the centre of mass – there is no way the ski can be pushed outwards. The forward momentum makes this far easier than the pivot and also demonstrates that most turns actually start from this edge – not the inside edge as people are led to believe is necessary from snowplough onwards.
The skates across the hill were gradually reduced to one single skate. The key issue here is that prior to the turn initiation there is a strong push up from the downhill leg. Pushing up with the downhill leg is one major element of correct basic timing in skiing. Dynamics alone generates a down/up pendulum motion of the centre of mass – creating a pressure cycle on the skis. The end of the turn involves this up motion and this can be assisted with the downhill leg by pushing up. Note here the leg and ski are not pushed away – the ski grips and the centre of mass is pushed upwards. We are looking for a resonance where the dynamics and leg action are in sync – hence good and powerful timing. Resonance is nature’s amplifier – being why massive bridges can be brought down when a resonant frequency of motion is generated by wind with very little power.
I demonstrated “direct method” skating straight downhill and progressively introducing dynamics towards the inside of each skate – to show how the skating transformed into skiing as the ski began to arc due to the greater edge angles generating by the dynamics – but also how the skating action, rhythm and timing never altered.
Don picked up this one quickly! Until now we had only discussed how to accelerate the centre of mass into a turn – and I’d deliberately hidden the fact that we also need to deal with getting it back out of the turn.
Dynamics involves forward motion (unlike a pivot) and with this momentum as the skis cross the hill towards the end of the turn the turn is not completed until the skis are flat and the skier perpendicular to the mountain. This momentary position is called “neutral”. Until now we had only pushed up with the lower leg to step up the hill – but now I wanted Don to coordinate this pushing up to support the body coming across the skis – beyond the vertical and into perpendicular. This is actually how the “up” motion of the dynamic turn is controlled and Don saw this in a demonstration I did of a classic “hanger” turn where I’d stay on the lower ski in an exaggerated way right into the start of the next turn. Don described it accurately as “getting out of your own way”. He also described it as a “controlled fall” – which once beyond the vertical as you exit the turn is essentially correct.
First carving exercises were simple uphill edge traverses across a moderately steep slope. Both feet on their inside edges and both skis on their uphill edges. Holding the skis on edge involved many of the aspects of coordination and awareness that had been involved in the skating. When the skis bite they quickly turn the skier back up the hill so most people are initially surprised by this and unconsciously allow the skis to flatten. Correcting this is easiest by moving the centre of mass more over the uphill ski – at low speed it doesn’t matter which ski has the weight and we need two edges to give a stable platform. Don struggled to hold an edge and track across the hill correctly (leaving a sharp cut in the snow) with the right ski so this will require some practice and awareness.
On flatter ground we looked at how the edges were changed and the body went through neutral by crossing over the skis. This exercise is done statically using ski poles for support. The only way to change direction when carving is through the motion of the centre of mass.
It certainly wouldn’t do to skip pivot practice so once again I managed to push Don into a state of slightly frustrated confusion. Not to worry – some things take time to become clear. The pivoting eliminates all forward motion (across the hill) so that the body travels directly down the fall line. This is all about getting the ski to slip into the turn from the uphill edge. Dynamics are restrained by use of pole support with the pole planted firmly downhill and most importantly the key difference with regards to skiing itself is that the skis are always downhill of the body – there is no neutral phase where the centre of mass passes across the perpendicular. In fact the body remains almost vertical the whole time. This is used in skiing fall line deep powder, bumps and couloirs – and also skiing very short turns in a narrow corridor at low speed. These are all cases where the skis need to be kept downhill of the skier’s body on the mountain.
Coordination (feet, adductors etc) and timing are the same as for dynamic turns with forward momentum.
During the day we discussed the the most important thing for Don at the moment was to improve his speed control on steeper terrain – where his skis were tending to run away with him. The video clip was taken after he had been working on all of the above and shows how he was constructing his turns far more effectively and purposefully – hence controlling his speed. Awareness of how to structure and organize the components of a turn – through the components of the body, terrain and ski design – with a clear goal and purpose – is what lends towards the real inner rewards of skiing.
So far we have deliberately not looked at Don’s overall body management. There is a significant rotation issue that is linked to his “pushing out” of the skis. This rotation is not just because of his snowplough history but because he was told to “face downhill” which inevitably means facing the shoulders downhill and twisting the base of the spine directly. If anything Don’s rotation is a natural defense of his spine. Tomorrow we will look into this properly and to do so will apply “chi skiing” principles to activate the core muscles in defense of the spine and stop the hip and body rotations.
