Monday, December 31, 2012

Dee, Eve, Connie - day 2


Dee seemed a little more confident than on day one, having come to grips with “perpendicularity” at least well enough to get off the chairlift without any dramatics. I suggested that she try her first turns by herself but it was clear that it wasn’t working too well. It does take time for most people to learn how to pivot from a relative “beginner” stage. We returned to me providing the support with a ski pole held across between us as a bar for her to hold onto. Immediately there was an obvious improvement from yesterday – but there were still problems.

The real problem was that as Dee’s skis pointed downhill she would panic and sit down. I explained that the body wasn’t a passenger on the skis and the moment it was allowed to behave like a wet noodle then the skis were out of business. The solution to this was to “stand up” (perpendicular to the skis of course). Eventually when the penny dropped and Dee realised that she hadn’t been standing up it led to a giggling fit  - which I couldn’t avoid either.  After this there was a big improvement and I was able to support Dee through the pivoting much more easily. We had earlier done some pivots where I had my skis off and gave a very solid static support, but now it was working when moving together.

In the past when I’ve only had an hour per day with someone doing this exercise I’ve found that three or four sessions of allowing the person to absorb the right feelings and then they are off on their own – never returning to the horrible snowplough and its inappropriate coordination.

If Dee isn’t filmed or photographed here it’s because I’ve been busy holding her up instead. The photo below is Connie and Eve with Mont Pourri directly behind and Mont Blanc in the distance.

Eve and Connie  had a warm up while I was with Dee and they practiced yesterday’s material. Eve was suffering from a nasty cold and had painfully bruised shins for which we didn’t yet know the reason. I suspected it was due to technique but when she pointed out that she had never had this problem when skiing before it was immediately obvious that it was the boots. Unfortunately this only came clear a little too late in the day to prevent it from becoming a painful problem by the end of the day.

Jump Turns

Due to the bumps and skier congestion at the top of Tovière (our first run together) I decided to get everyone pivoting. This is the best way to reinforce good coordination – the centre of mass, the adductors and the foot-rolling all together and all inwards.  I tried to encourage a strong use of the pole to be able to get the centre of mass into the turn without the ski changing edge. Holding the body down and inside the second half of the turn requires a real effort so I tried to get this across – emphasising that the movement inwards towards the pole wasn’t just at the beginning but all the way through the turn.

Connie was still struggling with the tendency to avoid standing on her left leg. The left ski tracking off in an undesired straight line when turning is due to falling off the left leg onto the right leg for security – so that the left ski can’t work properly. After a few falls Connie grasped the idea and managed to correct the problem – recognising for herself when she was falling off the leg.

To loosen things up a bit I decided to introduce jump turns. Jumping requires a coordinated two footed jump with an extension of the legs in the air and flexion when landing. This ensures that the centre of mass goes upwards (as opposed to just retracting the heels) and that there is a soft absorption on landing. We practiced the jumps both statically and then when traversing in both directions. The next phase is to jump and then swing the tips of the skis downhill inwards to start a turn. With the skis being airborne there is no resistance at all to the swing – but all the rest of the coordination is identical to when the skis are on the ground. The skis only have to swing a small amount for this to work and the pivot continues after landing. This greatly eased up the whole pivoting exercise for both girls.


We inspected the slalom course in Val d’Isère and I explained the rules of how it all works as we went through the course. The course was too rutted and difficult for the girls to use but perhaps tomorrow they will have a go at it if conditions are good. This is the best way to improve dynamics because it is always a battle just to stay in the course and you have to throw your self inwards towards the gates – learning to anticipate the movement much sooner that you expect. Feedback is totally honest in a race course. The clock never lies!

We returned rapidly to Tignes for lunch and this time Connie pivoted her way down the narrow path from the Col de Fresse into Tignes whereas yesterday she sideslipped. We skied off piste and on a black run and she coped with this no problem – which is good for any skier on only their 8th day on skis.

Inside Ski Pivoting

Now I wanted them to pivot on the “wrong” ski. Connie’s first question was “Why? isn’t that going against everything you’ve told us since yesterday – and how can we use the adductor muscles? Isn’t that then the adductor’s instead?”

I explained that skiing is “holistic” and that we can remove a ski, mess up lots of parts of it and it still works. A car isn’t holisitc and if you remove a wheel it’s dead. This is both a blessing and a curse because on one hand it means that you can work on bits of your skiing at a time but on the other hand it means that people can get by with just about everything being done wrongly. Here we were just removing one of the skis – and that doesn’t really change anything. The fact is that the centre of mass is the key to pivoting – not the adductors – and skiing on the wrong ski teaches us that.

Standing on the downhill leg the foot is rolled onto its inside (uphill edge) and the adductors once again engaged. In fact we do use the adductors, but not to pull the ski into the turn, just to hold the hip and leg under the body as it leans downhill strongly supported by the downhill pole plant. The body has to lean over a long way and this makes the role of upper body position much clearer.

Two Ski Pivoting

Eventually I was able to show that we were leading towards being able to pivot on either ski or both skis at the same time. In deep snow a two footed platform is sometimes very beneficial and also in bumps. In both cases it prevents the skis from being separated and destabilising the body. This stance is aided greatly by the adductors on both legs pulling inwards – because that helps both the skis stay together.

We then skied off-piste beside the black run on the glacier and put this into practice – even if  only a part of the technique might have been working (remember skiing is holistic!)


We did some more work on skating – both direct method and skating/stepping up at the end of the turns – which I attempted to link to the jump turns that we had done earlier. Eve had a tendency to turn this into an up movement into the next turn instead of an up movement out of the existing one – so I warned her about this error.


Connie was having a lot of hip rotation in her turns so I decided that I ‘d have to start working on posture. This means “chi” skiing – adapted from “ChiRunning”. I asked the girls to take big steps uphill and Eve did a great demonstration of the “Ministry of Silly Walks”. Basically she did what most people do and reached ahead landing on her heels. This is disastrous for the back, knees and for energy efficiency.

The correct way to move is to fall ahead and extend the stride behind, even twisting the spine slightly with the hip moving backwards, while the recovering leg just falls directly beneath the body. The glutes are used in the leg extension and the psoas is used in the leg recovery – activating the core muscles. The leg extension maintains the height of the centre of mass while it falls forward and all forward impulse comes from gravity – not from the legs. When running this is so efficient that to run faster it only requires more relaxation and a very slight increase in forwards tilt of the entire body. 

In skiing the leg extension cannot be behind – but the hip can be pulled behind. If the hip is pulled actively backwards then this prevents hip rotation and activates the core muscles to protect the lower back from shock in skiing. The skating action of skiing requires an extension of the leg and most people would allow the hip to rotate forwards during this extension because the foot is not behind the body and also they might wrongly  imagine that this rotation could assist the turn.

Connie made a lot of progress with this and it was visible on her final descent on the black/off-piste. I’d taken her into slightly softer snow without her being aware of it and she coped really well with a stronger stance now that she had some control over her hip rotation.

