Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jim & Ian Second Day

Day 2
My favourite quote of all time is from General Douglas MacArthur who paraphrases the poem “Youth” by Samuel Ullman

"Youth is not a period of time. It is a state of mind, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, of the taste for adventure over the love of comfort. A man doesn’t grow old because he has lived a certain number of years. A man grows old when he deserts his ideal. The years may wrinkle his skin, but deserting his ideal wrinkles his soul. Preoccupations, fears, doubts, and despair are the enemies which slowly bow us towards earth and turn us to dust before death.
  You will remain young as long as you are open to what is beautiful, good, and great; receptive to the messages of other men and women, of nature and God. If one day you should become bitter, pessimistic and gnawed by despair, may God have mercy on your old man’s soul.”

So starting to learn to ski at age 54 is - well - absolutely ideal!

I was suitably informed this week that I'm as expensive as a Parisienne tart - but more fun! Well  I checked up and at 500€ per hour my rates are well off target! The fun part I can agree with though.

Peisey Nancroix (Les Arcs)
Day two started a bit late and we used the bucket lift up from Peisey Nancroix to Peisey Vallandry. This quaint experience is fine for those who don't have a car - or for those who just want to get to know Peisey - but otherwise I'd recommend driving the extra bit up to Vallandry. 

We started with a bit of a warm up run, especially important for Ian because it was his first time leaving the security of the relatively small and friendly St Foy environment.   I've always found the motorway pistes of  Les Arcs overcrowded and the lift queuing long and stressful and this day was no exception. Ian clearly found his introduction unnerving as he didn't feel in control enough to dodge all the people. I knew that this would improve as his skill and confidence developed but had to point out that all of this stress was one of the reasons why people ski off-piste instead. The methods being learned here guarantee a rapid and natural transition towards off-piste because there is nothing to change to be able to cope with it.

Turn Exit Dynamics
Following on from yesterday I stuck with the plan to develop the dynamics with respect to exiting the turn (or traverse). Jim hadn't managed to take much benefit from the work we did yesterday because his movement pattern was completely overwhelming everything that he tried to do, but I had realised by the end of yesterday's session that this next step should be able to break the grip of his current movement pattern. The explanation of the turn exit dynamics had to be repeated several times to iron out any confusion.

Revising "turn initiation"
Yesterday we worked on exercises to improve the ability to stand properly on one leg, with the focus on the turn initiation. Basically you do a turn on one ski - the outside ski in the turn. For the next turn you switch skis from the start to the end and this process repeats. The turn is simply carried out on one ski and on one leg - and this principle does not change.  Today the focus though would be on the turn completion and its various complexities. (I'm deliberately ignoring here the issue of including a "traverse" stage between turns - just remove it for the purpose of clarity)

Jim's difficulty had manifested itself in the transition from one turn to another. Yesterday the instruction was to stand up strongly on the uphill edge of the uphill ski in preparation for the following turn. This would have worked but for the fact that both Jim and Ian were unable to stand securely enough on this edge to be able to separate out the different stages of the process. With such a situation it can take a few days of practise and development of this exercise to be able to get the full benefit from it. We did not have enough time available for that and needed a more direct response to Jim's situation - so that he would not continue to repeat and reinforce his current habits - which involved initiating the turn by standing on the lower ski, displacing the uphill ski outwards (uphill) in a stem and then moving the CM outwards towards the outside ski, consequently transferring weight to the outside ski in this manner and then stepping the inside ski alongside and finally pushing both heels outwards and sideways in a braking action. Standing solidly on the uphill edge of the uphill ski prior to the turn does prevent this movement pattern - but only if the skier can actually stand up on the ski (being on the uphill edge means that it's impossible to push the ski outwards - and the CM must move into the turn instead to create an initiation)
 View towards La Plagne

