Friday, December 30, 2011

Jason, James, Mike - in a blizzard!

Stepping out of the door this morning (in Aime at 700m altitude) my trainers sunk into a foot of fresh snow - every skier's dream situation of course but when it's dark, 6:30 am and you have to clean your car and drive 50km up a mountain, dodging snowploughs, buses and everything else that can be thrown at you, then you know the day ahead will be long. In reality I managed a fast ascent without any lateral drifting of the car on the hairpin bends - but only because there was a lot of oncoming traffic and I didn't want to become too intimate with any of it.

Who is this mystery skier? 

We all met at around 08:30 am in the Gourmandine café and were out on our way to the Olympic lift at 09:00. Audrey was stopped by a call from work so we left her behind. During our ascent of the Face the wind suddenly picked up to storm force and the lift was closed. At the summit the Securité des Pistes were altering the information board and had only the runs down to La Daille open. The wind was driving snow with great force and it was obviously going to be a slog to get down to the level of the Follie Douce against this wind. Once at that altitude and aspect we would have relative shelter from the wind coming from the North West. The wind was so hard that it was difficult to breathe at times - a very odd sensation when it happens. Faces were plastered with ice and even making progress downhill was difficult at times. Eventually we reached the Follie Douce and were able to ski the rest of the way down in fairly deep snow on the piste. 

Deep Snow
My initial advice was to use the dynamics learned the previous day. When we had skied for a while I mentioned the use of a seated stance to get the knees and feet ahead of the body (and to keep the skis downhill for pivoting effect). In addition to this I rapidly explained about the pushing forward of the outside foot during the turn and how it would work the ski harder - more proactively - instead of just standing passively on the ski waiting for it to work. Most people found that this immediately made the turns sharper.

In the video Jason shows great natural feeling for the rhythm and rebound of the skis - which is related to skating timing. James is not far off this too but thwarted by a wide stance and having the weight too far back. Mike makes a good effort and is quite lively with improved dynamics. Huw is a bit too passive - waiting for the ski to do the turning instead of using the legs to generate a more rapid pressure cycle. This is largely due to leaning on the back of the ski boots and not accurately relating to the perpendicular.

Feet Introduction
After lunch, still indoors, I gave a rushed explanation of the use of the feet. Normally people go through all of the motions - feeling what is strong and weak etc. On this occasion there was unfortunately no space for that. I showed how pressing down on the big toe and "steering" into the turn with it caused the ankle to collapse and the foot to twist outwards, the knee to collapse inwards and the foot to go onto its outside edge. The clearest way to overcome this tendency is to stand on the heels and rock the feet from edge to edge with the subtaler joints below the ankles. I also explained that it is possible to create a similar result by standing up on the balls of the feet and activating all of the feet muscles. When the foot is rocked onto its inside edge then it actually twists slightly away in the opposite direction of the turn.

On the hill when introducing the use of the feet I did it along with the seated stance, rocking the feet and moving the centre of mass all in the same direction. We removed the skis to stand facing downhill so that the seated stance would not cause any falling backwards. I particularly wanted James and Huw to develop this combined active use of the feet, adductors and movement of the centre of mass. In both cases they are probably impeded due to getting lower leg pressure on the back of the ski boots when skiing.

Short Swings / Jump Turns Introduction
Once the basic movement had been achieved I added a jump - making it into a "jump turn" - first of all without skis. When the jump turns are linked together with a bounce/rebound they are called "short swings". The jump is mainly from the lower ski and requires a solid pole support. Nobody could initially get any pressure on the pole so the jump turns were made hard due to the jumps all being towards the vertical instead of the much more effective and easier "perpendicular" (to the mountain).  Using a pivot and holding each person in position - with the hips pushed uphill and the shoulders downhill  - moving the centre of mass downhill towards the pole - each person felt how this pulled the skis into a pivot (while the body shape kept them on the uphill edges - allowing the skis to slip into the turn). We looked at how to hold the poles correctly.

Everyone was still failing to prevent rotation at the end of each turn and to anticipate the following turn. To improve awareness of this issue we did single pivots on steep ground but finishing them off by stopping with a solid pole plant and angulation - ready to fall between the pole and ski tips into another pivot. This "anticipation" appeared to clarify how to link the turns. The angulation toward the end of the turn is used to both keep the centre of mass effectively inside the turn and also to get it effectively out and into the next one.

Hockey Stops - Linked Hockey Stops - Hip "Pull Back"
To make the "anticipation" position stronger we practised hockey stops and then linked them together in the fall line. There was still a lot of hip rotation going on so I suggested pulling back the hip as the foot was pushed forward and this did reduce hip rotation and created stronger angulation in general. The "pull back" of the hip is linked to a natural walking action as described in Audrey and Huw's first post a couple of days ago - though I didn't explain the walking context on the mountain this time.

Jason, James, Mike - Day One

Today's session started off in the clouds, wind and snow at the top of the Vert training run. The first part of the edited video here is a record of each skier's skiing prior to changing anything. For me it's important to observe each member of the group for strengths and weaknesses prior to deciding exactly how to kick off the lesson. All the skiers were basically strong so "dynamics" would be a good place to start. Mike was clearly lacking dynamics in his skiing, Jason was pushing his feet from side to side and James was failing to grip with his skis (particularly the right foot) - all key dynamics issues.

Dynamics Introduction
I explained the basics of dynamics  - showing that "transferring" weight to one leg by moving the centre of mass over it was "statics" not "dynamics" - and so was a movement in the wrong direction. Dynamics is the physics of "disequilibrium" - Newton's second law: Force = mass x acceleration. To get serious pressure on a ski you have to accelerate your centre of mass away from it - towards the turn centre. The ski itself will then continue the process of angular acceleration - providing a countervailing force to sustain the disequilibrium.

Static exercises were carried out by each skier against my shoulder which acted as a substitute force to replace dynamics - so the correct movements and feelings could be established. We then moved on to do some swings to the hill in each direction with dynamics and then to linking turns - the body following the skis for simplicity. The analogy of a motorbike turning was also used to start to impress on everyone the down/up timing required. 

I explained how the ski grew in power as dynamics (and edge angle) increased and that the ski lifts you up out of a turn. The skier's job is to fall over and the ski's job is to bring the skier back up. We rated each other on the ability to fall over - Audrey scoring the highest with 5/10. The number one thing a skier has to develop is this "dynamic range". The skier's limit is not how well he/she can stay "in balance" - but how far over he/she can incline. We then had a long ski to La Daille to practise.

Skating Introduction
Skating started off with a short race which Jason came close to winning after accelerating hard past me - just leaving me enough time to react and catch him before the end. The skating ability shown in this short race was a good predictor of the level of success that the skating exercises would have with each individual. We started off just doing basic skating step turns - with diverging skis on very gentle terrain. This progressed to three steps, two steps and finally one step during the whole turn - and eventually into parallel skiing with the full skating rhythm and timing. The down/up leg action of skating resonates clearly with the down/up cycle of dynamics for the Centre of Mass. Jason connected well with this exercise. I explained to James to use the adductor muscles on the inside of the leg and to roll the foot onto it's inside edge so as to get the skis to grip better.

