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.

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