Turn "Transition" - the mental picture
Bringing our focus to the turn "exit" would inevitably cause a certain amount of confusion because a mental picture of the process needs to be constructed. It's best to think of a motorbike on a flat road to develop this picture. The bike drops downwards and into the centre of a turn (turn initiation) and rises back upwards and out of the centre of a turn (turn exit). Place this on a slope and the picture is immediately complicated. We have to see the turn end and beginning as being across the hill and the flat slope is then inclined so that we still have the motorbike picture but with the bike completing the turn in the perpendicular to the slope - which is now not vertical. On skis this would make the skis flat when momentarily travelling across the hill (not on edge as they would be in a traverse). The skier would be fully upright and also standing perpendicular to the hill - but in an unsustainable position because he is already falling downhill as he is not in the vertical. This is why the turn transition has to be viewed as part of a dynamic process - and cannot be fully treated as a static position. The transition involves the exit from one turn and the entrance into the next. The two cannot be separated because of the involvement of gravity and the fact that one turn ends with the body already having fallen beyond the vertical. When this aspect of dynamics is fully grasped then the turn initiation also becomes much easier as it is in fact practically automatic. This is still a relatively simplistic view of the turn transition but it should transmit an understanding of the key aspects that are relevant for the moment.

Circumvention or circumcision? 
Jim had perviously been taught that the skis should be flat when facing straight downhill and that is actually correct for a "pivoted" turn - which we were not concerned with at this stage. (This should have happened spontaneously with yesterday's "uphill edge" exercise but it didn't!!!) (Actualy I briefly taught Jim the "Pivot" in January and explained it on the blog - so I suspect that he is re-interpreting his initial teaching from other sources). A correctly executed "pivot" requires the skier to avoid allowing the skis to change edge until they reach the fall line - but Jim was actually changing the outside ski's edge prior to even starting his turn due to stemming the ski outwards and placing it on the inside edge. In addition Jim had been taught to stand up high and allow the skis to pivot into the turn - but this timing is actually incorrect (causing him to step the CM directly outwards onto the stemmed ski) although it is taught almost everywhere around the world. My aim today was to avoid and circumvent all of this stuff and exploit Jim's positive approach to skiing in a way that would prioritise giving him effective dynamics and good timing. This circumvention would probably feel more like circumcision to Jim and this is where his enormous appendage might pose a significant disadvantage. Ian had none of those mixed up issues to deal with because he had only been coached by me previously and was progressing smoothly.

View towards Beaufort mountain range

Exercises and demonstration
I demonstrated that the skier had to rise up out of the turn completely on the lower/outside ski towards the end of the turn. This motion had to go beyond the vertical and continue right out to the perpendicular. To demonstrate this I had to use my ski poles so as to not fall over when standing still across the hill. The skis should end up flat on the snow and at this point the legs switch so that now the skier stands on the flat uphill ski and can continue to fall into the next turn dropping the CM downwards and into the turn centre. I pointed out that in giant slalom racing on many turns the entire transition including the entry into the following turn are carried out only on one ski - the downhill one - though this is not intentional, it is the result of the dynamics. I demonstrated a few turns exaggerating this and when watching both Ian and Jim copy it was obvious that they had understood even though they might not have been entirely clear on the subject.

Rhythm and Line
When Jim got it right his stem disappeared completely and Ian found that he could flow much better and begin to develop a rhythm for the first time. I pointed out that it was important to avoid "braking" actions and that speed had to be controlled simply through the line and direction of the turn - being able to stop just by continuing or tightening any single turn. The dynamics should flow from one turn into the next and this generates a natural rhythm. Both Ian and Jim started to feel and enjoy this rhythm due to their efforts to exit the turn by bringing the CM up and out over the lower ski. Control is gained in a counter intuitive way because by exiting a turn dynamically, although you are "falling" downhill it means that the next turn starts much more easily and sooner - so more control is gained. Ian spotted the counter intuitive nature of this effect by himself. It's to Ian's credit that he appears to be well attuned to the "self realisation" nature of skiing at such an early stage in the development of his skiing. The great thing about "self realisation" is that it's an open book with no limits - it 's not about the skiing.
Skating Timing "pressure cycle"
We had attempted to integrate "skating" at various stages already but nothing had worked so far due to both Ian and Jim being unfamiliar with coordination on one leg. Once both had established a rhythm in their dynamics I asked them to now observe the pressure cycle beneath the feet; how pressure would build up under the outside ski/foot and then suddenly disappear during the turn transition and then slowly build up under the other foot increasing more rapidly towards the turn completion but then suddenly disappearing again in the next turn transition. This pressure cycle feels exactly like skating - even though you are not skating. This is a clue to the correct sensations of timing. It is particularly revealing when you feel that it is "happening to you" instead of you trying to do it. Both felt this clearly and really enjoyed the sensation over the course of a long gentle pathway where there was a proper opportunity to focus without worrying about steepness or other people. Shortly afterwards Ian skied down his first red run without even realising it was a red.

