Monday, February 28, 2011

Wilfred Day 1

Wilfred still has a lot to learn about skiing but has been taught so far successfully without the use of a snowplough.

Initial assessment:
  • No upper/lower body separation
  • Stuck in the vertical instead of the perpendicular
  • Trying to brake instead of accelerate (defensive)
  • Wide stance - good for racing and quick edge change
  • Good posture - weight well placed on the lower hip (neutral pelvis)
  • No effective use of poles
  • Looking ahead - good anticipation
  • Mouth shut and nasal breathing to stay warm
  • Good waterproof clothing and modern appearance
  • Should protect the eyes with sunglasses though and perhaps invest in a helmet
Wilfred off-piste.

Wilfred has a great attitude and potential, never complaining no matter how cold it gets or how often he falls over. His proactive approach to exploiting his skiing for personal development, overcoming any obstacle in his path, is a real inspiration.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Luke Last Day

Val d'Isease
Last day and the sun was out. This time everyone was organised to arrive on time for a good early start beating the large ski school groups to the lifts. Florence unfortunately was missing though - still sick from the dreaded Val d'Isease. Leonie now had the bug too but like Luke two days earlier seemed to be bearing up well enough to ski - though it was borderline.

Warming up with a run down an early empty piste it was straight over to the slalom before the crowds arrived. Leonie wasn't feeling up to tackling the slalom so I suggested that she remain at the bottom of the course with me to observe the others instead.  The initial briefing for the slalom was to anticipate the new turn early, that is, to come out of the existing turn earlier than appears to be necessary. Slalom teaches people that their reaction times are normally too slow. By the time someone thinks about starting a turn it is already too late - the turn should already have been started and this has to become a reflex through training. This "anticipation" really concerns the exit of the previous turn - or the "Dynamics Part 2" as I described it yesterday. I didn't spend much time explaining this because there was only a brief window of opportunity to use the course before the crowds arrived.  

After the first run I altered the briefing to work on the "Dynamics Part 1"  - the throwing of the body down and into the new turn. Most people make this move "reactively". They move a little into the new turn and wait for feedback and support under the outside ski before moving further into the turn. Moving the body into the turn is an act of falling - exactly the same as the way we fall each time we take a step when walking and it's normally an unconscious action. I have read however that walking upright is NOT natural - that if a baby is not taught to walk it never will. Perhaps this is why people never automatically discover the true range of motion necessary for skiing. Being aware of the basic requirement to fall into the turn is only the first step of learning about dynamics - a bit like a baby taking its first tottering steps. The skier then has to become aware that the dynamic range is being limited due to unconsciously waiting for feedback and support within a very brief time and amplitude (of motion) frame of reference. The initial "fall" into the turn has to be "extended". Perhaps it should be called an "extended fall". This means that the time and amplitude of the fall goes way beyond the person's normal comfort threshold. Most people think that they can play off against the feedback and support from the ski and continue to drop into the turn progressively in a controlled manner - but the turn would be over before this would happen - and that's precisely why they don't get far enough down into the turn (dynamic range) to keep a fast line in slalom. Both Luke and Ella registered their fastest times when they tried this more proactive instead of reactive approach to the dynamics. Luke's fastest time was 32'44" and Ella's was 36'55" (3 second improvement from yesterday).

Leaving the slalom we free skied (still working on dynamics) over to the Toviere to take a look at developing pivoting skills.

Mont Blanc (Italian side seen from Val d'Isère)

The Pivot
Dictionary definition:
  1. A short rod or shaft on which a related part rotates or swings. 
  2. The act of turning on or as if on a pivot.
In skiing the turn that I call a "pivot" refers to definition 2: "The act of turning as if on a pivot". The legs are the only parts that rotate (in the hip sockets) and the skis swing into the turn.
The legs should remain "independent" in that they rotate like a pair of windscreen wipers instead of coming around clamped together parallel which forces the pelvis to follow in rotation (causing a fault commonly termed "hip rotation"). The feet can still be close together but the turn will end/start with the top ski slightly ahead due to the independent action of the feet/legs and the upper body remaining stationary facing downhill. (This does not prevent a pushing forwards/skating of the outside ski)

The pivot is how fall-line skiing is done correctly. This means that the body (Centre of Mass - CM) travels directly downhill - there is no acceleration from one side to the other across the fall-line. Both skis remain always below the skier on the hill (taking the perpendicular from the snow surface upwards the CM is always further uphill than the skis).  The skis are always on their uphill edges  - with the change of edges taking place in the fall-line. Keeping the skis close together is an effective way to ensure that the skis remain on the uphill edges (but not absolutely necessary). Allowing the skis to separate can change the geometric relationship between the CM and the top ski - placing the top ski on its lower edge instead. Feet are generally kept close together in traversing, side-slipping, bump skiing and pivoting for this reason. Off piste thus allows the two skis to be used as a single flotation platform. Either or both skis can actually be used in the pivot - this being the hidden reason why people often advise that the skis should both receive weight when off-piste. The body however should always position itself on one hip joint so that it functions through a one legged stance - even with weight on two feet.

Pivoting requires a solid support from the downhill ski pole. The pole permits the CM to move downhill in a controlled manner without the skis changing edge. It's not clear whether on not the pole provides a mechanical advantage or just a mental reference for timing and physical cue for positioning the body. The support from the pole probably reduces pressure on the ski and permits an easier pivoting action.

To try to help everyone connect with the correct sensation of the "pivot" - I physically assisted them through a full pivot one by one. For this the skier has to hold on to one end the their ski pole while I hold on to the other end and pull and restrain them though the turn. The skier has to stand up on the top ski and hold the body rigid while I do all the manipulation - pulling the skier sideways downhill, slightly forwards and with a slight motion of the CM towards me (inwards). The ski just slips around inwards in a pivot. Often this is the first time the skier has ever felt a short turn without the ski either being pushed outwards or stemmed outwards onto its inside edge.  Both Leonie and Luke properly felt the pivot for the first time here. Leonie had already managed a proper pivot when skiing on one ski the previous day - but was not really aware of the mechanism.

It was made clear that although standing up on the uphill ski on the uphill edge, the foot had to roll over onto its lower edge inside the ski boot, thus the adductors and even abdominals could be used to help to pull the front of the ski inwards into the turn - all the way around. 

Luke was reflexively getting stuck in the vertical even with my support through the turn and this was very revealing. Yielding to the physical support that I was giving he eventually managed to adjust to the perpendicular and allow the ski to pivot correctly. This also permitted Luke to get a better understanding of why he was habitually getting caught backwards in his skiing in general.

Bumps Revisited
Pivoting was then taken into the lower Tommeuses bumps (alongside the last pitch down to the chairlift). When the feet are perched on the shoulder of a bump then the tips and tails of the skis are free of contact with the snow and the ski is free to swing into a sharp pivot as it drops forward downhill and side-slips down the bank of the shoulder to the end of the bump. The process is then repeated in the opposite direction. Good pole support is required at each pivot and upper body rotation must be avoided. We did not look into timing or "compression" in the bumps because this was still just an introduction level and the focus was on the pivoting and edge control only.