With the hip pulled back the hip is also held in towards the turn centre better and this also  turns the bottom more towards the turn centre. This has the effect of allowing flexion at the hip, making it easier to stay down inside the turn as the forces build up (especially in soft snow). I’d shown how pulling inwards with everything aids flexion and relaxation and how pushing outwards equates with extension and resistance. (We did a simulated dumbbell arm curl with the arm relaxed and then another with the triceps tightened – naturally with the triceps contracted it was impossible – which is what happens when “resisting” with the leg when it renders flexion impossible)

Earlier on I’d explained how “centrifugal force” is an illusion which causes people to “brace” and resist against a non-existent force. Only “centripetal” force exists (in addition to gravity) and this force is inwards not outwards – so we have to hep to generate it by working inwards.


I had promised the girls that we wouldn’t do many new things today – but I guess it wasn’t working out that way. We began to have a look at carving – because I prefer that they are aware of it. We simply did a traverse with a wide stance, both feet rocked onto the uphill edges (as we had done indoors yesterday) one foot on its inside edge and the other on its outside edge. This is a wide “static” platform at the moment allowing both skis to slide along their edges and leave railway line marks cut in the snow. Connie noticed that the effect felt weird – so it was new to her. Eve noticed that it was faster so I explained that it was used for racing. We did a small section of path rolling from one set of edges to the other. This was only intended as a brief introduction.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dee, Eve, Connie

Dee was clearly nervous about skiing but had made it onto blue runs in the past. She said that her left leg was very uncooperative when skiing. Most right handed people are “right legged” so there is nothing unusual about this. Standard ski instruction simply destroys anyone who is tense with the snowplough being a disaster. The sticky left leg is only caused by a tendency to avoid standing on it – combined with a natural resistance to accelerations. To begin to break Dee away from the snowplough and stem turns we worked on skating on the flat. I helped Dee to improve her skating by acting as a weight for her to push – and asking her to roll both feet onto their inside edges to grip with the ski edges. Once I stepped out of the way the idea was for her to fall ahead and feel how this generated propulsion, with the legs extending just to maintain the height of the centre of mass. We skated around in circles, skis always diverging. This is ideally the first way that people should experience changes of direction.

Coming off the chairlift at the top Dee failed to adjust to perpendicular to the ramp and deal with the small acceleration. I held her because this was expected. After a short explanation about perpendicularity Dee understood how to adjust correctly. You should always feel the same stance in your boots whether standing vertical with the skis horizontal across the hill or whether perpendicular to the slope sliding downhill. The feeling is identical – you do not lean forwards when going downhill. There is simply a reduction of the component of gravity pulling you into the ground – the rest being used to accelerate you – or maintain a velocity against friction and air resistance. Basically, always get perpendicular to the skis.

On the slope we worked directly on sideslipping – with forward and backward diagonal sideslipping by pulling the tips of the ski downhill to start a forward diagonal sideslip and pulling the tails downhill to go backwards into a backward diagonal sideslip. Dee handled all of this well. I then took Dee’s poles and used them to give her a “bar” to hold onto and then pulled her forward diagonal sideslip into a complete pivot turn. After a couple of runs this was improving and Dee was managing to stand on her support “outside” leg during each turn. The main goal was to completely avoid snowploughs.

Eve and Connie  could already ski at intermediate levels so I filmed  just for the record  prior to altering anything. Eve was the stronger skier with more experience but although she skied parallel she used a strong heel push. Connie moved with more natural dynamics due to not having a heel push but she had a big rotation issue, causing her to twist everything into the turn and then drift uncomfortably sideways. I asked each to explain to me how to make a basic parallel turn – but placed on the spot neither could explain anything. Naturally a few things would be remembered when we discussed them but there was no clear understanding. I expected this – it is normal. Connie mentioned that you put your weight on your left leg to go right – so I decided that this would be a good starting point for the lesson.


We agreed that they had been taught in a snowplough to move the upper body to the left to get the weight on the left foot – to go right. I explained that his is correct in “statics”; the branch of mechanics concerned with buildings and other things that don’t move. You place the centre of mass over a base of support. Skiing however is not static it is dynamic and this means it’s about accelerations. To get your weight on the left foot you need to accelerate your centre of mass to the right. We did a series of exercises for moving with me acting as a support. Moving to the right rapidly across a small gap to lean against me each of the girls could feel that the weight went immediately onto the left foot – due to acceleration to the RIGHT. If we make a list of basic principles where standard teaching is completely back to front then this is “opposite educational blunder” number 1. The girls had been taught to mover their bodies in the wrong direction, based upon the use of the wrong branch of mechanics.

We did some exercises just turning up the hill to begin to get the feel for dynamics. Initially Eve was still strongly pushing out her heels but eventually this was stopped and she started to move her body instead of her feet. Connie was more natural with this move initially. Once the basic feeling was there we took it into complete turns and then linked turns together. The next step was to ski with it using the terrain and especially in gullies with banks that would encourage natural dynamics. We stopped to watch a few young racers using dynamics. I explained that now this was understood they would be able to see it. Visual perception is based upon understanding. We only see what we understand – though most people swear that the opposite is true.

To develop the dynamics a little bit further I gave the analogy of a motorbike dropping down into a turn and coming back up out of the turn. “Opposite educational blunder” number 2 is that both girls had been taught to go up to start a turn and down to finish – which makes dynamics impossible. I explained that a skier’s limit is nothing to do with “balance” but it is about “dynamic range” – that is, the ability to fall over. The skier simply cannot fall over due to the exponential increase in lifting up power of the ski as the inclination increases. Intermediate skiers can on get over to around 20° inclination whereas a highly developed racer can manage very close to 90°. Bicycles work with the same principle – the centre of mass controlling the mechanism – but rubber tyres lose grip at extreme angles – skis increase grip. The only close analogy with a bicycle is a banked track such as a velodrome or a manmade downhill mountainbike trail.

Connie was struggling a bit with her rotation and sideways drifting – but it would be some time before we could tackle that properly. Eve’s heel push had been a way to avoid rotation and twisting into the turn – and it had been working for Eve up to a point – but it was still not the right solution.


After lunch we went straight into skating. The “direct” method of skating straight downhill didn’t really work so we began a series of skating exercises. The main exercise used involved skating across the hill but only using the uphill edges of the skis and stepping uphill with each skate. On the final skate the skier had to stand up strongly on the uphill hip and ski, using the push off the lower ski and then when remaining strongly on the uphill ski just fall into the turn with simple dynamics. The idea here is to encourage more independent leg action and longer periods on one ski and one leg only. Skiing is essentially a one legged activity (even if two feet are on the ground). Both managed this well, though Connie lost it for some of the video.

The down/up timing of dynamics is also complimented by the down/up action of skating. “Opposite educational” blunder number 3 is that the up/down timing of standard instruction prevents the use of the legs in a functional manner. When we walk, skate or do anything propulsive with the legs it always concludes with an extension.

We did some complete  turns with incremental skating steps always on the edges towards the inside of the turn and the skis diverging. “Opposite educational blunder” number 4 is that the girls were trained in snowploughs and stems – to have the skis converging instead of diverging or parallel. This “pushing out” uses inappropriate muscle coordination and prevents the adductor muscles from being used and causes the feet to flatten and roll outwards.

Some awareness of the feet and adductor muscles was introduced with mention of rolling onto the inside edge of the foot to grip properly when skating. Initially eve had trouble gripping but this improved with the rolling of the feet inside the ski boots. Connie had the most trouble with this and her foot constantly rolled outwards and flattened. For this reason I decided to stop the skating and go indoors to look specifically at the feet.


