Sunday, January 8, 2012

Victor Day 7

The storm subsided long enough for the ski lifts to open today. It appears that the jet stream is largely responsible having slipped further south and for longer than usual and dragging the cold polar air along with it. By mid-day the winds had returned and the glacier (panoramic image) was closed once again - skiing being available only at lower altitudes.

Carving Objective
Rodion's training had been significantly disrupted by the weather and we were still quite far away from obtaining the goal for the week - which was to get Rodion properly centred over his skis when carving. Today was the last opportunity available and Rodion was fully aware and concerned that he still couldn't relate to anything concrete technically in carving. The work during the week had been all in "pivoting" but with the aim of developing skills that would then help with carving and racing.

Inside Leg Symmetry
We had already looked briefly at how to use the inside leg to keep both skis at the same angle to the snow and the legs symmetrical. This wasn't in the context of carving but in general skiing with turns initiated on the downhill edges. I'd taught Rodion this to try to prevent his tendency to create an "A-frame" with his legs and to position his body better over his outside hip joint. Pulling the knee of the inside leg of the turn inwards (towards the centre of the turn) can help to bring the outside hip more securely beneath the uper body and act as the point of rotation around which hip angulation is achieved.  The only time this isn't perhaps valid is when the feet are held together for a two ski pivot - but in this case holding the feet and knees together creates it's own symmetry.

Double Carving
The first exercise we started off with was simple "double carving" from the fall line across the hill. The skis are placed parallel, facing downhill, one on the inside edge and one on the outside edge - depending on which direction the skier will carve - similar to traversing but facing downhill on a gentle gradient. Rodion has no difficulty in holding the skis on edge and tracking or "railing" along the edges. The important issue here comes from moving very slowly. Where there are no dynamics due to very low speed, the skier has to balance between the two skis (similar to snowplough) and the only way to do this is to use hip angulation to get the centre of mass between the skis - with the upper-body slightly turned towards the outside ski. This provides a slow, safe platform for developing awareness of hip angulation.  Rodion had trouble at first creating hip angulation because he kept his upper body far too upright. The required position is similar to a speed skater - with the upper-body tilted forward at the hip joints. Progressively, he managed to improve this and to maintain a symmetry with his legs. 

We went through an "edge changing" exercise statically - which Rodion found difficult - placing both skis on their downhill edges while standing still! This definitely requires strong angulation with the upperbody tilted uphill to generate the angles required to place the skis on the correct edges.

Linking turns with some speed Rodion was able to maintain a good proportion of angulation and symmetry - though these are things that still require work to be done - and plenty of conscious practice.

As speed increases balance is replaced with dynamics (accelerations) and the pressure is more oriented towards the outside ski in the turn. The important thing here is to not permit this shift to cause a loss of symmetry and disorganisation of the body. Rodion was able to take the "balanced" stance into dynamics with a reasonable amount of success.

Skating Without Skating
It was still clear to me from his skiing that Rodion did not understand why we were doing all of this. The reason for working on angulation, centring of the body and awareness of the centre of mass was so that eventually Rodian would be able to use all of this to replace "skating" in his carving. When asked directly to use the standard down/up timing (motorbike turning analogy) Rodion would revert to leg retraction - an advanced method he had been taught years ago to help go faster in steep slalom courses - but which should not be confused with other things. Rodion was already moving his centre of mass in the right way for pivoted turns - but he couldn't sense the same movement through the longer sustained pressure cycle of carving. I explained that it felt exactly like skating - with pressure from start to finish (unlike leg retraction which completely relaxes the legs through the end of a turn). The difference is that the pressure is not made by you skating but that it happens to you due to your down/up motion of the centre of mass. When going slowly you can even generate greater pressure by exaggerating this movement because the hip angulation puts the skis very much on edge and they then try to lift you back up out of the turn even harder than usual. The sensation is one of skating - but you are not skating. The two pressure cycles are identical - one can be made by you "skating" and the other happens to you by dropping down into the turn. This can of course also be done without angulation - just with pure dynamics - but that puts many limits on what can be achieved here. In addition Rodion needed to learn how to place his body so as to avoid falling onto the inside ski and to keep a symmetry with his legs - so other issues were involved in this case.

Downhill Power Skating
I also explained to Rodion that the angulation and anticipation (body facing outwards through the turn completion) allowed the skier to skate in the sense that the body would face downhill and the legs skate off to the side - exactly like trying to skate fast downhill, but that the ski would curve back in, underneath and in front of the skater/skier and that by sinking down (with hip angulation) the skate could be held as long as necessary to complete a direction change - springing back up to complete the turn. This extra down-sinking being the main difference from normal skating.

Two Skis Skating
I demonstrated the carving with strong down/up motion generating a lot of force and Rodion described it as looking like I was skating with both skis at the same time. This is correct and showed me that he is understanding - because you can only see things that you understand. Rodion was able to then integrate everything and feel all of this for himself - to the extent that he now recognises the correct feelings.

We had unknowingly lost communications with the rest of the family because my phone had mysteriously switched itself to airplane mode. I'd never before had it on airplane mode so I didn't recognise the problem and thought that there must be other reasons for no-one replying to my texts. Meanwhile the family was panicking as we had intended roughly to meet and perhaps finish early for travelling purposes. Without this extra time however Rodion would not have managed to reach a clear technical goal - so it really turned out for the best. Rodion didn't get time to refine or practice at the end but his understanding was clear enough for it to survive. Correct timing gives an unmistakable sensation and he got it basically right in the end (even if the poles were still not being used and he could still have moved more). Once you have felt this then it provides a clear reference to aim for in the future.

Wild Chamois
Chamois surviving on a section where Rodion had descended off-piste a few days earlier. I used a 30X magnification lens to (810mm) to be able to get "close" to the small animals.

This chamois has clearly mastered the art of mindful quadripedal chiwalking. Her left hind leg is placed accurately below the centre of gravity while the other foot is left behind extending the stride backwards - using the large core muscles of the hindquarters. 
It's impressive to see the difference in thickness between the front and back legs. It's also impressive to see in the video how unsteady these animals seem be in their deep snow environment. A lot of them die over the winter and that's not surprising.

Bye Zermatt!
Final departure from Zermatt on the train down to Tasch.  I had stashed my bag in the cleaner's room at the apartment block  (had to vacate the room at 9am) so after skiing at 4:45pm just went straight there and grabbed it - pulling it out onto the street and hailing a passing electric taxi. Within minutes I was at the train station, changed out of the ski boots and packed away the skis. In the car park at the terminal down in Tasch I changed out of the ski clothing and was driving home by 6pm. I resisted the temptation to cross over the mountains via Argentiere despite seeing the building and street lights outlining the route up the mountain pass from Martigny. The weather was still too bad. My original intention had been to take the motorway around the north of lake Geneva and pass through Geneva then on down to Chambery, but I decided at the last minute I couldn't face all those extra kilometres and so headed for the smaller road on the south side of the lake, cutting out Geneva. This was a good move as the roads were empty and despite extremely bad weather I made surprisingly good time arriving home at 11:15pm after a whole day skiing in Zermatt.

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