Increasing Dynamic Range

From the outset I make it clear to people that the job of developing skiing is all about increasing the skier's dynamic range. Perhaps it's also about dynamics awareness. Most people don't even realise there is an issue concerning dynamics. The only people to have any clue normally are racers but to them it is interpreted as "difficulty staying in a racing line". Racers, through trial and error respond and adapt to the physical constraints of gates by increasing their dynamic range. This adaptation is largely down to natural selection. If racer is however at some point taught dynamics then that totally levels the playing field and natural selection plays only a minor part. Race coaches do not consciously teach dynamics - they simply do not understand even Newtonian mechanics well enough. If you hear a coach talk about "balance" or in French "equilibre" then you know he knows NOTHING other than how to replicate the conditions of natural selection that favoured him and wiped out all of his competition.

Traversing and Sideslipping
Ian was struggling with traversing and side-slipping on steeper slopes because he had never been taught how to. Jim wasn't over confident either in this department. On a steep slope I demonstrated how to roll the feet uphill and get the skis firmly on edge. Both were able to traverse with a slight carving effect uphill, holding the skis on edge. Ian had to be shown how to turn his bottom to face slightly uphill so that could move his hips more uphill instead of his tendency to force his knees uphill and his hips downhill - rotating his bottom to face downhill and stiffening his lower leg. It only took a few minutes of practise for both Ian and Jim to understand and feel this. The side-slip was introduced by maintaining the same position but reaching downhill with the downhill ski pole to give confidence to move the CM over out over the skis and reduce edge grip - so as to slip downhill. I prefer to teach edge control and side-slipping this way because it improves awareness of the key roll of the Center of Mass. I pointed out that by moving the CM slightly backwards the side-slip would go diagonally backwards - and the same forwards again by moving the CM.

Dropping into the turn
Physically supporting Jim I had him "sit" down into my arms with his body facing slightly downhill and his skis across the hill. I stood uphill and in fact I wanted him to drop down, relaxed and to sit slightly on my knee - with his bottom facing slightly uphill.  This "total relaxation" is the correct feeling for dropping the CM into a turn - it gets the CM down and inside the turn rapidly. It can only happen when the skier does not "push outwards" locking up the hip joints and "resisting" with all his muscles during a turn pushing against a non-existent imaginary centrifugal force!
This posture is linked to the body positons and edge control used in the traverse and the side-slip.

I used Jim's ski poles to pull him downhill. Jim held the handles while I pulled the ends. Standing side on he could not resist the pull downhill but turning his bottom uphill he naturally dropped downwards and into "the turn" (we were not moving) and could easily resist my pull. Ian repeated this exercise correctly.

I explained that the key was to sink down like this through the turn so that pressure would build up on the skis and the "lifting up" power of the skis would be increased - to then be exploited right at the end to lift up and out of the turn - the "turn exit" dynamics. The skier has to be aware that those dynamics have to be created - there are no race gates to impose those rules by force or natural selection. 
Both Ian and Jim got it and felt the increase in control.

The final run back down to Peisey was in relatively poor conditions so neither Ian nor Jim had their best run of the day - but that is to be expected as conditions play a major role when learning new skills. It's always ideal to end up with really good feelings but it's not always possible.

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