Indoors the girls each removed one boot. I removed both. I demonstrated the flexion of the ankle with weigh on the front of the foot and showed how the ankle collapsed. This is disguised by a ski boot. The girls felt this both with and without the boot. “Opposite Educational blunder” number 5 is being told to press forward on the ski boot while standing on the ball of the foot – it causes the boot to support the skier instead of the leg! With the the leg dysfunctional now, if the knee is forced inwards the leg twists, pulling the hip outwards, flattening the foot and straining the knee joint badly. This is precisely what Connie in particular had been doing.

The correct way to stand is to place the weight on the front of the heel just below the ankle joint. From here you “squat” to flex and this gives a strong ankle – activating the anterior tibialis – with no leaning on the boot. From this stance the sub taler joint below the ankle can be rocked to place the foot on edge – without any twisting of the leg. The adductor muscle can hold the knee inwards with a limited and protective range of movement. The foot rolls and turns outwards away from the direction of the turn. “Opposite educational” blunder number 6 – you do not turn the foot into the turn – you turn it slightly away from the turn to roll it onto it’s appropriate edge – with the boot being inclined to provide a base of support.

The reason the girls had been finding skating difficult on skis is that hey had been allowing the skis to flatten the feet and and twist them in the direction of the turn.


We concluded the session with some pivoting exercises so that a complete basic picture of the three main elements of skiing had been covered. The key to pivoting is that the first half of the turn is carried out on the uphill edge of the ski. “Opposite educational” blunder number 7 is that beginners are taught only to turn on the inside edge – which acts as an accelerator. The outside/uphill edge is a brake and this controls and permits a pivot.

Demonstrating a pivot from the uphill ski on the uphill edge the girls caught on that this was done from a sideslip without me telling them. I showed how the downhill/inside edge of the ski, being in the air, had no resistance to slipping if encouraged by a pull with the adductor muscles – inwards towards the turn centre. Both managed some quite nice first pivots.

To conclude I pointed out that to make a turn we always move the centre of mass towards the centre, pull inwards with the adductor muscles and roll the feet inwards. Everything is working “inwards” so it is easy to remember. Everything they had previously been taught had been working outwards – which is what imposes stacks of problems and limitations.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Knowing that Rowdy had not been able to work on his fitness for a long time somehow didn’t register in my conscience – it was clear that he was going to have to ski off-piste in all sorts of snow. When you ski on Kung Fujas K2 skis you basically have no choice! The skis make the decision.

I could see Rowdy was both hesitant with dynamics and tending to seek the inside (downhill) edge of his turning ski immediately for feedback and support. This is a recipe for trouble! You can either use clean strong dynamics with the inside edge, or stay on the uphill edges – but inside edge with weak dynamics just causes the top ski to track off straight and an unwanted fall onto the inside leg – or buttock.

It had occurred to me earlier that because Rowdy had never consistently managed to retain good dynamics then it would be best to really go to work on the pivot. Pivoting in the fall-line is a really good way to control speed very safely – so it can help to develop a lot of confidence. It would seem that this might be more appropriate for Rowdy to develop.

Fall-line Pivot Basics

We worked on the basic uphill edge pivot on the uphill ski to begin with. I explained that the foot needed to roll onto the inside edge but the ski would remain on the uphill edge. The pivot is aided with the adductor muscles but is also timed with the centre of mass falling into the turn – though not far enough to change edge. Rowdy had a tendency to travel across the hill instead of sideslip downhill. He would then tend to try to force the ski outwards rather than pull inwards. We worked on correcting this. Moving on to pivoting on the lower ski only I explained that once again we hold the foot on its inside edge. The adductor isn’t really used to pivot now – it’s all dependent on good body position aided by a strong support from the pole  (downhill and behind the feet) – allowing the body to move downhill without the edge changing. The body has to be so strongly committed downhill that this is why the foot must remain on its inside edge (and the ski on its uphill / inside edge). Both feet have to be held on inside edges – which is handy when placing the feet together to make a single two footed pivoting platform for either bumps or deep snow. This is the opposite from carving where feet are rolled onto opposing edges.

Off-Piste – Resonance

For deep snow I explained that a low seated stance was best for pivoting. This gives more leverage for pulling the skis inwards and also places the resultant forces more accurately through the sweet spot for pivoting under the feet. The K2s are great for this as the bindings are placed further forward than the classic position – so the front of the ski is easier to swing inwards. We worked on bouncing so that Rowdy could feel the resonance of the skis being loaded up. I explained that he had to start to pivot inwards very slightly after the bounce – once up and light. It’s important not to “overturn” but to let the deep snow slow you down and the pivoting add to the friction appropriately. This requires a close stance with the adductors pulling both feet and legs together. The feet have to be kept downhill of the body and the seated stance helps that to be achieved. It’s also important to never reverse the timing and attempt to start a pivot while standing up off downhill into a turn. Starting off in the deep snow is the hardest part if it’s deep because there is no support from the pole – but a downsink during the start of the pivot generally does the job.

Independent Leg Pivoting

Back on the piste we worked on windscreen wiper pivots. I wanted Rowdy to control his rotation better and remain more direct in the fall-line so I started by removing my skis and standing facing downhill – then skiing in the boots with the feet pivoting independently – each leg turning in its hip socket only. I explained that in practice this feels like a little skate with each outside leg – pushing the body back up at the end of each pivot. You hardly lose any height during each pivot.


I explained that timing is basically the same for both bumps (compression turns) and short swings (jumps). The first is caused by terrain and the latter by muscle power. Either way you come down from the start of the turn and up at the very end (in the bumps this means you fully extend into the hole). Both  require good pole plants and pole support to place the body in the right position for pivoting – for preventing an edge change that is too early. The pole plant indicates the start of the next pivot. It is not the end of a turn.

Resistance and relaxing

I explained to Rowdy that if the muscles he felt painful and tired were on the outside of his thighs then this was because he was “resisting” and bracing when he should be bending. A properly controlled pulling inwards with the adductor allows the support leg to bend (pushing outwards braces the leg). When force builds up in the turn then the skier must bend consciously to avoid resisting and bracing, sinking down and into the turn more and keeping the feet well downhill of the centre of mass. The turn is completed by allowing the body to come back up and out of the turn at the very end – leading to a pole plant. If there is any confusion here just think of the pole plant coming after the “bounce” up. Sometimes this is not very visible because there can be a leg retraction included to absorb some of the bounce and help the body to get out of the turn more easily. If you bend well during the second half of the picot turn then although it is a muscular act the legs will not tire out so easily.


I discussed later with Rowdy how the traditional “coiling” and uncoiling of the body like a spring is completely wrong, with the spine twisting in the wrong direction. This makes it impossible for people to stop “hip rotation” and to protect their backs by engaging the core muscles strongly and placing the pelvis correctly. The answer is to pull the hip (on the outside leg) backwards during the turn – to the degree that it twists the lumbar spine slightly in the opposite direction from the turn and slightly stretches the lower abdomen. The pelvis should be slightly tilted up at the front and the hips joints released and relaxed when tilting the pelvis. This is much more effective than pushing the foot forward – but achieves the same control of turn radius while adding a much higher degree of body management.