Short Swings
Continuing with  extending the principles of the pivot we went over to the Semanmille piste (button lift) steep section to do some short swings. The action is identical to the pivot but this time the swing of the ski begins when the ski is in the air - so while in the bumps most of the ski is in the air, with short swings all of it is in the air (both skis simultaneously and parallel).The reduction of pressure on the ski is taken to an extreme by getting it airborne and consequently a strong pressure on the ski pole is required during the jump. The jump itself is from the uphill edges of both skis and is best viewed as being the end of a previous turn (Dynamics Part 2). As in the pivot the CM moves from the vertical to somewhere close to the perpendicular but not across the perpendicular because that itself would change the ski edges and here we want the ski edges to be changed effectively by only the geometry of the slope itself (crossing the fall-line). The jump is inwards towards the ski pole and forwards between the ski tips and the ski pole. Luke managed to use the short swings to actively improve his "fore/aft" coordination and to adjust to the perpendicular better.

La Grande Motte, Tignes

Off-Piste "Dynamics Part 2"
After the short swings we moved over to the off-piste and then used greater overall dynamics for returning to skiing on the inside edges. The energy from the short swings practise was retained to enhance "Dynamics Part 2" (but without getting airborne) to compete the turns in the tricky snow and render the turn transitions smooth. 

Following the Skis or Facing Downhill?
Luke understandably was a little confused about when to face downhill or to follow the skis. At that point an ESF instructor went by giving a perfect demonstration. He went into short turns and remained facing downhill then broke off into longer turns and just followed his skis.

The basis of "Facing Downhill" lies in skating. When a skater accelerates forwards the legs and body travel outwards laterally to the left on the left leg and right on the right leg. Skiing is just an exaggeration of this but instead of the leg and body going in a straight line the trajectory closes back again in the other direction making an arc. If the upper body is permitted to rotate then the skating effect with the legs is greatly reduced. A good racer is literally trying to skate and accelerate directly down the steep and icy fall-line. The best racers know that greater speed is their friend - the single most important factor in decreasing their turn radius. Most people think that speed does the opposite! The Upper/Lower body separation also allows shapes to be made with the body permitting the CM to drop better into the turn while increasing edge angle and the power of the ski - maximising "Dynamics Part 2". The skate doesn't look like a skate because both legs are working together despite practically all the force being on only the outside ski.

In the pivot the facing downhill permits the adductors and the abdomen to be used to good effect and to Place the CM so that it literally moves in and out of the turn automatically - permitting incredibly efficient and easy quick turning. 

When less energy is required from the body and quick turning is not required or stability in tricky terrain is the most important issue then "following the skis" is best.

La Grande Sassière, Val d'Isère

Off Piste - Lateral Thinking
The morning was all about working on ski technique and everyone did extremely well. Leonie had a slight confidence crisis but that was mainly due to being drained with effects of the stomach bug. She convinced herself that she had not progressed at all simply because she had "frozen" at one point on a steep pitch. Nothing that couldn't be cured (apparently) by a large traditional Savoyard cheese fondue!
The French have no word for "skill". They have no specific word for "awareness" either. My own interpretation of "skill" refers to a learned act that is successfully integrated into the unconscious mind. Consciousness in this context is nothing more than a feedback loop that permits us to re-program the unconscious - to learn. Leonie was simply not acknowledging her skill - because it is unconscious. Admitting to being someone who likes to feel "in control" she is really saying that she likes to be "consciously" in control - but the reality is that it's our unconscious that's in control. Even learning (re-programming aside) is not conscious in itself. Learning is a non-linear process of self-organisation that "happens to us" -  a natural phenomenon of complex systems - it's how they self optimise. Edward De Bono coined the term "Lateral Thinking" to attempt to define this. The Lateral Thinking that Leonie now needed was a proper off-piste excursion and some coaxing over difficult and steep terrain where her unconscious skill could make itself clear. That's exactly what we did and she did it well.
One particular technical point appeared to help Leonie more than anything else and that was the push up from the downhill leg assisting the ski in bringing the body up out of each turn. This meant that she had no hesitation in starting each new turn, could execute the turns rapidly and so never picked up speed on the steeps.

Further Notes:
The push up or skating timing is required in the pivot. If the push is strong then it can lift the CM slightly back up the hill (controlling speed) - probably following this with a subsequent reduction of pressure on the skis assisting the start of the pivot for the next turn - like a short swing but without the skis leaving the snow. This push up is even experienced in the bumps (in bottom of the hollow) prior to following it with a complete compression (reduction of pressure) of the legs as they swallow the bump and the pivot commences.  In more dynamic (basic) racing/inside edge turns the push up doesn't move the CM back up the hill or cause any loss of pressure - it simply assists the ski in bringing the skier up and out of the existing turn (like a motorbike uses power to rise up out of a turn). With racing/inside edge turns we are looking for MORE pressure at the start of the turn being provided by dynamics - not less pressure. Advanced techniques employing "leg retraction" actually use a powerful leg extension during the dynamics at the start of the turn to create impressive pressure levels on the skis - but this takes immense leg power.

Luke proved to be open to completely changing his view of skiing and made great progress as a result. His frustration at being held back to drill things slowly was quickly replaced by the appreciation of the quality and purpose of movement that he was developing. Luke being a triathlon athlete already knows the value of internalising his focus. Five days is not long for making such sweeping changes and new realisations and perceptions were falling into place rapidly towards the end.

Ella has a great attitude towards skiing and clearly loves it. From her starting level she probably made the most progress during the week and with her relative comfort in the bumps compensating for weaknesses in other areas she probably finished up on a close overall par with Luke. Luke was still ahead in the slalom and was clearly the best off-piste (mainly due to keeping his feet closer together than the others) but the tension created by being blocked in the vertical compromised him too much in the bumps. I loved Ella's fun attitude towards her skiing and the obvious joy that she gets out of it. However Ella, when there are a dozen skiers courteously waiting for you to drag your bum out of the deep snow so that they can make their off-piste passage and you continue to lie there giggling this might justifiably irritate the Lukes of this world! Actually those two groups who waited above us were exceptionally courteous and respectful - giving us priority in the fresh snow. They were groups guided by independent professionals. If they had been ESF groups they would have ignored us completely just to try to get to the fresh snow first. I really like Ella's giggling but think that she needs to strengthen her abdominals and generally toughen up a bit physically - especially if she wants to follow her desire to take skiing more seriously as a sport. Look at women like Lindsay Vonn - amazingly tough athletes but without any loss of femininity. If anything Vonn's femininity - the suppleness and feeling with which she skis - is what makes her special.

Florence to me showed some of the best potential because she moves in a very natural way, sensing the timing and rhythm more clearly than anyone else. It was very unfortunate to fall ill and miss out on development when things were really taking off for the rest of the group. Her dedication to her academic studies is highly commendable and should never be criticised - but I hope she will not allow this to stifle her excellent physical capacities and qualities. I think that later in life that would become a great regret.