Timing Introduction
Timing was fully explained in a snowplough with a neutral phase. Neutral is with a high stance. - and the skis flat pointing across the hill when skiing parallel. The turn had to start with the start of the bending of the legs - and the bending had to continue until pushing back up into neutral close to complete the turn. This exercise has to be done slowly to be able to separate all the parts and to avoid flipping the timing to up/down motion. The pole "touch" was also briefly explained - linked to the down motion at or after the start of the turn. (This is not a "pole plant"). I stopped people doing it because they all turned into "nodding donkeys" instead of keeping the arms still and upper body and just using the wrists.

Slalom Introduction
Slalom was introduced with a view to focusing on technique with the physical constraints of the poles and the clock to give useful feedback. Jason lost his dynamics completely the first time, James was limited by rotation and Mike improved due to stopping his usual contrived contortionist act when he was fighting to survive in the poles. Audrey got her fasted time ever by two clear seconds thanks to the work she had done on preventing rotation.

Pivot Introduction
To give a more complete picture of skiing skills I decided to introduce Pivoting from the uphill edges with a pole plant. I explained how once again the adduct-ors were used and how the uphill foot had to slide onto its lower edge while the ski stayed on its upper edge - the shaft of the boot holding the ski on the upper edge. This allows the adductors to smear the ski down the hill  smoothly and easily. I showed how either ski could be used or even both with the feet together. The feet come together to keep the skis below the skier and access the top edge. In racing a wide stance helps to access the inside edge of the ski early in the turn, but the pivot is  braking turn with the skis always on the uphill edges and so the feet together - as seen in elite bumps skiers. The pivot turns were still initiated by a small dose of dynamics - but not enough to cross the body over the top of the skis - so the skis actually get pulled downhill along with the body as well as the adductor muscles. I demonstrated pulling the tip inwards against a ski pole jammed in the snow and showed how different pulling inwards with the adductor is compared to pushing the heels out

Bumps Introduction
We briefly went into the bumps to show how the pivot is natural with the tips and tails of the skis in the air when on the shoulder of the bump. Bumps are formed by pivoting skis. Bumps cannot be mastered without great control of rotation - so this was an opportune moment to mention this issue for the first time along with upper/lower body separation. 

Off Piste Introduction
Returning to Val d'Isère by La Face it was an opportunity to go off piste slightly and for the skiers to experience dynamics in off-piste snow for the first time. Dynamics is a powerful tool for getting through difficult snow conditions - but you have to keep yourself down and in toward the turn centre near the end or the ski will lift you up and spit you straight out of the turn too soon - just like getting thrown out of line on a slalom course. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Audrey Solo

This morning started off with the sight of a weirdly overturned car in the narrow lane next to where I park in Val d'isère. I suspect that Huw might have done this to vent his frustration at his skiing yesterday. As it happened Huw didn't turn up today and so I had only Audrey to work with.

Our first task in the morning was the daunting prospect of finding suitable new ski boots for Audrey - bunions, wobbly ankles and "women" fitting etc. After measuring the feet I went straight for the Nordica Dobermans and it worked. Unfortunately the boot shells would have to be modified during the day so the boots weren't available for the day's session. Later on, during lunch break we modified Audrey's existing boots so that she could at least stand up without the quads burning. The design of the boot seemed horrifyingly wrong - with a strap pulling the back of the leg forward - very, very wrong!

Turn Apex and Slalom
Today we started out (after a brief jaunt off piste) with a warming up of the legs in slalom. I explained that a more ideal timing for skiing crud corresponds to that of a race course, with the apex of the turn at the side  (where a slalom pole would be) and not directly below the skier. Slalom is an opportunity to develop this perception. In this manner there is a less dramatic need for angulation because you are not trying to hold onto a turn for so long - but the overall speed is a bit higher - ideal for racing of course but also ideal for blasting through crud.

Assorted Off Piste Conditions
After the slalom we did a couple of off-piste runs where Audrey handled it very well despite having no previous experience of such mixed conditions. The only fall was when she was spat out of a turn on some very steep terrain - a classic "rotation" issue.

La Grande Casse - seen from Val d'Isère

Bumps and Pivoting
After lunch we worked on control of rotation by sideslipping down very steep bumps - then moved onto pivoting on the bumps. Audrey then was able to start pivoting with the lower ski (or both skis). One way to develop this skill is to lift the lower ski and swing it off down the hill - diverging the skis. Audrey was being left behind at the turn start though and the ski could not swing without the tip flying up in the air. We then worked back on the piste at keeping the tip down and lifting up the heel instead to centre her better over the support foot. 

This lead to the need to leave the pivot and work for on dynamics with "inside edge" turns instead. It became apparent that Audrey wasn't clear how to get the body though neutral (flat skis across the hill) and move over into the next turn without doing weird things with her shoulders. Eventually she started to understand that simply removing the lower ski was enough to cause a weight transfer to the upper ski and simultaneously  topple into the next turn. 

Up/Down Regression
Returning back to bumps on the Face de Bellevarde it became clear that when it was steep Audrey's timing reverted back to her old "up/ down" turns - and she would shoot off out of control on the steeps. We finished with a skating exercise to try to bring home the difference between timings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Audrey / Huw

The day started out by testing the skiing of Audrey and Huw on a steep piste. This was partly a response to some technical question Audrey was trying to ask but couldn't quite communicate clearly. Lack of angulation and excessive rotation, plus a tendency to stay in the vertical and not use the ski poles - were all evident and captured on video. Audrey and Huw needed to be properly prepared for heading out into deep, unpredictable wind pack and crud. We set about working on developing the appropriate skills. Technical work commenced with a brief look at walking and at how the spine, hip and leg functions are coordinated. We rapidly established that neither Audrey or Huw knew how to walk.

Crescent moon over the Rocher du Charvet at the end of the day.

Walking (Opposite with a twist!)
Using ski poles I showed how, with the aid of gravity, we can walk efficiently and how the lower spine twists (up to the rib cage) to allow the hip to follow the foot left behind the body as you fall forwards. Walking is all about how you get one foot behind the other! In skiing however the support  foot is not able to move behind so there is already a problem for using the body in the way that it is designed to be used. In addition the support foot is not in a fixed place on the ground. It is almost certain that anyone pushing a ski forwards (to tighten a turn) while extending the leg will also allow the hip to follow forwards and for the spine to twist in that direction. During the extension of the leg the hip should really be moving backwards and the spine twisting in the opposite direction. This movement has to be learned in skiing - it prevents the hip from following the foot and thus rotating the upper body into the turn - it aligns the hip appropriately beneath the centre of mass (in relation to overall resultant forces) and from a muscular perspective also. 

Perching the entire upper body on top on one hip joint so that it is free to move is not an easy business. It requires the pelvis and upper body to tilt down slightly at the front and then to swivel around. This is aided by pulling inwards with the adductor muscles on the support leg - keeping the hip joint tucked in beneath the centre of mass.