Rowdy needs to avoid the tendency to fall off the outside hip joint. There must be a total commitment to standing on the hip of the support leg. This takes a conscious control because the emotional and unconscious reaction is to fall off the hip during accelerations and look for the other one for bilateral support and security. This issue causes Rowdy to fall even on the flat when working on new technique – always finding himself stuck on the outside edge of his inside ski and falling over as a result.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Derin, Defne day 3

Whatever plans were in store for today were rapidly thrown out and the day was allowed to evolve according to snow, weather and willing participants.

Defne began the day upbeat and positive. I’d previously remarked on how her confidence goes up and down in big swings and so it was good to see a positive swing today. I’ve noticed the pattern before that a bad day always follows a very good day – and a good day always follows a very bad day. Defne was cautious about going off-piste but willing to give it a go. Fortunately the fresh overnight snow was soft and powdery so it was ideal for developing confidence.

Defne asked me if the jumping that we used in the race course “pivots” also applied off-piste. This is why I never like to plan lessons because Defne’s question was perfectly timed and allowed me to see an alternative continuation from the race course lesson straight into developing off-piste technique. We had worked on various aspects of pivoting but the jumps had been made very deliberately – though in a real race situation the jump is more often a rebound or spring from the skis. For off-piste the same effect comes from a bouncing of the skis in a manner resembling a trampoline – due to the entire ski base loading up and bouncing the skier back up out of the turn. Once the skier is bounced up the skis are unweighted and this permits an easy start to the pivot in the direction of the new turn. To begin to learn this we found gentle gradients where we could straight run and just bounce to feel the resistance of the snow slowing us down and develop a feel for the bounce of the skis. Defne picked this up quickly and moved on to introducing the pivot effortlessly. Sometimes she forgot to bounce before pivoting but again she quickly realised that it was best to get the bounce first because it makes the pivot much easier. I explained that the skis hardly need to turn at all and that this is a good example of “fall-line” skiing – where we avoid turns that sweep across the hill as in carving.

We eventually moved onto a slightly steeper gradient with deeper snow. Despite the snow being very slow, perhaps fast walking pace when running straight downhill and the gradient not being very steep, Defne had a confidence crisis and was visibly scared. I gently encouraged her because it was genuinely safe and she managed to point herself downhill and let the skis run. Defne later opened up to me about her fear and said that she couldn’t explain it because she knew it was safe and that she wouldn’t go fast and that even falling wouldn’t hurt in the deep soft snow. In return I explained to Defne that most fears are irrational and we often can’t explain them. There is nothing to be ashamed about because such fears can visit anyone when they least expect it. Fear is something that every healthy person experiences. When we have fear and manage to still do what we have to do then we call that “courage”.  I explained to Defne that I was very proud of her courage in overcoming her fear today and that she should be proud of that too.

Normally the only way to easily overcome irrational fears is to prepare for them in advance – especially when we know from experience that they are likely to appear.

On the return home we skied fast on piste over bumps and through crowds of skiers and boarders and Defne never hesitated – staying close to me the whole way non-stop. That was another display of courage. Courage grows if we practice it – just like physical skiing skills grow if we practice them.

Derin began the day by telling me she didn’t want to go to slalom. I asked her who was boss and she admitted that I was – but she knew that she was going to get her way anyway.  I asked how her sore throat was today and she replied “eh!”. I said that “eh!” doesn’t mean anything in English so could she please explain that – to which she refused stating that there was no way to explain “eh!”. I then replied to her that I thought her skiing was “orhhh!” To which she replied “Thank you!”. I could see how this session was going to go.

Derin could not repeat the same lesson as Denfe because she could hardly move in the soft snow as she simply doesn’t have the body mass for gravity to pull her through it. With the combination of snow resistance and wind resistance we had a fair bit of waiting, skating and towing to do today. In the end, without Derin realising it I was the one who got my way because she ended up doing slalom all afternoon – by skiing in my tracks off-piste. Depending on the depth of snow and gradient I modified the turn radius so that she would end up about the right speed when following me in my tracks. We did three complete off-piste excursions beginning with a classic flat and easy one and eventually ending up on some really steep (short) pitches and some deep fresh snow. Derin followed me over everything – with amazing competence and only one very minor fall all afternoon. I deliberately aimed for some very gnarly snow and very steep drops and all I could hear behind was her giggling and yelping for joy! To be honest I was amazed that she could follow me. By the end she could ski at my own normal pace right behind me (in my tracks) in deep untracked snow over long sections. She was totally worn out by the end but that’s not a surprise. We had a hot chocolate stop when her feet were too cold (due to being in deep snow all afternoon) and she already wanted to go to sleep then! It was clear that the work in pivoting was shining through though she was really unaware of that herself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Derin, Defne, day 2

Defne started the day’s skiing with a warm up run and then straight into working on technique. She expressed her concern about doing anything too difficult, but I reassured her that our focus was on technique today. There is always something interesting you can do with your skiing without frightening yourself. The visibility was poor and temperature high, so it was a good day to focus on improving skills. The goal for today was to take the pivoting skills a bit further and show how they apply to both fall-line skiing (braking) and to racing (accelerating). In racing it is about making a rapid change of line, which helps you to stay close to the poles. Yesterday I told Defne we would be trying to get her to ski closer to the poles.

We began with a revision of yesterday’s fall-line pivoting then rapidly moved on to the next stage – “air pivots”. Air Pivots are when the first part of the turn is done with the skis in the air. There is already very little resistance to swinging the skis into a turn when on their uphill edge against the snow – and they provide a certain amount of braking when you do this, but there is even less resistance when the skis are in the air! Defne didn’t like the idea to begin with, because it is difficult to learn and she doesn’t seem to like being confronted with difficulty. She would mistakenly begin the turn first then jump during the turn – but eventually got the hang of starting the whole process with a coordinated two footed jump.  She did the “jump turns” well and then tried to link them together into “short swings” but that takes a lot more practice.

The next stage is to realise that a racing turn can also be started this way, with the skis changing edge during the pivot. The mechanics are the same except the skis land on the downhill edges and accelerate.  This is used to change the line more rapidly at the start of a turn – when there is not likely to be enough pressure on the ski for it to carve tightly enough. Defne had no problem picking this up. In the race course she tentatively tried it out, but remained far from the poles due to feeling a bit unsafe with the poor visibility. Next time she will get the benefit.

Defne gets afraid of skiers close to her, steep slopes and many other things. I explained to Defne that everybody feels fear – sometimes very strong fear. The important thing is to not always allow it to win. We are stronger than out fears – but this is something that we need to learn. Everybody experiences fear but it must never control you and stop you from doing things. People who allow fear to dominate find that their lives become more and more constrained and limited by their fears instead of opening up. Fear doesn’t get less as we grow up – we just (hopefully) learn to deal with it much better.

Defne's issues are really just about confidence. I notice that her confidence takes big swings and usually after a very good day it is followed by a bad one - as she anticipates that expectations of her performance will be higher. When distracted by having fun or just by her own positive decisions at times then she enjoys most things. Confidence or Self Belief is super important.

