Sunday, January 9, 2011

Korkut - Hip Hop

For two days we had skied in challenging conditions including sun crust, wind pack, rutted (hardened) snow and most of it on steep terrain. There was a fair amount of deep snow but always somewhat dense and variable in texture so concentration could never be relaxed. During those two days we never discussed technique because the aim was to ski and enjoy it. Korkut's strength got him through but not without his back hurting considerably and his muscles becoming very tired. On day three we had very poor visibility and so took the opportunity for some coaching. Haluk translated into Turkish for me to ensure that everything was understood properly. My aim was to try to develop more freedom around the hips for Korkut - but through completely changing his perception of skiing.

Unfortunately the head-cam didn't function correctly during the more visually interesting exercises of the pivot - so there are no video clips to accompany this feedback.

PART ONE (Inside Edge Turn Initiation)

Exercise one: carved traverse on two edges
The point of this exercise is to cut two clean lines across the slope. When this is achieved correctly there is an acr made and the skier ends up turning uphill. When someone does this for the first time they usually allow the ski to come off its edge slightly so that they track in a straight line as in a "normal" traverse. People are not necessarily aware of the feeling of a ski literally "locking on" to the edges and dictating a different trajectory. The ski is also trying to flatten (by design) so it is necessary to combat this. The feet need to be both held with pressure on their uphill edges. (one inside edge and one outside). Ideally work should be don indoors first so that there is an awareness of the feet and how to use them properly - how to make the ankle joint strong and how to relate this to the boots - but here there was not enough time for all of that. Ultimately I did not expect great results but the aim was to sow a few seeds and to encourage Korkut to become aware of other possibilities in his skiing.

Initially Korkut could not hold an edge correctly but he quickly caught on. His first attempts however caused him to attempt to grip by twisting his knees and feet into the hill - which is not only ineffective but dangerous to the knees. This was expected because Korkut was obviously in the habit of twisting/steering his skis though a torque applied at the feet. It was demonstrated to him how to use the adductor muscles instead to hold the lower ski on edge - with the knee coming inwards slightly but with no weakness or twisting involved - purely a lateral movement of the femur. The uphill leg was pulled outwards by the abductors (laterally) but with no force required - only to maintain a symmetry and thus place the CM (Centre of Mass) between the two skis for stability at very low speed.

Exercise two: carved arc from the fall line
The "traverse" is begun with the skis pointed more and more downhill until they are pointed directly downhill and the skier can handle the extra pressure on the skis from the increased accelerations (both increase in speed and change of direction) without the skis coming off their edges. Korkut coped with this part OK.

Exercise three: static edge changing
Standing still across the hill the skier is required to use the ski poles for support so that he can switch from standing on the two uphill edges to the two downhill edges. While this is done the body must remain "neutral" facing forwards - or even counter rotate to face slightly uphill as the skis move over onto the downhill edges. This is an exercise! This is not a definitive way of skiing. Korkut has been previously taught to always face downhill so he found this very strange and it initially posed a few problems. He tried to force his body to face downhill and get his skis on their lower edges by twisting his knees downhill. This is precisely the purpose of the exercise - to avoid this sort of twisting act. Korkut was corrected on this but was not able in the very short period of time available to translate this fully into his actual skiing.

Exercise four: shallow linked carved arcs
Very shallow gradients were used to link very shallow turns (hardly turning out of the fall line) with edge changes and holding on the the edge lock from start to end. Korkut was unable to go from edge lock to edge lock and as soon as there was a little speed the skis would go sideways. That is a completely normal scenario for someone with a strong rotational (twisting/steering in this case) way of skiing.