Snow and weather conditions being near perfect in Tignes we started out with a warm up run going over to Val d’Isere where there was World Cup training going on. During the run I observed Don and saw that he had received standard training based on the snowplough and up/down timing – and that it would be counter productive to spend any more time “warning up” with such a tiring process going on. Correspondingly we went straight into “dynamics” on the next run.
The video has three clips – before dynamics, working on skating and with dynamics…
Standard explanations and exercises were used to introduce dynamics. The menu button at the top of the blog links to the full details. The video shows that Don is already using some dynamics naturally so I had no doubt that he could manage to develop this to more useful levels. In the “before” clip Don skis parallel most of the time – with only a little bit of stemming. This of course would not be so tidy in a demanding situation. The first half of the turn is being rushed with the skis being pushed away from the body and probably the feet being turned into the turn (big toe directing the outside ski) which forces the foot onto the outside edge and causes the leg to straighten and stiffen. The displacement of the skis is how people tend to ski when they have learned initially from snowplough – because they are taught to push outwards and twist the feet in the direction of the turn. The centre of mass cannot be directed in this manner and in fact is generally moved towards the outside of the turn to try to pressure the ski – so the skier remains unstable – with the quads generally burning.
The choice is that you either displace the skis or displace the centre of mass – the two are mutually exclusive. Don had to work at moving the centre of mass and we began just by clarifying this overall objective. Without any detailed work Don’s feedback was that his legs were feeling far less strain and tiredness – so I knew he would now be able to last the whole day !
To take Don on a little further I explained the rocking of the feet from the subtaler joint below the ankle – so that he would have better grip to move the centre of mass and less tendency to twist/steer his feet into the turn. Keeping both feet on their inside edges was emphasized with the connection up through the adductor muscles on the insides of the legs. Immediately Don could feel improved control.
Indoors we looked at the feet and at how heel pressure could be used to develop a clear rocking at the subtaler joint. While doing this exercise we also looked at how bending down with heel pressure locked the ankle – stiffening it through tension in the anterior tibialis muscle (shin) then moving the flexion away from the ankle to the knee and hip. This is of course desirable – but bending with weight not on the heel caused the ankle to collapse and for the boot to take over support – to be avoided! This is only an intermediate stage in a more intricate process – but a very useful way to develop strong, functional skiing coordination.
Mont Blanc – Italian side seen from Tignes
After skiing for a while with more active use of the feet added to support the dynamics I started to introduce the Pivot. Leaving the pivot too late in the learning process is never a good idea – even though it can appear to inject some confusion at this stage. The Pivot has a dedicated fixed page accessed from the menu at the top of the page and this time there are full video demos of all the basic exercises. The main idea was to reinforce the coordination with the inside edge of the foot and to address Don’s concern about stiffening his outside leg. Don was aware of the leg stiffening but did not realise that this was due to pushing it outwards. Pivoting is all about pulling inwards. First attempts were assisted but already, due to the inability to push the ski outwards when starting a turn from the uphill edge Don was struggling. All of this is great for breaking that heavily trained “pushing out” habit – but it is challenging and takes time. When i saw Don becoming tired and flustered it was time to put it aside and return to the dynamics. This was when the penny dropped for Don that it was all about “pulling inwards”. Later on I explained how “centrifugal force” is an illusion and in physics it’s actually centripetal force – a force towards the inside. The skier has no outwards centrifugal force generated by the turn – it is all inwards and needs to be managed accordingly and encouraged – not resisted by a pushing outwards. (D’Alembert’s fictitious forces and “dynamic balance”!)
Later in the day we worked on the basics of skating. Initially Don allowed the skis to slip out to the side – with the feet falling onto their outside edges inside the boots and the body moving too much over the skis and flattening them. Just opening the legs and getting the skis wider apart allowed the edges to grip and the feet/muscle sensations to be restored. Flattish terrain was used to bring this skating into turns. Initially Don completely rushed the start of the turn and only started to skate once the skis were already around – this being done to avoid accelerations. I explained that instead of brushing off speed with skidding by pushing out the skis or by snowplough the speed control should come from completing the turn across the hill each time – requiring an acceptance of the acceleration at the start of the turn. In the video clip the skating turns to the left are good but to the right the pushing out is still there – this happening mainly due to the slight banking of the slope causing a slightly bigger acceleration and provoking a defensiveness.