Audrey showed that if I physically pulled her downhill and she resisted the pull - she would go into a correct hip alignment - though she had a tendency to buckle at the waist instead of resisting the force. My intention was for her to feel the correct sensations so that she would know what they were meant to be.

The hip being pulled backwards actively provides an effective upper/lower body separation and an opportunity for angulation to be developed if the upper body is tilted forwards from the hip at the same time. This angle permits the body to sink more deeply into the turn as the lifting force of the ski peaks during the final loading up of the forces in the turn. In crud this is necessary to prevent the ski from spitting you out of the turn if it suddenly breaks through and digs into the snow - at least this is the case if you are closing/finishing the turns to control speed. The angulated body then "anticipates" the following turn and this provides and agile and rapid way to get the Centre of mass back out of the turn and over into the next one. An upper body rotated (following the skis or facing inwards during the turn) cannot be so agile for making adjustments to deal with unpredictable events as there is limited flexibility sideways with the body.

Jumping (Swing)
Appropriate to developing angulation and control of rotation we applied all of this to "pivoting". The sideslipping nature of pivoting provides the perfect context to develop both control of rotation and angulation. I introduced jumping to start the pivot in the air - a skill which is very useful in crud! The jump gets the legs more active increasing vertical motion - the swing of the front of the skis is helped by gravity and the "two footed" jump (mostly lower leg) helps to improve timing and swing of both skis simultaneously. A good pole plant downhill aided by angulation helps to set up a launching platform.

Solid Pole Plant/Support with Pivot
Neither Audrey nor Huw were managing to get any significant weight downhill onto the ski pole. I asked both to get more weight on the pole by starting to turn from a static position by lifting the downhill ski so that weigh fell onto the pole and the uphill leg. This permits a very strong and rapid pivot from the uphill ski. It also shows that with the body and pole in the right place you can go from holding the body strongly uphill  to pivoting downhill just by removing the support of the downhill ski.

We had a brief excursion through the La Daille trees. Huw baulked at the steepness of some of the bumps. The intention had been to use the bumps to provide a practical context for the work we had been doing - as bumps are formed by skiers using precisely those qualities.

Both feet below the body (close stance)
I explained that even visually the skis need to be kept below the centre of mass (with respect to the geometry of the mountain) to be able to start each pivot from the uphill edges of the skis.  During a pivot the skis always work on their uphill edges so there is always a breaking effect. The edges change when the ski points straight down the fall line. The actual dynamics are identical to any other turn but the feet and skis are kept below the skier so the effect is very different. Standing in a steep couloir you want your feet to stay below you even when you turn.  When facing downhill, adopting a seated stance gets the feet and knees downhill of the body - with the centre of gravity still passing through the feet. This stance - with the femurs less upright - also permits a rotation at the knee joint (cannot mechanically happen with an upright leg) and also more leverage for pivoting the skis.

Right from the start of the pivot the uphill foot has to roll onto its lower inside edge - with the uphill ski (turning ski) remaining on its upper outside edge. This feeling with the foot allows the adductor muscles to be actively used in assisting the pivot by pulling the front of the ski across into the turn - like spreading butter with a knife. 

Attilla and Vedat Boxing Day Off Piste

Started the morning with catching the Cugnai chair for an epic start to the day off-piste. One guide had beaten us over there with one client but otherwise we had fresh tracks on unskied snow. Atilla, certain that the only way to control his speed on steep terrain was to lean way-back against his ski boots gave a great demonstration of how this does the very opposite from what he expected! Atilla's linked recoveries were excellent however!

I explained how the hip has to move backwards as the ski advances through the turn. There is a tendency to follow the foot with the hip, leading to "hip rotation" and this has to be actively countered. Doing so allows the body to sink lower into the turn to resist the build up of forces towards the end of the turn. This in turn gives greater security - and real control of speed. The ski boots should not be leaned on - neither the back nor the front.

In crud it's best to alter the timing of the turn and make the apex over to the side (where a slalom pole would be in a race course) This reduces an excessive build up of pressure towards the end of the turn and increases pressure out to the side where it is manageable. Atilla's timing was fine, but due to the weight being too far back the skis would just shoot straight out of the turn downhill rather than load up under pressure and send him back across the hill. After his first wipeout I asked him to complete his turns more so as to stay under control - but the real solution is to get off the back of the ski boots. The other issue with Atilla is that he is letting his legs get pinged about by the skis instead of actively moving his centre of mass - this is another aspect which leads to control loss - because the key to real dynamic skiing is always in the deliberate motion of the centre of mass.

The other thing is to keep both skis together to make a single pivoting platform and try to keep them both below the body on the mountain at all times. Both Atilla and Vedat are relying a bit too much on racing technique (inside edge of outside ski - with dynamics) and a wide stance - which although it works it is not the most versatile approach. 

One key to successful skiing in crud is to commit to completing the turn on the lower ski allowing the body to be lifted by the ski right out into the perpendicular at the end of the turn. If the skier has the courage to do this in unpredictable snow then it guarantees a successful entry into the the following turn - even if the turn is closed completely (instead of making the apex early as mentioned above). If you get it wrong and a turn spits you up and out too early as you close it off - then just turn that into the start of another turn in the other direction. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Atilla and Vedat - Christmas day Off-Piste

Off Piste in wind packed snow is tough - but Atilla and Vedat are strong enough skiers to enjoy it - and to use it to improve. Atilla loved going though the trees where we found softer snow and Vedat appreciated other spots where we found hidden untouched powder.

 Smiling faces coming out of Le Fornet woods.

Atilla has a tendency to brace his outside leg and stiffen up in when on steeps and in difficult snow and to lean on the back of his boots. This also makes his body rotate so he has a danger of being spat out of the turn on occasion - which does happen! His rhythm, timing and dynamics are solid and have remained ever since being taught the natural skating timing and the direct link with dynamics. Vedat has a tendency to stiffen his legs too and to leave his feet behind. To counter those issues I explained how to stand in a more flexed manner - like sitting on a chair facing downhill - the centre of mass still passing through the feet due to the geometry of the mountain. I did an exercise with Atilla so he could feel the seated position without falling backwards. Despite this it was Vedat who understood and it dramatically changed his skiing when he finally realised how to bend his legs and keep his feet ahead as a result

 Mont Blanc in the setting sun.

Derren Appraisal

Derren skiing beautifully - in a storm!

I remember when "skating" suddenly clicked for Derren - when she was tiny! She has never lost the feeling and her timing still looks great and natural. The only change is positive. She looks more fluid, faster and more relaxed than ever.