Exercise five: following skis - squared stance
Leaving the actual carving aside it has to be pointed out to Korkut that if he looked at any professional - or ex racer of a high standard on the mountain - when skiing in a relaxed manner with medium to long radius turns he would be following his skis across the hill and not facing downhill. The "downhill facing" is in direct anticipation of a following turn and when this is not immediate then it is not only irrelevant but obstructive. Korkut's normal solution was to always execute very short turns! He quickly caught on to the idea though and managed to simply follow the skis. Following the skis has certain advantages in certain situations. If you are travelling across rough or bumpy terrain then with both knees in front of the body you can efficiently absorb the obstacles. It also permits relaxation when required and the use of simple inclination - in a similar manner - laterally - and without confusion - as on a bicycle, where you fall slightly to one side to make a turn. Effective DYNAMICS are best initially taught with a squared stance. Skiers who have developed a strong discipline of "facing downhill" nearly always rush the start of a turn by pushing the skis outwards and away from the body in order to get them underneath the downhill facing body. This was exactly the case with Korkut.
Korkut had one strong advantage and that is that he had a very good sense of timing. that may be because I'd shown him dynamics several years earlier when heliskiing in Turkey and he'd discussed it to some extent with Haluk. This meant that he would come down into the turn (like a motorbike does) and come back up out of the turn. This tends to limit the damage done by the "twisting/steering" action instead of amplifying it when an up un-weighting is used to initiate a turn as taught by many ski schools today.

Exercise six: Following skis but staying on the downhill ski though to neutral (perpendicular)
Staying longer on the downhill ski - right through until the body is in "neutral" - that is, perpendicular to the mountain in the turn transition, seriously helps with reducing a "push out" of the skis at the initiation of the following turn. Now that Korkut was following the skis he could also attempt this exercise.

Exercise seven: Skating into a carve - U/L body separation
Knowing that Korkut could skate along strongly on the flat and had good timing (which is also related to skating) prompted me to return briefly to carving and to show that the the skating action - hard on and edge - is related to the carving of a turning skis. The straight "skating" stride is simply replaced by an arcing one due to the ski design. Korkut was able to some degree to initiate a turn holding onto an edge in this manner. I then explained that upper/lower (U/L) body separation (facing downhill) in carving was to actually be encouraged especially in shorter turns when a strong anticipation of the following turn was required. This U/L separation can actually be directly related to the racing situation. When a recreational skier looks down a steep icy slalom course he either consciously or unconsciously prepares to brake and control his speed in the course. The experienced and elite or professional level racer does the opposite - he/she tries to skate and accelerate to the maximum down practically any slope. Skating forwards translates into "side to side" motion on skis - but the skier must face forwards. Korkut actually attempted this, but could not prevent the skis from twisting at the turn initiation.
It was emphasised that the CM had to be driven into the centre of the turn and the edges of the skis held firm by holding an inward oriented pressure against them. Everything had to work towards the turn centre and every effort made to avoid any form of "pushing out" or twisting. The body should only come out from the turn centre when the change of direction was completed and a new turn or traverse anticipated.

At this point we left the carving behind and had a hot chocolate. But not before Haluk had his way and had me leading in a practically invisible off-piste descent through a cloud. To make matters worse, Haluk had his heliski skis on and was not used to them so he almost took me out twice on the way down!

PART TWO (Outside Edge Turn Initiation)

Exercise eight: side-slip
I knew that Korkut was very confident in side-slipping because he had managed to do so in a very steep couloir on day one. The couloir was steep enough to give me problems with my parabolic shaped Zag skis in that they wouldn't grip properly under the feet - only at the tips and tails. I had however been worried about Korkut and certainly didn't want him to attempt to turn because he had almost no angulation and risked accelerating out of control on a turn in such steepness. 

The sideslipping was done with the adductors (lower leg) pulling inwards and the body facing downhill bringing the centre of mass (CM) over the lower ski. To slip the idea was to maintain the tension with the adductors and only use a motion of the CM out over the lower ski to release the edge and grip. Edge control would be coming from the CM and it would be mainly with the lower ski - top edge - though some pressure on the upper ski - top edge was natural too.

Korkut has some difficulty with this because he wanted to control the slip by flattening the ski with a pushing out of the knee. My intention was to change Korkut's muscle movement patterns so that he would always pull inwards and not push outwards.

