Friday, December 31, 2010

Audrey & Huw Day 5 ("Zag Shock") - and the "Left at home Hassleblad"

Today I decided to exploit yesterday's progress by putting it to use for a small off-piste excursion which would also be easy enough to permit progress to continue. The route we were aiming for is the Pays Desert  beside the Pissaillas glacier at the Col de l'iseran. To begin with we went up the Solaise lift and headed for the Mattis red run for a proper warm up. This piste is good first thing in the morning when it is both pisted and empty. The steepness is good for working on control of speed, by completing the turns, angulation, control of rotation etc. Both Huw and Audrey had managed to maintain their improved stances so this was a good uncomplicated run to help to get back into it.

Up at the top of the glacier the off piste was very wind packed and would present a resonable challenge. Some sections of the Pays Desert route were heavily ski pisted so that would make it an easier descent. My own first few turns showed me that round (racing type) turns with strong dynamics would only work properly if used very aggressively due to the density of the wind pack - so to be more efficient and to ski more at the pace of the others I switched to pivoted turns keeping the skis downhill of my body and it worked perfectly in this snow. I promptly advised the others to be sure to do the same. Huw was the first one upside down in the snow when we had to slide straight down a short steep ridge. I guessed it would happen as he would probably tense up exactly the same as when he missed the bridge on day one and head planted the opposite bank. The only technical input I gave here was to adopt a seated position in the deeper snow. The "sitting down" may cause you to fall backwards when facing across a slope - but when facing downwards it actually puts the weight directly though your feet - not behind. This also provides you with a stronger lever for pulling in with the adductors and it keeps the knees and feet ahead of the body. With the knees and feet ahead you can deal easily with sudden decelerations and also the knees can move upwards freely to deal with bumps and unexpected shocks. This worked particularly well for Audrey who had the significant advantage of using Zag skis. Huw was predictably thrown back to his stiff stance and gave a good impression of "rocket man" on skis at times - slightly out of control speed-wise. His K2 Apache 160cm skis - which are excellent piste skis were really not ideal for learning to ski wind pack - and his discovery of his adductors was probably still a little bit too recent. Audrey was second to hit the deck - face first at high speed - ploughing a furrow with her head after the skis went into a high speed wobble during a shuss. Instinctively  I had tensed up the adductors on both legs when the wobble set up on my own skis. Audrey remained stable off-piste and did an amazing job of holding it all together to cope with the difficult snow.

After the off-piste excursion the weather changed and visibility deteriorated so we headed back over to Solaise to the Lac d'Ouilette for an early lunch. After Lunch we would work on a revision of technique because Audrey found herself a bit wobbly and confused upon returning to the piste (probably due to the monster headplant) - plus I'd planned to do this anyway.

Exercise one: Pivot on top ski.
This exercise still managed to present a fair amount of difficulty. Huw forgot to go sideways instead of forwards. Audrey tended to follow the skis all the way around the turn losing all upper/lower body separation. Both managed some good pivots and some bad. (Earlier when pivoting also on the glacier I noticed Audrey still lifting the tip of her inside ski and digging in the tail when turning. This was corrected by pushing down the tip which then corrected the body position - allowing it to fall forwards better into the turn.)

Exercise two: Pivot on bottom ski.
Pivoting on the lower ski really forces the CM to be set up over the ski and supported by the pole. Good Upper/lower body separation is also needed. We focussed on the use of the pole to get the CM moving over the downhill ski and using the pole to support the body moving into the turn centre throughout the turn. The hardest part of this pivot is the end because most people allow the CM to be lifted out of the turn prematurely so they then shoot off down the hill.

Exercise three: Set up on bottom ski then switch to top and pivot.
Using the pole to set up the body over the lower ski - ready to pivot with it - but then lifting it up and placing all the weight on the previously weightless top ski. This makes sure the CM is well over - about half way between vertical and perpendicular in relation to the uphill ski. 

Exercise four: Coordinating pole use and jumping.
Traversing slowly, bending and heavily planting the downhill ski pole then using it to assist a coordinated two footed jump. Both skiers had trouble controlling their speed at first and both poorly coordinated the pole and jump - especially Audrey. With a few corrections this improved.

Exercise five: Short swings.
The jumping was now take into short swings to encourage vertical movements, pole use,  rhythm and upper/lower body separation at the hip joints. To start with both skiers stepped rather than jumped. This improved when it was understood that the amount of turning of the skis in the air should only be quite small. All the time the adductor / stance would be reinforced.

Exercise six: Ski in Le Manchet - completing turns.
Exercises can only be  tolerated for a certain amount of time so we went for a ski with the intention of applying some elements of the above on a suitably steep slope. The descent was started off with the aim of  controlling speed by comleting the turns correctly and passing the body over the lower ski with the use of appropriate pole support, correct stance U/L body separation etc. Pole use is slightly different when the skis are runing more forwards than sideways - it is slightly later and just a touch supporting the body slightly AFTER the new turn is initiated. Huw managed some nice and tight turns with good form all round.

Exercise seven: Manchet off-piste - corrections.
We moved over onto the Arcelles off-piste area and worked on a lower (mid stance) stance - as we had done earlier by "sitting". Audrey was not using her poles to begin with and was rotating though the end of her turn - that is - following her skis too much. Huw was not so comfortable once again off-piste. Audrey corrected her problems and found herself automatically linking controlled turns thanks to her body position and pole use.

Exercise eight: Using the end of the turn to anticipate the next.
Audrey realised that with this last development she started being forced to see where the next turn would be - prior to completing the current one - but that this happened automatically. We exploited this for the next exercise which was to use the "lifting up" power of the ski at the end of the turn  to  be a signal for anticipating the following turn. Thinking of the turn completion this way worked for Huw who experienced the "bounce"  happening to him for the first time (instead of him "trying" to bounce). Using the energy from the skis/system in this way is like tapping into a resonance and a perception shift is required to think at least one turn ahead to deal with the "flow" and linking up of the rhythmical turns. Qualities such as this are the real reason why people love to ski and it's what they feel when bounding down deep fall line powder, or fluidly dancing down a mogul field. Well executed slalom and all good skiing have this quality. (Resonance is best felt on parabolic skis. Zag skis and Fischer slalom skis are excellent for this.) When things "happen to you" in skiing as opposed to trying to make them happen, it is a strong confirmation that you are on the right track with development. The shift in perception experienced is also to some extent an altered state of mind - one that is a prerequisite for creativity in general. It's as if the mind resonates with the environment - opening to it - instead of trying to impose itself and control everything.

Drinks break then swap skis and off down the Mattis off-piste beside the "L"

Exercise nine: Falling to the inside of the turn by default - or even - to a fault.
Huw was given my Zag Bigs to try out off piste but I didn't realise they were 20cm longer than he is used to. He ended up suffering from what he described as "Zag Shock" syndrome. All we worked on was once again using the pole to ensure that the body fell to the inside of the turn all the way though. If you are going to err off-piste  then do so by falling to the inside - it keeps speed down and makes falls safer.

Audrey's objective for the week was to be able to ski off-piste and in this she clearly succeeded. At the start of the five days she was a bit lost and confused in her skiing. She was relatively unaware of her movements - which were largely emotionally and unconsciously driven - and reinforced through inappropriate early education in skiing. By the end of the five days she simply looks like she knows what she is doing - and she feels that way too.