She has a tendency to interrupt explanations instead of listening and this is clearly a confidence issue too. To help circumvent this issue I explained that skiing is not really about "understanding" it's about perception. What makes skiing interesting is that it opens up many different levels of perception, so the same explanation means different things to different people and we have to be very careful to listen or we can completely miss this. To help, when riding the chairlift we discussed "drawing". I asked Defne to guide me through how she would draw a bubble lift that we could see close by. She started with the cable then the support hanging down and then the bubble itself with the windows. I explained that this is normal but it doesn't work very well because the brain has a name for all of those objects and you end up drawing those objects as symbols because that's how the brain deals with them so that you easily recognise them. If we look at the spaces that those objects make with the surrounding snow then we can't name those shapes and so we use a different part of the brain specialised in "observing". Drawing only those shapes causes the other objects to appear as if by magic. This is a different way to "perceive". There are many things like this with the body and the brain, concerning physical feelings, pain, fear, emotions, how we interacts with objects and space and much more. Skiing is really “understood “ or “perceived” through feeling.

Perception is really developed through listening – it’s “internal”. In music a note is just a meaningless sound, but the size of the space between one note and  another gives it meaning. How many people really "listen" and hear this? Yesterday Defne explained that at school she gets bored with maths because she is ahead of the class. I pointed out that the most important perception regarding mathematics is that it does not describe reality. There is no such thing in nature or “man made” as a "perfect circle" but in maths every circle is perfect. A line is by definition made up of numbers at every point, but we cannot find numbers at every point, there are "holes". The more you compare maths with reality the more problems you find. That's what makes maths really interesting. Relating mathematics to the real world is a form of listening, just like feeling in skiing is a form of listening – all this is perception.

Derin went through more or less the same training process today as Defne but had completely forgotten what a pivot is!!!!! Her body however remembered for her. Derin needed a repeat of the explanation about "pivoting". She had either not remembered or never previously understood the concept of staying on the uphill edges for braking during both halts of the turn. This had to be clearly understood now because we would have to switch edges for the racing pivot. She followed all of this without difficulty.

This is Derin the Tiger (with the ears) attacking the slalom with her new “close to the poles” technique…

Derin was also game for working on her fall-line pivoting in the bumps and we started to introduce the correct timing for compression turns. Every day we will do a little more and she will soon be a competent bumps skier. Tomorrow we have to take this "relaxation" further so that she can bend a little bit more at the knees.  If conditions are suitable we will also begin to look at dynamics in the bumps. On the flat her pivoting was much better when she placed some weight on her downhill pole.

Derin has to be reminded frequently to avoid leaning on the back of her ski boots – which she quickly corrects when brought to mind. For dealing with the "back of the boots" issue I reminded her to "listen" to her legs. We need a clear line of communication between the mind and the legs. When perpendicular to the skis there is no pressure from the boots against the legs and most of the leg muscles feel relaxed.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Derin, Defne day 1

Today’s objective was to get the girls back into skiing, have fun and build confidence. Both were keen to have a go at slalom so we used it to set benchmark times to try to improve on in the days to come. I deliberately avoided working on much technical stuff today so as to get some mileage and feeling into the legs.

Defne likes carving and skiing off-piste on ski-pisted snow. She doesn’t like ice or when it is very steep. She has been doing exercises to strengthen her legs in preparation this year – though at age 10 it’s really still a bit too young for strength training. Her skiing is quite close to the level where we left off last year so tomorrow we will start to develop it a bit more. She seemed to retain a few important things from last year such as a stronger posture, use of the adductor muscles, good arm carriage and perpendicularity to the skis. Her fall-line pivoting was a bit ropey, but that’s a tricky thing to develop anyway. The single biggest change for the next time in the slalom will simply be to ski closer to the gates. I pointed out that when she feels uncomfortable with her speed in slalom we have to stop and work on technique instead. You don’t eat food when you are not hungry and it’s the same for this – if you don’t feel hungry for it you leave it until you do.

On the piste we just worked on turn completion – finishing off the turns. Most people don’t finish turns properly and so have only limited control. They may ski fast on an open piste but would not be able to keep high speed in a race course because they have much less control than they realise.

Derin likes everything about skiing. When pushed she admits to liking off-piste, bumps and slalom best – with off-piste in the crud best of all. Her reason for this is because it’s scary! Today when she joined me she was back to skiing on the back of her ski boots again – but we quickly started to sort that out. She reckoned it was impossible to remember the word “perpendicular” but she did – and she managed to stay perpendicular to her skis most of the time once she was aware of the issue once again. We went into the slalom early and despite a rutted course she did fine, close to her best time last year. After that we did the Tommeuse bumps from top to bottom twice, working on pivoting and sideslipping. The bumps were about twice the size of her so she did well. Then we skied the black bumps run “Campanules” back down to Tignes. Before that we also went off-piste in real crud and worked on the dynamics for the end of the turn – which although scary she coped with very well. The idea was to use the lower ski to bring the body out of the turn perpendicular to the hill – making the start of the next turn easy in the crud. We also worked on kick turns and jump turns on steep wind packed snow off-piste. Tomorrow we will concentrate more specifically on technique.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Awesome Powder Skiing Day

We started off by dropping down from the traverse to the Mattis piste into the “L” valley. This is a stable but quite steep slope in places and the snow was deep, soft and almost totally un-skied. The Scandinavians must have had a hard night on the town because there were none in sight. Normally you just need to blink and 20 of them are in front of you eating up all the fresh snow.

The skiing was far too good to hang around taking photos and film so the shots here were taken after the best of the skiing was done. We were skiing from about 2800m down to 1800m in deep powder the whole way. Laissenant first and then the Signal at Le Fornet were the places we skied and the snow was equally good, deep and soft everywhere. The gullys down from the Grand Vallon to Le Fornet were unskied and full of deep snow – great fun to play with.


We had time after lunch to squeeze in a great descent of the Pays Desert  at the Col de l’Isèran (seen in the panorama photo) were the snow was also exceptional even at 3200m altitude. For once it hadn’t been flattened by the wind.




Avalanche zone in the middle of the Grand Vallon – a dangerous section with steep pitches through rocks that should have been strictly avoided. This slide was released by skiers – one of whom paid the ultimate price. I avoided that area for a reason - it's over 30° and convex at the top - plus the risk in the morning was level 4. The slab was 1.8m at the fracture, 150m across and 350m long.




Thursday, December 20, 2012

James, William: Technique Development

James and William appeared to have very different problems in their skiing so I had to try to begin the technical session by finding a common denominator. They both struggled most in fall-line skiing – so it was clear that working on pivoting and fall line skiing would be a sensible place to begin. James would always be caught out leaning back and accelerating out of control with no use of his ski poles. William couldn’t stand on his outside ski with a strong commitment and so fell over frequently when his weight went on the “wrong” ski.


One Ski

Working on standing on one leg and pivoting on one leg is a direct way to address both issues of leaning back and commitment to the support leg. In a way both are issues of commitment to standing on one leg. The leaning on the back of the ski boot can only work when supporting yourself on two skis instead of one.

James was able to ski on one ski but had very little edge awareness and couldn’t control his speed or turn radius. William predictably just fell over or put his other leg on the snow.

This was more of a test than anything else at this stage. James couldn’t lean on the back of the ski boot when on one leg but he still had the problems of not completing the turns and speed control. William clearly found standing on one leg hard and that’s probably why he skis a lot with his feet close together – so he can stand on two feet. At this stage there were no clear signs of the underlying issues that might be generating the problems.


