Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rodion 3 – Getting Rodion to ski again

During today’s short warm up run I noticed that Rodion was not standing properly and that even the knee on his outside ski was being allowed to point outwards instead of being held inwards towards the turn. I asked Rodion what he was doing with his legs and what he was doing with his feet but he had no idea.  I asked him to stand on the heel, touch the front of the boot with the shin and rock the foot onto its inside edge while feeling the adductor muscle pulling the knee inwards – and then o ski like this with the outside leg in the turn always doing this. It was obvious that we would need to do some skating work.


Despite the fact that Rodion had learned to ski with a skating action he was not now able to skate into rhythmic skiing and maintain the skate timing and action properly now. He was using a rotation to start each of his turns and this was bringing him off his outside leg and onto the inside leg. He would then sit down into the turn once the skis were around the start of the turn and only then try to build up pressure on the outside ski. The stance was too narrow and there was no real angulation due to the upper body being held too upright. Rodion was just sitting down into the turn. His posture was poor - hollow lower back and pelvis tilted downwards and all sorts of problems were apparent here.


The queues for the lifts were too big so we just went over to the slalom stadium to use the empty button lift. This also gave us a space free of tourists to train on – thanks to Sarah and Gerard Bonnevie.  Here I wanted Liliana to work on completing her turns and controlling her speed on steep terrain and for Victor to work on angulation – but using “chi hips”. I had to explain to Rodion how angulation is formed by standing on one hip and the entire upper body tilting forwards and rotating on the one hip joint. First of all it was necessary to show Rodion where the hip was because he didn’t know. He didn’t understand what the pelvis was either.  Standing on one leg with the skis off he was able to feel the correct sensation of support on one leg that should be present when skiing. He was then encouraged to stand on one leg at the start of the turn and to stay on the leg as the body moved into the turn. Initially he couldn’t do this properly and fell off the hip joint but gradually the correct feeling of support returned. Rodion was encouraged to tilt forwards more from the hips to have better angulation and avoid being caught sitting too far back – especially as the race course had sudden changes of gradient.  There was still a passive stance – not aggressively moving the centre of mass, static legs and tendency to sit into the turn with late pressure on the skis. Using a wide stance and tilting the body forwards along with a better support from the outside leg  for his dynamics Rodion was able to beat his previous record from 2011 and is now at 25:88 seconds.




Advanced Skating and Angulation

Fearing confusing everything for Rodion I nevertheless plunged into advanced skating techniques. The idea was to skate downhill and try to see the race course as an exercise in directly skating downhill – but meanwhile being forced to travel side to side from pole to pole – body always facing downhill due to skating downhill. This gives a timing where the outside of the gate (poles) is the apex of each turn and not beneath the gate. In addition the leg has to extend at the start of the turn to skate the ski outwards to the side as the body is pushed directly downhill and a strong pressure is generated against the ski immediately in the turn while the ski is still uphill. It’s critical here that the extension of the leg is not translated into an “up” movement – the centre of mass is still sent downwards towards the snow and into the turn with this extension. The main idea is to separate the trajectory of the skis from the trajectory of the body and create pressure in doing so. 

To begin to use the core power of the body for skating I had to introduce the chi-hips to Rodion. He had now mastered some awareness of the pelvis and could tilt his pelvis upwards. I explained that the task here was to keep the shoulders and knees facing ahead and to turn the pelvis only outwards (counter to the direction of the turn). This – with the pelvis initially tilted upwards - causes the core muscles to come into use during the skating and angulation. We did a long run of carving applying this before having to resort to short turns for bumps at the end. Remarkably when we started the short turns Rodion’s stance and dynamics looked great with everything having returned perhaps even better than before in 2011.

Liliana was still struggling to keep her body inside the turns – especially on the second half of each turn. Her tendency to rotate instead of angulate was quite strong and possibly due largely to tension. Victor was gaining awareness of the chi stance and core muscle use and the role of angulation. Timothy looked great when he worked on skating and despite being bored a lot of the time was steadily improving.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Brian, Christine - 1

Watching Christine ski, knowing that she was being cautious after recovering from ACL surgery, I was looking for general characteristics to determine what was needed to help her confidence to grow. There was a tendency to lift the inside ski to start the turn and to slightly rush the start, followed by the skis locking on edge and taking over in the second half of the turn. I couldn’t be sure why there was so limited edge control – the “locking on” being undesirable in this context but I felt there was however a definite problem with dynamics. The stance also looked wrong with the knee coming too far inwards – exactly what you don’t want when there are ACL issues. The locking on could have been partly due to the inappropriate knee use and partly from being too passive and static – not working the turn by pushing the foot forwards.




I didn’t have to analyse Christine’s skiing too far because she admitted confusion over which way to move the body when skiing. Listening to her talking and watching her body language it was clear that she didn’t understand dynamics so I decided to explain the subject from scratch and carry out the basic exercises involved. (Dynamic s link). Once Christine was clear about how to accelerate the centre of mass into a turn we practiced linking turns down the hill.  This would correct the unnecessary lifting of the inside ski and the rushing of the start of the turn  because the dynamics creates pressure beneath the outside ski immediately and so there is a feeling of security from the start of the turn.

Foot Forwards

Knowing that Christine would be most insecure on steeper slopes I decided to introduce “feet forwards” technique. We removed the skis and began with just standing on one heel and rotating on it, swinging the outside leg around in the air in an arc. The boot was then allowed to touch the snow lightly and begin to trace and arc on the snow. Eventually the boot was pressed lightly into the ground to create a resistance and this time the foot had to be pushed along to trace the arc on the snow. This gives the same feeling required to push the foot forwards when skiing.

Claire tried that on a slightly steeper slope for the first time and immediately her turns were tighter. I hadn’t told her this would happen. There are two ingredients necessary to reduce turn radius; stronger dynamics and the pushing forwards of the outside foot. This was also intended to help to reduce the skis taking over and locking too much on edge.  This active movement of working the skis puts the skier back in charge and stops the skis from taking over.

Feet and Adductors

Indoors we each removed a ski boot so that I could explain how the feet and ankles work properly inside the boots. I showed Christine that standing on the meddle to front of the foot caused a chain of collapsing from the ankle up to the knee, causing the knee to be twisted into the turn and exposing the ACL to potential injury. Standing on the heel however allows the foot to be rocked onto its inside edge and the adductor muscles can then pull the knee inwards laterally with no twisting. I felt that part of the “locking on the edges” problem might be due to the knee twisting inwards.

To conclude Claire now had to combine dynamics (centre of mass), pushing the outside foot forwards, standing on the heel and rocking onto the inside edge of the foot and pulling inwards with the adductor muscles. All the pressure should be on the outside ski from the start to the end of the turn and everything should feel as if being pulled inwards towards the turn centre.


Brian and Compression Turns

Once Christine was dropped off safely for lunch Brian and I went up high again to start on his skiing. Brian seemed unable to concentrate on his own skiing for a moment and I also had to push an internal reset button to tune into Brian’s skiing. It struck me for some reason that we had an opportunity to work on bumps and so we started to work on compression turns – something we hadn’t looked at at all when he was previously on carving skis – but also something that shouldn’t be neglected.  The compression turn can be simulated on the flat by simply retracting the legs but the idea is to represent a strong compression of the knees towards the chest that happens when hitting a big mogul. With support from a pole plant the body falls downhill during compression and the skis pivot from the top/back of the bump sideslipping down the front accompanied by a full extension of the legs into the trough until compressing on the next bump.



Rodion (age 10) same “Sanglier” bumps in Meribel… (towards the end of the clip)


The bumps really brought out some weaknesses that needed to be addressed in Brian’s skiing. Carving had allowed him to address those issues in long turns with strong supportive feedback but those improvements had not transferred over to pivoting. The video clip highlights the main faults – the outer arm high in the air when it should be low with the body angulated and the pole already planted. The hips and pelvis rotating from the lower back and a sideways bend to try to get the pole planted. The dropping of the inside hip as the body kinks sideways – all related to Brain’s old “two footed” stance and pushing outwards of his feet.

We looked at Chi Hips as a possible solution but that didn’t do the trick. I did however perceive a better explanation of Chi Hips due to trying to demonstrate this in the context of pivoting. It’s really a counter-rotation of the pelvis in the opposite direction from the turn – while in contrast the chest and legs rotate into the turn. I got Brian to simple feel the rotation of his leg with his back and buttocks pressed up against a wall the leg had to rotate in the hip joint – foot turned to approx. 90° with the toes pointing inwards – without the buttock leaving the wall. This at least guarantees the hip is kept in place for angulation to be possible – where the body tilts forwards and swings out over the hip joint. If the hip comes forwards instead pulling the pelvis around, then creating angulation at the hip joint is impossible (hence the sideways bending of the spine to compensate).