Huw managed to fundamentally change his stance and support, despite using skis that do not give great feedback or support off-piste. The changes came a bit late to manage to build on them - but they still permitted Huw access to better exploit most of the work he had done during the week. In general Huw is much more secure and agile than in the beginning and is much better placed over his skis. There is a need to exaggerate actions more in general - but that will come now that the foundations are more solid.

High up on the glacier Huw demonstrated his passion for acquiring expensive photographic equipment by discussing the Hassleblad that he had "left at home" while taking out his trusty iPhone to take pictures of the stunning scenery. Perhaps I'll not bother buying that expensive Canon SLR after all. Crap photos are better than none at all. At least you can blog them if nothing much else.

The "coming together" of things, particularly for Audrey on this occasion, was predicted on day one of the course when I explained how complex systems and human learning are based upon a non-linear process of self-organisation. Many different basic things have to be altered throughout the system and when this is done the system naturally self optimises. The writer Edward de Bono understood this process many years ago from his study of chaos and complexity and he specifically coined a term to describe it - "Lateral Thinking".

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Audrey & Huw Day 4

Yesterday Huw had progressed through the day until we went on to "Proactive Dynamics" at which point he clearly did not get it. Audrey did succeed here despite being less stable on her skis in some respects. It was tempting to deduce that Audrey was simply more able to "let go" and take risks, opening up the opportunity for discovering new things (as well as falling). Huw had always appeared to be too "stiff" and apprehensive. While it was possible that psychology or attitude were the key issues, experience has shown me that this is usually not the case unless someone is particularly timid. Huw was able to ski fast behind me over icy and narrow pistes so he was clearly not timid. This last factor prompted me to persist with a technical approach to the problem - though without a clear solution in mind.

Veiw over Solaise, and Pisallias Glacier

Exercise one: Skating three times one direction and then three times the other direction.
After a brief warm up we went straight into skating exercises on an almost flat slope. Huw was unable to grip with his skating ski and Audrey was not stepping her inside ski. We then went to even flatter terrain and the problems persisted. Huw actually managed to tavel in a straight line instead of turning - much to my surprise. He left a trail behind in the snow resembling something like a sidewinder snake - something I'd never seen before!

Exercise two: Skating in a circle on the flat.
We returned to an exercise that we had done earlier in the week and that had apparently been already mastered - that is skating around a circle on the flat. Both were once again finding this difficult to do well.
This difficulty prompted me to take another step backwards to "beginner" type lessons and just do a star turn.

Exercise three: Star turn - but with diverging skis only.
The aim here is to make the apex of the circle the tails of the skis and to step around in one direction by diverging the skis. Swing the right tip to the right opening up the skis like a slice of pizza, and then lift and swing the left tip in to close and bring the feet and tips back together. The ski tails stay next to each other all the time. Audrey had so trouble with this but Huw at first continually ended up with his skis converging at the tips instead of diverging. This is common for people who are highly trainied in snowplough, stemming and general "twisting" actions to try to force the ski around a turn. It became clear that we would have to take yet another step backwards to an even simpler exercise to try to find out what was going on.


Exercise four: Side Stepping up the hill.
Simple first day beginner side stepping up the hill was next. Huw still struggled here slightly. Huw was obliged to adjust with his adductor muscles and feet until he had the edge grip required - and finally the penny dropped about how to use the adductor muscles properly.

From this moment onwards Huw's stance changed and he discovered the support and grip that he had been missing.

The reason it is so hard for some people to identify with this feeling is that all of their early education on skis is driving them in the opposite direction. The snowplough and stemming cause the abductors to be used to push the heel out - not the adductors to pull the leg inwards. The ski is also designed to bring the skier up and so to bring the leg up and to flatten when it is running forwards or skidding sideways. All of those things conspire to train the body to use the wrong set of muscles and to develop inappropriate skills - which are then hard to get rid off and can block the person from discovering new and opposite sensations.

Ski instructor training involves a significan amount of "fault regognition" and subsequent correction.  This approach assumes first of all that the instructor's understanding of the subject is based on a valid interpretation of physics and mechanics - which it is definitely NOT. Instructors are also examined in their own "dynamic balance" - a property which is a pure fiction derived by d'Alembert for mathematical purposes only. In reality the skier is part of a very complex system and the only way to identify faults is to "learn" what they are by altering the system and observing the often unexpected consequences. Complex systems are by nature non-linear and fundamentally unpredictable.

Exercise five: Preparing the adductors prior to the turn initiation.
While traversing the hill with the adductors engaged on the lower leg to hold a strong edge, the uphill leg is held loose and with very little weight on it. The knee of the unweighted uphill leg is then pulled inwards by pulling on the adductor muscles in preparation for a turn downhill. The turn is then inititated by standing on the uphill ski while still engaging the adductors of this leg. As the turn commences the adductors on the lower leg can be released and the leg relaxed. While still in the traverse the uphill knee is actually wobbled in and out a few times before the adductors are engaged fully for the turn. This exercise helps to ensure that the adductors are working from the start of the turn. This is not the same as twisting the knee inwards with a collapsing ankle as is commonly done by attempting to "steer" or twist the ski into a turn. There is no "torque" applied to the ski and the adductor muscles strengthen the leg - not weaken it. When the feet muscles are used correctly the anterior tibialis should be working too - but we looked at that subject yesterday.

During the exercise Audrey actually pushed the ski outwards - uphill - instead of pulling the leg inwards and the ski slightly downhill. This revealed that there was still bodily confusion with the adductors for her. It then transpired that she would sometimes only engage the adductors on the right leg - for either turn direction. This explained why she still had a tendency to fall onto the inside ski as a stabiliser and to sometimes develop a very wide stance. When the adductors were used correctly her stance would end up very narrow and secure in comparison. The collapsing on the boots seldom reappeared today and the overall stance continued to improve.

Exercise six: Slalom.
Huw tried out his new stance in slalom and found that he had much more grip and control than expected. In the video it can be seen that in spite of the steepness he is not being left behind on the skis during the turn initiation as he always has been in the past.

The line was deliberately slow and round as this was his first run down slalom this year and the purpose was to test out the stance at this stage, not to go fast.

Exercise seven: Counter rotated body.
Turn initiation mainly has the upper body doing one of two things - either remaining "square" to the skis and facing across the hill, or facing downhill. We had used the "square" stance to help to develop dynamics and to keep that simple. The "downhill facing" is a development of uper/lower body separation and skating - but it can be a little disorienting. Accordingly Audrey had a tenency to start the turn "square" and then rotate the body to face downhill as a mechanism to twist into the turn. To help Audrey to overcome this tendency she was shown that the body can actually be pre-rotated to face slightly "uphill" toward the outside of the new turn at the turn initiation. Developing this skill can help to overcome any inappropriate rotation and twisting into the turn. Huw could see and do this straight away - but Audrey was unable to grasp the idea or to see it when demonstrated or when Huw managed to do it. This is fairly typical of how we are unable to see something that we don't understand. The body itself, trained to twist the wrong way for years, and the emotional drive also to do so, all generate an unconscious pattern that then makes recognition of the opposite initially impossible to see - similar to Huw's initial inability to deal with his adductor muscles despite a lot of attention to the issue. Artists who draw need to learn how to observe detail and not be misled by the symbology that the brain has generated to pigeon hole patterns for rapid recognition. This is not only an issue that affects visual information but also physical sensations.

