Sunday, December 9, 2012

Eva, Andy Val d’isère



Neither Eva nor Andy had skied at all this season so we went straight to the “Vert” training piste which was in excellent condition for warming up and regaining confidence. While they were getting comfortable I was just observing. Both felt at home with wide turns at a medium speed on a well groomed slope – which is standard for classically trained skiers. Neither could cope with short turns very well and both fell apart off-piste. This quickly established that despite significant personal differences both were around the same level. Classical ski instruction had left both with a collection of different issues that are completely insurmountable if tackled directly. Eva was in the back of her ski boots despite trying to press forwards and Andy was unstable  and skidding due to his up/down timing being inappropriate. Those were the most obvious issues so I decided to use them to start coaching from a common denominator – and the most appropriate place to begin appeared to be with skating.  There isn’t much point listing all the apparent faults with their skiing at this stage because the real issue is with the faults in the previous instruction. My aim was to exploit their strengths and move on from there with a completely new understanding. 
Initial video showing “on the piste” skiing before changing anything.











The Face de Bellevarde prepared for World Cup Giant Slalom this morning.



For both skiers the aim was to develop a feeling for integrating skating into skiing. For Eva this would help to get her legs bending and take her off the back of the ski boots. You can’t skate with either of those things happening. For Andy this would force his up/down timing to invert  and become the right way round. Along with the skating there are several supporting aspects that we would be looking at. First of all I checked to see if both could skate and it was clear that they could. Given that they could both skate we attempted a “direct method” by simply skating straight down a gentle gradient and feeling the skis generating an arc during the skating. I emphasised that skating had to continue – the legs had to keep working and there should be no sudden switch to “skiing”. 

We did some exercises skating across the hill – stepping uphill  - which gives the feeling associated with the end of a turn as both the ski and the leg lift the centre of mass upwards. The direction of the motion of the body is not important at this stage. We then went straight into doing 3 skates per turn, down to 2 skates and then back down to 1 skate.


To support the exercises we worked on awareness of the feet. Both had learned to press on the front of the feet and push on the shins. This clearly had the opposite effect on Eva who was completely in the back of the boots and in Andy’s case it made him very unstable. With Andy there was a noticeable twisting of the ski into the turn – which was also present for Eva but slightly less obvious due to her being in the back seat. I explained that we try to remain centered in the ski boots, just touching the shins lightly against the fronts. This is most simply achieved by placing the weight through the heels – though that can be refined later on. When the weight is on the heels the feet can be rocked laterally – this is because the subtaler joint between the ankle and the heel can be isolated. Standing across the hill I asked for both feet to be rocked uphill (uphill edges) on the subtaler joints.  This causes the downhill foot to go on its inside edge but for the forefoot to rotate outwards; pressure can be felt on the inside of the ankle and against the outside of the little toe. The uphill foot is not so important but it would rock onto its outside edge – this being mostly for symmetry.  It was important to notice here that this is the opposite of twisting the support foot (downhill foot) inwards. We did some skating with the feet rolled over like this and taking it into turns. Even when simply skating along the flats with both feet rolled inwards it could be felt as a natural skating stance. This protects the knees from injury because there is never a twisting or torque inwards of the knee.


To bring more support to the skating action we began working on using the adductor muscles. Just rocking the foot onto the inside edge at the subtaler joint you can feel the adductor muscles tighten on the inside of the leg up to the groin. I now wanted there to be an active pulling inwards with the adductors on the leg on the outside of the turn throughout the skating action. I explained how in snowplough people are taught to push the leg outwards into a stem and that this is the wrong coordination for skiing. We need to always pull inwards towards the turn centre.
The combination of skating timing, feet rolling and adductors was already quite a lot to deal with – but both did well and managed the exercises. Eva felt muddled at times but that’s also normal because there is a lot that we hadn’t covered and when skating off the lower leg sometimes the body can appear to be moving in the wrong direction for the next turn – but I assured her that she was doing the exercised correctly and was feeling the appropriate things – including the rhythm and constant working of the legs. She also managed to get off the back of the boots much of the time without even trying. Andy looked much more stable and secure from changing his timing.
Video after working on skating for a while…



During a drinks break over video feedback I explained the basics of “dynamics”. Back out on the piste we started with my standard exercises of pressing against the shoulder and moving both slowly and with an acceleration to experience the different resultant effects at the feet. Pressing hard against my shoulder put pressure on the far ski as did accelerating the body rapidly towards me. Moving slowly over towards my shoulder put pressure on the near ski. The way of moving changing the outcome totally. I explained that this acceleration was the key to starting a turn with the centre of mass. Poor skiers displace the skis by pushing them outwards but good skiers only move the centre of mass. We did a few “swings to the hill” in both directions and then some complete turns before setting off and using dynamics in skiing. Andy noticed straight away that it was less tiring on the legs. At one point when both were standing across the hill facing me I asked them to put their weight on the right legs (which were uphill) and then asked them which way they moved to do this. Both had moved to the right. I wanted it to be clear that when skiing to get pressure on the right leg you accelerate to the left!!!!!!! Andy was very aware that he had been taught the opposite in ski school.
We applied the dynamics slightly off piste just to show how nothing changes for long turns. I asked both skiers to forget about trying to face downhill and to just follow the skis around the turn – which simplifies dynamics greatly at this stage. Andy tended to push his hips into the turn to begin with and Eva dropped her shoulders in – but we worked a little to correct and simplify this. I briefly explained to Andy that “angulation” comes naturally from skating – not from moving your hips about.


Prior to finishing the session I wanted to start work on pivoting. Neither skier had any awareness of being able to initiate a turn from the uphill edges so we began with sideslipping and then sideslipping on the uphill ski only. I then added the rocking inwards of the foot (uphill ski) and then the pulling of the front of the ski inwards with the adductor muscles. The ski swings downhill easily as there is no edge resistance to stop it. Both managed a few correctly but soon reverted to going across the hill and stemming the top ski outwards onto its inside edge. That’s normal at this stage. I just wanted to  introduce the concept because it is a major issue as all fall-line skiing requires this action. This is required for bump skiing, couloir skiing (keeping the feet below the body) and deep powder skiing in the fall line. It’s a way of braking by constantly sideslipping on the uphill edges – but it looks like smooth turning. The muscular actions and timing otherwise remain the same as we had been working at already. We did one exercise with pulling the ski tips against my pole stuck in the ground – so that the heel came inwards as the tip of the ski was blocked. This verifies that a lateral pull with the adductors is being used and not a twisting or torque with the leg.


Eva and Andy went to late lunch and would hopefully be back out to practice later. I explained that to simplify things just think of moving the Centre of Mass inwards, pulling the adductors inwards and rolling the feet inwards – everything towards the centre at the same time. The pivoting is tricky to learn at first and extremely few people are clearly aware of the roll of the edges (even professionals). The brainwashing of “inside edges” from snowplough to racing is total. Dynamics are still used in pivoting – but only from vertical to perpendicular and not beyond. I explained to Eva that all she needed to do to stay off the back of the boots is to adjust to perpendicular when sliding downhill and that feels physically exactly the same as when vertical going across the hill – you never “lean forwards”. (unless for very specific racing techniques!)

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