One Ski Pivot

We started working on the “outside ski” pivot without spending any time preparing for this with sideslipping. Standing on the uphill ski the idea was to sideslip with the foot rolled onto its inside (lower) edge and the ski held on its uphill edge. This was quickly achieved so we did the exercise for the adductor muscle awareness by lifting the ski off the snow and pulling the ski tip against my ski pole planted in the snow. William let his heel come out when he did this which showed that he was twisting the leg outwards instead of pulling inwards with his adductor muscles. This was corrected and  the new awareness was then added to the pivot.

Despite their best efforts both were affected by strong upper body (shoulders and hips) rotation. They were leading into the turns with the upper body to try to force the ski around. The hips nearly always started the turn by being forced to the outside of the turn. 

Working on the “inside ski pivot”, which is trickier, the rotation problems were even clearer and harder for them to avoid. They consciously tried to stop rotation both at the start and end of the turns. I explained how rotating kept the body mass to the outside of the turn and made everything difficult. The advantage of stopping rotation and facing downhill is that the body can be shaped during the second half of the turn to keep the centre of mass  low and inside the turn, so as to complete the turn. At the start of the turn rotation interferes with dynamics and so the ski can’t work. The rotation stops the body from falling into the turn and as I explained the skier’s job is to fall – and the ski’s job is to lift the skier up.


Windscreen Wipers

The pivot could not improve without eliminating this chronic rotation so this became the main target. Along with the rotation there were significant postural issues emerging. William had worked on posture few days earlier and it appeared to have made a difference because he wasn’t bending his spine in all directions as he had been previously. James on the other hand was hollowing his back and along with his hips his bottom would frequently go to the outside of the turn. This has to be corrected to protect the lower back from injury. I asked James to tilt his pelvis up at the front without letting his shoulders fall backwards – so that the stomach tightened. When James did this he locked up his hip joints and when asked to bend at the hips he bent at the waist only. This was corrected. The pelvis needs to the pulled up but the hips must also be released.

We removed the skis and stood on a steep pitch facing downhill and with the heels dug into the snow. Both poles were planted downhill for support and the legs were rotated in their hip sockets so that the feet swung like windscreen wipers in front – from side to side. Initially both James and William allowed the pelvis to rotate but we rapidly brought this under control so that only the legs moved.  I explained that in this wide stance both skis could pivot independently and both feet could be kept at the same height across the mountain, below the body. The idea was to ski directly down the fall-line with each leg pivoting independently and absolutely no travel of the body across the hill and without the hips or body coming around at all – as they have to when the feet are together. As you can see in the video above they didn’t really manage that level of control but it did contribute to raising awareness of posture and rotation issues.


Compression Turns

It was becoming clear that rotation was still not being brought under control so more extreme things had to be attempted. Compression turns are very difficult for most people to learn so it was a long-shot.

The compression turn simulates bump skiing but on flat terrain. It’s necessary to flex the legs all the way to 90° at both the hip and the knees while moving the body down into the turn, relying on strong pole support. The key is to feel the body pulling the skis down into the turn. My hope was that this low flexed position would fight against the tendency for the boys to thrust their hips up and outwards. James had a serious breakthrough with this and suddenly understood how to keep his hips to the inside of the turn. William was a bit slower to catch on but also got there in the end.

The clear breakthrough made it obvious that the rotation issues were coming from up/down timing so after working on the compressions for a while I decided to move on to skating (down/up timing) and see how they would both react to that.


Skating Timing

Both William and James can skate well but they were slightly confused as to how this applied to skiing. Working with the “direct method” and knowing they had done this many years ago, I went straight into skating directly downhill and then adding dynamics to get the skis to turn during the skating. William had some trouble understanding that I didn’t want the skis to “rail” as in carving but I wanted a continuous pivot on the inside edge from the start of the turn. He eventually came clear on this issue. At this stage William showed stronger skating than James. James had very little range of movement during the skate but quickly changed that when it was pointed out.

The most revealing thing happened when the skating was then taken directly into the pivot. William completely lost the skate and did the opposite, reverting back to his initial rotation problems. It was now clear that his rotation was coming from this timing problem. He also started to use a downsink/poleplant a the end of each turn and stood up rotating to start the next turn. It looks very much like he has picked up this timing through being taught it – though I have never taught it to him. It is the cause of all his main problems.

James in contrast completely held it together. While William fell apart as it got steeper James managed to bring everything together to work for him. The difference is very clear in the video. James has correct down/up skating timing in the pivot and good control over rotation with good ski edge awareness. William has returned to his old unconscious habits that look like they have been drilled into place by a ski school. The scary thing is that some people only need to be taught that bad timing once and then it takes a lifetime to stop it from dominating everything.

I explained to James that the push up from the skate at the end of the pivot can be used on the steep to push the body back up the hill to really slow down and have a strong braking effect. It can also be used to lift the body outwards – almost downhill to get in a good place – perpendicular to the hill to then fall into the next turn when in difficult snow. It’s vigorous work for the legs and James felt this.

I explained that when skating in longer turns there was only a “pole touch” at the start of the new turn as the body fell into the turn and the pole was only moved by a flick of the wrist. This is in contrast to the strong downhill pole support in braking/fall-line skiing were the feet are always downhill. Either way the pole plant indicates the entry into a turn – not the end.


Off Piste

Once William’s predicament was clear I asked him to focus on only downsinking – as in the compression turns – into each turn. This was the only thing that could break his timing and rotation issues. In his final run off piste he managed this to some extent, but not enough to prevent one fall. James gets it right and has a strong basic pivoting platform with good timing, good control over rotation, independent leg action and is well centred over his skis (but just slightly back).


Both boys will have to be ultra careful about picking up bad technique from ski schools or even from their own defensive reactions. They must realise that although it’s fun to blast around they have to take some time out to think – correctly and intelligently – or their skiing will definitely degenerate.

The main problem for both of them stemmed from incorrect timing. James’s reaction to this timing and consequent rotation had been to go two footed and lean against the back of the boots in deep snow. The rotation meant he couldn’t sink down into the turn and complete the turn so he would pick up more speed and then lean harder on the back of the boots – a vicious circle of events. William reacted to the same issue by tilting his head and shoulders into the turn and thus frequently ending up on his inside ski and losing the reflex to stand on his outside ski. This is why he keeps on falling over.  These problems have to be dealt with in a disciplined manner or they can develop into life-long characteristics.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Andrew, James, William – Powder Skiing Val d’Isère

The first sunny day after three weeks of snowing! The choice was “Work on William’s skiing” or “Ski Powder”. The decision was unanimous! “Ski Powder”.

Erring strongly on the side of caution our first run was in the safety of trees at lower altitude. The snow was surprisingly deep and very few skiers had been there to eat up the fresh snow in the previous days. That’s surprising because it’s really the only place to ski off-piste when it is snowing and the visibility is poor.








Andrew is still the strongest skier but considering that William was about 6 when I last gave him a lesson that’s not entirely surprising. Both the boys had good dynamics and would ski down any slope, snow type and comfortably through the trees.

William struggles in wind packed snow or when starting off slowly in more demanding conditions. He moves his head and shoulders into the turn and his hips out of the turn so that his centre of mass doesn’t really go into the turn. This means that he tends to get caught on his inside ski and fall over. Even standing strongly on the hip of the outside leg would help to prevent this – but the main issue is being defensive and just inclining the shoulders and not the whole body. Other than that there is not too much wrong with William’s skiing – he has good rhythm and a good range of movement plus he flows well and uses the forces in the turn.