We did several exercises to generate angulation. First of all neutral pelvis is established, tilting the pelvis up at the front – then the whole upper body (including pelvis) is tilted forwards at the hip joints. standing on one leg the body can pivot on the top of this femur – and this is angulation. Brian was able to do this with no skis on and standing still – so it proved that it was his two footed association (memory) with skiing that caused the problem – not a coordination issue. Skiing in a wide stance helps to move away from the old two footed habits and develop independent leg action and angulation. Exercises such as holding the inside arm and hip high are actually quite awkward to ski with – likewise is grapping the inside buttock and pulling it upwards.  Allowing the body to face into the turn for the first half of the turn and then feel the leg coming around across the front of the body towards the end gives a good stable platform to feel the whole natural progression of angulation on the top of a single femur.

The “Chi Hips” is a further development of angulation that protects the back and allows the active use of the core muscles – but it is becoming apparent that this protective aspect needs to be learned after basic angulation itself.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mark & Claire 1

Warm Up

First ski run of the season is best considered a warm up run. This is also an opportunity for me to observe and decide the most appropriate issue to tackle first –and how to go about it. Different people respond to different things so it’s important to have a basic profile of the way people move and their attitudes. Claire had some natural dynamics and timing in her skiing but was clearly mainly pushing out her outside ski and using a form of whole body rotation to turn with a wide stance and a tendency to be on the back of her ski boots. When questioned about skiing she had no concept or awareness of how to actually make a turn on skis.

Intro to Dynamics

I explained to Claire that there were two fundamental aspects to skiing – dynamics and skating. A basic outline of dynamics can be found HERE! I explained that her job is to fall over and the ski’s job is to bring her up.

Claire had already been using some dynamics naturally and unconsciously so as I expected she was able to work with dynamics quite naturally. We did the static exercises (shoulder) and then a few turns up the hill from a traverse – then complete turns. I wanted Claire to understand the skiing is about moving the centre of mass and that it moves into the turn actively.  During the static exercises I had Claire feel how moving slowly or quickly had completely different results at feet with pressure being generated on a different foot for each case.

Mark was already using strong dynamics but his support base for the dynamics was very muddled – particularly due to a very upright stance and a serious blocking of the hips joints. There was also a strong rotation especially to begin a turn to the right and a twisting of the feet into the turn and knees out of the turn. The skis were somehow flattening Mark’s foot and pulling the knee outwards. On the turn to the right there seemed to be a lateral bending of the spine at the start of the turn. He was also skiing two footed and this indicates that there was still some pushing out of the skis or twisting them (feet perhaps) into the turn. There was a persistent bowlegged-ness and lack of hip angulation. The start of the turns were rushed and then followed by prolonged bracing against the skis once they were downhill of the body. I could see that out of all of this the hips were the biggest problem. The Warm Up  and Dynamics took us to the first pit stop for a drink, after which I decide to start to work on Mark. The priority was Claire but nevertheless I felt that Mark couldn’t be left with such significant problems unattended. After the pit stop the intention was to work on skating to help with Mark, until we found that Claire couldn’t skate at all and so that became an even greater priority to sort out.




Intro to Skating

To get Claire skating I had her push me backwards while falling forwards me between her diverging skis. Initially she couldn’t hold an edge well enough to push me but soon found out how pulling in the knees together slightly with the adductor muscles gets  the skis on edge. The inside edge of the ski is not centred beneath the foot so it takes an effort to pull in with both the centre of mass and the adductor muscles to keep the ski on edge and to avoid it flattening out. We also spent some time doing herringbone

Mark could not stop himself from going bow legged as soon as his skating began to evolve into turns by adding some dynamics (letting the body fall to the inside). Essentially both skiers were allowing the feet to be flattened by the skis – instead of having the boot (shaft) provide support and for the feet to remain on their inside edges inside the ski boots.

After skiing Mark bought Claire new performance ski boots, which should go along way towards helping Claire overcome this edge control issue. Claire’s hire boots were slightly under-edged and the new boots were built with more edge before even adjusting the canting.

Diverging Parallel

Mark attempted to ski with constantly diverging skis – as in an exaggerated version of he “diverging parallel” – but this was dominated by the problem of the knees coming out into a bow-legged stance. Mark commented on having a feeling of the outside hip coming forwards and blocking or jamming. This remark made me feel that it might be necessary to work directly on this issue through the techniques of “chi-running” – specifically, getting the outside hip to pull backwards instead of moving forwards. I didn’t really want to get into this but it seemed potentially very relevant for Mark – though Mark did appear to have postural issues to complicate the matter.

Chi Hips and Posture

An outline of the Chi issues can be found HERE! We started with exaggerated walking to show how the tendency is to drive the hip forwards – which is exaggerated in skiing by the ski pulling the hip in front of the body and compressing the front lower rib into the pelvis. We did some chi-walking with the aid of ski poles to feel the glutes contract while the stride was stretched behind the body and the spine twisted (up to the 12 thoracic vertebra – ribs) . The idea was to pull the hip backwards and feel the space open up between the bottom front rib and the pelvis even as the ski came around in front of the upper body. Mark had serious trouble doing this due to lack of awareness of how to separate his pelvic movements and to hold the pelvis up at the front. We worked directly on posture for a while to attempt to correct this – pulling up the pelvis while relaxing and flexing the hip joints. Strangely mark could get it right when asked to reach ahead and hold on to my horizontal ski poles – he could then pull back the hip and feel an appropriate  rotation around the spine.

A detailed inquiry into “energy” and the relevance of “chi” can be found HERE – under “Energy Illusion”.

Intro to Pivoting

A full description of pivoting can be found HERE! Claire found this quite difficult to do and needed reassurance that this was in fact quite normal at this stage. She had only even been shown how to do accelerating, racing type turns and did not know the skills of “braking” turns. The idea at this stage was only to raise her awareness and present the possibility of using this partially in turn initiation. Just having the knowledge that turns do not require jamming the ski on it’s inside edge is liberating.

Speed Skating

Following a hunch I had mark bend right over like a speed skater with his hands behind his back and sure enough this freed his blocked hips and permitted him to skate and ski without any bowlegged-ness. In the video clip he was struggling a bit with bumps and so stood a bit too upright. When skiing normally his perception of “bending” of tilting at the hips was way off the mark – tending to be practically upright when believing that he was seriously tilted forwards. This appears to be the main area for Mark to work on.


After skiing we had an indoors session on the feet – with me showing how to stand on the heel, and bend from the knee and hip instead of the ankle. I demonstrated the use of the subtaler joint in rocking the foot and showed how as the foot rocks onto its inside edge it actually turns away from the direction of the turn to give a strong support against the floor of the tilted ski boot – which provides an effective  “banked track” through the lateral support of the shaft of the boot. (This contributed to Claire ending up with her own ski boots later on).

(Not yet edited…)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rodion 2 - Fixing Rodion’s Hips

Cause and Effect

This morning I reminded Rodion that skiing is based only on two things; dynamics and skating. “Facing downhill” comes as a result of skating and not from trying to “face downhill”. It is important to identify “cause” and “effect” correctly. You do not TRY to face downhill. You don not drop your hips into the turn. Hip angulation comes from skating the ski out away from the body at the start of the turn and from holding the body down and inside the turn as it continues and the ski comes back around in front . The skier is simply trying to skate downhill and so ends up facing downhill for a natural and strong skating action.


Skating up from the downhill leg and then skating the top leg forwards. This exercise generates independent leg action and a strong pressure against one ski at a time. Part of Rodion’s problem is that he has been skiing on two feet all the time – forgetting that he originally learned to ski through skating. Here we separate the actions of the legs and part of the result is that the body remains facing downhill. Skating the top ski out helps permit the body to fall into the new turn.


Skiing with skis diverging

We skied as an exercise with the skis constantly diverging. This was also to help overcome the tendency of Timothy to stem (converge) his skis. Keeping the skis diverging forces you to skate to make the transition from one turn to another.

Adding arms moving to the inside

After skiing for a while we added the exercise that had been used yesterday – bringing the arms towards the inside of the turn. This is to help to drive the centre of mass down and inside the turn more strongly.