Leonie overall gets my vote for the most courageous effort and greatest achievement. Irrational fears are extremely difficult to deal with and it takes real heart to confront this without allowing it to spoil your experience and real selflessness not to let it affect others around you. I think that Leonie used her skiing to grow this week in a lot of ways and that she really made the most of it. It doesn't matter whether you are the fastest or best skier out there - what matters is that despite every obstacle or difficulty you can turn it around to your advantage and enjoy it.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Luke Not the Carrot

Day Four

Evidently Luke was determined not to be a carrot today because he no longer had his orange ski pants. His skiing was better too - at least while he was with the family. He broke off to ski with friends for the last couple of hours and probably reverted back to carrot skiing mode during his brief period of freedom. I suspect that carrots will be a thing of the past soon however. I had trouble giving up my toy cars during the passage from boyhood to manhood but change is always inevitable and unavoidable. I wonder whatever happened to all those toy cars. I miss the Aston Martin DB5 and the De Tomaso Mangusta.

Quite amazingly the mountain is covered with true and dedicated carrot skiers right now because it is the Parisian holidays. They all ski bolt upright and bomb down the mountain recklessly fast throwing their heels out into a skid and with no real turning or control of line whatsoever. You can spot the Parisians because they don't really wear ski clothes (jeans being preferred) and they don't really ski. I'll always see them as carrots from now on.

Today we went straight into the slalom from the warm up (one run of medium radius turns). Florence was ill and got completely lost in the slalom. She went round the poles the wrong way then started going out of the course altogether and then returned to do some short radius turns though the finish line. It was clear that she was not able to focus at all and should have stayed in bed this morning. I suspect another case of  Val d'Isease (gastro - stomach flu). Luke suffered from it yesterday and hopefully no one else gets it now. 

The brief on the slalom was to work on dynamics  - from the feet upwards and moving everything in towards the poles. Luke had two good runs getting his time down to 32 seconds on the second one. Ella managed to break the 40 second barrier with 39 seconds but she can definitely go faster than this. Leonie amazingly managed to almost outclass Florence's performance with one of the slowest descents in history. There was nothing in Leonie's performance that couldn't be cured simply by having her chased by a tiger or something to that effect - something "real" that is more terrifying than the fears conjured up by her own clearly fertile imagination.  Two of the four however had significantly improved their times and confidence so the slalom session was still effective.

Leonie was complaining about the skis not gripping and I'd noticed that her alignment was poor so we stopped and checked it. Her rental boots had canting on both the inside and outside of the ankles so adjustment was possible. The present set-up of the boots - straight from the shop - was very far off. With the legs straight out (knees locked) and feet hip width apart the boot soles were clearly on their outside edges - this being the source of the ineffective gripping of the skis. I canted the boots to the maximum so that the soles were much more flat and Leonie felt a significant difference. She needs her own boots however - ones that can place her even more on the inside edge. Salomon racing boots usually do a good job for this problem.
I couldn't help notice that the equipment was rented out from "Snowberry" and had a sticker saying "Voted best ski shop in Europe". Well if this is the best ski shop and they can carelessly supply such ill adapted equipment then there is a real problem out there. Of course they forgot to mention that this was probably a vote taken in their local pub. The people running Snowberry used to run Precision ski and they made the same extremely dubious claims about Precision too. For me the best ski shop in Val is definitely Mountain Pro Shop - where anyone can have their alignment issues correctly dealt with at no charge by Yannic.

Introduction to Posture
While we were off the skis to deal with alignment I took the opportunity to introduce the issue of posture as it applies to skiing. Yesterday both Ella and Luke were "breaking at the waist" or bending at the lower back instead of at the hip joints and this will definitely damage the back over time if allowed to continue. Most skiers develop back problems and all of this is avoidable. Postural awareness is very difficult to develop and most people unless they have had their attention brought to this previously have no awareness at all of how to separate and isolate movements around the hips and lower back - the pelvic area. Luke had a strong tendency to bend his lower back (rounding it outwards) and to lock up the hip joints. Ella appeared to have a hollow back but would still tend to bend from the spine instead of the hips. 
We are looking for "neutral pelvis" which is correct basic curvature of the spine (slight hollow). I have to drop my pelvis at the front to achieve this because my lower back is too flat. Some people have to do the opposite. Regardless, when dropping the pelvis at the front I do not slacken my muscles I try to flatten my abdomen - as if rocking the pelvis makes me thinner. I then contract the muscles down to the perineum and hold this posture as fixed, releasing at the hip joints and tilting the entire upper body forwards. This act frees the hip joints to allow more rotation and although the muscles above the pelvis are taught the hip joints become exceptionally loose. The skier should then be perched on one hip joint and be able to rotate the upper body around on it . I demonstrated that "angulation" in skiing is really this precise posture but inclined over into a turn. Angulation is NOT a sideways displacement of the hips.

 One Ski - Centre of Mass and Edge Control Awareness

Speed Skating
To develop this  posture in a practical way I had everyone lean forward like a speed skater and to skate in this extreme position to feel how effective and powerful it really is. Skating is the mechanism by which the body alternates from one leg to the other and places itself on one hip joint decisively - stacking the bones of the skeleton efficiently.

Ella and Leonie remarked on feeling an improvement due to increased looseness at the hips - especially Ella during carving where she felt she could hold the skis better on edge and get her body farther down into the turn. The posture and hip work probably also helped Leonie ski the black Trolls run into Tignes with no difficulty.

While skiing down the Trolls run we worked on the skating action - coming up at the end of the turns - reinforcing awareness of the skating element in general skiing

Bumps Dynamics
We came across some bumps so continuing our theme of Dynamics from the slalom I suggested using dynamics in the bumps. This is a key ingredient of successful bump skiing and Ella had good success applying it straight away. The dynamics just seem to swallow the bumps up Luke and Leonie were making a good effort but were getting caught on their inside edges and accelerating out of control - more work being required on pivoting. To increase the dynamics in the bumps I explained that the skis had to be skated out across the hill while the body - supported by the pole plant - went downhill. This skating from the start of the turn increases the separation of trajectory between the Centre of Mass and the skis and so increases dynamics. 

The Surprise Turn
This big increase in dynamics leads to the phenomenon of what I term the "surprise turn". Each time it works you feel a sense of surprise - but it always works. It's like the sheep in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to The Galaxy. Each morning when the sun comes up they get a surprise because their memories are so short they have forgotten about the sun from the day before. With us we forget in the space of a single turn and are always surprised when the next turn works using strong dynamics.

Dynamics Part 2 ("Neutral")
Coming across some off-piste I noticed that Luke was still getting caught back on the ski boots and was rotating into the turns and Leonie was still stemming and going rigid. The time seemed right to introduce the second part of dynamics properly - that is - how to get out of a turn or traverse. This concerns the commitment to the outside ski right to the end of the turn and the body coming all the way out to perpendicular to the mountain - practically going into the new turn on this same ski - but not quite. The turn effectively ends when the skis are flat on the snow and the body has no choice but to continue into the upcoming turn. This generates real flow and the different problems of Leonie and Luke can be greatly aided with this development. Everybody felt the difference and benefit of this - especially off-piste. Ella skied very fluidly with it.