James is a stronger skier, but leans back a lot in the back of the ski boots. This limits james’s down/up motion and the skis tend to run away with him – causing trouble in more packed snow where it won’t slow him down so much. The very limited down/up motion can be especially seen by the complete absence of pole use. He can’t use the pole because he is leaning so far back. James exploits this by letting the ski run a bit more like a freerider – which is good – but it’s mainly because he doesn’t have a choice at the moment.

Andrew knows that he needs to spend less time on his tractor and more time jogging along side it. Andrew’s skiing was technically good, with good timing, good pivoting, good dynamics, good flow and good rhythm. His front summersault and head plant was spectacularly quick and accurate.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jenny 2

Today’s plan was to revise yesterday’s work to some extent but also to quickly move on to dynamics. Before the session I explained to Jenny how the failure to sink in towards the inside of the turn would kill the dynamics of the end of the turn, bringing her up and out too soon and then also making the start of the next turn difficult.  We were joined at the last minute by William (who I always think of as George) but I would remain focussed on Jenny to try to ensure a useful overall result. When somebody is generally stiff, static and very tense on skis it is a real challenge to change that – both for the skier and the instructor.

Consciously Blocking Rotation

On our warm up run down the Vert we paused to work on linking short pivoted turns down the fall line. I wanted Jenny to remember to sink down through the turn and prevent the body from swinging around. Jenny asked how to stop the upper body and shoulders from rotating and so I explained that the first thing to do was to be aware that they were rotating and then to simply try to consciously block them so that they don’t rotate as the skis come around. We did a few controlled turns working on this on the groomed piste and then continued heading down out of the wind – eventually going up the button lift on the racing piste which is well sheltered and had deep fresh snow as good as any off-piste. I couldn’t really tackle William and focus on Jenny at the same time so I just observed William. His skiing was quite strong and fluid with good dynamics but there were a few quirks that would need to be straightened out at some point.

Deep Powder

The opportunity to use deep fresh snow quickly put paid to any thoughts about revision. Powder snow assists pivoting anyway so this was an opportunity to exploit it and move straight on to the dynamics. I was confident that Jenny understood the pivoting exercises we had already done the previous day and that it would take time and practice to replace her old emotionally driven skills (reinforced by ski schools). Working on dynamics would actually help that process because the pivot is aided by appropriate dynamics.

I asked Jenny to adopt the lower seated stance and keep both feet close together downhill of the body – making a single platform. It’s important to take your own line in the snow to get untracked snow which slows you down. The skis are then pivoted slightly one way and then the other and they are easily swung in the soft snow and aided with the movement into the turn with the centre of mass. I especially wanted Jenny to sink down into the turn and hold the body inside by relaxing and bending the legs – instead of resisting and letting the legs go rigid and then rotating. This is easier to do if the feet are kept together for a solid stable support base. On the steeper terrain Jenny struggled a little but held it together and so it was a good start. William managed a couple of head plants and so clearly indicated that his issues were slightly more than cosmetic.

Video Clip Analysis

We moved onto the longer Mont Blanc piste for a more continuous as less steep run. This is where the video clip is taken. Jenny is moving well here starting the turn with dynamics and maintaining the dynamics by sinking down and into the turn – then using the power of the skis to come up out of the turn. There is a good active range of motion and improved control over rotation. The stance remains generally close and the pivoting is working correctly with everything being pulled inwards. Jenny later commented that the deep snow had helped because she could clearly feel the instability caused by failing to hold the centre of mass down and inside the turn until just before completing it.  Jenny also shows some postural issues on this clip, with her lower back slightly hollowed. This explains her tendency to stiffen and lower her arms and hands. George meantime starts his video clip run with a bum wiggle worthy of any exotic belly dancer! He is pushing the skis outwards although this is largely disguised by his good dynamics. The bum wiggle is an attempt to push the skis around with his hips. When he gets going and starts to use the forces from gravity and skis then the dynamics take over and he looks strong and fluid – which works great until it gets steep and then he belly dances himself into trouble again. His up/down movement is either non existent or out of sync and his pole use reflects this. He gets away with this due to his strong and effective use of dynamics. Overall he is a strong skier.


Over a hot chocolate I decided to begin to tackle the issue of posture. Poor postural control not only affects skiing profoundly but it affects long term back health – so it is important to become aware of posture management. The first stage in posture control is pelvic tilt. That is tilting upwards of pelvis at the front to prevent the lower back from going hollow and the abdomen from going slack. This is correct provided it doesn’t lock up the hip joints and the skier can still flex freely at the hips. Standing beside a table we all simulated a turn completion with the upper body facing downhill, so there was a slight twist in the spine . This is often referred to as upper/lower body separation and it feels like the body is winding up tight at the end of a turn – to then be released like a spring unwinding a the start of the next. I then explained that instead of doing this just pull back the hip (on the support leg) and feel the spine twist in the opposite direction. This is the “correct” way to ski because this actually works the core muscles and posture in a way that keep them taught and active protecting the back . It’s how special slalom is done with breakaway poles, the body passing on the inside of the pole and clearing with the outside arm.  The “wind up” twist of the spine in the other direction was used with old solid poles and with protecting with the inside arm – but this causes the posture to go slack and for the lower back to take the full force of any compressions. 

On snow we simplified all of the above to just pulling back the hip of the leg on which you are standing (the outside ski normally) all the way around the turn. For George this is important because it is the opposite from his bum wiggle. George still tried to employ other bends both forwards and sideways in the spine but I pointed out to him that you only bend at the hips – you do not bend the back. Jenny’s posture automatically looked better when she did this with her arms and hands visibly reflecting this by looking more relaxed. Posture has to be practiced for it to become an unconscious habit and skill.

I gave an exercise on chi-walking with the skis off to show how the postural problems actually come from bad walking and running techniques related to wearing shoes with heels. We walked with extending the stride behind to use the large thigh muscles and core muscles with a twist in the spine as the hip went backwards – and using gravity for propulsion – instead of the all too common standard “reaching ahead” with the stride and landing on the heel then using the smaller quads to try to all of the work. When walking or running correctly the foot lands below the body and over-striding is avoided. The exercises we did on skis are derived directly from this understanding of body mechanics.

Pulling the hip backwards has a remarkably similar effect to pushing the foot forwards. It’s almost impossible to distinguish between the overall result except for the effects on posture at the lower back.


When Jenny became tired I pointed out that she could turn that to her advantage. The tiredness was due to resistance – the tendency to brace against increasing forces during the turn – which has the effect of “fighting” against your own muscles. (We did the dumbell simulation – arms relaxed and all arm muscles clenched). I explained that when really tired it can actually help to encourage efficiency by helping you to let go and relax those muscles that are resisting.  In ChiRunning to run faster you don’t use more power you simply relax more – and let gravity take you. Likewise in skiing you become stronger by relaxing more – down and inside the turn.