She needs to work on the "pivot" so as to be able to choose which edge to use to start the turn and be able to have the option of skiing with a narrower stance - but that's not essential for the time being. She also needs to become a bit more aware of dynamics (to continue improvement) as she occasionally moves slightly in the wrong direction to pressure the ski.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bugra Family Day 5

Hulya started of the day by accepting my proposition to come up the beginner's chair. Her coordination had progressed well and so it was time to get some mileage. The real issue is that there is nowhere in this part of the Alps where there are long very gentle pistes so that someone progressing like Hulya can continue unaided. I knew that Hulya would be able to handle being supported by holding onto a pole beside me. The idea of this is that I do all the work and manipulate the skier - causing sideslipping and pivoting by the way I pull and push the skier. This method only works with "pivoting" and parallel (or diverging skis) sideslipping and not with any snowplough or "stemming" (converging skis). The skier learns by feeling what happens with the forces and dynamics of the turn. The process is simply repeated until the skier can do more and more with less and less support. In Hulya's case there was a strong tendency to keep the body in the vertical when turning into the fall line. I explained that it was important to remain perpendicular to the slope - using my pole as a support Hulya was able to correct the fore/aft positioning to correspond to the geometry of the mountain. 

Later on Hulya practised on her own again and seemed to be able to correct some of the fore/aft issues by herself - she was certainly faster and more confident - but there was a bit of a stem creeping in - only caused however by the inside ski getting a bit stuck. The way to overcome this is to go back to skating/step turns again for a short while. In any case the pivot and the skate use different edges but the same muscle (adductors) coordination - with either parallel or diverging skis. 

Kutay, having mastered straight running and using the magic carpet to get back up the hill, now had to learn how to turn. First of all he had to still improve his "herringbone" climbing coordination. Five days is too long for developing this coordination and so it appeared that he either wasn't trying hard enough or simply didn't connect. Talking more sternly certainly got his attention - but didn't get results. Taking his legs and feet in my hands and manipulating them did get a result - and an "OK" from Kutay - it gave him the physical connection that he couldn't understand up until now. Kutay could now climb with a skating action (Herringbone pattern on the snow). The objective was now to get Kutay to skate/step in turns - changing direction and bringing each turn to a stop under control. After a few attempts he managed this and had his first way of controlling his speed in descending - with absolutely no snowplough.

Speed Shopping
Before lunch Bugra went into the ski shop and walked out in about 15 minutes flat with his own pair of Zag Big 178s with Rossignol rental bindings (for a very small fee) and a pair of brand new Head World Cup racing boots that fit like a glove.

Ilay, Defne and Bugra came with me after lunch up the Grande Motte up to 3032m altitude. Unfortunately the cable car was off so we didn't get up to the very top - but the sun was out and the view was pretty stunning anyway. The red run was well within Ilay's limits now. The time seemed right to start working on some more advanced technique. I filmed the skiing prior to changing anything - then began work on "timing". Correct timing means coming down into a turn and then back up out of it - the way a motorbike does in any turn. This is also how a leg works you go down and then push back up with it - and it's how skating works too. A turn on skis resembles skating in arcs - with the skier coming up out of the turn into the perpendicular to finish the turn. We did a progression from three steps around - to two steps and then one step per turn. Ilay did good skating step turns. Bugra and Defne were turning prior to stepping. Ilay had absorbed her coaching very well during the week. When we got to the single skate however Bugra got the timing very well and looked very natural - with independent leg action. He needs to ski like this a lot more. On the final descent we did a big section off piste on some steep ground and Ilay had no problem there - she looked very confident and had fun.

Bugra sacrificed his own learning to get his whole family up and running. The skating got him to ski more "one legged" and so to center himself better over his skis - plus the correct timing proved to be very natural for him. This is clearly the main route for Bugra to focus on in future to eliminate the bad habits which get in his way.

Kutay found himself in an alien universe with alien demands being placed upon him in every way imaginable - but he responded by adapting and becoming stronger every day. Patience is required at this stage so that only the correct coordination is developed and despite a slow start his progress was accelerating rapidly. It would only have been a short time before he would have been independent on his skis and skiing parallel. His very low body weight would have permitted him to progress faster than most adults once the initial coordination was in place.

Hulya demonstrated very good coordination and learning ability. She needs long gentle slopes to build up confidence. She was honest at the outset about having no desire to ski and was obviously not comfortable with the physical accelerations. In contrast to this beginning she appeared to enjoy discovering that she was able to make consistent progress and envision a clear way ahead.

Ilya impressed me the most with her final off-piste descent. She skied that steep off-piste like she had been doing it for years. That means for me that the combination of dynamics and pivot skills has really been taken on-board. Her attitude was wonderful - from the way she disciplined herself not to lose her poles and sit down when afraid to the way she handled her body in general, the cold, her emotions - everything. Impressive! 

Mont Blanc (4010m) Italian side - seen from Toviere

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bugra Family Day 4

Kutay seemed to have digested yesterday's dose of skiing and came out stronger today. He was able to descend from the top of the beginner's chair with holding my pole instead of being held securely in front of me. He accepted being guided into sideslipping and pivoted turns with me manipulating his body. Later he managed several solo descents of the small pitch near the magic carpet and eventually terminated by being able to climb up - sidestepping to the carpet and then get on a off by himself - and slide back down to the bottom.

His own words were "I'm good!"

Hulya, who yesterday looked like she was going nowhere fast, made the biggest improvement of all. She had gained reasonable control from skating turns so I decided to show her the other option - pivoting - initiating the turn from the outside edge instead of the inside edge of the ski. After supporting Hulya though several turns so she could feel it properly I left her to work on her own for a while. I explained that the feeling of pulling the ski across into the turn was like spreading butter with a knife - not a twisting action. Also - this process does not step from one foot to the other as in skating - the weight normally needs to remain on the outside foot from start to end of the turn. Hulya's progress was impressive and despite her discomfort with acceleration she was correctly pivoting with her skis parallel by the end of the morning - and skiing in control.

Today, with the improved weather and visibility, everybody benefited from a mountain top lunch at the summit of the Toviere. The mountain in the background of the family photo is Mont Pourri 3779m (only 231m lower than Mont Blanc - the highest mountain in Europe.

Ilay was still skiing confidently but sometimes she was letting the skis run away with her. We did some exercises while going towards La Daille, starting out with using the bumps for pivoting - tips and tails off the ground. I then added some more "magic wall" dynamics and then pushing forward of the outside foot - demonstrated with skis off. I emphasized that on the steep you have to move the body across quickly into the new turn and push the outside foot ahead quickly. We then went down a black run - successfully - though I didn't tell her it was black until afterwards. Eli's attitude was great - dealing very well with natural apprehension. She was trying hard to stay in my tracks - which is difficult to do - most people end up much lower on the mountain than me on each turn because they cannot complete the turns well enough. She did seem to get a bit tired towards the end of the day - but that's not surprising.

Bugra started to get some attention at the very end of the day. His main issue is that he still tends to push the leg out and get on the outside edge of the foot - stiffening instead of relaxing the leg during the turn. He is also too much in the vertical - not adapting to remain perpendicular with the mountain during accelerations downhill. (commonly incorrectly referred to as "leaning back") We worked on all of the appropriate opposite actions.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bugra Family Day 3

Kutay was flying today - but only supported between my legs. He liked the chairlift and enjoyed descending while being held but his coordination will take some time to develop. He needs exposure to other dynamic activities in general.

