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...

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