Using the skis

I pointed out to Jenny how people skiing around us were simply passive through the ends of their turns – not sinking down and building up pressure and then using that to control speed and to lift them up out of the turn and into the next. They didn’t finish their turns – they just brushed off speed by skidding instead of using the “line” of the turn. When Jenny applied this she looked very effective and clearly understood and felt how it worked. She was the only skier around using the skis. Good skiers work the skis this way and feel this sort of action all the time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jenny 1

Before starting the session we took a few minutes to discuss things. I wanted to know what Jenny felt she was needing to work on. “Position on the skis” was the response – referring to a tendency towards a wide stance and loss of agility. That corresponded to a mental image that I had from from a couple of years ago of a default stance that Jenny would adopt whenever she was uncomfortable. For the first time ever she was on her own – no other family members – so we could just focus on her issues directly without having to look for steep and deep powder for Andrew at the same time. (Which was a shame in a way because there is a lot of it around!)

The sort of stance issues that Jenny has are probably a legacy from the techniques learned at the very beginning of her skiing. Snowplough can do a lot of damage. The outside ski is pushed outwards in a stem and placed on its inside edge then the body weight is shifted towards the outside of the turn to pressurise the ski. All of those things are wrong and impede good development. The wrong leg muscles are being used because the ski should be pulled inwards with the adductor muscles. The wrong edge is used because most skiing and all fall line skiing require the turn to begin with the outside edge not the inside one. The body moves in the wrong direction because it really needs to move strongly towards the inside of the turn. Jenny’s reflex when in any difficulty is to return to the incorrect movement pattern and then this just establishes a vicious circle of insecurity. My feeling was that some solid work on “pivoting” would be the most direct way to change things.


It’s always best to start developing pivoting with the simplest and most basic aspects first. Sideslipping is fundamental to pivoting. Sideslipping is always carried out on the uphill edges of the ski or skis. When you sideslip the body is more or less vertical and the feet are directly below you – which places the feet further down the mountain surface than any other part of your body (taking a line out perpendicular from the snow). The idea when either sideslipping or pivoting is to keep the feet there. The upper edges of the skis act like a brake and you can slip slowly downhill. Most of the weight is usually on the lower ski when sideslipping. With the lower edges not being in contact with the snow either the tips or the tails can easily be swung slightly down hill. If the tips are slightly swung downhill then the skis go into a forward diagonal sideslip – and if the tails are swung downhill then the skier starts to go backwards. Practice is required to become comfortable with all of the directional aspects of sideslipping.

Outside Ski Pivot

To initiate a pivot it’s best to learn to sideslip a little on just the uphill ski with the downhill ski held slightly off the snow. Inside the ski boot the foot has to be rolled onto its downhill edge but the shaft of the ski boot will hold the ski on its uphill edge. This slightly flattens the ski and allows the adductor muscles to be used to pull the tip of the ski downwards and for it to swing into the turn while remaining on its uphill edge. We did an exercise first with the top ski held in the air and with a ski pole placed in the ground between the skis to block the tip when pulled against the pole. Initially Jenny’s heel went outwards which showed her tendency to twist the leg outwards (in a turn). The heel should come inwards due the the tip being blocked and the leg being pulled laterally.

Once the lower ski is lifted off the snow support is taken up on the ski pole which is planted downhill and behind the feet (so as not to get in the way during the turn). The adductors pull at the same time as the centre of mass is moved directly downhill into the turn. The pole allows the centre of mass to move inwards slowly but securely – without the ski changing edge until it is pointing downhill. Jenny rapidly improved with each exercise.

Although Jenny was developing edge control she was struggling to move the centre of mass correctly – and it was being left too much to the outside of the turn and too much in the vertical (often mistaken for “leaning back”). Jenny found it very hard to move the centre of mass inwards (back up the hill) during the second half of each turn.

Inside Ski Pivot

Pivoting on the inside ski demands much more commitment of the centre of mass into the turn – and accordingly stronger pole use. Jenny struggled to achieve this so it was a great exercise for her to do and she quickly improved. The most noticeable issue was at the end of the turn where she didn’t seem to realise how much it was necessary to move in towards the centre. The foot still has to be placed on its inside edge – even though we now have both inside edge of the foot and inside edge of the ski together.

Two Ski Pivot

I explained to Jenny that for soft snow off-piste a better platform can sometimes be provided by having two skis together, pivoting as one platform. This is only the case in direct fall line skiing where the body does not travel across the slope. (The same applies often in bump skiing)

Linked Fall-line Pivots

We worked for a while on linking pivots and concentrating on preventing the body from going across the hill. This is a “braking” form of skiing with the feet always downhill and the skis always on uphill edges. A rhythm can be established. Jenny was able to pivot correctly some of the time and it certainly helped her to maintain a narrow stance. The work of “pulling in” is very counter intuitive and even those who have not been taught snowplough still have a lot of trouble with this. It appears to be instinctive or emotional to want to stem or push outwards  and “resist”. Pushing outwards generates stiffness and stops the ski from functioning or gripping – and so makes the legs even straighter and more rigid. Jenny was managing to improve her control over body rotation much better – so that she wasn’t traversing off across the hill in her tractor turns.


We did a small amount of spinning around because this develops edge awareness. Spinning to the left and when half way around, the right ski pole can be used to provide force to continue the pivot. The pivot has to be done with the same edging skills as the sideslip.

Independent Legs Pivot

We worked for a short while indoors with standing on the heels and pivoting the the fronts of the feet like windscreen wipers  - feet wide apart - without the pelvis or upper body turning. Each leg turns only in its own hip socket. Jenny was relatively stiff with this even indoors. On snow we stood on the slope with the feet down below and the top foot advanced. The idea was to repeat the “windscreen wiper” effect with each ski pivoting independently but simultaneously. Once again with some practice Jenny managed to improve – but this was a hard one for her. The idea here is to totally eliminate upper body rotation. When the skis are close together it’s much harder to eliminate rotation – the pelvis having to follow around to some degree. doe to one ski ending up higher on the mountain than the other.

Air Pivots

In the context of wide stance independent leg pivots we did some jumping to start each swing in the air.  This didn’t seem to help much at the moment so I didn’t dwell on it. Jump turns and short swings (rhythmic jump turns) are important aspect of pivoting for more demanding terrain or snow conditions.

Pulling in with the hip

Jenny was still tending to rotate so we worked on holding the hip in tight through the turn completion – instead of allowing it to swing outwards. This keeps the body facing more downhill – but it works because the ski, foot, adductors, centre of mass are all being pulled inwards. Most people face downhill and use that as a position to easily push everything outwards.

Sitting Stance

We worked on a low seated stance in some off-piste fresh snow. This automatically places both feet and knees downhill from the body and gives great security. It’s best to use a close stance with feet together and tight pivots without finishing them off too much – the speed control coming from the snow against the legs.

Upright Stance

On good snow you can stand up straighter and still carry out all of those actions. A very relaxed skier is actually working hard at being relaxed and although many skills are now integrated and unconscious there is always a mental urge towards defensive and inappropriate actions that has to be actively countered. Jenny managed to stand up a bit straighter for the final part of the video clip.


Overall Jenny had a clear feeling for the pivoting movement and muscle coordination and was able to achieve it to a good degree most of the time. Flexibility and freedom of movement will increase as this is developed. The same coordination is required for all turns – but it is most evident when pivoting. Jenny still tends to be a bit too far back at the start of each acceleration downhill for each turn and there is still a bit too much rotation. Dynamics towards the turn completion is the main issue now – she does not move far enough in through the end of the turn – and then consequently fails to come back out of the turn on the lower ski properly. This will be a key issue to continue with tomorrow.