Hulya already shows good coordination and edge control but not much confidence just yet for dealing with small accelerations - that will come. It would help if there were less people around on the nursery areas. People's bodies tend to over-react to accelerations if they are not accustomed to them - but this always stops happening. All that is required is patience. Hulya was working on step turns - making the skis diverge. There is not artificial "security" here in the form of a snowplough so we have to allow the body to get used to the small accelerations before this works properly - the real benefit comes later on because no defensive blocking coordination is being learned. Hulya has a natural tendency to avoid standing on her left leg when sliding. This is perfectly normal for most right handed people.

Ilay until yesterday had never skied anything other than a nursery slope. Not only did she leap straight to blue intermediate runs but just one day later is skiing almost parallel on them. Ilay responds well to both the mental and physical challenges presented. I'd already asked her to swing the uphill ski into the turn, but now asked her to also lift and swing the tip of the lower ski into the turn. She was given an explanation of the "magic wall" and how to push against it (dynamics). She was told to push the outside ski forwards and we practiced hockey stops - which she quickly became proficient at. The swing of the tip of the inside ski creates a diverging or parallel stance and the hockey stop creates a parallel stance - all breaking the grip of the dreaded snowplough or stem.

The video shows Ilay using dynamics for the first time to make her skiing naturally parallel - she is trying to "fall over" ("magic wall" is an explanation I use for children instead of Newton's second law of motion!). While doing this she is also working hard at trying to actively diverge her inside ski.

Toviere (Aeroski on the right)

Glacier 3500m cable car seen from the Toviere - all closed and covered with storm ice and snow

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bugra Family Day 2

Kutay and Hulya continued getting used to skis by using a small "magic carpet" lift which only worked intermittently.

Hulya's Iced Skis
When sliding back downhill I supported one on either side holding onto a ski pole across the front of my body. Julia was hampered by ice sticking to the base of her skis but it took me some time to realise this was happening to her - and until then I thought that she was very tense and "resisting" the accelerations - but it was her skis dong the resisting.

Kutay's Frustration
The conditions were very bad with heavy snowfall which was a bit overwhelming for Kutay and made it difficult for him to move easily. Kutay became easily frustrated - but he enjoyed the speed when straight running. He just didn't enjoy the jumping exercises I gave him because it was a little bit hard to do - jumping up with two feet and swinging both skis slightly to one side.

(All the photos shown here were taken the following day  because the blizzard made photography impractical.)

We had started an hour late because a fatal accident on the road concerning a Tignes lift operator had delayed all the traffic getting to the ski stations in the morning. After lunch it was Ilay and Bugra who came with me and after one run on the beginner's slope we bought lift passes so that we could use the Pacqui lift to return to Val Claret (from Le Lac) instead of using the bus.

Ilay's Impressive Self Control
I told Ilay that she needed to stop dropping her ski poles when falling and that all she had to do to keep them in her hands was to chose to do so - likewise she could choose "not to sit down" when a little bit scared. Once aware of her own psychology she responded very well and took charge of those issues - no more pole dropping and no more sitting down when accelerating.

We went up Pacqui in a blizzard and Ilay never complained. This leads to the blue run from half way down the Toviere so I got Ilay to hold my ski pole for support and I skied her by my side - guiding her - all the way down.  This support allows me to pull her into a proper pivot when moving - so that she can confidently feel what it should really be like. We completed the descent with only one stop and she had lots of practice despite zero visibility at times. The only negative was that she became a bit cold so we went in for a hot chocolate. Coming out of the cafe we went up the Tichot chair straight into a blizzard again. This blue run is even steeper than the previous one but Ilay skied it entirely by herself and did a great job of it. This is impressive because she had never skied even a green (beginner's run) before by herself. This was a fairly steep intermediate run and she was competent and confident all along. Having absorbed the correct feelings on the previous run she was able to make it happen for herself on the second run.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bugra Family Day 1

Ilay started off with her snowplough technique and would only very cautiously and insecurely attempt to ski down the beginner's run in Tignes Val Claret.

Making Ilay into a real skier... 
To begin with we did some skating turns on the flat - changing direction incrementally. This is done to make the skis diverge instead of converge - guiding the skier away from the snowplough stance. We then worked on sideslipping and then onto basic pivoting into a turn from the uphill edge of the uphill ski. I did the exercise using the ski pole in the ground and pulling the tip of the ski against it - to feel the proper pulling inwards with the adductor muscles. Bugra tried it too but had a tendency to twist and "push" the heel outwards instead of pulling inwards with the adductor muscles. I supported Ilay through some complete pivots so that she would feel them. Bugra remembered this from before and was able to pivot quite well as an exercise. We added "jumping" to initiate the turns because this brings the skis together parallel in the air and is an exaggerated way to prepare for a pivot - the skis being completely off the ground when swinging them - instead of pulling against friction on the ground.

Kutay and Hulya - First Steps
Kutay and Hulya took over after lunch and as complete beginners we walked around on one ski for a while - changing skis and then going to two skis. Kutay's coordination was typical for a little boy his age and also his re-interpretation of my movements which he wasn't really able to copy. The main thing was to get him used to the skis on his feet and used to straight running and accelerations.

Hulya's coordination was very good for climbing with either a herringbone step (skis diverging) or a sidestep and she gradually became more comfortable with the small accelerations of straight running onto the flats. For both of the beginners the bodies reflexes were settling down and the over-reactions to the accelerations were disappearing.

Aprés Ski!
We took a long bus trip back to Val Claret from Le Lac and then I returned to my car to to get changed and go for a 10k run. It was cold changing but the run - around Tignes and across the lake both directions - was enjoyable. On returning I started the car and left the engine running while going back outside and closing the door - then "clunk!" - the central locking closed on me, shutting me out of the car with everything I needed inside the locked car - and the engine running! I found someone else leaving a car and borrowed a hammer - smashing a window to get back into the car. Leaving the car park I wasn't concentrating on driving so ended up spinning completely out of control on the ice and the back of the car ploughing into a snow wall - fortunately with no damage.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Luke Day Five

Another slow opening on the mountain - took the bus around to La Daille and used the old, slow and cold - but reliable three-seat chair up to the Follie Douce. This was Olive's first run beyond the nursery slopes and it was not ideal terrain for a beginner. With normal conditions Olive would have been able to handle this easily by now anyway - but the training had been extremely discontinuous due to the weather.

Olive was prepared for the steeper terrain through a brief explanation of the very basics of dynamics - basically when the pitch is steeper move your body more quickly and with greater commitment into the turn. In this case I also suggested a bigger movement into the turn. I hadn't said this to Olive earlier because it would have caused her to over-edge the skis (she had this tendency) - but now she had more of a natural pivot so increased dynamics would not present problems. Olive did very well and when the piste became narrower I added the "pushing forward" of the outside ski - and she immediately noticed that this tightened the turn radius. I explained how this pushing action makes the ski cut under your own trajectory more "proactively" and so makes the turn sharper. During this first ever descent of a proper run there was a steep narrow section where I asked for jump turns - just to ensure a proper pivoting action. Olive managed this well and Leonie practised it too. The run terminate with an excursion off-piste in deep snow - which was no problem to Olive with her little skis.