3D and carving

I explained in more depth to Rodian about the 3D “velodrome” effect so that he would be better able to relate this to the arms coming inside the turn. I wanted to see all of the above elements during his skiing – the dynamics and skating on every turn – working every turn. Rodion has a tendency to just go lazy and not work the skis when there is no apparent need to.

Chi Hips

We spent some time trying to develop upper/lower body separation by pulling the hip  (outside leg) back as the ski was skated forwards. Rodion really struggled with this. When he was skiing yesterday I noticed that his hip moves in the wrong direction  following the foot and ski. This leads to rotation at times and to “blocking” – facing downhill at the best of times. It can also damage the lower back over time. I noticed that Rodion’s posture problems were making it too difficult for him to feel this hip motion and the twisting of the spine up to the bottom ribs (12th thoracic vertebra). The lower spine needs to twist in the same direction as the turn – opening up the space between the pelvis and the ribs. Most people automatically allow the spine to twist opposite to the turn and compress the ribs close to the pelvis and loose all support from the core muscles.


Indoors we worked for a while on Rodion’s postural awareness. He was not in fact able to separate the movement above the pelvis from movements below it. His strongest tendency is to bend the back, both forwards (round) or backwards (hollow) instead of bending at the hip joints.

He needs to create “neutral pelvis” by tilting the pelvis up at the front – (flattening his stomach and straightening the lower back - slight hollow is desirable).  Next he has to maintain the relationship between the pelvis and the lower back while bending at the hips and relaxing the hips – without losing “neutral pelvis” in relation to the spine. When this can be done then the “chi hips” are possible and turn transitions become much more effective and the core muscles are used very actively. The core muscles then tighten during a turn and protect the lower back and well as powerfully connecting the upper and lower body. Rodion needs to develop awareness and understanding of this part of the body because it is the source of power in athletic actions.


Major traffic jam tonight half way up to La Plagne at 9pm!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rodion 1

Today there was fresh snow and sunshine so the entire family were off-piste even for the warm up run. The entire morning was taken up finding soft fresh snow in safe terrain so that everyone would have the best opportunity to get back into skiing in an enjoyable and adventurous way. All the time I was observing the differences in strategy used by each member of the family. Timothy managed well skiing deep untracked snow for the first time in his life with no problems. Rodion, as expected, was strong in some areas but had forgotten some of the core ideas that he had been taught in his childhood. Liliana made up for lack of technique through great determination and Victor was as consistent and skiing as strongly as ever.




After lunch we decided to work a little on technique. I’d noticed that everybody needed to increase their dynamics so that seemed like a good place to begin. First of all Rodion and Liliana wanted to try out the race course. Rodion was 3 seconds slower than when he was 10 years old! I predicted this would happen and could see it in his free skiing. I knew that Rodion was picking up bad habits from the ski coaching he had at the Aiglon school in Switzerland and probably from listening to other children who pretended to know it all. It wasn’t until he was in the slalom that I could clearly see what he was trying to do. He was dropping his hips into the turn and facing downhill to try to look like the racers he has seen. This is a “balancing” act – not active dynamics  - and the result is that the weight goes onto the inside ski and there is a loss of control.

I explained to the whole family that their skiing needed to be more 3 dimensional. They were currently all skiing in a two dimensional way – turning on flat ground – instead of seeing their paths as banked tracks in three dimensions where there is no turning – just running straight along the banked track. Rodion’s “hip dropping” is a two dimensional response – he is not creating a banked track with his skis and then riding around it. The hip angulation should come from a combinations of skating and moving the centre of mass down and into the turn– not dropping the hips down into a turn.

To get everyone active with stronger dynamics  I used the “poles to the inside” exercise – moving the hands and poles to the inside of the turn. This is the direction they would face anyway towards the beginning of any turn – but they now stay there through the whole turn. The exercise prevents a “two dimensional” “face downhill” stance from taking over and blocking the skier’s dynamics. We didn’t have a lot of time left to develop this further but everybody managed the exercise. Rodion can be seen adding this to his hip dropping on his final slalom run in the video clip. To fix Rodion’s skiing we will need to rebuild it. At least I know that he already has all the necessary building blocks somewhere.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Connie, Eve – Off Piste

Wind, driving snow and poor visibility didn’t stop the intrepid sisters from testing out their hard earned skills off-piste – and finding out that “yes” – they could really ski! Today the fresh snow gave an opportunity to put into action all the technique that they had been working at. We managed to find sheltered, moderate, smooth and relatively un-skied slopes, including forest zones where there would be no great surprises despite the very limited visibility. This allowed the girls to play with rhythm and feel the resonance or bounce of the skis and to experiment with dynamics. Both managed this quite naturally as a consequence of all the work they have done during the previous few days (and last year). Bear in mind that Connie has only skied two weeks previously and Eve five. They already have a good understanding of the real mechanics of skiing – so they can already self correct and work things out intelligently.

It was a cold and humid wind – displaying minus 14°C at the mid station on the Grande Motte. All this meant that it was not a day for discussing technique – just a day to ski with it instead.



The girls were corrected from time to time, with Connie learning to avoid stiffening up the outside leg when tense or intimidated. Eve skied well, working her skis with a skating action and her stance over the skis looked consistently natural and secure. Her pivoting in the soft snow came naturally, with no twisting of the hips as previously and on the second filmed run she was controlling her excessive arm movements much better. Connie consistently showed good coordination, dynamics, control of rotation and a much improved range of movement. Connie found a lot of security from working the “foot forwards” action and making the turns more active as a result.

The only technical instruction I gave specifically for the deep snow was to adopt a lower stance with the knees and feet ahead of the body. This permits the knees to absorb any surprise bumps and to stop the feet being dragged beneath the body by deeper drifts of snow. I also pointed out that the only sensory feedback when skiing in poor visibility comes from the feet. Pressure on the feet activates many reflexes, including posture – so when visibility is poor it’s best to re-focus specifically on the feet. In fact it’s best to deliberately avoid staring ahead into the white and trying to see because that leads to “paralysis” and confusion. You need to see with the feet – like a blind person might perceive the world through touch and sound.




Eve managed to ski across my normally impregnable K2 Kung Fujas – leaving her signature forever! (Cosmetic damage only)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Connie, Eve–Invisible Rules

During the warm up run I skied behind Eve and Connie to watch them carefully for a while. Connie was not managing to exit the turns correctly and was making a platform with the lower ski at the end of the turn and using this to then step out the uphill ski into a stem (converging). Eve was rushing the start of the turns and then once the skis were below her on the mountain she was leaning her hips into the turn and almost traversing – so the turn shape was wrong and she was not getting progressive edge control. The goals for the day would be to reduce or eliminate Connie’s stem and to round out Eve’s turns, giving them both more control. In fact they would have to learn some of the “invisible rules” of skiing and how to work the turns.

Connie was still confused about how it was possible to ski on the heels without going back in the ski boots so I decided that we would go indoors early to look at the feet with the boots off so that I could explain.


We didn’t get further than this anyway because Connie’s boots were hurting so we went indoors to see if we could fix the problem – by removing the socks.  This didn’t work and eventually the boots were changed out for proper women’s boots with more space for the soleus muscles. This also solved Connie’s stance problem and allowed her to be able to stand more upright and avoid collapsing into the fronts of the ski boots.

While in the café I went through the working of the feet – showing how the ankle goes strong when pressure is only on the heel and all flexing takes place at the knee and hip (squat). This allows the foot to rock at the subtaler joint below the ankle to access the adductor muscles on the inside of the legs simultaneously – for use in either pivoting or holding a ski on edge during a turn. The point is that the leg provides a lateral force from the foot up to the pelvis – but not a twisting action.  Standing on any other part of the foot causes the knee to twist inwards during skiing and makes the ACL’s very vulnerable. The skier can train to use other parts of the foot but that is too advanced to be dealt with just now when there is already enough to think about. Just staying on the heel simplifies things enormously. It’s easy to see that dealing with decelerating forces during a turn is like having somebody pushing you backwards – and being on your heels (which are behind you) then makes you less likely to fall backwards not more likely.

When skiing back down into Tignes to change the boots Connie was struggling to control speed on the steep black run. She didn’t seem to realise that most skiers would be nowhere near a black run after only two seeks of skiing.




Foot Forwards

To address all of Connie’s current skiing issues I decided to introduce the idea of pushing the “foot forwards”. We did a static exercise with pivoting on one straight support leg and making an arc in the air with the swinging outside leg. The swinging boot was then allowed to touch the snow and make an arc as it swung around. The boot was next pressed slightly into the snow so it had to be pushed or pulled against a friction. I explained that this was the sensation of pushing the “foot forwards”.