This exercise was put aside until another attempt tomorrow. When after the concept sinks in a bit it should become easier.

Later on we just skied with Huw consolidating his stance and Audrey hers - both working on their own issues with adductor muscles. Audrey became aware that she often didn't pull inwards until about half way around the turn. When the going got tough both skiers would revert to survival mode as exepected and the old stemming and rotation would return. More consolidation is necessary.

I did point out that it is not actually necessary to use adductor muscles in skiing - but that at this stage they need to do so to overcome their tendency to "push out". When this is mastered then it is really only the motion of the CM that controls the turn and things like adductor muscles are relative details. Techniques like the "surf technique" identified by Jeorges Joubert, actually have the knees going outwards though the turn and the abductors being used instead.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Audrey & Huw Day 3

Huw suggested that we start from scratch - pretending that he had never skied before and had to learn skiing without a snowplough and all the associated trauma. The idea behind this was that all the muscle memory and apprehension causing Huw to tense up and hold back in his skiing may be due to the lack of control experienced from the traditional way of learning - and there is probably a lot of truth in that.

Exercise one: Skating turns on the flat.
We began by skating in circles on the flat - like someone might do with cross country skis. This rapidly exposed some fundamental problems. Huw was not able to propel himself and didn't realise that skating involves a purely lateral push off from the inside edge of the foot. The "diverging skis" causes the forward travel - much like a sail boat tacking against the wind. To begin with Huw was trying to push forward from the foot - as in walking. Once the correct action was understood he then managed to find out how to glide on the diverging ski with the propulsion - and he was on his way. Audrey to begin with failed to grip with the ski edge and get a proper push off. This is common with skiers who "push away" the ski in a turn when stemming - instead of gripping with the ski and moving the body. In fact one of the main differences in levels of skier is that poor skiers displace their feet laterally and good skiers displace their centre of mass (CM) instead.

Exercise two: Traversing with diverging skis.
We quickly moved on to traversing with diverging skis - so that speed and control came from the uphill edge of the uphill ski and the lower ski was pointing downhill slightly but available for support. This permits a controlled traverse/sideslip with skis diverging and a strong sense of security.

Exercise three: Turn made with diverging skis.
From standing on the uphill ski (uphill edge) just a slight movement of the CM downhill and forward - in the direction of the diverging ski - causes a turn to commence. The adductor muscles have to be held tight (as in skating) and the CM moves exactly as in skating but propelled only by gravity. The turning ski does not get onto its inside edge until it crosses the fall line - so the ski acts as a brake during the first half of the turn - not as an accelerator as would happen in a snowplough. Huw managed this well but Audrey was compromised due to her poor stance in her ski boots - so we had to alter the orientation of the lesson to deal with this.

Exercise four: Stance correction - standing upright "like a man!"
Audrey was leaning heavily on the front of her ski boots and this meant that she was simply not "standing up". Ski boots can support your weight but they are not designed for that job - that's a job for the leg muscles and bones alone. Audrey didn't realise that she could stand up by pushing the back of her boots straight with the back of her leg - and that this is not the same as leaning on the back of the boot. In reality it is ony when jumping that this would have to be done in skiing - though champion racers such as Killy were known to have cut away the back of the boots to permit a straighter stance and to push the skis and feet further forward. When skating and propelling the body forwards the leg is easily straightened with the boot even canted frowards at 12° - because the body moves forwards and the leg extends without pressing against the back of the boot. At the end of a skate even the ankle is extended and the foot moves up onto the ball as it would when running.

Exercise five: Foot - boot - stance connection.
Indoors we looked at how to activate the muscles across the top of the foot and the anterior tibialis - to strengthen the ankle joint and create a powerful support from a stance on the ball of the foot. Audrey has pretty much double jointed ankles so this was a necessary exercise to try to stabilise everything there. The foot has to be placed on its outside edge and the the ball just behind the big toe stretched toward the floor. Once the stretch is as great as it can be the foot is allowed to roll off the outside edge so that the ball comes in conact with the floor. This activates the foot muscles and anterior tibialis (muscle running up the outside of the shin bone) - ans stabilises the ankle joint. Flexing when skiing now then takes place at the knees and hips - not at the ankles. A stiff ski boot is recommended to work along with this stance and to help to maintain it.  A boot which easily collapses forwards and doesn't bounce the skier back into position when required is no good for interracting with skis on a hard piste. (though such boots may be OK for certain off-piste conditions)

Exercise six: Skiing on one hip.
The skating action causes the body to place the skier on one hip joint or the other - making a clear switch possible. Most skiers stand on two hips causing a confusion of feedback and reflexive responses from the body. The skis and the body only really function correctly if the skier is placed over one hip joint and the whole body can rotate around it. This can be done with both skis on the snow and it takes a trained eye to still see if the skier is "two footed" in an inappropriate manner or not. We did a few exercises for getting onto one hip with the new more upright stance that had been worked on. At one point this even meant lifting one buttock with a free hand - the inside buttock from the start to the end of the turn. Simply standing on the uphill leg strongly and then stretching the downhill side of the body so that it is raised higher than the uphill side (and then kept that way during a turn)  is a good way to enforce a strong one legged stance. It is always best to try to keep the inside ski on the snow during the turn to avoid excessive instability.

Exercise seven: Adjusting for the axis of travel.
Yesterday we worked on moving the body forward to start the turn but today the issue was developed a little further. Two axes were identified - one across the hill (horizontal) and the other in the plane of the slope - perhaps 20° downhill. It was clarified that when the skis turn downhill the skier has to orient his body from horizontal to 20° - by tilting forward from the feet. Failure to do so means that the body is left standing "vertical" and appears to have been left behind at the start of the turn. Both Huw and Audrey with their stronger stance were able to engage more effective turns when they managed to make this adjustment.

Exercise eight: Lowering stance to increase angulation for gripping on ice.
It was pointed out that on steep icy slopes the upright stance is probably not the most appropriate due to the need for a lower and more flexed stance to generate angulation and to keep the CM well uphill making the skis bite and loading up required pressure for gripping.

Exercise nine: Increased dynamics.
It was time to try to get Huw to move so we started with some bigger and more deliberate dynamics movements at the start of the turns - by really trying to "fall over". Huw found that a genuine attempt to "fall" was not really what he was doing - though that is what is required. The skier's job is to fall and the ski's job is to bring the skier back up. The ski is much more powerful than the skier and unlike a bicycle where tyre rubber has limited grip - the ski's edges become more effective the greater the dynamics.

Exercise ten: Proactive dynamics.
The secret about dynamics is that it is not "reactive" it is "proactive". You do not wait for the ski to respond - although that is exactly what most recreational skiers do. without realising it They stem the ski and wait until there is a strong rsponse from the edge before comitting to that ski. - or they move cautiously with the CM to begin the turn. Really good skiers just move the CM convincingly and then the ski kicks in later. It requires confidence to do this and the awareness that the ski will respond.

