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.

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