Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cagla, Elif, Dilshat

Without warming up each skier was filmed prior to instruction so that I could see how they were skiing and decide on which subject to commence the session. All the points noted below were immediately obvious and so "dynamics" was chosen as a key issue to start the session with.

Cagla's Skiing
Cagla's skiing was at a comfortable recreational level with good posture and nothing seriously wrong but clearly limited by technique. The following is a list of main limiting issues observable in relaxed skiing...
  • Stem at turn initiation due to a displacement of the uphill ski.
  • Blocking of motion of the Centre of Mass by the lower ski at turn initiation.
  • Transfer of weight to the outside ski at turn initiation (wrong direction for Centre of Mass)
  • Static legs with flexing at the ankle and a possible twisting of the foot into the turn (uphill ski)
  • Upper body rotation
  • Inside hand dropping down and back with the body rotation
  • No upper/lower body separation
  • No hip angulation
  • Very little inclination or active use of dynamics (Centre of Mass)
  • Very little awareness of ski edge use.

Elif's Skiing
Elif has a natural movement pattern probably due to having had very little instruction in the past and just feeling things naturally. Her skiing was probably the slowest of the group at this stage.
  • Slow speed stemming
  • Two footed heel push to the side
  • Static legs
  • No upper/lower body separation
  • No hip angulation
  • very limited dynamics (use of Centre of Mass)
  • lower back posture not ideal for protecting the back

Dilshat's Skiing
No surprises here. Dilshat has worked hard on technique over the years and the results are obvious. Everything is basically in the right place and functioning correctly providing a good base for future development. The major area for development is in dynamics - especially the turn completion where the rise up out of the turn is weak with the lower ski not being used effectively to bring her up and out of the turn. Posture could be improved to protect the lower back. Her ski jacket is very nice though.

Dynamics Part 1
Dynamics had to be explained from scratch. The goal of the skier is not to "balance" it is to "fall over" - to the side - when moving forwards. The fallacy of the concept of "balance" was explained on the chairlift - and how this leads to incorrect instruction. 

It was demonstrated that in traditional teaching, from the snowplough, the weight was placed on right ski to go left and left ski to go right. This requires a "transfer of pressure" to that ski which in turn requires the Centre of Mass of the body to be placed over that ski. Each person was encouraged to feel that in transferring weight to one leg the Centre of Mass had to move towards that leg. This means that to go left the centre of Mass would go right. The point that needed to now be demonstrated was that this was precisely the wrong direction to move the Centre of Mass and that this is the main cause of lack of development of most skiers taught in ski schools.

Standing to the right of Cagla I asked her to lean against my shoulder and push hard. The harder she pushed the more pressure increased on her left leg. This exercise was to show that if she wanted to turn right , then by acceleration the body to the right she would create all the pressure and support necessary from the left leg. Of course I wouldn't be there with my shoulder to support her, but when moving forwards the angular acceleration provided by the skis would replace the force that I was artificially providing. The point being that this is the opposite direction of motion of the Centre of Mass from that which a skier seeks when trying to balance. The faster the skier tries to fall into the centre of the turn the greater the force will be on the supporting "outside" leg. I explained to Cagla that the "outside" leg was the leg on the outside of the arc being made by the skis on the snow. When standing still I encouraged Cagla (then Elif in turn) to move rapidly against my shoulder to feel the pressure on the foot instantly. Then I encouraged slow movement to demonstrate that exactly the opposite would be felt with the pressure going on the other (inside) foot. Acceleration is the key - and acceleration is the exact opposite of "balance" in mechanics.

Everyone managed to apply this "dynamic" with a simple turn out of the fall line from straight running down the hill. After practising this a few times we then made whole turns and then linked them. Elif immediately caught on and her skiing became much stronger. Cagla could feel how easy skiing became, but later she would become confused with her body returning to what it had been conditioned to do over a 10 year period - moving towards the outside of the turn!