Audrey is experimenting here with moving the body from side to side rapidly and getting the skis to respond quite successfully - very well done for a first attempt.

Exercise eleven: 3D skiing with timing shift.
When using Proactive Dynamics this approaches the type of movement used in slalom racing. The skis are not trying to pivot on a flat 2D surface but are trying to cut out small banked tracks on a 3D surface - so the skis are always travelling "forwards". This makes high speed skiing much safer and more stable and is a far cry from your average Parisian punter "heel pusher" pushing the snow from side to side in his high speed fall line sideslip. When moving the body rapidly and powerfully from side to side like this the apex of the turn is actually in the fall line - not at the bottom of the turn across the hill as in a pivoted or a rounded turn. This sort of timing and rhythm are also excellent for skiing in crud or windpack off piste to avoid over pressuring the skis at the end of the turn and hooking the skis unpredictably.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Audrey & Huw Day 2

Blue Moon
On the way across the piste heading towards the café at 8am I looked up and saw a bright moon still visible in the dawn sky - but the moon was shining through a frozen air that literally turned the light blue. Huw apparently spotted this phenomenon too. There really is such a thing as a blue moon after all.

Exercise one: Pivoting on inside ski alone.
Continuing from yesterday's work on pivoting we began the day by pivoting on the "wrong" ski, the one on the inside of the turn. While standing on the ski, the adductor muscles need to be used to pull the leg in and to stand on the inside edge of the foot. It becomes clear with this exercise that it is a movement of the body "CM" (Centre of mass) downhill that pulls the ski into a turn - and for this it is necessary to use a firmly planted ski pole. During the pivot the CM has to be kept to the inside of the turn and the ski of its inside edge (inside of the turn - actually the "outside" edge normally) until it crosses the fall line. The purpose of this is to develop awareness of the effects of movement of the CM and edge control.

Exercise two: Pivoting on outside ski alone.

Going back to using the "correct" ski would seem relatively easy now compared to the previous exercise!
With this exercise it is easier to practise the feeling of upper/lower body separation and to feel the leg turn in the hip joint as th ski pivots. That of course is providing the body is restrained from rotating - which is something Audrey completely fails to do here! Pivoting on the oustide ski still requires a pulling in of the adductor muscles and in this case the trun starts with the foot on its inside edge but the ski on its outside (uphill) edge. The adductors are also used to pull the front of the ski into the turn - but it's mainly CM motion that controls the turn.

Exercise three: pivoting on both skis.
Well, if you can pivot on either ski then you can also pivot on both. This is good for developing awareness of the "inside leg" in the turn - which Audrey still has the habit of  getting tied in knots. Also it shows that both skis CAN be used together with weight on both - which is useful off-piste in steep and deep terrain.

Exercise four: Posture and hip joint use.
Establishment of correct "neutral pelvis" posture. Tilting forward of the upper body from the hip joints only. Slight leg flex to relax the hip joints. Standing on one hip joint only. Rotation of the body around a single hip joint. During skiing the body needs to be perched on one such hip joint at a time - and free for the leg to be rotated (by the skis) in its socket.

Exercise five: side-slip.
Upper/lower body separation. Bum facing uphill creating angulation at the hip joints. Standing up to bring the CM slightly downhill and to flatten the skis and slide. This simulates a turn completion to some extent. It also reinforces how CM motion and edge control are linked and how the CM once again dominates affairs.

Exercise six: carving while retaining upper/lower body seperation.
This was to show that all the skills being developed in the pivoting exercises are "universal" in that they apply to everything - not just one particular task. When carving U/L body separation permits a powerful loading up of the ski as the body angulates and sinks through the turn - until all that power is then used to spring the body back up and out of the turn - when required. It also permits a more effective skating action to take place.

Exercise seven: staying on the lower leg until the Centre of Mass passes over the skis at the end of the turn.
Here we are moving into "dynamics" and making turns with the inside edge of the outside ski from start to end on the turn. The trick is to realise that the turn is not completed until the ski is flat and the skier is perpendicular to the slope. Most people refuse to come up out of the turn at turn completion and only get out to the "vertical" position while standing on the downhill leg - they don't get all the way out to the "perpendicular" position because they are afraid of falling. Audrey had this problem and it was part of the reason for her stemming and it made her use her inside ski as a sort of flat outrigger when carving

Exercise eight: skating though the turn.
Skating was used to try to develop the timing and support from the push up at the end of the turn - but this seemed too confusing for Audrey at this stage so after a brief attempt we put it aside for the time being.

Exercise nine: turn completion.
During a long ski down Le Manchet Audrey followed my line, turning almost back up the hill on each turn completion to teach her how closing off the turn like this would help to lift her up out of the turn, stabilise her going from vertical to perpendicular and develop a sense of flow from one turn to the next. She managed this well by the end of the run.

Exercise ten: moving forwards at turn initiation.
In an attempt to deal with Huw being "left behind" at the turn initiation we worked for a while on getting him to move forwards to deal with the change in acceleration. When he managed it there was a substantial increase in the ease and efficiency of turns - but the success was inconsistent. Huw keeps on returning to stiff "tractor" turns when he isn't concentrating. His kinaesthetic awareness is letting him down over the amplitude of his movements.

Exercise eleven: short swings on one leg.
This was simply meant to wind up Huw and it did.

Exercise twelve: short swings.
Seems easy after the last exercise! Huw at first was too stiff and not aggressive enough. After a while he started to move more but the skis would start to "run away" with him - so the next stage is to get that under control. We worked on jumping from "vertical to perpendicular" - down the mountain - to make the short swings more efficient and to tie it in with today's previous exercises of coming over the lower ski. The mechanism is actually the same anyway.

Exercise thirteen: using the front of the ski to grip on ice.
Gripping on ice is best achieved with the front of the ski - using U/L body separation to bring the CM over the front of the ski. If standing square to the skis instead the CM is slightly to the back (bindings are mounted behind the centre of the skis - and this can cause the tails to skid, especially when there is also a bit of rotation going on. Controlling rotation with angulation and U/L body separation prevents such problems.

When skiing down on the ice Audrey managed a few turns well with good angulation and then would get onto two legs and crouch instead of standing up strongly over one leg. The consequence was to end up with her bottom facing completely downhill at the end of the turn - instead of facing uphill. Interestingly Audrey had no awareness of this happening. This does not mean that she has no awareness of her bottom. Awareness is the key in learning and hopefully Audrey will get to the bottom of this soon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Audrey & Huw Day 1

Audrey and Huw had already skied with me two years go and so were very familiar with dynamics, skating and many of the details of the differences between my teaching and that of the standard schools. We started out with a warm up run and then used video to record their current levels for both analysis and later reference.

Ice Crystals in the Air (cold weather front)

Assessment of areas to develop for Audrey.
Audrey showed a striking lack of speed control, at least regarding choice of line. There was occasional stemming (especially at lower speeds) which indicates a tendency to "push out" the ski or skis and a strong body rotation with an ineffective (zero) use of poles. The turn initiation was rushed. There was little vertical leg motion or even visible leg activity. Dynamics were being compromised as the body was not passing over the lower leg cleanly at the end of the turn (also linked to the stemming at lower speeds). The stance in the ski boots was good, but posture control and awareness was not well developed with a lot of twisting and bending in the lower spine (compensating for lack of upper/lower body separation). Hands were held too low and too far back - probably linked to posture.