Slalom 2
We had another attempt at slalom to see if the continued work on dynamics would show up in the slalom performance. The ground was much harder than before but despite this Ella managed to overcome her tension and make herself use dynamics and equalled her best time from earlier in the day when conditions were much more favourable.

One Ski
Continuing from the "Neutral" just developed in dynamics this was developed further with one ski skiing. To turn to the right on the right ski requires that the CM pass well over - beyond "neutral" with a total commitment to that ski. The commitment is made easier in a way because one ski is removed and so the skier has no choice but to stand up on the remaining ski. The tendency when turning to the outside is to fail to get the CM far enough into the turn. This is a great exercise to demonstrate the need to always go further into the turn centre with the CM. Most errors are based on the failure to get the CM far enough into the turn centre - in both this exercise and in normal skiing. Both Leonie and Ella managed to start to turn in both directions.

We had a brief attempt at spinning 360° - which is done by always keeping the CM slightly higher up the hill than the skis and so keeping the skis on a set of uphill edges. This was just a first attempt and everyone finds this difficult to start with.

Working out way down the Face de Belevarde we practised pivoting and Ella managed to do this reasonably well. This is not a surprise because she had a tendency to pivot unconsciously anyway. Leonie couldn't get on top of this and always found her body reflexively causing a stem to put her on the inside edge of the top ski. She couldn't stand on the top ski and just get it to slip sideways and downwards into the new turn. Despite not managing to do this she did however become aware of what was happening instead and that's an important step towards changing things. To stem you have to stand on two skis and place the weight on the lower ski so as to push the top ski outwards. Part of Leonie's difficulty in committing to the top ski was due to the erroneous understanding she had that she had to "press down" on a ski, instead on just simply "stand up" on a ski. That "pressing down" is what leads to twisting and stemming.

Luke the Carrot

Day Three

Warm up Off-Piste
Today's warm up run evolved into an off-piste powder excursion with an emphasis on dynamics. This was quickly followed up with a small expedition over the Borsat plateau where "kick turns" were experienced for the first time by the family with interesting results.

Introduction to Slalom
When we had finished messing around in the powder it was time to go to the slalom course for an introduction to slalom before the course became too badly rutted. The aim was just to familiarise everyone with slalom and to remove apprehensions about using a race course and timing. The ground rules of how to use the training area were explained, more for safety reasons than anything else. The first run was a form of reconnaissance with all of us descending the course together taking a very wide and slow line high in the gates. The second run was a timed run for each individual but with a view to working on technique by using the gate as a reference for the dynamics. Everyone got through the course safely and recorded a time - even though Leonie's time had to be continued manually by Florence because the clock ran out after 60 seconds. Luke recorded the fastest time of 35 seconds. 

Introduction to Bumps
There are three natural constraints that form and inform a skier in his/her development and those are racing, off-piste and bumps. We had started to look at racing and off-piste so now it was the time for bumps. The first exercise was to simply traverse across a bumps field and to get the legs bending to absorb the bumps and extending in the hollows. This didn't achieve much other than revealing that everyone was really stiff and unable to bend due to tension. We then attempted to side slip the bumps pivoting on shoulder of each bump and sliding down the side. Pivoting skills were generally not yet strong enough for this and so there was a tendency for everyone to jam the uphill ski on its inside edge and accelerate instead of getting the ski to pivot from the outside edge.

Impressive view of the Grande Casse in the setting sun with high winds at the summit

Short Siwngs
In an attempt to loosen up the legs a bit, improve the pivot and develop some upper/lower body separation we worked for a while on short swings. The first exercise was with skis off - pivoting the legs independently in the hip sockets. The second exercise was jumping without heel retraction - fully extending the legs in mid air and flexing for a soft landing. Luke was particularly hard on the landings and Florence had the best range of motion and hence smoothness. It was while watching Luke doing short swings that Ella decided that Luke resembled a carrot. It's not clear whether this was only a reference to his red and green clothing or if it had something to do with his energetic but slightly disorganised short swings.

Speed and Steeps threshold
Meanwhile back on the pistes I was stretching everyone and Ella was the first to respond to increased speed - which she appeared to really enjoy. Luke also was showing good clear dynamics from the feet support  upwards. On the way to lunch we went down a black piste and this was done with stealth so as not to freak anyone out. It's the only unmarked black run in the resort because it is netted off as a race course. Everyone coped admirably with the new steepness. Later on we went on even steeper off-piste and Leonie had to be shown how to use the pole plant to support the Centre of Mass coming downhill - so as to have the confidence to turn. Florence was reverting to a snowplough step turn to get around  - while this is effective on occasion it does place the top ski on its inside edge and produce an unwanted accelerator straight down the hill. In more off-piste steeps later on Leonie clicked regarding holding the Centre of Mass in towards the turn centre by facing her bottom up the hill (to avoid rotation).

Dropping into the turn
I got behind each person in turn and had them drop into my arms so as to release the hip joints and feel how the CM could be dropped literally into a turn. Unfortunately when Florence gave me her weight I sunk into the off-piste snow and then due to bursting out laughing I had to let her fall onto the snow. It took about five minutes to get Florence back up on her feet so that didn't work out exactly as planned. I'd demonstrated the problem in flexing muscles when the antagonist muscles are contracted using the biceps and triceps in the arm. The idea was for everyone to realise that there is a similar muscle conflict going on in their legs when they "resist" in turns, in deep snow or in bumps.

Introduction to Carving
Towards the end of the day an important element of racing was introduced - carving. Everyone managed to hold the skis on edge well when traversing across the hill and making shallow arcs on two edges. We worked statically on edge changing with the support of the ski poles on the downhill side - the body passing through "neutral" - perpendicular to the hill and the skis flat between edge changes. Nobody was able to hold the carve after a turn transition when actually moving forwards though - but this is normal at this stage. Practise in first of all needed on a very gentle gradient. The dynamics and adductor use with feet rolling are all even more obvious when working on carving because the feedback from the skis is very clear.

Stickers from Leonie's art studio...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Day One

First thing in the morning the fresh snow was in good shape on the empty pistes and despite the continued snowfall and low temperatures visibility was good. The look of joy on everyone's faces made it clear that they just had to ski and leave the rest for later. Of course those conditions don't last for long and Florence was the first to be tripped up by a bump and to experience the more frustrating side of skiing. That wasn't the end of the day's frustrations which grew as the piste conditions worsened so tomorrow there should be no regrets felt at spending more time on technical development.

Video was taken near the start of the day just to record the current level of skiing and also to allow everyone to see themselves - in this case for the first time. It is usually a disappointment when you see yourself for the first time - but there is no better way to receive feedback than to use video. It's the same when you practise music - it all sounds great until you record it and play it back!

I put the "pre-coaching" video of all four skiers to the music of Evanescence - "Bring Me to Life" which is what we will try to do this week.