After a few turns on skis Connie correctly identified that this action tightened the turns. I hadn’t told her that but this is the whole point. The way to change turn radius is to push the foot forwards – it actually never gets ahead because the turn just tightens instead. It’s the main way to control turn radius and hence grip – especially on steep slopes. Eve was not getting it at all at this point. (because it’s not visible)

To help Eve I quickly taught her a proper snowplough and then introduced the “foot forwards” action to the plough – and she started to feel it from this. However, I didn’t want to leave it there because I felt that Eve needed additional aspects to be able to move forwards in her skiing – which is generally stronger than Connie’s at the moment.

Skating foot Forwards

It was now time to point out that the previous skating exercises were more than just exercises – they are an integral part of skiing. When skating on skates there is a pushing forwards of the foot as the body falls inwards at a right angle to the direction of travel of the foot. This skating action now needs to be integrated into the skiing. The foot pushing out diagonally from the body when skating is much more natural than trying to push a foot directly forwards from the body. In skiing the foot is brought back around and in front of the body due to the ski arcing. Meanwhile the result is that the skier ends up facing downhill due to linking those skates – not due to artificially trying to “face downhill”. Eve eventually grasped the concept and realised that she could skate out the foot to start the turn and then sink down into the turn to build up pressure during the rest of the turn.

Both skiers developed a stronger sense of working the turns physically instead of just being passive passengers. Connie was able to ski the black run again back down onto Tignes with a satisfying level of control and in the video she had much less stemming in evidence. Eve’s turns became much rounder with the skating making her use the first part of the turn instead of rush it and her stance on the skis looks much more solid as she works the ski around the turn – pushing forwards and gripping – rather than just sitting into the turn and waiting.

Somebody trained in slalom would naturally work the skis and work the turns because they know the rules of what works, what is efficient and what actually serves a purpose. This is learned from dealing with the harsh physical constraints of gates/poles. On a groomed piste there are no visible constraints and so untrained people have no clue about what really constitutes purposeful and active skiing. The rules of skiing are literally invisible. Learning to be aware of this doesn’t necessitate skiing in gates if an understanding and feeling can be constructed instead.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Connie, Eve - Wind Tunnel Day

Arriving in Tignes at 8am the blue morning sky held a moon that was surrounded by a unique halo. 

Somehow it wasn’t possible to capture the image of the halo, only the moon floating in the blue sky. The day was going to be very windy with no connections to Val d’Isère or even down to Tignes Les Brévières where it might have been more sheltered. Despite the marginal conditions we managed to get through the day with only two stops.

The girls had different skis today – Rossignol “double rocker” technology, wider beneath the foot for support off-piste. This wide ski appeared to suit Connie fine but deprived Eve of too much feedback for the time being. Eve seems to need the quick response of a more “carving” ski with traditional camber (no rocker) to feel confident in her movements at the moment. The great advantage of renting is that skis can be quickly changed out for any reason.

We had one warm up run to get used to the new skis and then got stuck for ages going up the freezing, wind blasted lift to the Col de Fresse – only to find the passage to Val closed. Finding some shelter at the top of the lift I decided to at last launch into technique.


Eve could remember how to pivot well and Connie wasn’t far off. Connie had a tendency to twist and force the pivoting ski around to deal with her anxiety of having the ski pointing down the fall-line during the turn. Eve remembered that it resembled the sideslip and so was relatively comfortable at it.

I explained to Connie that the ski had to sideslip and for the leg to simply pull the front of the ski downwards (inwards) like “spreading butter” – not with a twisting action.

With a little practice Connie started to feel the action correctly – the first half of the turn being on the uphill edge of the uphill (outside) ski. I wanted Connie to work on pivoting to counteract her tendency to let the skis jam on edge and run away with her – losing control of speed or falling over. She needs a greater feel for control over the edges of the skis. This also helps to develop greater control of rotation of the upper body and better awareness of how isolate the appropriate muscles in the legs (adductors) – pulling the ski inwards (instead of pushing outwards). Connie still has a residual tendency to push the ski outwards into a stem – particularly the left one. Eve had to be patient and work on her own skills but Connie’s safety had to be my priority. My goal in reality was to try to accelerate Connie’s progress to catch up a bit with Eve. Despite Connie’s inexperience (only two weeks skiing) her responsiveness and determination indicated that this was a realistic goal.

Prior to skiing off piste we did an exercise where the girls held onto the handles of their ski poles with the skis across the hill while I pulled them. Their job was to sink down and resist and even pull hard against me. They both got the right use of the hip joints and the right flex at the hip to make that work and I explained that this position is what they need to look for off piste in unpredictable  snow – so that they can resist any surprise sinking in through the crust etc.  This also permits a rapid up motion and exit from the turn and into the next one in a safe manner. To help to generate more active movements and a greater range of movement I decided to take this exercise on to another level with”short swings”.

Short Swings

When skiing there is usually a choice between starting a turn from a pivot on the uphill or the downhill edge (outside ski). If snow is unlikely to permit the ski to pivot at the start of a turn for any reason then either strong dynamics need to be used to get on the downhill edge with pressure – or a strong jump up out of the previous turn has to be employed to allow pivoting (uphill edge) to take place in mid air in the first half of the turn.  The jumping option is safer where speed has to be carefully contained.  “Short Swings” –  is really an exercise in the jumping pivot  - and is used to develop good coordination and range of motion. Trainee instructors might us this as part of their training program – sometimes aiming for 500 short swings per day and with several technical variations.




Both girls did brilliantly for beginners at short swings. This is an exercise that is notoriously difficult to learn but extremely important. Normally people cannot organise both legs and both skis simultaneously but both of the girls managed that no problem. Short swings are great for showing up strengths and weaknesses.

Eve managed good angulation, upper/lower body separation, pole use, good dynamics, good speed control, good edge control and good coordination. She displayed a problem with the right hip rotating around in the turn (obviously forcing too much on the right side). Timing was off too with a double bounce instead of a single platform and rebound rhythm.

Connie had good coordination but all of the other parameters were relatively weak – but not absent. I explained that the purpose of the exercise was to control speed. Just imposing that goal alone forces all of the other parameters to modify and strengthen.

We used the short swings off piste as a form of exercise but I had to continually reinforce the need to control speed.


We had stopped for lunch after the short swings because Eve was suffering from a severe lunch deficiency and consequently forgot how to ski. All the blame however went onto the new skis.

After lunch, a quick ski change and a search to evade the howling wind we finally managed to get back into working on dynamics – through skating. The new skis that Eve had gave more immediate response and she was happy again. I wanted to get the dynamics going and the independent legs of the skating action because too much work on pivoting can put those essential movements to sleep a bit – and I know that this is what Eve had already responded so positively to. While Eve was recovering her confidence Connie showed that she had retained the improved coordination from the morning and was even able to apply it to dynamics. This had been my main goal – to bring Connie up a notch particularly in this area because this is where security comes from.

One Ski

Neither Connie nor Eve had actually realised that nearly all skiing is on one foot – not just skating exercises. Although I ski mostly with both skis on the snow there is only pressure on one ski. I ran through the static exercise of pressing against the shoulder to generate force at the outside ski – with the inside ski automatically lifting off the ground – to show how good dynamics results spontaneously in “one ski” skiing. Secure skiing is always on one ski except for special exceptions.

Jumping Dynamics – Turn Exit Dynamics (Neutral)

Now we began to use the jump to make a turn transition while skiing at speed and with dynamics. The timing remains the same as with the short swing in that the up motion is to exit a turn. Refining this I explained “neutral” where the turn is exited by brining the skier into neutral – flat skis – crossing the hill – skier perpendicular to the mountain – momentarily - as part of a dynamic process. Both girls could then feel how this smoothly linked turns. For off piste dynamics this is actually the most critical part of the turn and it’s the only way to guarantee making the next turn in any type of snow – yet it requires great commitment and it’s quite a scary thing to do in tricky or steep snow.

(Not edited yet!)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Connie, Eve Day 1

During our warm up I watched both Connie and Eve and was really pleased by their skiing in general. They had both retained their levels from last year and were using good dynamics with the body. I knew that with Connie devoting so much time to study that she wouldn’t be as fit and strong as she could be so the idea was to start out the day slowly and pace it carefully.