Assessment of areas to develop for Huw.
Huw showed a strong tendancy to be left behind with the accelerations at the start of each turn. This leads to getting hung up on the back of the ski boots and for the muscles to end up tense and movements blocked accordingly. Legs very static in general with a lot of stemming and whole body rotation. The stance looked slightly odd due to being back in the boots and this exposed the absence of effective adductor muscle use during turns - probably because this cannot be achieved when jammed in the back of the ski boot. Arm carriage and general posture control were good.

Common Denominator. 
Despite significant differences between the two skiers it was easy to spot that the stemming and rotation were errors that shared similar roots and made a good place to start. I decided to focus on adductor use ("pulling in" instead of "pushing out") to prevent the stemming and to use short turns to develop upper/lower body separation along with adductor activation. 

Exercise one: "Pulling In" Short Turns, Outside edge Initiation.
Fall-line skiing. Turn initiation from top edge of uphill ski when side slipping. Pulling the tip of the ski dowhill and into the turn with the adductor muscles. Both feet always staying below the centre of mass on the hill. We are not concerned about rotation at this stage - only about edge control, side slipping and adductor use. 
Testing with a ski pole blocking the tip from being pulled downhill (ski in the air) showed that both had a tendency to twist the foot and to push the heel out - so they did not understnad the correct feeling for adductor muscles use - where the heel should come inwards not outwards. This was corrected. Audrey found this exercise much easier than Huw who was hindered by the tendency to get on the back of the ski boot and thus preventing good use of the adductors. Getting on the back of the boot can even make people appear to be bow legged - the opposite appearance from active adductor use where the knee comes slightly inwards.

Exercise two: Side-slip, Controlled by angulation.
On a steep slope the skis are placed across the hill and the upper body faces downhill. The pelvis is aligned with the shoulders and the bottom faces uphill. This permits the skis to be held strongly on edge due to the resultant angles (angulation) at the hip joints. By standing up slightly the centre of mass moves slightly downhill and the edges are released slightly so the skier slips down the mountain. To stop, the anglulation is increased by pushing the bottom further up the hill by bending down again. This also simulates the placement of the body towards the end of a short turn and how to control the centre of mass - that is to keep it to the inside of the turn appropriately and to bring it up and out appropriately when the turn has to be finished and a new one started. Both skiers struggled with this exercise due to a tendency to prefer to point the bottom downhill - thus locking up the hip joint and "resisting" - that is getting all the muscles to fight against each other rather than be used selectively and appropriately. This is a normal issue linked to physical awareness levels - which improves with practise.

Exercise three: Practical application off-piste.
Audrey did very well until we got onto the steep slopes in the following video. This brought out clearly all the faults described at the start - and probably ruined Huw's day. Look at how far back you are leaning Huw!!!!

Exercise four: Short Swings.
I decided to push harder in the same direction as the exercises already done - by doing short swings - which are an extreme form of short turns that might be used in a couloir or tricky situation where jumping is necessary. Regardless of practical use it makes a great exercise. We began by jumping with the skis off and then making turns (legs only from the hip joints) with the skis off by jumping. This helped to familiarise everyone with the sort of leg positions reguired and the sort of ballistic movements required. All rotation had to take place only in the hip joints. It was shown that it is easier to avoid hip rotation and spinal rotation if the feet are kept apart at an equal height on the hill and rotated in the air like a pair of windscreen wipers. When the feet are side by side and the top one becomes the bottom one when jumping - then it is much harder to keep the rotation confined to the hip joints - but both ways are valid if executed correctly. Feet "close together" is best used in sort turns that don't have to be closed off too much such as when bump skiing or on a shallow off - piste gradient where the skis can run almost straight downhill and the skier is slowed down by the deep snow.

We worked on bouncing with a rhythm and on short swings with only slight truning of the skis in mid air. I demonstrated "edge to edge" short swings. Both skiers had trouble coordinating the two legs to jump simultaneously - particularly Audrey. Huw had trouble getting a rhythm and bounce. Both had difficulty avoiding rotation and didn't manage to use the poles to help the body jump up to release the edges. Huw had a tendency to retract the heels when jumping instead of extending the legs fully and getting the centre of mass higher. Still, it's a very tough exercise to learn.

Exercise five: Rhythm (off-piste)
We took the bouncing into the off-piste in soft snow to load the skis up like trampolines and make the bounce rhythm more obvious. This worked to some extent but when used on shawllow turns Audrey did not coordinate the legs to "bounce" simultneously and so became unstable. Huw couldn't coordinate the bounce with the turn at this stage.

Exercise six: Skating/Dynamics with Upper/Lower body separation (Huw Only).
Finishing the day with Huw only, we stayed on the piste and went back to Huw's favourite - dynamics! Using skating I demonstrated that the body should remain facing downhill and that the ski changed the leg direction suring the skate which was an arc - not a straight line. This was to show how the upper/lower body separation at the hip joints is really a universal skill that applies to all areas of skiiing. Huw managed this with more success. He could also see how the deliberate angulation combined with downsink into the turn would really load up the ski in a short carved turn - something that does not happen if the body follows the ski around the turn and there is no angulation and no vertical leg action.

Vedat's Progress

Vedat experienced some difficulty off piste in challenging snow conditions so he allowed his father to push him into a lesson. By himself I don't think he would have done it because he prefers his nice warm bed instead. Regardless of motivational issues he learned very well during the lesson and only complained about wanting to sleep and feeling cold about five or six times.

To begin this lesson I first looked at Vedat's skiing to study his problems. He had been falling over to the outside of the turns in difficult snow - so there was already a clear indicator - but it was necessary to look more carefully because he already has a good level of skiing ability. Filmed from behind you can see that he stems quite badly occasionally, and has quite a pronounced hip rotation. The stem becomes hidden when he gets moving because it then truns into a push out to the side of both skis, rushing the start of the turn. As the turn progresses his hips follow the turn with the skis, bringing his center of mass (CM) out of the turn too early and causing him to attempt to compensate by twisting his spine and bending it sideways. This action of the spine gives an odd look to the stance and the failure to keep the CM inside the turn is what eventually causes him to fall over in tough conditions.

From those observations it was clear that culprit was the "pushing out" of the skis. Once that was dealt with his posture would have to be improved - but because the bad posture is actually caused by the "pushing out" there was no point in dressing posture until the "pushing out" could be stopped.

Exercise one: Pull Inwards
Vedat had worked on this before so that helped us - and not much explanation was necessary. Placing a pole in the ground just to the inside of Vedat's ski tip and asking him to lift the ski slightly off the ground and to pull the inside tip of the ski against the pole revealed that the tail of the ski pushed outwards. This means that he was actually twisting (steering) his foot and not pulling sideways with is adductor muscles. When the adductor muscles are correctly used the tail actulaly comes inwards because of the tip being blocked by the ski pole.
We used this little exercise to establish the correct muscular sensations and then applied them to the snow. The idea was to sideslip on the top edge of the top ski and to repeat the "pull inwards" of the tip. As there is no resistance from the inside edge of the ski the tip slides downhill and the skier goes into a smooth and quick turn. After a few failed attempts and tantrums Vedat got it right and could clearly feel the difference.In the following video the legs and skis are being used correctly but there is a massive body rotation which we then had to go on to deal with. It is important in this exercise to keep both feet downhill of the CM and to reduce dynalics accordingly.