Luke (prior to coaching)
Luke is currently clearly the strongest skier in the family. He likes to go fast and feels that he can react to the forces generated. He has a great attitude and will really benefit from improved technique. At the moment he uses a two footed "push out" of the skis to the side accompanied with an up unweighting move and  followed by a strong downsink which uses the "push out" to brush off more speed. There is also upper body rotation and all the turns are made on the inside edge only so there is limited edge control or awareness. There is a very strong tendency to sit back and that appears to be linked to the vertical timing that is used. He says that he is "transferring weight" to the outside ski but that is not visible as he has a strong natural dynamic of his body into the turn that he is obviously not aware of. There is quite a lot of vertical movement but the timing is the wrong way round (not his fault). This movement is "reactive" because it disappears when he slows down and there are less forces involved. Tends to break at the waist with the sudden downsink- which is dangerous for the lower back.

Leonie (prior to coaching)
Loenie is quite static on the skis and has a large rotation - particularly with the right side of the body. There is very little in the way of natural dynamics and there is clearly a lot of tension. There appears to be a collapsing at the ankle and twisting inwards of the knees (dangerous to the knee joints) probably caused by twisting the foot (outside ski) into the turn. Limited edge control and awareness. Posture not ideal for protecting the lower back - elbows too far back and lower back hollowed.

Florence (prior to coaching)
Florence is currently very static because she has a strong "push out" and bracing against the outside leg  (slight stem sometimes) and rushes the start of each turn with an upper body rotation. This would cause anyone to feel insecure on skis and to become very tense. She is clearly twisting the feet to steer the skis which brings her (outside) knee inwards despite the bracing of the leg. She gets away with all of this because she doesn't use the inside edge of the outside ski to start the turn - but she has no awareness of such edge control issues yet. Posture OK but arm carriage poor - hands dropped by the side of the body.

Ella (prior to coaching)
Strong heel push (to the outside) and clear weight transfer to the outside ski. - very static. This looks unstable and is ineffective. Posture and stance look good.

Introduction to Dynamics
Indoors, over hot chocolates I gave a brief introductory explanation of "dynamics" and about changing the intention from "balance" to "falling over".
Back on the slopes everyone went though the "pushing against the wall with the shoulder" exercises prior to attempting to use dynamics on skis. This allows everyone to feel what shape the body takes and the same forces through the legs that will be generated during actual dynamics.
We then went on to linking turns and eventually skiing with dynamics. Everybody got the idea but Ella caught on both the quickest and clearest reporting immediately how much easier it made her skiing. She did look like a completely different skier right away. Luke also looked completely different when he stood up and stopped the inappropriate vertical movements. I explained that timing had to come from the dynamics - down into a turn and back up out. Also pressure changes under the feet have to come from dynamics - they are all "effects" and not "causes". 

Day Two

Day two started early at 08:30 with an indoors session about the feet. This is a fairly big subject in its own right. Without wasting any time it still took an hour to cover the essentials. We had a look at the right thing to do with the feet and also the wrong things - because it is important to be able to recognise both right and wrong. 
  • The major error is to collapse the ankle by trying to press down on the ball of the foot. This causes the boot to take over the support of the body instead of the actual leg. This also makes it impossible to roll the foot onto its edges and instead causes any attempt to do so to turn into a twisting at the knee - which can lead directly to a broken anterior cruciate ligament.  
  • The above error is linked to the coordination taught in a snowplough - where the abductor muscles are used to push the leg outwards away from the body, causing the foot to twist inwards and to flatten (roll slightly onto its outside edge.
  • This error is often compounded by misaligned ski boots - where the angle of the foot of the boot is not adjusted correctly to keep the base at right angles to the hip joint. This can only be tested with an unloaded leg locked out straight - not as is always done in shops with the client standing up and flexing in the boot. Shops fail to separate issues of pronating feet, and other biomechanical issues from the simple matching if the exoskeleton ski boot to the actual skeleton of the leg.
  • Correct stance is most simply achieved by standing on the heels. This causes bending to occur at the knees and hips only and tightens the anterior tibialis (muscle running up the outside of the shin). The ankle becomes strong. Weight does not go backwards doing this. When bending in the ski boot there should be no contact of the leg with the shaft of the boot - no leaning against the boot. The ankle naturally locks at an angle of about 12° corresponding to ski boot design. 
  • Standing on the heels permits rocking laterally of the feet onto their edges using the sub-talar joints below the ankles. (This cannot be easily achieved with the weight on any other part of the foot.) Rocking the feet to the left corresponds to rocking the skis onto the left edges and holding them there. This also corresponds to a motion of the Centre of Mass (CM) to the left and this can be felt as the body re-centres over the edges of the feet.
  • Rocking the feet to the left also corresponds to the adductor muscles in the right leg tensing up. This "pulling in" of the adductor muscles is a very important aspect of skiing as it is the basis of correct coordination - contrary to the "pushing out" and abductor use taught in the infamous "snowplough".
  • I explained how the ball of the foot can be used instead of the heel - with the heel actually lifted up slightly and the support coming from the muscles in the foot being active. This can be of great help for people with very unstable ankles but generally it is best avoided at an early stage. It can take years to train the muscles in the foot and to develop enough awareness and flexibility in that area. To achieve this however all you need to do is place the foot on the ground on its outside edge then, holding it like that stretch the ball of the foot partially towards the ground and when the stretch is as great as it can be then take the foot off its outside edge to let the ball touch the ground. Retain all the muscle tension because that is what generates the arches and support of the feet when standing up on the ball of the foot. Rocking on the edges can still be achieved in this stance and the ankle is very strong. This does give a superior control and feel over the ski and is eventually preferable to the heel use. I have however completely worn though the heels of inner boots from using the heels so this will do for much of the development for most skiers.
  • I demonstrated how to test the effective response of a ski boot using the stance on the heel - bending the  knee and hip to 90° and then bouncing off the front of the boot. In Luke's case his boots just collapsed because they are poor quality beginner's boots.
On the mountain everybody tried immediately to combine the rolling of the feet from the heels with the dynamics of the Centre of Mass.  Luke immediately found that this helped the dynamics make more sense for him.

Introducing Skating
It was becoming clear to me that Luke's tendency to be back in his ski boots was due to his two footed heel push. Leaning slightly backwards gave him more purchase for pushing the heels outwards. To deal with the two issues - leaning backwards and and pushing outwards of the heels I had him attempt to start the turn from a traverse on the uphill edge of the uphill ski - just moving the CM downhill to start and control the turn. This puts the skier on one leg and being on the uphill edge it stops any pushing outwards - the CM is forced to move instead. Standing on one leg also causes the reflexes to move the body perpendicular to the slope.

The next exercise was to step up the hill and stand up cleanly on the uphill ski, uphill edge. This is simply an exaggerated side stepping uphill. When done with forward motion at the same time this is much more difficult and I asked everyone to try to do this between turns then to remain standing up n the uphill edge of the top ski in preparation for the next turn. This action of stepping up is exactly like skating. Due to bad weather I cut the progression short and simply skated downhill introducing more dynamics until the skating turned into skiing and asked everyone to copy this. There was a reasonable amount of success first time at feeling the skating rhythm with Ella being the most natural on the first attempt. On subsequent attempts Leonie connected better with her skating experience. Everyone felt the skating timing to some extent.

