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.

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