Timing comes from both dynamics and skating. I demonstrated the difference by showing conventional ski school up/down – pole plant timing and then skating/dynamics down/up timing. When you “fall” laterally into a turn you come down (motorbike analogy) and you come up to complete it. When you skate the skating stride is down – up. They wed together in a natural rhythm and are the fundamental basis of skiing. In the third video clip with Don using dynamics intentionally at the end of the day this rhythm was starting to come through naturally. We need to remove the interference of the “pole plant” arm reach and corresponding rotational issues – but we will get around to that in good time.
Leg/boot alignment was checked indoors and appeared to be incorrect – with the boots not being enough on the inside edge. Tomorrow morning this will be adjusted. Also the heavy duty foot beds would be preventing the feet muscles and articulations from being used actively so it is better to replace then with the original footbeds. Alignment was checked when seated – legs unloaded and knees locked out – legs parallel with respect to hip width.
Both Andrea and Paul had already experienced a couple of hours learning snowplough and were able to make very wobbly and insecure long turns on the nursery slope. They were both able to use the plough and stem their skis – but clearly this standard method of skiing was also leading towards imposing some serious limitations. Rather than continue this process I decided to move them in another direction and teach skating and dynamics – the true fundamental principles of skiing. As luck would have it Andrea turned out to have been a keen skater in her childhood so her skills could be immediately put to good use. Paul in comparison was put at a great disadvantage but could use Andrea as a clear reference for the coordination and skills he needed to develop.
The first video shows Andrea progressing from skating turns to parallel turns and doing so with a clear understanding of how it works – by using grip from the ski through the inside edge of the foot and use of the muscles on the inside of the leg to move the centre of mass out of balance – to accelerate it into the turn. We did both basic skating exercises and dynamics exercises to get there…
There are two fixed pages can be accessed from the menu the top of the page that show the details of the skating and dynamics in more depth
Paul was struggling with the coordination needed through the feet, legs and upper body to stay in control of things so it was better for him just to get used to sliding straight and then when secure and slowing towards the end attempt a turn to finish. Plenty of practice at this would build both confidence and competence rapidly – the key is getting used to accelerations and being able to relax and feel the body and then the effects that movements bring from the skis.
Michel, Eric, Veerle and Jennifer received a rapid crash course in dynamics in Tignes today. Most intermediate skiers are stuck forever on an uncomfortable plateau with their skiing and they also find that hearing the same instruction that they heard before doesn’t lead to great changes taking place. Time on skis is often limited – so with all of this in mind I decided to take a chance by throwing everyone in the deep end – almost literally. The objective was to attempt to generate a profound change in understanding, mindset and movement pattern all in the space of about an hour.
The key to creating such a huge shift is “dynamics”. There is a fixed page on dynamics here http://skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/dynamics.html After a rapid explanation of the difference between dynamics and “balance” we carried out some static exercises to show that it is the acceleration of the centre of mass down and into a turn that generates pressure on the outside ski. Acceleration in physics is the exact opposite of balance. The skier needs to learn to fall over laterally to the skis – as if on a motorbike. The ski works by lifting the skier back up. With a bike there is a limit as to how far over you can fall and hope to get back up – but on skis the grip and lifting effect only increases as you fall harder. The limit of the skier is actually the ability to increase the dynamic range – most will only manage about 15 degrees compared to 80 degrees for a top racer. It’s a mental and emotional issue too – because falling downhill laterally to the skis is scary – until you know how it works.
There wasn’t time for feedback and correction but everyone could feel the difference – Eric noticing that his legs weren’t getting as tired as usual. Veerle was keeping her weight on her lower ski and stemming the top ski outwards – negating the effort to use dynamics – but she was aware of this and needs time to work on changing it. (plus a few simple exercises).
Eric asked about pole use so I rapidly explained that as with a motorbike the body goes down into a turn and up out of it – this is a universal principle even if ski schools teach the opposite. The pole is only needed as a light touch for feedback when falling into a turn and it’s the movement of the body which does this – not the arm. This actual issue is referred to as timing.
Both Eric and Michel needed to work on avoiding being stuck in the vertical plane (to gravity) and to try to adjust continuously to achieve perpendicularity to the slope.
Jennifer didn’t need as much feedback at this stage and was quietly getting on with it.