I asked everyone to observe that with only dynamics being used the pressure cycle they would feel would be exactly like skating. The same "down/up" cycle exists in both dynamics and skating.

Introducing Pivoting
In order to continue to work against the tendencies to "push out" I decided to waste no time in introducing pivoting - which relies strongly on "pulling inwards" with the adductor muscles. We worked on the uphill ski pivot. To help to establish the correct use of the adductor muscles I had everyone pull the inside edge of the  tip of one ski against a ski pole. Nearly everyone found the heel going outwards instead of pulling inwards which means their perception of "adductor" use still meant twisting instead of a simple pulling inwards. With this corrected everyone worked on pivoting for a while and there was a reasonable amount of progress.  We also spent a short time working on the lower ski pivot. Leonie started to feel how much the body had to move into the turn for this to work. The aim here is really to develop the understanding of the relationship between CM and edge control. It was pointed out that pole planting is an essential component of pivoting because the pole support permits the CM to move downhill without the skis changing edge. This is a tricky skill to develop. The pivoting was then used briefly in powder snow on a shallow gradient along with some dynamics.

Pivoting is used for short turns and fall line skiing where the body does not travel across the hill and speed control is important. I pointed out that the skis must remain downhill of the skier's CM  and that this is why it is best achieved with the feet together. Placing the feet apart changes the edge of the uphill ski to the inside edge and to pivot we must start the turn from the outside edge. At the start of the turn it is best to see the inside edge as an accelerator and the outside edge as a brake. Longer turns started from the uphill edges can also reduce tiredness as less force ends up going through the legs in general. Inside edge skiing is much more powerful but can't be sustained so effectively.

Upper Lower Body Separation
After lunch the weather had deteriorated even more so we did our best to continue to focus on technique. Luke asked which direction the body should face during a turn and said that he was confused over this issue. Leonie had a strong rotation that caused her trouble at the end of turns on more difficult terrain so to deal with both Leonie and Luke it was time to introduce Upper / Lower Body separation ("U/L" for short). I explained that dynamics was best learned by just following the skis and keeping everything as simple as possible. Fall line skiing with short turns however requires that only the legs turn in the hip sockets and the upper body is prevented from turning. There are several good reasons for this but the mechanical action at root is based on skating - and being able to hold the body down and into the centre of the turn correctly as the turn progresses. I had earlier shown Leonie how when side-slipping, if she turned her bottom to face uphill she could hold the ski on edge and stop, but as soon as the bottom turned downhill she would slide. The same thing happens with rotation - the bottom goes out, the CM goes out and control is lost. I did the "pulling downhill" with ski poles so that both skiers could feel the difference in strength with each stance. We then removed the skis and I showed how the legs could rotate independently in the hip sockets. Luke amusingly had trouble coordinating this. We repeated the exercise by jumping. Leonie started to get the message about rotation and managed to remove it from her skiing both at the start and end of the turns. This led to a successful and controlled descent down a steep icy run back into Val at the end of the day. Luke realised that he was glad to be working on his skiing because he was starting to see just how far his technique had been off the mark and that just continuing to blast around with such poor technique would be getting him nowhere. He could now start to recognise the faults and limitations in other skiers around him as his perception was changing. You literally only see what you understand - that's how visual perception works.

Leonie and Luke's wine...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Victor Day 6

Day Six

Rodion and I were the first skiers up on the Saulire Télécabine and I think we were hit by sun flare that was reported in the news this week.

Technique or not Technique?
What do you do when it's your final morning of skiing for the year - work on technical exercises or go for a blast? Well, surprisingly Rodion wanted to work on technique. So I compromised and we did that for the first five minutes.

Arm Carriage
I made Rodion hold his poles across in front of him as if he was carrying a tray with his hands face down. He didn't know how to carry his arms so this was quite useful as an exercise. The hands should always be just visible in the peripheral vision and held at about the same height as a goalkeeper would hold them when waiting ready to stop a shot at goal. The main thing was to get his elbows away from his sides and to make a forward arm carriage his "normal" option instead of something he did only reflexively when he felt it to be necessary. Changes like this take time though.

I asked Rodian what he was doing with his feet inside his ski boots and he responded that he had no idea. Now I did explain this to you before Rodian! OK, so you were only about 4 years old at the time. Perhaps you need a refresher on that subject! The problem today was that this sort of thing has to be taught indoors and there was no way were were going to stop skiing until lunchtime. This lesson will have to wait until next year.

Speed Control
It's very clear that Rodion has never cartwheeled down a couloir in his life, because if he had he would definitely choose to listen to me and slow down a bit on the steeps. When you are on rental skis and rental bindings set at 4.5 you do not go at Mach 2 down a couloir unless you want to put your medical insurance to good use. Racing bindings have a different release algorithm from lower level bindings and freeride skis are wider under the foot than Rodion"s Rossi slalom skis - all helping to keep them on your feet and to keep you alive and in one fully functioning piece.

Rodion Freerider

Rodion insisted that there were no foxes in the mountains because there was no food - so I pointed out to him the tracks of mountain hares at about 2500m altitude off-piste. Where there are hares there are usually foxes.

Liliana was on a bad day with the steep ice and crowds on her way down into the Courchevel valley, so when we started skiing in the afternoon it was decided to stay on easy runs to get her confidence back. Timothy was deeply upset though at not being able to ski with his friend George and the only thing that would console him was to ski a black run - so our plans went straight out of the window and we all skied down a black bumps run. The bumps run was at least free from ice and when Liliana was engrossed in doing her exercises on the bumps - side-slipping then pivoting and then side-slipping down the side of the next bump - she was able to control her anxiety and enjoy skiing.

Timothy the Pro

Timothy Angulating
Timothy was full of self justification for not listening, doing the exercises or following me correctly. He did respond differently however when I said that he would never ski as well as Rodion if he didn't listen and copy me exactly. He understood "angulation" when I showed Liliana how to point her bottom uphill to hold onto an edge when crossing the ice. The photo below taken from the above video clip, shows Timothy angulating at the hips much more strongly than before.

Victor skied one long off-piste run with me while the others were still having lunch - but unfortunately I didn't get around to filming or photography as our time was short.

The Grande Casse 
View seen from the top of  the Saulire above Courchevel with Tignes hidden over to the left. This unusual view shows the glacier on the Western side. Apparently it's about a 4 to 5 hour climb to the top and a great ski back down. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Victor Day 5

Day Five

Dynamics Special
Having had everyone working on pivoting up until now it was time to go to work on our old favourite "dynamics" again. We have worked on pivoting simply because carving has been out of the question with crowded icy slopes everywhere and no race course available that is free from the clutches of the ESF communist regime. Timothy needed to work on dynamics so as to avoid his "free fall" flights on the steeps. Liliana needed to work on dynamics to try to get rid of her stem. Rodian needed to work on dynamics to be able to flow better in the bumps, use his poles and to avoid sitting too far back. Dynamics is not just for carving and "inside edge" skiing - it is the number one ingredient in all good skiing. Most skiing faults can probably be traced to a miss-perception regarding dynamics.

Liliana & Timothy
Liliana acts as my translator for Timothy. When he says he doesn't understand anything it's probably nothing to do with the translation - some of the issues regarding dynamics are very hard to understand.