Both Connie and Eve declared that from the first day of skiing they had both experienced tired quadriceps muscles in the legs. Rather than leave this issue in the background I decided that it would be a good thing to address directly from the very start. The quads get tired when there is a failure to distribute enough of the load through the big muscles higher up in the hip area – the glutes, hamstrings and core muscles. To achieve that in skiing it is necessary to first isolate then pull the hip of the support leg backwards – without drawing either the foot or shoulder back at the same time.  This creates a supportive tension across the lower abdomen with the spine twisting slightly up towards the rib cage.

Watching both girls skiing they certainly appeared to carry out this action and both claimed to feel less tiredness in the quads when they remembered to do it correctly. I know how powerful a change this actually is so I have no doubt that their perceptions were accurate.



Eve was struggling with posture so in the interests of protecting her back we paid a little bit of attention to this issue next. The key is to pull up the pelvis at the front slightly and then release the hip joints by bending slightly at the knees and hips – while maintaining this pelvic tilt. When done this way it’s very hard NOT to get everything in the right place (neutral pelvis). Eve has a tendency to hollow the lower back – which makes it vulnerable to lateral bending and dangerous stresses and compressions. The common way to address this is by squeezing the perineum or clenching your bottom cheeks together – but none of this works and leads to the reflexive contraction of the lower abdomen caused by good pelvic tilt and chi-hips action. It’s the active lower abdomen that protects the back.

Banked Track

Connie was staying a bit too upright on her skis and was vulnerable to falling as a result. She was clearly seeing the snow surface and her turning all in 2D instead of 3D.  The turn should be perceived to be on a banked track. The ski creates the banking track as it goes along – so there is no “turning” – just the following of the banked track.  The same goes for the body which inclines into the turn. Eve was keeping the upper body too upright and her eye-line in the horizontal so I asked her to incline her whole body instead so as to help encourage the full “3D experience”.



Skating Timing

We revised skating timing – going directly from skating downhill into turning by adding dynamics (falling to the inside). The aim was to create hip angulation the correct way, create independent leg action, get the timing of the down/up leg action correct and to prepare for working on short turns. Eve found this a bit easier than Connie but Connie improved significantly with only a small amount of feedback.


Short Turns

Short turns require hip angulation to get the body down inside the turn and back out again rapidly – as opposed to the lumbering full body inclination we used earlier on to develop the 3D experience. We did a static exercise where the leg was made to swing from behind with the foot pointing outwards (as if skating off) then around to the front with the foot pointing inwards – so that the full range of rotation in the hip joint could be felt. This exercise was also meant to show how to stop the hip from following the leg around (remember in Chi Hips we actually pull it backwards instead) and to show how in this position the body can flex down at the hip joint and hold itself inside the turn right up until the end of the turn.

The point of the short turn is to complete the turn and build up pressure with the body sinking down inside the turn – then use this pressure to bring the body back up to complete the turn and to be directed across the hill. Sometimes turning slightly back up the hill at the end of the turn can enhance this action as it generates even more pressure. The important thing is that energy is not simply wasted in a braking skid – it is all channelled constructively and purposefully.

Rhythm and timing are extremely important in this action. The timing resembles a dance and depends on feeling  a form of resonance similar to a trampoline.

Eve did very well in this and Connie – who has only had two weeks of skiing in her life was able to negotiate the famous Face de Bellevarde Olympic black run with no problem.

Later on Eve took this action into crusty and variable off-piste which literally everyone else was avoiding and she skied it well.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Before starting today’s session Jenny told me that she could only manage to get her body into the turns when she did the exercise with both ski poles going into the turn – otherwise her body wouldn’t move into the turn. I agreed that this was in part a problem of unconscious programming taking over. For me the real problem appeared to be one of  understanding, perception and feedback – the tools needed to be able to begin reprogramming  the unconscious mind.  If the skis don’t grip and you don’t get secure feedback then you will always struggle and get stuck in a vicious circle of events. The best way to break this chain of events is to sort out the understanding and perception – because as Jenny has demonstrated, feedback alone (poles inwards) won’t necessarily cause the rest to change. We have to be very clear about how skiing works and what our goals are. Knowing to “move the body” is not enough. Some people respond well to “feeling” and the feedback from battling though poles, bumps or off – piste but they are a very small minority. Anyone can learn to ski very well and strongly but most people need a very clear understanding to get there in a reasonable time frame.

Watching Jenny ski it was clear that despite some improvement from  two days ago she was still drifting sideways to some extent during the turns and was not in full control.



Part of Jenny’s problem is that there is a lag in response from the skis at the start of a turn. When you move the body into a turn there is no secure-feeling feedback initially. This is normal. You have to be aware of this. In racing on steep ground you may have to throw the body downhill very hard while having no pressure from the ski or any other feedback – only the knowledge that this will lead you towards that. It’s no good going tentatively into a turn and thinking that once you feel the edge of the outside ski you can then use that pressure to lean into the turn (very common) – by then it’s too late. This “lag” or “threshold” is quite hard to overcome for some people. When people want to “press on the outside ski” and move their body outwards over that ski to begin the turn then it’s usually to avoid going through this lag period of no support when moving correctly inwards to begin the turn. It doesn’t help that ski schools always teach people to actually do those things (moving outwards and pressing down) in snowploughs. When I have to use a snowplough I teach people to move inwards and stand over and weight the inside ski at the start of a snowplough turn – the exact opposite of the ski schools – because I know that training the body to move in the right direction is far more important than anything else and that for various other additional reasons a snowplough done this way works much better. Jenny had to become aware of the threshold she had to get over in order to feel the feedback from the skis – and avoid backing off and going for the wrong moves instead. We worked for a while with this, not to change any details in Jenny’s skiing but to allow her the time to sense the threshold issue and begin to deal with it.

I explained to Jenny that she needed to be crystal clear:

  1. The ski lifts you up
  2. and to make it work you need to fall over.

A bicycle works the same way but not as obviously because rubber doesn’t grip very well to the ground. With skis, the further you incline the more they grip. Beginning at the “threshold” where there is no feedback and no “lifting up” from the ski, then the skier needs to use either gravity to fall over or some form of push with one or two legs or terrain features  – or any combination of those. The skier is fully in charge here – but as inclination into the turn increases, or the slope angle to the ski increases as the turn progresses the lifting power of the ski grows to rapidly overwhelm the skier. The ski is more powerful than the skier and will more than repay the energy that went into falling by literally throwing the skier back up and effectively out of the turn. (James felt that a few times as he flipped over off-piste.). The real problem for the skier is in not being able to fall over far enough and to maintain that for long enough as forces build up as they line up with gravity. Failure to get down and inside a turn with the body turns the process into a very tiring physical battle that the skier always loses. Efficiency and ease come with aligning the body well inside the turn.



Short Turns

I decided that the best way to generate appropriate feedback would be through working on short turns. The goal was to get Jenny to feel the effects in a more active and dynamic context rather than on long cruising turns. Watching other skiers it was obvious that all the recreational skiers visible were simply pointing downhill then throwing their skis across their path to dissipate speed and energy. Those people had clearly never been taught how to relate properly with the skis and terrain. The skier needs to complete a turn to load up the ski and let it do its “lifting up” job. It’s a dance with the skis which requires timing, feeling and rhythm. The skier coming up out of at turn is then being directed or the speed controlled – using the energy intelligently instead of dissipating it all in a big skid. To achieve this the skier needs to stay down to the inside of the turn and complete the turn – but not so much so as to kill it off by traversing at the end – the turns must be linked without a traverse. Often a slight turn uphill at the end helps to lift the skier out of the turn and into the next, strongly controlling speed directing of momentum. This is a playful act highly tuned into rhythm and breaking of rhythm (As slalom courses are set to do). The skier descending a hill in this manner will not be first to the bottom, but will be the one with the most creative and enjoyable route – and constant development of skill. Place this in a race course and the results are obvious. The “dissipating” skiers thrashing downhill will be useless in slalom and will not progress. Eventually they even get bored with thrashing around and go and get drunk somewhere to forget about the tired legs.

