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.

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