Exercise nine: one ski skiing
The sidesliping was introduced as a prelude to working on pivoting. Prior to working on pivoting it was interesting to observe the edge/CM control used in one ski skiing. Korkut was quite competent at using his CM - much better than Haluk! - but had very little awareness of edge control or the choices available to him.

Exercise ten: top ski pivot
We started work on pivoting on the top ski and Haluk was good at this - but seriously over rotating - though I remained focussed on Korkut, helping him to understand the process. The most important part being that the feet remain below the body on the mountain at all times. It's this geometry that dictates which ski edge will be used for turning. The CM controls the turn, moving slightly forwards and slightly downhill - from vertically above the feet (or top ski in this case) to somewhere between vertical and perpendicular - but preferably closer to vertical. The adductors were obliged to be engaged throughout the turn - pulling inwards and even assisting the swing of the ski in a lateral manner.

Exercise eleven: pole grip
Korkut was holding his poles loosely by the straps so I asked him to remove the straps and hold the grips correctly between the two middle fingers and the thumb with a strong grip. It was demonstrated how a strongly weighted pole plant could act as a blocking device to pivot around and a support at the same time.

Exercise twelve: bottom ski pivot
Pivoting on the bottom ski is just an extension of the side-slip really but it can be a bit unnerving.  The bottom ski pivot requires a very good use of the pole for blocking and support and helps to make the use of the CM become more obvious. To achieve this pivot you are on the bottom ski and top edge. To remain on this edge as long as possible once again it is necessary to hold the leg inward tightly with the adductors or the ski will flatten and change edge too early. This fact makes it very clear that it's the CM which controls the turn and not the adductors themselves because this set of adductors is on the leg normally opposing this turn direction.

Exercise thirteen: swap ski pivot
This has been described in sever posts now and here as elsewhere it was used to exaggerate the placement of the CM to towards the turn centre and the very strong use of the pole.

Exercise fourteen: linked short radius pivots
Moving into short radius turns caused Korkut to immediately revert to pushing the skis outwards with a twisting/steering action. The muscle memory he has built up over many years forcing him to to the opposite from his will.

Exercise fifteen: skis off - angulation/rotation, CM control though turn completion
Once again this exercise is already well documented in this blog. The main point was to show how the CM must be driven into the turn centre right up until the turn is over and how hard it is to correctly compensate for the change in geometry relative to gravity. Most people get this seriously wrong and that's why they get spat out of turns and end up spinning out of slalom courses. The drive down into the centre mus increase drastically just before the end of the turn where it then rapidly rises out of the turn to finish. The inability to do this is also linked to hip rotation derived form pushing the skis out a attempting to steer them with a twist. This is also behind the lack of hip angulation when Korkut was side-slipping and turning on the steep - and the stiffness in his hips in general. (All of that happening despite his determined effort to "face downhill". As long as this caused him to "push out" it was completely self-defeating.)

Exercise sixteen: CM control for ski loading in carved turns
This was just a demonstration to show how the same CM control in carved turns permits a powerful loading up of the ski and directional change in carving. In both cases very good U/L is required with the emphasis in carving being on one legged skating and in pivoting a forward push of the skis. this doesn't feel like skating in the pivot because the ski is not on its inside edge.

Exercise seventeen: hip relaxation (off piste)
Once again this exercise is well documented elsewhere. This time Haluk stood above Korkut off-piste and attempted to catch Korkut's weight as he totally relaxed his hip joints - but I think that his 94kg of bone and muscle were a bit more than Haluk bargained for

After the instruction which lasted only a couple of hours Korkut bravely attempted to apply his learning whilst being dragged all over the place off-piste in extremely poor visibility. Needless to say there were not many obvious changes visible under those circumstances. Slightly worrying was Korkut's innocent question after completion of the lesson "Why all this pulling in, and why can't I just push the skis out?". Well, I'm sure this is a classic indicator of "awareness level" and justifies the decision to push Korkut's thinking in a completely different direction. In time the seeds sown will grow and bear fruit. I made sure that Korkut knew that the pushing out led to the locking up of the hip joint and all the technical problems that had left him physically exhausted and caused him to fall over several times.

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