Exercise two: Indoors Posture Correction
To work on posture we first of all had to go indoors and remove our jackets. Out on the slope I got Vedat to grab my hands and pull me with his skis across the hill and upper body facing downhill. All the strain was taken in his spine and it made his back hurt so we couldn't begin to deal with the issue directly on the slope.
Indoors we managed to get his body to flex and move around the hip joint instead of around the spine. We developed the appropriate feelings for upper/lower body separation so that by flexing he could keep his feet parallel (together) and turn his pelvis (belly button) around to one side or the other - with no twisting taking place in the spine. We also worked on simulating a turn and showing that the hips didn't follow the skis around but that the pelvis actually resisted turning and the bottom would drop deeper into the turn. Until now Vedat's pelvis would always follow the skis and so he couldn't drop his weight into the turn as it progressed (this being called "hip rotation").

Exercise three: Upper Lower Body Separation
Back on the slopes we now worked on being able to get the skis to turn and the legs to turn independently in the hip sockets, but without the upper body swinging around. It should feel like the legs work like two windscreen wipers and the body remains still. The hip joints are where the "windscreen wipers" pivot.
In fall line skiing this separation of upper and lower body is what permits the skier to sink down into the turn and prevents himself from being kicked out of the turn prematurely.
The ski's job is to lift the skier up out of a turn (out of a fall) and as a turn progresses the forces align with gravity and the tendency to be lifted up become overwhelming. If the skier is at an angle to the slope slightly closer to the perpendicular  than to the vertical, then he will even literally fall out of the turn. If the snow is soft the ski loads up like a trampoline over its entire base and the lifting effect is magnified again. Any hip rotation with all of this combined guarantees a fall near the end of the turn when in wind packed snow or tricky conditions.
The main reason for not being able to relax the hip joint and to separate the upper and lower body is because of the habit of "pushing out" of the ski in the turn. This causes the leg to extend and to lock up the hip hoint forcing the pelvis to turn with the skis and setting up the entire list of problems that Vedat was experiencing. It generates "resistance" where muscles end up fighting against each other and the skier becomes efectively weak.

To facilitate the turn it is best to exaggerate up and down motion - which also enhances the effect of "dropping in" the inside of the turn. The push up is at the end of the turn (as in skating) and matches the dynamics (motorbike riding up at the end of a turn).

In the following video clip Vedat has mastered most of the details of the exercises above, but there is still a slight hip rotation and kink in the spine.

Finally, Vedat applying his new skills off piste in fresh snow - fall line skiing. This is quite impressive because he does a good job holding it all together in harder conditions. Later on we went onto a steep pitch with deeper snow and poor visibility and he found that he couldn't hold it together - but that is completely normal. New skills need practise before they become unconscious and automatic and can be applied under stress.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Atilla's Progress

Atilla and Vedat were invited to ski off piste by Haluk and didn't waste the opportunity.

The weather was doing it's best to mess up our day, but in the end we managed to beat it. At around 2500m altitude it was windy and snowing lightly and at this altitude the cloud cover was it's most dense. It was almost impossible to ski off piste due to poor visibility.

After a brief test which showed us that we couldn't go anywhere too adventurous we dropped down below the cloud and snowfall to the Mattis trees. There was limited snow there with a mixture of rain crust and wind pack. Very challenging stuff to ski. The top part of the descent was good but lower down the exceptionally mild temperatures turned the snow to mush - almost "rotten" snow that is normally only found in late Spring. When we found ourselves in mush it became too dangerous to turn in the trees so the end of the descent was made by carfully traversing in straight lines.

Vedat (Atilla's older brother) said that he had felt dizzy and not too good due to a chest infection - so he bailed out and returned home. It's not the first time he has given up just a bit too easily. Atilla stayed on. We decided to go for smooth terrain and good snow - so that meant going up to high altitude - 3300m and the flatter more even area around the Pisallias glacier.

Atilla in Pays Desert just down from the glacier. Good dynamic skiing!

On the way up to the glacier we took a run through Sunny Bowl because although visibility was almost zero it is also smooth terrain - well almost. I only found myself airborn once and with me in front the others had a reference point to make life easier.

(One day earlier) Atilla introduces himself as a "alcoholic" but 
unfortunately the sound isn't all that clear right at the start of the video.

The couple of days together were aimed at adventure and skiing all types of challenging snow conditions. Haluk started to understand for the first time his tendency (like everyone else) to tense up and block his hip and knee joints when the conditions were difficult. Just becoming aware of this is a major step forward. Development as a skier is all about awareness and overcoming basic instincts - technique is just a tool used in the process. Both Haluk and I did a lot of experimentation with "fall line" skiing technique - that is starting the turn from the top edge of the top ski and avoiding getting on to the inside edge for as long as possible. It was surprising to find that the ski could slide sideways in all types of conditions - but underlying this there is still a good base of "dynamics" skills required.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Atilla"s Ski Trip

This video was compiled last season - but it was placed on Blip TV which has turned out to be too tricky to access - so a version is now available from here...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Andrew & Jenny

The objective here was to help Jenny to get to another level after many years of being stuck at an unsatisfactory level. This task would be complicated by having to manage the desires of other family members to do everything inappropriate regarding this objective - including skiing off-piste and slalom.

So - here is Andrew Off-Piste - purely for Jenny's benefit of course...

Meanwhile - returning to the task in hand...

The basic idea was to develop different aspects of ski technique, building them up in a picture so that eventually it could all pull together. Nothing in skiing works in an isolated manner so it's usually a combination of self-reinforcing changes that does the trick.

Jenny was stemming, rotating, stiff, unstable, insecure - and basically not able to flow or relax and enjoy the skiing. Both the boys had elements of all of those problems to lesser degrees and Andrew just needed to develop a few new additional movements and awareness in certain areas.

Initially we worked on aspects of "dynamics" concerning rounded flowing turns.

Exercise One: Staying on the outside ski until the body comes clean over the top of it to complete the turn. This exercise was accomplished relatively easily by everyone, and helped to reduce stemming. We went off-piste with it in an attempt to cultivate flowing across the skis and building a sense of stability and security from coordinated accelerations instead of a wide stance and platform - which only works when moving very slowly. We emphasised that fact that if a turn doesn't work out well then it is important to give it up and go for the next one - always keeping the body moving and creating dynamics (accelerations).

Exercise Two: Skating straight downhill and then when speed builds up falling to the "inside" on each stride. The skating changes into skiing and gives a good sense of rhythm and timing. The skating action  of the legs complimenting the "down/up" vertical motion (pressure cycle) of the dynamics (like a motorbike falling down into a turn and being brought back up again to finish). Jenny had a good feeling for this and plenty of movement but still kept a wide stance and some rotation. James was very good at this.