After a coffee break Luke and Ella came up the button lift to the Mont Blanc run and we started to work on increasing dynamics. I chose this because Ella had reverted to pushing her feet out - and the two things are mutually exclusive - you either move your feet or move your body. Ella found this tough to do in irregular un-pisted snow - probably because this snow is extremely unforgiving of any pushing outwards of the feet to the side! Going down through the trees in deep snow there were quite a few falls but also some brave attempts to use big dynamics to overcome the heavy packed snow. The skis can't pivot in such heavy snow so exaggerated dynamics is the only effective way through.

After Lunch at the Frutiere Olive took a tired last run and then returned home by the Olympic Telecabine. Luke was working on his fore-aft movement, having worked out that his shin injury was due to being left behind - not due to coming too far forwards. Leonie was still unstable because she was rotating a bit and more importantly being lifted prematurely out of each turn by the skis (those aspects are linked). Leonie's range of leg movement was also very limited. Luke was starting his turns with a rotation and being left in the "back seat" plus had postural problems with the outside hip being  thrown outwards on the turn (linked to the initial rotation) and then twisting the spine the other way to try to compensate - and then standing on the inside ski as a result. Against a wall in the funicular building I demonstrated how the body should sink down into the turn and - how angulation is achieved by the altering relationship of the body to the mountain geometry (and gravity) - in this case by fixing the feet in position and then turning the body (instead of the other way around when actually on skis. Leonie understood this best and when following me was able to seriously increase her confidence and hence her speed - reducing rotation and so being able to sink down and keep the body inside the turn more effectively until coming up deliberately to complete the turn. Leonie was probably benefiting a lot from the clear feedback from her new ski boots. Luke with his need for a wide boot - and always having been fobbed off with "bigger" boots - had understood that the lack of appropriate feedback and support from poorly fitted and soft boots had eventually probably caused him to injure his shins. The lack of clear feedback and support is probably a major reason for developing the tendency to be "left in the back seat" - but now the correct new boots with clear feedback were helping him to understand why he was all over the place "fore and aft". There is a strong tendency for the body to remain "vertical" instead of coming perpendicular to the slope - and good boots will certainly help to make this adaptation to the perpendicular.

Finally on this last day we had been able to get a reasonable amount of skiing done despite a late start.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Luke Day Four - Black Flag Day

Today was the first time the black flag - signalling maximum avalanche risk - has been put up in Val d'Isère for almost 10 years.

Eventually Luke and Leonie caught up with me at the Gourmandine some time after 11am - I'd been in there since 8am having driven up early to avoid traffic problems - the road had improved though. There were still several enterprising overtaking manoeuvres made during the climb so as to avoid getting stuck behind crawlers and those who are simply afraid to overtake anything and prefer to start convoys by preventing everyone else from overtaking (by not leaving enough space).

Tignes Odyssey
We drove to Tignes having heard from two sources that the Tichot lift was open as it had been the previous day when everything remained closed in Val - but we were disappointed on arrival to find it closed. The car park had about a metre of snow in it so it was totally blocked both for vehicles already in it or those like us needing to park. Luckily a snow blower machine entered just ahead of us and cut a single path which we followed. When the machine doubled back he went to the side of us and cut a spot for us to park. We decided to at least use the nursery slopes here for a while and look at some technical stuff. Basically, we worked on pivoting because both Luke and Leonie were rotating their bottoms around the turn while stemming the skis and neither had any visible angulation.

Luke's complete lack (even perhaps negative) of angulation during a traverse!

I was hoping that avoiding rotation might help Luke to improve his stance and so protect his shins better. Luke also worked on standing up on the ball of the foot to extend the ankle slightly and lift the shin off the front of the boot. I made sure the difference between twisting the foot and pulling inwards with the adductor muscles was understood. Leonie found it hard to separate standing on the inside edge of the foot and outside edge of the ski at the same time - but all it really needs is to be able to keep the ski clearly downhill of the Centre of Mass. 

After a few runs we decided to head back to Val having heard that there were runs open at La Daille. I dropped everyone off at la Daille and went to park and return by bus. Our timing was lucky and we quite rapidly met up again and went up the Funicular together. Luke realised now that his sore shin had come from being "left behind" (often described incorrectly as "leaning back") and not from pushing on the front of the boot. Until now I'd been confused because normally shins get hurt by pressing on the front of the boot  - not from getting on the back of the boot - but Luke's stance was visibly too far back so this started to make sense. I got Luke to adapt to accelerations downhill by moving forward to get perpendicular to the slope. When he gets stuck in the vertical he also picks up the tip of his inside ski and gets the tail jammed in the snow. We worked on picking up the tip instead and this appeared to help him become aware of the issues- and reduced the pain on the shins.

Static Wall Exercise
Leonie worked on trying to separate the rotation of the leg in the hip socket from the rotation of the upper body. We did this by using a static exercise with skis off - basically swinging a leg from behind the body with the foot pointing outwards, making and arc in the air/ or snow surface, so that the foot comes round to face inwards in front of the body. Leonie couldn't get the leg to swing around like this and the whole body would rotate instead of just the leg - but the difference gradually started to become clear. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Luke Day Three

The mountain was practically closed today - with only the nursery area open and the funiculair for a short period. Leonie found some good boots. Surprisingly it was the thoroughbred Nordica racing boot - the "Doberman" that was not only the most comfortable but completely sorted out all of Leonie's stance and alignment issues automatically. It's the first time I've been seen Leonie standing up and supporting herself and also the first time she has had a boot that will allow her to grip with the inside edge of the ski - stopping her knees from collapsing inwards.

Creating Angulation
The only technical work today was a brief spell with Leonie looking at how to orient the body correctly for angulation as required in both sideslipping and most turning. Yesterday we noted that Leonie tackled sideslipping with her bottom heading off downhill causing her skis to flatten. Correct angulation however is not quite as simple as just turning your bottom uphill. With Leonie's improved stance with the better boots it was relatively easy to get her to stand up and tilt the upper body from the hips only - then to turn the upper body to face downhill by pivoting on the hip joint - thus creating an apparent angle at the hip when looked at in the direction of the skis (the direction they are pointing in). This angle is a major contributor to edge control - and motion of the centre of mass. The main reason Leonie has been unable to use her poles for pivoting is because of the absence of this "angulation". Leonie found the correct stance for setting up angulation in only a few minutes but I don't believe that this would have been possible even with hours of work in the old boots. Skiing requires the upper body to be perched on one hip joint at a time - and able to rotate on it. There is a slight flex so that the leg muscles relax with a more equal distribution of force over the hamstrings and quads. The upper body must tilt forwards slightly taking the pelvis along with it - so it feels like you are bending to look over a fence that you cannot touch and get quite near enough to see over (this may mean standing up on the toes). Finally there is a pull inwards of the adductors on the support leg to get the hip joint underneath the centre-of-mass and the opposite hip (and shoulder) is slightly raised. When posture and/or boots are all messed up this is neigh on impossible to explain - but can happen spontaneously when the conditions are approximately correct.

