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.

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