I also explained the "invisible magic wall" as another way to think about dynamics and that fact that the harder you try to fall over (against the wall) the more secure you actually become - but you have to believe in the magi or you will not try hard enough.

I explained that dynamics is under the skier's control - the decision to "fall over" starts the process and the ski brings the skier back upright - but only if the skier allows it to and stops trying to fall inwards. If the skier however is not aware of the need to actively "fall over" and then choose when to come back upright - then the system itself will dominate and the skier will not have the same level of control.

I demonstrated what a developed dynamic range looked like - with short carved turns so that they would have a visual reference and both Cagla and Elif immediately increased their own range in response.

With the dynamics only just understood we took the opportunity to go straight into the slalom course. The first run was just an introductory run but Elif showed her competitive spirit straight away by overtaking me in the course as I was demonstrating a slow and safe line for learning. Cagla had been reluctant to try but I assured her that she would be fine and that the idea was not to "race" but to use the course and an objective way to develop her dynamics - with the idea being to move the Centre of Mass of the body towards the flags and develop the dynamics range. The speeds of the three skiers in the slalom was clearly a reflection of the dynamic range of each skier - with Dilshat inclining the most and so travelling the fastest and most securely - but still in need of much greater dynamics. Dilshat's posture however looked much better in slalom than when free skiing. Cagla was obviously uncomfortable in the slalom because her body started to move in the wrong way - the CM going outwards. It was only later in the day after repeating the basic dynamics exercises that the confusion started to disappear.

Dynamics Part 2
Once the dynamics had been practised for a short while I explained that there were two parts to dynamics - getting into a turn and then getting out of it - like a motorbike in a tight corner. I would have liked more time to deal with this issue but really just wanted to get the basic idea across because it can have quite a dramatic effect for certain people. The idea was to stand on the lower ski until the body had come back up out of the turn - but beyond the vertical and right over to "perpendicular" with both skis flat on the snow. This makes full use of the lower ski's ability to bring the skier back up (something that Dilshat had not been exploiting even in slalom). I demonstrated this with a slight exaggeration of movement so that people could see that I stayed on the lower ski until I came right up out of the turn and almost fell into the next turn on the same ski.

We spent a short time on skating because if dynamics is the number one thing in skiing then skating is number two. Cagla's skating on the flat was fine but Elif needed to pull in with her adductor muscles more ( like squeezing a ball between the knees) to hold the skis better on edge and prevent them from slipping outwards. This is where it is necessary to develop the relation ship between edge of the foot and the edge of the ski better - but we had no time to work directly on the feet. I showed that skating downhill and adding a bit of dynamics (falling to the inside of each skate) was actually "skiing". Each of the skiers showed a good natural feel and rhythm with active use of the legs the first time they tried it. I explained that the down/up leg action of skating complements the down/up action of dynamics (down into and up out of a turn) which complements the down action of the "falling" and the "bringing up" action of the skis. It's all about resonance, rhythm, getting in tune and identifying those feelings and the right feedback. This is the main area where Dilshat is lacking by missing out on "up" action at the end of the dynamics and the active use of the legs here - but she wasn't around for this part of the lesson.

Outside Edge Pivot
There is a third element of skiing that is extremely fundamental and which is completely ignored in ski teaching - and that is that there is a choice of which edge is used to start a turn. We looked at the pivot turn on the uphill ski - from the uphill edge. I have covered this many times now in previous posts so I won't explain it all here. I taught how to feel the adductor muscle pulling inwards and how to pull the top ski into a pivot using assistance from this muscle. Both skiers performed the pivot reasonably well at a first attempt. It was explained that this is how to manage effortless short turns on steep narrow pathways etc. It was also shown that the feet had to be fairly close together to have the uphill ski on its uphill edge and that this is why bump skiers and off-piste skiers ski with the feet together - they do not want to initiate a turn on the inside edge. Racers have the feet further apart so that they can access the inside edge of the uphill ski as early as possible.

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