Feeble translation...

First exercise of the morning was the scary "lower ski pivot". That is pivoting with the downhill ski. This requires a good support from the ski pole all the way around. Liliana's trouble with stemming takes place during the middle of the turn so she is starting off the turn fine but then loses control later. It helps to understand what is happening in the second part of a turn - after the fall line. The skier's job is to fall over and the ski's job is to bring the skier back up. Control and decision essentially remain with the skier - but the skier only has this choice if he/she is aware of it. Liliana has for a long time understood that she has to fall over into the turn - but from that point onwards the rest appears to be unclear. The ski is VERY powerful at bringing people back up. You can almost calibrate a skier's development by their ability to extend their dynamic range - how far they are able to fall over. Weaker skiers cannot fall over very much. After the fall line the power of the ski grows enormously - there is greater speed, the ski acts against gravity, the edge angle on the snow increases. The result is that the ski can quickly take over control and spit the skier out of the turn - without the skier having a clue that this is what is happening. The aware skier knows that from the fall line there has to be an increased effort to "fall into " the turn, towards the snow and towards the centre of the turn. This is why Upper/lower body separation is essential in shorter turns - because it allows the body to drop into the turn in ways that it cannot if the body remains "square" to the skis by just following them around. There is then an interplay that takes place with the ski loading up with even more power as the skier refuses to give in to it. This power can then be exploited to launch the skier back up and out of the turn over the skis and into the next one. If someone is not aware of this powerful effect of the skis then they tend to be unable to close a turn properly - which is what was obvious with Liliana working on the lower ski pivot. She quickly improved however until we ran out of suitable terrain and had to get on with skiing. I'm not sure how much Timothy understood but he did have a go at copying the exercises.

Timothy still managed a classic free fall dive on the steeps and it's not just stemming or errors in pivoting that cause this - it's a failure of dynamics both in and out of the turn. Part of this is caused by simple apprehension - but most is down to technique. Timothy can't be taken any place where a slide could be dangerous until this is sorted out. He was wearing a small backpack with shiny nylon material and I asked for this to be removed at lunch time as it potentially could make him slide even more if he was on his back.

 Cap Horn in Courchevel (The ship was rocking after being hit by a big wave)

Rodain didn't know how dynamics could be used in the bumps - but it is a seriously important part of bumps skiing. It's often said in bumps skiing the the upper body should remain motionless - but there is a powerful illusion at work here. If the skis go left and the body is made to go right then the body will remain motionless. If nothing is done with the body then it will go left and not appear to be motionless at all. There is very active body movement in the bumps and that is why the pole plant is essential. Although a bumps turn is a pivot very strong dynamics are required. There is not the speed that the skier would have in carving so to compensate for this and to permit the dynamics (the falling of the body downhill across the skis) a strong pole support is used in place of a strong inside ski edge and angular acceleration. Rodian took a while to understand the purpose of the exercises and although he managed to move the body well in the big bumps he would quickly abandon this and return to upright and less controlled skiing. What Rodian doesn't realise yet is that he might be able to ski fast now without technique but if he works on technique; dynamics and edge control, then eventually he will be very much faster if he wants to be - or very much more in control when the day comes that he weighs twice as much and his skis are twice as long. 

We had a brief look at Jeorge Joubert's "Surf Technique" but I don't think that Rodian followed this and I didn't stay for long on the subject. Basically the bumps turn is started with  both skis on the uphill edges and both knees pointing out of the turn while the body moves into the turn assisted by pole support. This delays the outside ski even longer in getting onto the inside edge and the knees are pulled inwards only on after passing the fall line. This improves dynamics in the bumps because it makes the skier much more supple. The technique was first observed by studying Ingemar Stenmark in slalom. He used this to conserve speed in soft  snow.  Perhaps we will come back to this tomorrow for a while.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Victor Day 4

Day Four

Bumps Special

Timothy & Liliana
The sum total of snowfall over the past two days (and for the whole of February so far) is now 1cm and the sun has returned. Tim didn't let this discourage him from skiing off-piste...

We started off today at the very top of the Télécabine du Saulire  on a steep red piste with a little work on pivoting prior to visiting some bumps. I explained to Liliana that pivoting was to be used for "fall-line" skiing, that the body travels straight down the hill and there is no movement of it across the hill. It is literally "pivoting" around a point that travels straight downhill. Travelling across the hill happens when the skis edges lock on and the skier accelerates. You don't want this to happen in a steep narrow couloir, in bumps on on a steep narrow path or anywhere steep that is dangerous and where you can pick up unwanted speed too rapidly to control. Liliana still has a stem and a twist of the foot from about the middle of the turn. It looks like she is getting the first part of the turn correct but then loses it when the ski accelerates downhill even for a fraction of a second. This is probably caused by tension. Normally it's the first part that most people don't get. 

Tim desperately wanted to ski on a black run but I refused for safety reasons and headed over to an interesting bumps run instead. Half way down the bumps I realised that the piste beside it was a black one. The actual piste had good grippy snow on it and was empty of people so it was in fact much safer than any red or blue overcrowded and icy piste in this place.

Tim was quite comfortable in the black bumps even though they were much bigger than him - and he was at ease on the black slope too. Later on though I took him onto a much steeper off-piste section though not too high and with a smooth run out at the bottom and he blew it! His refusal to listen to explanations of ski technique meant that he stemmed and placed his uphill ski on its inside edge and then stepped on it like an accelerator. On black slopes that aren't too icy you can get away with that but on 50° + slopes you can't because you build up a lot of speed - yes, even little boys do when they go into "free fall" and that's hard to get back under control. I was below Tim and he stopped before reaching me so it wasn't a really big fall, but hopefully it will get him thinking about technique.

Rodian wanted to go straight to the black bumps - so we did. Unfortunately Rodian has it in his head that only speed counts and at the moment that means sitting back and surviving...

It wasnt until I studied the video in the evening that I realised that he had completely stopped using his poles in the bumps despite our lesson on pole use the previous day. You can see in the photos that the poles are simply trailing behind. The poor boy in blue also has his poles trailing behind but he is not skiing quite as dynamically as Rodian. If you look at how poor the stance of the boy in blue is then what Rodian has to realise is that his "sitting back" is the bump skier's equivalent of the boy in blue. 

Elsewhere Rodian is still skiing "lazily" by bracing against a stiff outside leg. He can get away with this because he is still small and very light - but he won't get away with it forever. We skied on a lot of steep ski pisted off-piste today and I didn't want to keep on telling Rodian the same technical things because he only has a few days to ski - so skiing is the main priority - not exercises. Having seen the complete absence of poles in the bumps though - something will have to be done about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Victor Day 3

Day Three
Timothy's warming up technique...
Day three started off with a continuation of the poor weather - "no sun and no snow" - but Timothy had not eaten breakfast and was probably not wearing enough clothing so after just one descent he was cold and needed a hot chocolate to get himself warm...