William's Wipeout!
The objective here was to keep the centre of mass down and inside the turn through the end phase of the turn so as to avoid being pitched up and out of the turn prematurely. So how did William fall?

Exercise Three: Multiple skates across the hill from the lower leg onto the upper leg and standing on the uphill edge of the uphill ski. On the second or third turn, stand solidly on the uphill leg so as to fall into the turn with the centre of mass. The uphill ski on its uphill edge prevents any stem from taking place.
In some ways this seems like the opposite of the first exercise. The push up from the lower leg however simulates the ski bringing the skier up at the end of the turn - so the feeling is similar to the first exercise. The emphasis here is on using the biomechanical function of the skating to properly change support from one leg to the other with a strong feeling of standing on one hip and then the other. It is important also then to avoid trying to "rush" the start of the turn due to feeling trapped on one ski and to learn that it will start smoothly just through the motion of the centre of mass.

Exercise Four: Skiing with the feet together. This was to show that the same mechanical movements can be accomplished with a very narrow stance and that good dynamics permits a strong stable support from a narrow stance. The intention was to later lead onto other aspects of "falline" skiing. Bumps (Mogul) skiers always ski with their feet clamped together and it's for very good reasons.

Jenny starting to be more flexibile

Exercise Five: Using "line" to control speed. Most recreational skiers just bomb down the hill in a more or less direct line and brush off speed by skidding. Racers are better skiers because they have to learn to avoid brushing off speed at all costs and that is the hard thing to do. Racers are slowed down by the line that they have to take in a race course and they have to learn to be very efficient. Put a good racer on an open slope and because he will ski imaginary lines with the terrain he will often take longer to get to the bottom of the hill than the poor recreational skier. Jenny was shown how to complete the turn almost turning back up the hill so as to enhance the "lifting up" effect of the skis at the end of the turn and the passing of the body over the top of the lower ski (all coordinated with the skating timing of the legs). Each turn had to be completed and the speed controlled. This still left jenny with quite a lot of rotation, and stiffness with some stemming in short turns.

Now we worked mainly on aspects of "Fall Line Skiing".

Exercise Six: Fall Line skiing. The turns had to be started from a sideslip - on the top edge of the top ski - pulling the front of the ski downwards (inwards) towards the new turn. Both feet are kept below the skier at all times - directly downhill if possible and there is no sliding across the hill on the edges of the skis. This permits an incredibly rapid, tight and effective pivot of the skis. It can be done from either or both skis - but we only worked on the top (outside) ski. Everyone struggled with this. James in particular had a massive rotation. Andrew would always run off across the hill on his edges. Later on though by returning to this after a few other exercises it was beginning to take shape for everybody.

James starting to control his rotation

Exercise Seven:  Developing upper/lower body separation. Preventing the upper body from rotating during the turn - or from using it deliberately with a rotation to force the skis around. (James tried to either use the shoulders, hips or feet to force the skis around when skiing slowly - instead of using dynamics and ski design)
By using the adductor to pull the front of the ski towards the inside of the turn - all the way through the turn - and deliberately blocking the body's rotation it would force the legs to be turned on the hip joints - the legs being turned by all those other things - not by active twisting or "steering" actions. This exercise had only modest results.

Exercise Eight: Developing the ability to sink into the second part of the turn  - and learning to increase pressure and turn control by fighting the tendency for the ski and gravity to pull you up and out of the turn prematurely. Removing the skis and working with the poles for support and simulating the actions of the skier in the ski boots alone. This is first done by sliding one lower leg forwards - like a Telemark skier does. Then by facing the body downhill and the feet across the hill the lower heel is used as a pivot and the top foot is slid forwards coming around in an arc. The tendency is for people to rotate the upper body and for the hips to swing around and out - so that the person is left standing over the outside foot near the end ot the manoeuvre instead of remaining sunk down into the turn (until desiring to come up out of the turn). This is a great way to clarify those issues - but almost impossible to describe in words. The exercise certainly helped to develop a clearer understanding. 

Andrew's short turns

Exercise Nine:  Enhancing and using this downsink into the turn so that it would be felt on long carving turns as well. Andrew picked up on this and realised that by sinking into the turn it had a powerful effect on the skis.

Exercise Ten:   Reducing "resistance" in the hips. People who "stem" for many years instead of "pulling" the ski inwards develop a rigidity at the hip joints. This is the case for most people because they have learned to snowplough and push the legs "outwards" from the beginning - unfortunately. To clarify what the correct feeling of relaxation is like when the body sinks into a turn it is necesssary to turn the skier's body to face downhill and to support him under the armpits and get him to "collapse" by sittting and to let you catch his weight - so that the hips and knees go totally floppy. The you let the skier take the strain and stand back up. This makes it clear that the skier has probably NEVER felt that while skiing and has been "resisting" all the time with muscles fighting muscles unnecessarily. This final exercise had the effect of freeing Jenny up at last and allowing all the rest to actually work better.

On the final day Andrew pretended not to know who Lindsey Vonn is - that is the current female superstar of skiing who even won a world cup in Val a few days ago when Andrew was in the resort. So that there is no more confusion - and just to prove that she really is prettier than Andrew - here are a few photos...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mike & Janette

It has been a tough weekend with massive travel disruptions throughout Europe due to snowfall. This led to the unusual outcome of great skiing conditions and empty slopes - a real bonus for those who made it out here. Mike and Janette persisted all day Friday at Gatwick and were eventually rewarded with an unexpected late night Easyjet flight to Geneva.

Saturday was tough for everybody on the mountain - whether tired from travel or not. The temperature at the top of the Toviere (linking Tignes and Val d'isère) was minus 21°C mid afternoon and the sun had disappeared already by midday.

Our main objective was to bring on Janette's skiing and build her confidence. That's a fairly tough task when it's too cold to stand still on the mountain for more than a minute. The intense cold drains both your energy and attention. Regardless of this Janette did extremely well never complaining and trying her best at every task. That sort of application always brings results in the end.

Day one we worked on dynamics - specifically on the finish of a turn. The goal was to let the outside ski lift the body up and out of the turn, staying on the ski right through the end of the turn until the body started to pass directly over it perpendicular to the mountain. Doing this requires a fair bit of courage. The reason for this task is to stop the skier from keeping the lower (outside) ski and leg planted below the body, blocking the passage of the body over the skis and then causing a "stem" of the upper leg and ski - that is - a pushing out of the ski into a semi snowplough position. This is a common defensive manoeuvre which also requires a twisting of the ski in the direction of the turn. The twist and pushing away of the ski are completely inappropriate muscular actions - but are unfortunately actually taught to people by national ski teaching systems.

Janette was already familiar with dynamics - in terms of projecting the centre of mass towards the turn centre (and down - like a motorbike) - generating disequilibrium and the forces necessary for the turning process to function. However the base of support for all of this was compromised by the stemming and so it wasn't working very well for her just yet. This is why we had to focus on the end of the turn for a while.

Day two. Time to try a few other things to help working towards the same goals. This time we used skating exercises to get the legs more functional. One of the problems of the "push out and stem" is that it completely locks the leg up - both the hip and the knee. Skating can help to break the tension and of course it leads to the correct rhythm and timing too. Here is Janette doing a good job of the exercise...