Driving down the mountain took 2hrs 30m - two avalanches blocked the road and had to be cleared by snowploughs. There were deep ruts in the ice on the road and further down the mountain the ruts had rivers of water flowing through them. Sitting behind a snowplough for part of the descent the cars coming uphill were being hit by a an oncoming bow wave of slush, water and ice from the plough - it was very, very messy. I was impressed by the handling of the little Peugeot with its two snowtyres.

One night's snowfall!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Luke Day Two

Olive Morning
Olive's first run today was on the main nursery slope with the chairlift. Instead of traversing across the path at the top steep section we immediately started to work on sideslipping. Olive held onto my ski pole and remained above me on the slope so that I could control her. After a few descents of the steep section she was already quite steady and could be helped to move diagonally forwards or backwards. Her top ski started to diverge uphill slightly without me saying anything and that's a good sign. People who have learned snowplough never do this - they always desperately try to point the uphill ski downhill and this causes endless problems. With Olive never having learned snowplough there was no hint of this type of defensive and inappropriate action. We also practised sidestepping down - so that Olive was aware of this option.

Part of being able to sideslip is keeping the weight mainly on the lower ski and avoiding turning the body to face uphill for safety. To help to develop the right feelings I had olive start to do jump turns - with a swing of the skis in the direction of the turn when airborne. This can't be done if your body is facing uphill. On landing the skis have a tendency to pivot and turn in a way closely resembling the sideslip (spreading butter is a good analogy) - the skis brushing off speed by going partially sideways. Olive continued to improve and was able to pivot successfully on steeper pitches. She was also gaining confidence on the gentler pitches and was happy to glide quite fast.

Olive Afternoon
Right from the start of the afternoon session Olive was able to sideslip from the top by herself. With her renewed energy she was keen to go by herself though she had to be warned that the top part would be too steep and that only sideslipping would work for her at the moment. Everyone else joined in the session and everyone made the mistake of turning the bottom downhill instead of uphill when sideslipping - it was a very revealing moment. Everyone needs to work more on this so I'll be looking at this with greater priority tomorrow.

Luke, Leonie, Ella
We only managed a handful of runs together due to timing and weather issues. Partly due to the challenging snow conditions Luke was bracing against his outside leg and going quite stiff at the hip. I wanted him to try to become aware of all that tension and resistance. Difficult snow requires a stance that resembles being "seated" - but with the seat facing downhill - so that you are not falling backwards when there is no support underneath your bottom. A seated stance facing downhill will still cause your centre of mass to be directly above your feet - relative to gravity. This is necessary in chopped up snow because it gets the feet ahead of the body and the femurs more horizontal - so that if there is a sudden deceleration from a bump or patch of deep snow the legs will push the skis through it - and the knees can be pushed up in front of the body to absorb shock. 

We worked on using the poles to get right over the lower ski to be able to then pivot from there into a new turn. Everyone has been failing to allow the body to come out of the previous turn right over the skis with the support of the pole for pivoting into the next turn - the pole use is very weak in all cases. Conditions are however limiting the time spent on exercises and the variety of exercises we can do.

Leonie seems more comfortable at having a go at offpiste - the Zag skis are no doubt helping a lot. 

Luke Day One

Today was Olive's first ever time on skis. Despite having no previous experience of any similar sports Olive had a very positive and confident attitude. She adapted rapidly to the accelerations and new coordination. 

To introduce Olive we used a standard process of walking and sliding on one single ski - on the right leg to start with. (She is right handed). Later the ski went on the left foot. Which ever foot the ski is on we step around on the flat in a large circle turning in the direction of the other support foot. (Ski on the left foot we make turns to the right) This is a form of  "step turn". The step turn was then continued on the flat with both skis on - and with changes in direction. The skating stance was then used to climb uphill (herringbone). Olive was immediately comfortable with straight running downhill - then adding parallel steps off to each side while straight running to get used to dealing with standing on one leg while sliding. The parallel steps were then taken into diverging steps to make turns and then to link them into several turns. Olive rapidly understood that her control of speed came from completing turns and that the last part of the turn was important to complete and the hardest because of the need to fight against gravity. 

Once comfortable with the step turns we switched to pivot turns. I asked Olive to hold onto a pole and physically assisted her through a pivot so that she could feel the ski turning from its top edge. Olive was able to use this feature immediately and within a short time was making linked  parallel turns on the gentle terrain.

After a break we went up the small chairlift and I assisted Olive both getting on and off the chair and on the descent. The aim was to get Olive familiar with slightly higher speeds and to physically help her to start to feel the appropriate sensations of gliding and turning. Her left foot and leg was being slightly uncooperative at times - but that's normal so I didn't focus on that. After a few runs like this we wandered over to the button lift. Olive was immediately able to use the lift and to get off at whatever height I indicated. Within half an hour she was able to use the full height of the lift and to descend without falling or losing control - through traversing and the use of pivot and step turns where appropriate.

Luke, Leonie, Ella
In the Afternoon Ella, Leonie and Luke came together up to the top of the Solaise. It was clear that everyone had retained some of the technical changes from last year. Luke's skiing looked solid and well organised, Leonie was well composed on the easy slopes but Ella had slipped back a bit towards pushing her feet out to the side. When we went on to the steeper runs down the Solaise to get shelter from the weather, everybody started to struggle and all the weaknesses became apparent. I had begun by asking everyone to pull inwards with the adductor muscles - of the leg standing on the support/turning ski. Ella had looked the least stable due to her "pushing out" so this was a good place to start. Everyone had to think about it for a while to be clear that it was one leg - from start to finish of the turn. On the steeper ground this becomes more significant because it is a key to successful pivoting and control of speed. Everyone to some extent was stemming out the uphill ski to then get on its inside edge - which I pointed out immediately became an accelerator pedal. It was necessary to stand on the uphill ski - on the uphill edge - and sideslip downhill pulling the tip (or tips of bothskis) down and into the turn (adductor muscles). This is quite scary to begin with but it keeps the speed down and allows the ski to pivot much more rapidly than if it is on its inside edge from the start of a turn. 

Walking out of hip rotation
Leonie was rotating quite a lot and then accelerating across the hill - which makes the pivot difficult to achieve so I decided to start to tackle the rotation issue by looking at how the hip was functioning. Ella demonstrated how NOT to walk by lurching her foot and hip forwards in a great step. Using the poles for support I showed how by standing on one foot and letting the body fall forwards against the poles the other leg could just swing freely beneath the body and then the foot just dropped to the ground beneath the body. The foot left behind on the ground should also have the hip turning back towards it. When skiing the point is that although the support foot is pushed forwards the hip has to still move back - exactly as in walking correctly. When this is done then rotation disappears. The rotation is partly caused by the hip following the foot forwards. This helped Luke control his rotation better too and reminded him of what it felt like when he used to push his skis outward to the side in a braking action.  That's because braking "face downhill", "pushing the ski tails out" is another way to sometimes effectively hold the hip back in place - but with dramatically different consequences. Most of the time though it causes the hip to also push outwards and for the posture to collapse.

