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.

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