The actual exercise requires the skier to skate three times while crossing the hill - each time stepping completely up onto the top ski, on its top edge. After the third skate the skier has to stand up fully on the top ski, top edge and then let the body fall downhill and into a turn - standing solidly on this top ski and especially over the hip joint (which we looked at later on). From this position it is actually impossible to push the ski out into a stem - which is why Janette's skiing looks quite respectable in the video. The push up from the lower leg also assists the turn completion - with the ski lifting the skier up out of the turn - so as an exercise this helps to develop several different skills although the full benefit might not be fully appreciated at first. Later on we combined the lesson from day one with this new lesson so that the push up coordinated with the skier bringing the body out of the turn over the lower ski. 

Despite all of this Janette was still having control problems and slipping back to the stem (unconsciously) when not doing exercises. On day three we had to modify the approach slightly.

One of the most common problems in skiing is "lack of upper/lower body separation". Although the skating exercise is nicely executed above it's clear that there is no separation of the lower and upper body - the body entirely following the skis around the turn. This isn't a problem in long turns like those above but it is a problem if that's all a skier can do. Namely, it prevents the skier from staying inside the turn appropriately as pressure builds up during the turn and the ski tries to lift the skier up and out of the turn. Basically the skier needs to be able to fight this function of the ski (and gravity) and become aware of the need to do so to complete tight controlled turns. We worked on separation through various exercises with skis both on and off and although it didn't really work it did make everyone aware of the issue. The other reason for doing this is to permit better skating actions. If the body turns across the hill completely it is hard to skate properly - when you are really trying to skate downhill.

Finally we ended up in the correct stance and with the top ski on the top edge then worked on the exercise of pulling the front of the ski downhill in a sideslip into the turn. Once again being on the top edge made "pushing out" impossible. Pulling in was now the only option and eventually it clicked - pulling in with the adductor muscles! (- and pushing the ski forwards during the turn, as in a skating action) From that moment onwards Janette's skiing took a big step forwards, leading to a comfortable descent down a black run with icy patches.

Poor Mike sacrificed his skiing to some extent this weekend but I think was more than happy to see his partner improve, become safer and enjoy her skiing. With Mike himself we identified a lack of postural awareness causing quite a few mechanical issues. The hip joints are blocked and a bowleggedness apparent - however the bowleggedness is being caused apparently by the lower back being flattened and the pelvis being held up slightly too much at the front (also blocking the hips). We looked at this indoors and worked on stabilising posture from the pelvis upwards in relation to the back (abdomen support etc.) and then tilting the entire upper body forward precisely from the hip joints. Form there we went on to liftiing the body over one single hip joint eventually without any spine twisting involved. Obviously this would initially be too tough for Mike to control while skiing but some successful attempts really did improve the stance - with the adductors being used effectively though the turns. Mike also participated in all of the other exercises and generally worked on developing the same aspects as Janette - and so was never bored despite perhaps not getting the adrenaline rush he must have  had the year precedent when he almost fell off the mountain after unsuccessfully following me over an off piste jump (which I actually absorbed!)

In the video Mike is doing a nice job of coming over his lower ski though the turn completion...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Defining Your Level

If you ever need to define your skiing level then the best way is probably in terms of "awareness". It takes a great deal of practice at anything to develop awareness - not just any practice but targeted and focused practice.

The word "consciousness" has an almost mythical signification in many circles. In psychology people usually even avoid discussing it because nobody can get close to defining it. Religions stake their claim to it and try to define it as a fundamental property of the universe, often through pseudo-science and misinterpretations of quantum physics. Well, I'd like to state my position rather differently on this subject: Consciousness is nothing more than a "learning tool". Most animals have their behaviour almost completely hardwired by instinct. Humans and a few other creatures can re-program a great deal of their behaviour. Consciousness is just a simple feedback loop that permits us to "correct" unwanted behaviour by ourselves. It makes us adaptable and helps us to survive. Basic instincts can only get us so far - to go farther we need to be able to learn. Once we re-program ourselves the aim is to be able to carry out the new task fluently and unconsciously - like driving a car while thinking of something else. Once the new programming is assimilated and unconscious it is called a skill. Skillful skiing is not a conscious activity and that's partly what makes it fun. The French don't have a word for skill, surprisingly. They don't have a word for "awareness" either; they only have the word "consciousness" in their vocabulary. To the French there is no distinction between the two - and I think they are right.

Skill is never achieved without passing through many levels of awareness and it is not maintained without being able to call upon that awareness when required. Adults generally improve rapidly when their awareness is developed by practice targeted and focused though a clear and accurate understanding. Children have slightly more forgiving physical parameters to deal with (they accelerate less and have a better power to weight ratio etc.) so they can develop awareness more easily through exposure to physical constraints such as slalom poles and competition; another form of target and focus. Unfortunately most children are destroyed by this form of training and only a few adapt - with natural selection playing a key role. For those who succeed the key still remains awareness - though they may not be able to articulate this awareness as they don't have an intellectual understanding.

Regardless of how a skier develops skill there will always be a counter intuitive process involved. This process has to overcome basic instincts and drives. Racing forces a few people to do this correctly - but most fail - there are few "winners". Instruction on the other hand tends to fail less drastically but nevertheless it fails because teaching systems normally avoid the difficulty of helping people to bypass their instincts. It's very difficult for a student to face fears, suppress drives and instincts and to alter all the perceptions that go along with them – especially for someone whose idea of a skiing holiday is “effortless fun”. Developing awareness is a process of progressively overcoming all of those obstacles and the extent to which that is achieved is the real measure of a skier's level. The extent to which an instructor can orient students in that direction is a measure of the instructor’s level.

Ultimately, not all students can be oriented in the appropriate direction. Awareness, shifting perceptions, counter intuition, dealing with fear and instinctive drives all come together under the heading of "personal development" and not everyone either can nor wants to go in that direction with their lives. The popular xfactor talent competition provides a fitting analogy. Yes the music on that show is cultural garbage - but put that aside for a moment. The point is that during the auditions many "artists" present performances that are absolutely terrible - but they are unaware that they are terrible. They have basically not practiced in an appropriate, targeted and focussed manner with appropriate feedback. They perceive themselves as wonderful and their performances as being exceptional. Their lack of awareness is simply shocking to anyone observing objectively from the exterior. When such people are criticised the normal response is to reject the criticism, to take offense and react emotionally - all at the level of basic defensive instincts. It's up to the person then to choose to either learn from all this feedback or to sink even further into self delusion. Those people have their self-esteem, their egos, their definition of themselves all tied up in this and even the most constructive criticism can be impossible for them to take on board. Personal development only happens when people make the choice to deal with those delusions - which we are all susceptible to as part of basic human nature. Skiing is a "performance" every bit as much as a musician playing piano or singing and so it suffers from the same psychological issues. Many skiers have a completely delusional perspective of their own level and are very difficult to help. Those are the xfactor skiers. My solution is to send them to an appropriate "xfactor" type of ski school happy to take their money and even flatter them because I don't have the time, energy or desire necessary to change them. Some things we have to do for ourselves. In the actual talent competition they are simply kicked out at the start. The smart ones get the message and adapt.