Monday, December 17, 2012

Jenny 2

Today’s plan was to revise yesterday’s work to some extent but also to quickly move on to dynamics. Before the session I explained to Jenny how the failure to sink in towards the inside of the turn would kill the dynamics of the end of the turn, bringing her up and out too soon and then also making the start of the next turn difficult.  We were joined at the last minute by William (who I always think of as George) but I would remain focussed on Jenny to try to ensure a useful overall result. When somebody is generally stiff, static and very tense on skis it is a real challenge to change that – both for the skier and the instructor.

Consciously Blocking Rotation

On our warm up run down the Vert we paused to work on linking short pivoted turns down the fall line. I wanted Jenny to remember to sink down through the turn and prevent the body from swinging around. Jenny asked how to stop the upper body and shoulders from rotating and so I explained that the first thing to do was to be aware that they were rotating and then to simply try to consciously block them so that they don’t rotate as the skis come around. We did a few controlled turns working on this on the groomed piste and then continued heading down out of the wind – eventually going up the button lift on the racing piste which is well sheltered and had deep fresh snow as good as any off-piste. I couldn’t really tackle William and focus on Jenny at the same time so I just observed William. His skiing was quite strong and fluid with good dynamics but there were a few quirks that would need to be straightened out at some point.

Deep Powder

The opportunity to use deep fresh snow quickly put paid to any thoughts about revision. Powder snow assists pivoting anyway so this was an opportunity to exploit it and move straight on to the dynamics. I was confident that Jenny understood the pivoting exercises we had already done the previous day and that it would take time and practice to replace her old emotionally driven skills (reinforced by ski schools). Working on dynamics would actually help that process because the pivot is aided by appropriate dynamics.

I asked Jenny to adopt the lower seated stance and keep both feet close together downhill of the body – making a single platform. It’s important to take your own line in the snow to get untracked snow which slows you down. The skis are then pivoted slightly one way and then the other and they are easily swung in the soft snow and aided with the movement into the turn with the centre of mass. I especially wanted Jenny to sink down into the turn and hold the body inside by relaxing and bending the legs – instead of resisting and letting the legs go rigid and then rotating. This is easier to do if the feet are kept together for a solid stable support base. On the steeper terrain Jenny struggled a little but held it together and so it was a good start. William managed a couple of head plants and so clearly indicated that his issues were slightly more than cosmetic.

Video Clip Analysis

We moved onto the longer Mont Blanc piste for a more continuous as less steep run. This is where the video clip is taken. Jenny is moving well here starting the turn with dynamics and maintaining the dynamics by sinking down and into the turn – then using the power of the skis to come up out of the turn. There is a good active range of motion and improved control over rotation. The stance remains generally close and the pivoting is working correctly with everything being pulled inwards. Jenny later commented that the deep snow had helped because she could clearly feel the instability caused by failing to hold the centre of mass down and inside the turn until just before completing it.  Jenny also shows some postural issues on this clip, with her lower back slightly hollowed. This explains her tendency to stiffen and lower her arms and hands. George meantime starts his video clip run with a bum wiggle worthy of any exotic belly dancer! He is pushing the skis outwards although this is largely disguised by his good dynamics. The bum wiggle is an attempt to push the skis around with his hips. When he gets going and starts to use the forces from gravity and skis then the dynamics take over and he looks strong and fluid – which works great until it gets steep and then he belly dances himself into trouble again. His up/down movement is either non existent or out of sync and his pole use reflects this. He gets away with this due to his strong and effective use of dynamics. Overall he is a strong skier.


Over a hot chocolate I decided to begin to tackle the issue of posture. Poor postural control not only affects skiing profoundly but it affects long term back health – so it is important to become aware of posture management. The first stage in posture control is pelvic tilt. That is tilting upwards of pelvis at the front to prevent the lower back from going hollow and the abdomen from going slack. This is correct provided it doesn’t lock up the hip joints and the skier can still flex freely at the hips. Standing beside a table we all simulated a turn completion with the upper body facing downhill, so there was a slight twist in the spine . This is often referred to as upper/lower body separation and it feels like the body is winding up tight at the end of a turn – to then be released like a spring unwinding a the start of the next. I then explained that instead of doing this just pull back the hip (on the support leg) and feel the spine twist in the opposite direction. This is the “correct” way to ski because this actually works the core muscles and posture in a way that keep them taught and active protecting the back . It’s how special slalom is done with breakaway poles, the body passing on the inside of the pole and clearing with the outside arm.  The “wind up” twist of the spine in the other direction was used with old solid poles and with protecting with the inside arm – but this causes the posture to go slack and for the lower back to take the full force of any compressions. 

On snow we simplified all of the above to just pulling back the hip of the leg on which you are standing (the outside ski normally) all the way around the turn. For George this is important because it is the opposite from his bum wiggle. George still tried to employ other bends both forwards and sideways in the spine but I pointed out to him that you only bend at the hips – you do not bend the back. Jenny’s posture automatically looked better when she did this with her arms and hands visibly reflecting this by looking more relaxed. Posture has to be practiced for it to become an unconscious habit and skill.

I gave an exercise on chi-walking with the skis off to show how the postural problems actually come from bad walking and running techniques related to wearing shoes with heels. We walked with extending the stride behind to use the large thigh muscles and core muscles with a twist in the spine as the hip went backwards – and using gravity for propulsion – instead of the all too common standard “reaching ahead” with the stride and landing on the heel then using the smaller quads to try to all of the work. When walking or running correctly the foot lands below the body and over-striding is avoided. The exercises we did on skis are derived directly from this understanding of body mechanics.

Pulling the hip backwards has a remarkably similar effect to pushing the foot forwards. It’s almost impossible to distinguish between the overall result except for the effects on posture at the lower back.


When Jenny became tired I pointed out that she could turn that to her advantage. The tiredness was due to resistance – the tendency to brace against increasing forces during the turn – which has the effect of “fighting” against your own muscles. (We did the dumbell simulation – arms relaxed and all arm muscles clenched). I explained that when really tired it can actually help to encourage efficiency by helping you to let go and relax those muscles that are resisting.  In ChiRunning to run faster you don’t use more power you simply relax more – and let gravity take you. Likewise in skiing you become stronger by relaxing more – down and inside the turn.

Using the skis

I pointed out to Jenny how people skiing around us were simply passive through the ends of their turns – not sinking down and building up pressure and then using that to control speed and to lift them up out of the turn and into the next. They didn’t finish their turns – they just brushed off speed by skidding instead of using the “line” of the turn. When Jenny applied this she looked very effective and clearly understood and felt how it worked. She was the only skier around using the skis. Good skiers work the skis this way and feel this sort of action all the time.

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