Uphill/downhill body motion
Icy and crowded slopes with no off-piste or other possibilities available makes it hard to work on technique. Timothy and Liliana's needs are quite different too. We skied a few runs just keeping out of danger and Liliana worked on dropping her Centre of Mass  (CM) into the centre of the turn a bit more and then using the CM to initiate the following turn. I held Liliana so that she could feel how much it is necessary to drop into the turn (and how to do it) and we had already worked on the "turn initiation" part of the pivot. I found that demonstrating this on a gentle slope I could use the poles behind my body to support me "dropping in" to a static position (skis not moving) then with a push up from the poles the body would move up out of the turn and then the skis - still on the top edges -  could commence the next turn just due to the downhill direction of travel of the CM. Liliana copied this exercise reasonably well, which showed me that she understood what we were trying to do. The move I'm looking for here is that the body is made to move back uphill or down into the turn during the control phase of the turn - towards the end - then at the very end it comes up and off directly downhill - continuing downhill at the start of the next turn. This gives a feeling of the body going downhill/uphill/downhill/uphill etc. while the skis go out to the side around and back in again in front. The feelings can be separated out completely. In reality the body is travelling with the skis but the directional impulses can be separated out.

Skiing Backwards
Nobody was willing to attempt 360° spinning - which I like to do to teach edge control in a playful way. This reticence was overcome by skiing backwards for a while - which led to Liliana doing one very nice spontaneous 360°.

Timothy Skiing Backwards

The snow might not be great near La Tania at 1400m altitude but the view certainly is and the trees are always a pleasure to ski in.

Snowless view from Meribel 16th Feb 2011

In the afternoon I took Rodian on a hunt for interesting places to ski, but apart from some bumps at the sides of the pistes there was not much out there. We nevertheless covered a considerable mileage and skied to both extremes of the Meribel valley - up to 2950m altitude at one point. We had a bit of a rush to get back home which led to some creative and interesting skiing off the side of the pistes.

Loading up the Ski
Rodian tended to lock his legs out to save energy instead of bending and dropping his CM into the turn. I tried to get him to understand that by dropping deeply into the turn you could load up the ski much more and make it more powerful. This was demonstrated with short carved turns but he didn't really understand. As a result Rodian continues to ski fast but quite statically. It's almost impossible to carve however in the icy conditions without skis being freshly race tuned - and carving teaches the required feeling better than anything due to clear feedback.

Slightly more successful was an attempt to get Rodian to use his poles properly in the bumps. The video clip shows him skiing without using the poles and then with the poles - using them to lead the CM into the turn and then being able to turn more effectively and tightly as a result - even though slowly at present while learning. He still hasn't quite realised how much support can be gained form the poles so we need to work more on this.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Victor Day 2

Day Two

Timothy & Liliana
Day 2 and Timothy had clearly thought about his lesson in the bumps the day before because he was side-slipping and starting his turns parallel ("pulling inwards") even on steep terrain right from the start. This is not really a surprise because as far as I can remember Timothy was not taught to turn with a snowplough and any stemming that he did do was spontaneous and not encouraged.

Liliana on the other hand was constantly making a small stem - both Liliana and Timothy are seen in the first few scenes of the video clip. To try to deal directly with this stem - which is probably unconscious - I asked that between each turn a short traverse on the uphill edge of the uphill ski be carried out and the turn started by moving the Centre of Mass into the new turn from this position. Liliana was able to do this without trouble but it's unclear if she could really perceive the difference. It is impossible to stem when starting a turn in this way.

Liliana is still recovering from a very nasty ski accident last season so it is great to see her rapidly regaining confidence here and already skiing relatively fast on the piste but with a lot of control.

The afternoon was spent with Rodain with a view to improving his bump skiing - if we could find any bumps in the fog. Rodian's English is very good now which makes communication effective. He has developed into a very capable skier and despite not skiing very much during the year he appears to forget nothing that he learns. His body awareness is very good because he is able to change and adapt rapidly to very difficult demands. This is the first year that I have tried to teach Rodain "compression" turns for bumps and he could do this immediately. I have encountered internationally (ISIA) certified professionals who cannot do this.

Bump skiing is best initially learned on flat snow with a shallow gradient. The compression turn is a pivot turn executed by exiting the previous turn (or traverse) with a large amplitude flexing of the legs - to 90° at both the knees and hips, followed by a full extension of the legs into the trough (hole) after the bump. This is a complete reversal of standard timing. It requires a strong support from the ski pole and a delayed changing of edges at the turn initiation with excellent upper/lower body separation. We worked for a while  developing this timing on the flat where it has to be exaggerated and there is no management issue present in dealing with actual bumps.

To help indirectly with the bump skiing I wanted to sort out something else that had been bothering me about Rodian's skiing. He was bracing against the outside leg and leaving it behind in the turn during long radius or carving turns. I told him to bring the outside foot forward and to bend more at the hips with the upper body facing slightly more downhill - all of this with a view to being able to lower the body (CM) further into the turn towards the end of the turn. To help with this I had to physically hold and manipulate him until he could feel the appropriate position. Once he understood this he was able to do it in skiing immediately - the "before" and "after" video scenes are included above. This repositioning of the body/feet and the ability to lower the body more into the turn had Rodian saying that he could feel the skis turning more strongly. This improvement would also help him to control his upper/lower  (U/L) body separation better in the bumps. 

For the pivot and bumps we worked at getting the turn to initiate with the "downhill facing upper body" coming over the skis (keeping them on the uphill edges) until the skis slipped into the turn automatically. This was to stop Rodian from lifting the lower ski - a fault caused by not bringing the Center of Mass over and into the new turn enough. 
Previously (for long turns) I had succeeded in getting Rodian to lower the CM down better into the turn to build up pressure and control his turns better but now from this same relaxed position and stance with good U/L body separation he now needed to come back up out of the turn and continue  out over the skis (without changing edges) and use the pole as support downhill. He was able to do this correctly in the exercise and easily slipped into his new turns - but he didn't manage to keep this working when actually skiing in the bumps. This motion of the CM into the new turn has to happen regardless of the timing used  (skating or compression). With the compression turn the CM falls into the new turn from a very low position and this can be difficult to achieve to begin with - it takes a lot of confidence and the impact and compression of an actual bump helps to make this natural.
To further improve the coordination for upper/lower body separation I had Rodian do a difficult exercise where he had to ski on one ski only but meanwhile hold the other ski up in the air with the tip constantly pointing downhill. He managed this very well. This exercise also improves pivoting skill in general.

We did some pivoted turns with skating timing so as to clarify the difference between the standard (skating) "down/up" timing and the compression "up/down" timing. Rodian handled this tricky issue very well and his successful results are included in the video.

We did find a few cloud free bumps to work in and were able to go fast enough to get the bumps to cause the "compression" of the legs and create a rhythm - instead of artificially creating the compression on the flat by retracting the legs. Rodian was still too much on the accelerating inside edge of his ski at the start of the turns but at the end he managed to stop this and us a braking pivot - from uphill edge to uphill edge all the way down the bumps - while controlling his U/L body separation. His only shortcoming was that the CM was being held uphill a bit too much and so not contributing the turn initiation as much as it could - but better bumps would have helped with that.