Jenny skied the short turns well. With the increase in grip and feedback her body started to adopt a better stance at the hips with more angulation  and with less body rotation naturally.  The first clip in the video still shows a tendency to generate an uphill ski stem with the right leg – pushing the ski out rather than moving the body in. This is due to feeling insecure on the left leg and feeling uncomfortable about allowing the body to come up out of the turn on the left leg. There is still a bit too much rotation – but those small errors are because this in on very steep terrain. The main goal was achieved – of using the body to the inside of the turn to generate control and rhythm. Initially Jenny looked for security on the steeps by trying to jam the ski on edge. I explained that as in carving this is a fallacy and that just holding the body to the inside of the turn would do the right job.  Going back onto less steep terrain for the second video clip Jenny is turning with much better rhythm, angulation, control of rotation, grip good timing (down/up), control of speed and directing of momentum. When we got onto ice skiing down to La Daille I explained that if the skis didn’t grip then to be sure to work even harder to hold everything inside the turn because that always gives the best grip. When trying to hold on the ice Jenny brought her inside hand and shoulder downhill and towards the outside of the skis – to the point where they were pulling her body to the outside of the turn. She then worked to correct this. In this case that incorrect move was being made to “balance” over the downhill ski – not to move inside to increase the grip – which feels quite counterintuitive on ice.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Jenny, James, William


Jenny had apparently loosened up her stance at the hips since last year. She had apparently been trying to push the pelvis forwards in an attempt to address accusations of “toilet seat” posture.  However I’m not convinced about this because she never looked blocked at the hips before anyway: last year.  Prior to starting off with Jenny again we recorded her skiing on video. The first part of the video clip demonstrates that she is not managing to hold her body inside the turn and so is completing the turns by drifting sideways down the hill in a fairly precarious manner. The clear goal was to change this completely so that the turns would be secure and safe.


Poles Towards the Middle

When explaining this to Jenny she admitted that telling her to move her body or centre of mass was a waste of time because for no particular reason she could not make the connection between the brain and body to bring this around. Static exercises on the hill didn’t change this outcome. When asked about what she felt she was doing at the start of a turn she showed that she was standing on the uphill leg and “pressing down” on it. She demonstrated this with a movement of her body away from the turn! Jenny said that for her the only way to come close to the feeling of dynamics was to lift the lower ski so as to fall into the turn. While that is a valid exercise it’s also a sign of poor dynamics. If the centre of mass is moved then there is no need to lift the inside ski at the start of the turn. This image of Jenny skiing is the same as I remember from before. Although she responds well during coaching there seems to be a default setting that she returns to after a break in skiing. With all of this in mind I decided to try another tactic and that was to use the “poles to the inside” exercise. The main reason for this is that there is no need to “think” about it – the exercise takes over by itself so if Jenny couldn’t create dynamics voluntarily perhaps the exercise would do it for her. This turned out to be a good intuition because it worked and she automatically had better grip and stability along with a naturally narrower stance. Up until now the stance had been wide in an attempt to create stability while the skis weren’t gripping.

Banked Track

I explained to Jenny that she had to try to see each turn as a banked track as in a velodrome. The ski (hence the skier) generates this banked track. Perceiving the ground as a banked track makes it relatively easy to see where the body has to be relative to the skis. This also worked for Jenny and she was starting to feel secure. Steeper hills mean a greater motion crossing from one banked track to another but nothing different needs to be done – just a deliberate amplification.

Range of motion

Watching the video Jenny was surprised to see how little her range of motion was.  This is one of the most useful aspects of video feedback. When people see themselves it means a great deal more than hearing it from somebody else. I repeated the explanation about how the hard thing is skiing is to stay down and inside turns and that it is practically impossible to overdo the effort create dynamics down and into a turn. Having a more secure grip now should enable Jenny to move more strongly and have a greater dynamic range.


When the slope was steep Jenny reverted to her old timing of staying up high when going into a turn. It’s very difficult to come into a turn when staying extended at the beginning. We worked for a short while on making sure the timing was clear and that “coming up” was only through the end of the turn on the lower leg.


I decided to carefully introduce Jenny to carving because when there is solid feedback from carving edges then it’s easier to feel free to move the body (centre of mass). Jenny did quite well at this and understood that the edge changing was really caused by simply moving the body across the skis. There’s no need to roll the feet or anything.


James, William

James was clearly showing some bad habits creeping into his skiing. He was tending to push out his skis at the start of the turns and to remain upright and above the skis instead of moving into the turn centre. This had already caused him several falls in the crusty wind packed off-piste. William in contrast was steady and consistent with clean movements that show he has really listened and taken on board everything in the past. The primary goal was to stop James’s heel pushing and then to increase and improve the dynamics for both of the boys.


When James was made aware that he had to move his body and not his skis he was able to return to using dynamics properly very easily. In carving he was however not able to hold as clean an edge or line as William and tended to keep his feet too close together for this type of activity. We tried to “Poles to the Middle” exercise to increase dynamics but this didn’t work well for either of the boys. With this in mind we went onto skating instead – skating straight downhill and letting the skis generate the arcs by falling inwards into the turns. I figured that would help with timing, getting the legs apart and naturally facing inwards at the start of each turn and facing outwards at the end as the skis rotate the legs beneath the body. I demonstrated how the skating action made the leg work in the hip joint (rotating). We only worked at those things for a few short runs and then went into the slalom course.


James looked quite tidy in the slalom from the start but William’s timing was far too late. William corrected his timing by both releasing his turns earlier and moving into the next one before even being directly above the gate. This improvement significantly helped William maintain a better line in the course. James was mainly limited by his dynamic range so I explained to him that he needed to get his bottom nearer to the snow during the turns. Angulation is essential in slalom turns to be able to force the centre of mass down in and back up out of a turn rapidly. We discussed tactics and about bringing the timing of the maximum pressure to the outside of the gate and not beneath it – imagining each gate having a trampoline on the outside and bouncing laterally from one trampoline to the other while facing and travelling downhill.

Off Piste

All of the tactics described are also applicable to very unpredictable windpack snow off piste. Making the pressure cycle match the slalom stops the skis being loaded up too much at the end of the turn in breakable snow. The commitment to using the lower ski to lifting up the body out of the turn – is equivalent to getting out of the slalom turn so as to avoid being late for the next gate. This sets you up to ensure the start of the next turn no matter what the snow does. James would sometimes confuse this and try to extend or jump from his uphill ski – usually with dramatic consequences. Both boys were a bit timid in confronting the difficult off piste when it was a little bit steeper, causing reduced dynamics (not moving the body into the turn) and inevitable ski loss and face plants. Those errors were used to highlight the point that bad snow has to be skied like a race course.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Brian Day 4

The intention was to begin the day working on pivoting because I felt that it might be too soon for the next stage in carving and it could cause some confusion. For the previous three days the focus had been on avoiding facing downhill but now that was sorted out the next stage would be - to face downhill. To avoid this apparent paradox I thought that we might just sidestep the issue and go into pivoting – until I realised that pivoting also needs the body to face downhill. There was no way out of it so we might as well continue with the carving and I just crossed my fingers that this wouldn’t reverse all the gains of the past few days.

Mont Blanc ;



The first step was to show how skating – as in ice skating  - propels the body forwards with the legs diverging outwards.  The basic skating action requires the body to face ahead and the feet face towards the side. Skates are designed to track in a straight line but skis cause an arc. The result is that the ski turns from initially travelling outwards to travelling inwards – turning the leg in the process. If the skier avoids the body being turned during this operation the “skating” can be continued making complete linked turns and the body itself never changes direction. This of course is a very different process from just blocking the body facing downhill and forcing the skis around below you on the hill.

Until this point Brian thought the skate was just a movement towards the end of the turn to bring you up – which explains his initial confusion with timing when he was trying to make a dip down to push back up just before turn completion. That “dip” disappeared on day 2 by linking the up motion to the turn dynamics (toppling in and out of the turn) but now the whole picture would be seen more clearly.  The turn dynamics had been built up by following the skis around facing square to the skis and just toppling sideways into and out of the turn – similar to riding a bicycle. This is done initially to avoid confusion and to develop awareness of the fundamentals of skiing – the falling with gravity and then the lifting up from the ski itself being key issues that must be felt and ingrained without any interference.  Facing the body away from the direction of travel of the ski immediately complicates things. Brian had however managed to generate solid and clear feedback from carving with his slalom skis by day 3 so the chances were that this feedback would help him through the next phase already. 

The analogy I use to describe skating in skiing involves a slalom course.  Most people skiing slalom are just hanging in there at best or even braking. Good racers are actively skating straight down the hill trying to generate more speed practically all the time. They face downhill and skate downhill with displacement across the hill of the body through the turns just happening as a consequence of the skis arcing on the snow or ice.

Brian’s initial attempt went very well – retaining all the correct dynamics and stance from the previous day. The second attempt saw it begin to fall apart. This is common. Learning something is a process of “getting it” then “losing it” and then working your way back again even stronger and with more understanding – over and over.