We finished the day with a frustrating couple of hours failing to find appropriate ski boots for both Leonie and Luke to buy. They both had quite a clear idea of how to recognize a good boot by the end. I drove home and went immediately out for a 10k run in the slush, ice and snow with a headtorch on - finishing at 10pm, tired but having enjoyed the run (release of stress) and working on my own mechanics. It's "my time" during the day - when I'm in communication with only my own body - and it didn't feel like a chore at all.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gareth's Progress (Professional Skier)

Tignes today Friday 9th - looking more like a ski resort.

Worked on Gareth's technique for a while today. His skiing is looking much tidier - especially the pivot turns in the bumps. The carving looks stronger too. 

Timing (Pivot)
As technique progresses the focus shifts to different aspects. Gareth's timing was not quite right for the short turns. When moving faster things were better due to reacting to the forces - but when moving slowly there was a clear problem. The turn was being initiated during the "up" movement instead of the down movement. Correct  timing involves each turn being like a motorbike turn - down into the turn and back up out of it. It's very easy to flip this around by mistake - particularly as ski instructors are actually taught to do this as a default action. 

When carving Gareth Gareth still exhibited a large "A frame" and dropping of the inside arm behind the body - linked to rotation. The outside leg still had a tendency to be left behind and the hip joint locked up. 

To deal with the "A-frame" we worked on simply pulling the inside knee over towards the turn centre - something that has to be practiced until it feels natural. Gareth was able to to this to good effect. I pointed out that when doing this you can also face the upper body inwards into the turn - however it's not obvious how this is achieved and it's not really visible to skiers who are not aware of it.

To advance further with the other aspects it was clear that a different approach would be necessary so it was time to see if I could exploit some of the work on barefoot running and cycling technique that I'd been focused on during the summer. The crossover with those activities being clearly relevant.

Walking for Skiing
First of all I looked at Gareth walking and he made the typical mistake of reaching ahead with his foot and hip. We worked for a while at changing this so that instead he was reaching behind with the support foot and dropping the other foot just below the body - not in front of it. The point is that the power and extension of the hip come as the leg extends and to facilitate this the hip moves backwards with the spine twisting all the way up to the rib cage. Once this was being felt we then transferred the action to the support leg in skiing. The problem is that when you push the support ski ahead the hip has a tendency to follow it - but it should be going backwards relative to the foot. It's easier to achieve this in walking because it's what the body was intended to do with the leg extending behind it. In skiing the leg extends from a bent over or seated position so that it isn't behind the body. The trick is to get the hip to work as if the leg was going behind. When walking or running the foot is fixed on the ground so even though it might have to be learned the whole action is 100% natural. In cycling or skiing the foot is not in a fixed position and the hip tends to follow it - so we must be aware of the need to make it go the other way. Gareth could immediately feel much stronger and more stable at high speed. 

Core Muscles
The new hip action also explained how it is possible to face the upper body towards the inside of the turn. In fact the belly faces the outside ski as the hip is pulled back but the spine twists so that the chest faces inwards instead. This action activates the core muscles strengthening the entire body - especially for powerful carving. When it comes to pivoting and more vertical down/up movements this hip position allows the skier to be aware of the active use of the powerful glutes and hamstrings through the extension - so as to not be over reliant on the weaker quads (knees) doing all the work during the extension. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How to Fly

Yes - it's now officially white!

Webcam HD Lac - 2100 m -

Running in Snow - "barefoot" style
Went for a run in snow for the first time with Merrell Trail Gloves this evening. The snow is nice for "barefoot" running technique. Starting to build up distance and to get a little faster over the 10k but still a long way off proper running pace. The aim is to avoid injury and build up slowly and patiently this time to see how far I can take this technique  - and whether or not it really protects against injury. I'm not mad enough to run properly barefoot in snow but apparently some people do - and they say that due to the extra blood flow to the feet there is no problem when running. I find that a little bit hard to believe though and wouldn't like to spend winter recovering from frostbite instead of skiing. 

Nasal Breathing
Despite running faster today I found that nasal breathing was easier than  last week - perhaps due to feeling less tired after more recovery time than usual. There does seem to be a connection between fatigue levels and ability to control and sustain nasal breathing. Breathing just thorough the nose protects the lungs from the cold air and filters out most bacteria, viruses and other rubbish in the air before they get into the lungs. The body is busy producing CO2 and by constricting breathing slightly this resets the body's CO2 tolerance levels and the higher this goes the better for everything from physical performance to health. CO2 paradoxically is the hormone which determines how much oxygen is released to your tissue and organs - the higher the level absorbed into the blood the better. Our cells need about 7% CO2 to function but air contains only 0.03%. Next time some dumbo talks about CO2 as if it was pollution please ask them to get an education . When cellular life developed on Earth the air was 7% CO2 and that's how cells still work today. Your lungs are CO2 reservoirs - so don't blow it all away with big breaths - that only gives short term benefits at the cost of long term improvement.

How to fly
In ChiRunning and Pose technique they are keen to avoid pushing off with the foot at the end of the stride - but Gordon Pirie in his book "Run fast and injury free!" states that you should push off. Some claim that part of the issue of calf pain comes from pushing off. The main principle is that pushing off isn't necessary because  propulsion comes from gravity. To me it seems like both ideas are right to some extent. You have to extend your ankle and bend at the forefoot to lengthen the stride to the maximum. This extension uses the anterior tibialis in front of the shin and it contracts the calf muscle. It seems to me that proper contraction of the calf muscle can only help with circulation. The active ankle and foot really extend the stride and make you feel like you are flying - but without any significant effort. Gravity is pulling you downwards so as your centre of mass moves forwards the only way to prevent it from losing height is to push off with the foot - more upwards than forwards. Some forwards push must be involved just as a reaction to gravity toppling you forwards - the fact being that your centre of mass would just go straight downwards and not forwards if there was no resistance at the foot on the ground (like slipping on ice). In fact it isn't necessary to push off as such but to counter the component of gravity that is converted into a horizontal backward force. This means that the "push off" is passive and carefully controlled - not a direct source of power or acceleration itself. Calf pain is much more likely to be due to a forefoot strike and using the calf to absorb the landing impact - because this is an eccentric contraction (muscle extending while load is applied) and that stresses the muscle much more. It's the eccentric contractions in running that cause muscle pain when developing fitness compared to cycling where there is no eccentric contraction or related pain. 
The anterior tibialis is a key muscle for use in skiing. Ingemar Stenmark famously stated that it was this muscle he felt the most when skiing. It is a good feeling to actively use it when completing the stride and a good way to develop strength and awareness.