Eric asked about skiing with the knees/feet together so I demonstrated the “pivot” and how two footed skiing works with the skis slipping into the turn from the top edges. There is a fixed page here also (at the top of the blog) on the Pivot with exercises shown on video.
Today was undoubtedly the last opportunity to swim in cold water – due to the skiing season getting underway and the man made lakes being due to be emptied for the winter. The temperature registered minus 1.9 degrees centigrade on my Infra Red sensor – but that seems highly unlikely. I’d guess that zero is more like the reality. The ground next to the lake was still white with frost even in late afternoon.
I’m now sure that this is my limit because large areas of skin have experience an Ice Burn almost identical to a sun burn in feeling. My nose also ran for about 12 hours after I stopped shivering – so I wouldn’t want to push things further than this. All the same there was no difficulty staying in the water and I could have remained longer. Doing the crawl with the head submerged was challenging and encouraged me to stop at just about the right moment. I need to find out about how to protect the skin now and whether or not it can adapt as well as the nervous system adapting and brown fat being generated. There was no shivering until leaving the water but the force of the shivering to generate body heat shows that brown fat is still in short supply here!
Colour before and after….
Swimming at zero degrees centigrade is probably best left to the ducks – who seem not to mind the low temperature at all. It seems like nobody has told this one here that it’s time to migrate.
Cold exposure – when only affecting the skin and not allowed to induce hypothermia – has a powerful effect on the hormonal systems within the body. Perhaps the most interesting is the production of the hormone “irisin” which converts white fat into brown fat. Brown fat has the special quality of producing heat from mitochondria without any mechanical action – but there is another hidden value. Brown fat acts as a mitochondrial safety valve – burning off excess ATP (energy molecule) and preventing excessive build up of free radicals associated with genetic mutations and aging. Rats for example don’t have this mitochondrial mechanism and they live for about four years. Pigeons, which have a similar metabolic energy need have a strong mitochondrial safety valve and can live for about 36 years.
The hypothalamus in the brain is effectively rewired through cold exposure and this alters the metabolic system considerably as it controls body temperature and the thyroid. So in addition to a ketogenic (high fat) diet cold exposure is a bit like therapy for the thyroid – though a daily drop of 15% Lugol’s solution does wonders too (15% iodine and 30% potassium iodide). Another thing that adaption to the cold brings through the nervous system is a huge reduction in pain sensitivity. All of this of course is very useful as humanity has spent most of its existence in ice. Even today we are in an Ice Age and most people don’t realise it due to political propaganda. Our current Ice Age has been on the go for 2.8 million years.
Perhaps my main interest in cold exposure however is the vagus nerve. This nerve controls a large chunk of the autonomic nervous system – that is organs over which there is no conscious control. The vagus nerve is strongly toned by the cold exposure and the surge of hormones including adrenaline – corresponding to the cold shock received. Adaptation is progressive but rapid over about 10 exposures and the effect of the vagus nerve on the heart can be measured with a simple heart rate monitor and a cardiac variability app on a phone. Nothing improves (increases) heart rate variability faster than cold exposure.
Two winters ago when just starting the ketogenic diet I noticed my maximum heart rate slowly modifying. Most of us are used to seeing it very slowly declining with age and that’s what I saw too – until then. From two months after adopting a high fat diet the max heart rate began to creep upwards. This is so ironic because for most of my life I’d heard the nonsense that fat causes cardiovascular congestion. Up it continued – from 172 to 174, to 176 and 182 to 186 and finally to 191. This was all when running sprint intervals up a steep hill . Meanwhile along with the cold exposure, ketogenic diet and exercise I added vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid) which cleans out the arteries – and vitamin k2 at a one tenth ratio to vitamin D. Today I went back to the sprint intervals for the first time in two years and gradually warmed up with the first interval at 2.1k, the second at 5.6k and the third at 9.1k. The final sprint saw a smooth peak in heart rate at 202 bpm. Well the last time I saw that was in my late 20s so that’s interesting! It wasn’t an equipment artifact – that’s very easy to spot. I know that cardiac emergency patients – with a real problem, can reach over 400 bpm and survive so the 202 is still very normal. Author Sally Edwards – the lady who effectively wrote the book on this subject for Polar states now that you have a max heart rate for life and it only reduces if you are sedentary. I’d like to offer another explanation – it only reduces if you eat inappropriately no matter how much you exercise.