One of the main issues is that skating actually spontaneously generates angulation and this has the effect of keeping the upper body upright. There is nothing wrong with that except the sense of inclining against a self-generated banked track disappears and we find ourselves back in a false 2D world instead of 3D.

One thing Brian picked up on surprised me and that is the beginning of the turn when skating actually had the body facing inwards – so that helped him as he had already found the “facing inwards” exercise most helpful. That’s a great observation which had never specifically occurred to me.

I explained to Brian that skating can mean that the support leg extends at the beginning of the turn – but this is not to pop upwards – it’s to extend the centre of mass down and into the turn while muscularly adding to the pressure the ski itself is already generating. At more advanced levels “leg retraction” can also be used where both legs retract at the end of the turn to let the body out of the turn (still surprisingly causing an upwards “centre of mass” motion) and then starting from a low position extending both legs driving the centre of mass down and into the next turn. This last variation requires legs like tree trunks.

Keeping a wide stance helps encourage skating actions because the legs work independently – one being flexed while the other is extended. The wide stance makes it easy to get from one inside edge to another because the body doesn’t have to move far to achieve this. Skating and two legged leg retraction are quite closely related (though not the same) so it’s easy to develop one from the other.


The slalom course was empty and in good condition and I felt that Brian was ready enough to take his carving into the course. We first of all practised a few turns maintaining all the combined movements of dynamics and skating but without carving. I knew that Brian wouldn’t be able to maintain a carve down the race course at this stage so it was important to get used to the fact that whether carving or not the movements should remain fundamentally the same. On his first run Brian was a second faster than on his fastest run last year – despite deliberately taking a slow line. On the second run another second was gained. All the time we were focusing on technique and not on tactics for racing. I did explain however that reaction times had to speed up. The normal tendency is for people to wait far too long to both exit one turn and to move the body into the next – so when speed builds up they become too late in the movements. Part of the experience of slalom involves conditioning the brain to this far earlier response time – something that can only be achieved through actual practice in confronting the physical constraints of poles.

It was clear after a few runs that Brian was not able to get the benefit of his greater speed from carving because it then presented him with trouble staying in the course. He wasn’t managing to skate properly and that was visible due to the lack of angulation being obvious. In addition his left arm in particular was frequently held high in the air because he would fall off the left hip and onto the right leg and ski during a right turn. This was both an angulation issue and a postural issue. Absence of angulation in slalom would prevent Brian from increasing his dynamic range and so getting his centre of mass down into the turn and holding it there – and easily getting it back up and out of the turn when required. I explained to Brian that this dynamic range needed to be increased and that the hard part is to stay down and low in the later section of the turn when working against gravity. The only way to achieve that rapidly enough in slalom is with angulation. The best will in the world would not achieve the necessary dynamic range when the technique is absent. The video made it clear that angulation and stance would need to be improved.

Raising the Inside Hip and Arm

Only one exercise was required to deal with the angulation and posture – that was simply raising the outside arm above the head. In the video clip the change this brought to Brian’s stance is very obvious.  More work on stance and skating would develop appropriate angulation.




Off Piste

The off-piste was treacherous wind pack everywhere with narrow sections of ski-pisted consolidated snow. Although we had transceivers working there was less chance of an avalanche here than almost anywhere else on the planet.  Dynamic skiing is the safest way to ski unpredictable off-piste snow. From one turn to another you can’t tell whether or not you will break through the surface – so if the body is systematically moving well down and inside the turn then it makes no difference whether or not you break through. The real key however is the commitment to using the end of the turn to come up and out – this guaranteeing immediate entry into the next turn. Any delay in getting the body down into the next turn can cause the skis to simply track off straight across the hill – especially if they happen to skink in deeply at the end of the turn. Racing turns like this simply work. Their only limitation is in steep narrow couloirs – or any place where serious speed control is desired. “Freeride” is really carving off-piste on wide skis so that they don’t sink in. The whole base of the freeride ski is used for support in soft snow instead of just the edge on racing skis. Although such techniques are great they are also very tiring over time – and one run off-piste had Brian realising this – leading us straight inside for an early lunch as tiredness was causing his technique to deteriorate.


The big divide in skiing is between those who pivot and those who carve. Feedback from carving is very clear so it’s probably easier for those who can handle the speed to develop carving correctly. Pivoting might appear to be easier on the surface but it is in fact harder to do well. Most people force things in pivoting and create more problems than anything else. 

We did the exercise of pulling of the ski tip (inside edge) against a ski pole – aiming for the heel to pull inwards as the adductor muscles engage. My goal with this exercise has always been to ensure that the adductor muscles are being used to pull inwards rather than the abductors (outside of leg) to twist the knee inwards. Due to the issue with Brian’s foot my attention was more specifically on the feet and interestingly the pressure was against the inside of the ball of the foot. This pressure was there as a consequence of the ski being blocked – not because of trying to push inwards with the ball of the foot – however the feeling would be the same. This is probably what previously prevented Brian from distinguishing the difference in the actions.

Separation of the upper/lower body (facing downhill) is critical in pivoting – the leg having to be rotated by the ski independently from the upper body. This is essential because the angulation created through both upper/lower body separation and rotation of the hip is required for all aspects of control. In pivoting as in carving if the body comes around with the skis there will be little or no angulation. Angulation permits solid support from the the ski pole and correct positioning of the centre of mass for both a clean start to the pivot (maintaining the ski on the outside edge as long as possible) and a clean finish (solid platform). Preventing any body rotation also prevents the skis from locking on edge and running away out of control towards the end of a turn – which in a steep couloir might be extremely important.

Brian struggled with angulation – as most people do – and so it made all aspects of pivoting relatively difficult. We tried linked pivots on one ski and also two ski pivoting (two footed close stance). We did static exercises with the skis off – standing facing uphill and swinging one leg around from behind to in front with maximum rotation in the hip joint – just to get the feel of in into the body.

Pivoting is skilful and  requires work, practise and development. The normal teaching of “pivoting” is a parody referred to as “steering” where the skis are forced into the turn with a torque from the legs.

The upper/lower body separation that is taught in that parody leads directly to herniated discs and a hospital bed. The instruction that goes along with this is to wind up the body (facing downhill at the end of the turn) and prepare an edge set and platform, then on jumping release this tension like a coiled spring and whip the skis around. When the body is twisted the ribs end up compressed against the pelvis and the core of the body is compressed with nothing functioning. If instead the hip is pulled back (lower ski) then the spine actually twists in the opposite direction and stretches the lower abdomen opening up a space and activating the core muscles – protecting the back.  This pulling back of the hip also leads to a smoother pivot into the turn and natural angulation to help it all happen instead of the classic problems associated with “hip rotation”. Instead of an “unwinding” there is a muscular impulse from the core itself. The “upper body” is now defined from the bottom ribs upwards and separation takes place at the 12th thoracic vertebra instead of at the base of the spine.

Short Swings

Short Swings are just an extension of pivoting. The first part of the turn is carried out in the air. This can be very useful in a tight spot! Mainly Short Swings are used as a training exercise and there are several variations that need to be mastered. Brian immediately reverted to his old timing and jumping up from his uphill leg. This caused various problems including a twisting fall at one point with the skis being crossed. Once this error was exposed Brian was able to correct it and to jump mainly from the lower leg – so maintaining the same coordination that had been developed over the previous few days and gaining reasonable control over the Short Swing. It’s a very demanding exercise to link rhythmically – and correct timing is critical for success – even more so than angulation and control over rotation.



Chi Cycling

After skiing we visited the gym for a closer look at the chi mechanics. Starting with cycling it was clear that Brian is not a big cyclist. The clear give-away was that the heel always ended up below the ball of the foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke – so lots of energy was dissipated through flexing the ankle under load instead of extending it. This made me realise that this is also the same problem in skiing when skiers make the mistake of flexing the ankle when under load. I hadn’t previously noticed that this was an error common to both sports.

The goal was to simply show the difference in coordination between following the foot with the hip in the pedal stroke – as is commonly done - and using the chi coordination to make the hip go the opposite way from the foot. When the foot pushes down and forwards the hip has to move backwards with a slight rotation of the spine. Brian was immediately confronted with the typical issue of the timing flipping straight back the the “follow-through” version. It can be very confusing. The exercise has to be worked through very slowly at first and then practised. Brian tended to let his pelvis rock from side to side and spine twist sideways – obviously finding the coordination a bit too difficult at this stage.

I explained that following through with the hip might actually be more powerful overall but that is was probably not as economic in the long term. Timetrialers need to bend over horizontal to eliminate air resistance and so they are almost forced into a follow-through action. Hill climbers sit upright and use a chi hip action – pulling back the hip to “kick down a door”. For me the acid test is that the chi action protects the lower back over time. If you sprint using the chi action then it feels like a belt of steel clamping around the lower abdomen. With the common follow-through action there is no feeling of the core muscles involved.

Chi Running

Moving onto the chi running it became clear that although Brian had some of the concepts he wasn’t fully aware of the most significant ones. The key is learned in a simple exercise of running on the spot by simply lifting the heels up behind and dropping the feet back down – then tilting (very) slightly forwards (from the ankles) and letting yourself fly off – without any propulsive effort. Gravity making you topple provides the propulsion – all you do muscularly is maintain your height. Here is a direct connection with skiing dynamics – once again gravity and falling being the key. As in skiing, if force is used then something serious is wrong. We increased tempo so that Brian had a cadence approaching 180 strides per minute (which enhances elastic energy return from the tendons) and used the relaxed lifting and dropping of the feet to achieve this. Increasing the speed of the treadmill the stride length was increased by extending further behind, pushing back the knee to get a fuller extension and rotating the spine so the extension went all the way up to the ribs. Normally when people try to increase speed they do so by trying to be more powerful with the quads and hamstrings, but here the objective was to go faster by simply relaxing more and focussing on recovering the legs from behind and tilting the body very slightly to adjust speed. Brian could feel the difference between his normal forcing and using gravity instead.  It’s important here to avoid even pushing off with the claves at the end of the stride. Avoiding reaching ahead with the foot and leg and striking on the front of the heel (not the back), even if barefoot, completely eliminates aftershock that often can reach up to seven times body weight.

Just as in cycling the forcing might work for short efforts – but it’s probably best saved for a sprint finish at the end of a long run. Using power all the way on a long run would guarantee nothing left in the legs at the end.

Chi Walking

When walking it is even more critical to not have heels interfering with the mechanics. Walking uphill you can feel that by letting the body fall forwards and extending behind the glutes are used to straighten the leg and lift you up. This means the big core muscles are used instead of the quads and lower leg muscles. When reaching ahead with the leg is avoided and the mechanics are correct, pelvis lifted up at the front (for most people) and spine rotating along with the hip moving backwards, then the core muscles work by reflex and the entire posture becomes active and very upright. The use of the muscles can be felt through the glutes, lower abdomen and back. This also applies to walking on the flat.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Brian Day 3


Warm Up

Despite all of the pain yesterday Brian’s leg was no worse. The test today would be to see if the changes in technique along with the ski boot alterations would combine to improve the situation or not.

Watching Brian on his warm up run I could see that the new carving skis were amplifying some of his habits – such as locking on the edges and traversing instead of linking rhythmic turns – and blocking his stance in a permanent “facing downhill” mode then rushing the start of the turns. I decided to head straight for the Grand Pré flats to work on carving technique so as to turn the strong feedback from carving skis into an advantage instead of a problem.

Carving – Facing Outwards

Sure enough Brian’s first attempts at carving were not very successful with the skis being pushed out or braced against and the edge changes leading to a pivot instead of a railed carve. Working on the flat in a wide stance gradually we got the skis railing consistently. To make the edge changing easier I had Brian turn his hips and shoulders towards the outside of the turns – turning them uphill to initiate the turn and then remaining facing outwards following the skis around the turn. Brian initially had great trouble doing this because each turn was completed with a “cross under” – the legs passing beneath the body with the body always facing downhill instead of the body moving across the skis and changing orientation towards the outside of the new turn.  Through persistence there was a gradual improvement in the line of the turns but there was a clear problem existing (as described above) in the turn transitions which actually took until close to the end of the day to fully identify and correct.





Brian described “dropping the hip” into the turn and I explained that this is something that should not be done. Angulation at the hip is not the same as dropping the hip into the turn. To generate good angulation you first have to tilt the pelvis to create “neutral pelvis” (usually pulling up at the front)  then relax the hip and knee to bend them – tilting forwards from the hip. Standing squarely on one leg you then rotate the body above the hip joint outwards – using a pole for support. It‘s this free rotation perched on one hip joint that creates angulation. When the entire body then inclines towards the snow towards the turn centre this looks like “dropping in the hips” to the untrained eye – but it’s is not the same thing at all. We worked on all of this to help Brian identify how to use the hip and how to feel the support of one leg and incline correctly on it.

Carving  - Facing Inwards

To compliment the outwards facing exercises I added inwards facing exercises. The main purpose for using this with Brian was to add tactics in the battle to stop his blocked “facing downhill” stance. Brian was trying to escape the habit of pushing the skis away and bracing so by facing inwards with the upper body during the turn this would cause him to incline better into the turn and stand more solidly on the skis instead of pushing them away. The exercise involve placing both ski poles towards the inside of the turn. This did have a very positive effect on Brian’s stance with the line he took on the snow being rounder.

3D Banked Track

To encourage the inclination I explained that the ski makes a banked track and that the process has to be visualised in 3D as if riding round a banked track on a bicycle. On the bicycle and banked track it would feel just like going straight – not turning – and that’s what should happen on skis too. This helped Brian become stronger in his feedback and support from the outside ski.


I pointed out that his neck was tending to bend sideways during the turn in order to keep his eye-line on the horizontal. Although people are sometimes taught to do this it is wrong. The eye-line on a banked track is on a plane parallel to the banked track! If you want to get the eye-line on a plane parallel to the slope this can be done by rotating the head in certain ways  at certain times – but not by cranking the neck over sideways. Once again Brian could feel the solidifying effect of freeing the eye-line from the horizon and working with the banked track instead of against it.

Extending Dynamic Range

I asked Brian to try to extend his dynamic range by falling over further into the turn. Once again he managed to develop this but there was still that lingering fault in his movement pattern. I explained that it is important not to wait until there is pressure under the ski before dropping (centre of mass) down into the turn – the skier has to drop down into the turn first because that is exactly what will  cause the ski to work and bring him back up.  Waiting for pressure is a mistake. The skier has to learn that pressure will come after the event and not to wait for it first.

Chi Hips and Feet Forwards

Brian himself was ware of letting the outside leg trail behind so he worked to bring the outside foot forwards during the turn. I demonstrated how the pulling back of the hip tightens the core muscles – if the shoulder is not not pulled back on the same side (which is what people normally do).  This means that we try to pull the hip back as the foot goes forward and the shoulder basically remains still. The upper/lower body separation is now at the level of the bottom of the rib cage. (12th thoracic vertebra). This protects the lower back enormously.


Part of Brian’s continuing difficulty and “cross under” movement involved the appearance of being compressed so that the legs just stayed bent all the time. We worked for a moment of jumping to fully extend the legs in the air and to develop the full range of motion. The idea was to get Brian to bring that into the skating timing and to make sure the legs extended fully during the up motion at through the end of the turn. This dramatically added life and energy to Brian’s skiing. We had added rhythm today to the timing that Brian had acquired yesterday and by accessing the full range of motion this amplified the resonance  generated - a bit like a trampoline sending someone sky high when the timing is right (but not doing so when the timing is wrong).

Counter Balance Error

Due to Brian’s continual improvement we were getting closed to seeing the real underlying problem clearly for the first time. I noticed that when Brian was carving strongly on his left leg his left arm would reach out over the ski. When standing still I asked Brian to show me the movement and when he did he fell back onto the back on the ski boot on the inside leg. It was clear that he had been reaching out to counterbalance sitting down and backwards into the turn. I explained that not only was “balancing” wrong to start with but then “counter balancing” was compounding the error. Brian immediately understood this and realised his mistake and how he was actually sitting back and balancing instead of generating active dynamics and constant adjustments where there is no sustained balance. This is why it is so critical to feel all the pressure clearly through one leg and to be centring constantly and actively through that support foot – not in a passive way but in a way that directs the outcome. With this last step the stance finally came unblocked and the underlying problem was cleared. The last section of the video clip shows the full range of motion and carving with no counter balancing (except for one small glitch!)

We later used the same movement pattern with all of the same components while not carving!

The problem with the leg remained completely manageable now that Brian had completely removed any pushing out of the skis and twisting inwards with his forefoot. The new boot inners were working well too with no significant foot pains (apparently) and no negative issues for skiing.