Sunday, January 6, 2013

Brian, Mark, Christine - 2


First thing in the morning the Vert training run was nearly empty because the ESF start half an hour later. We took advantage of the freshly groomed and wide piste for carving and dynamics. This was really preparation for going straight into slalom and using the course early while it was in reasonably good condition. The basic idea was to see how yesterday’s work on dynamics would influence the speed.

Mark’s first run was clean and 4 seconds faster than yesterday, with his new dynamics clearly visible. Christine was not showing any significant difference in time so I asked her to try again with a wider stance. Brian also had to repeat his run because I missed it and he didn’t check his time on the clock. Brian clocked up a 4 second improvement over yesterday on his second run, but Christine was hovering around 1 second improvement. 1 second improvement is still good but I’d expect a bigger increment at this stage because the shift to using active dynamics is major – being the most significant single fundamental shift that can be made in skiing.

The race course is not about “trying to go fast” it’s about trying to ski both efficiently and effectively. Speed is a result of optimising those qualities. Contrary to intuition the one thing that tightens a turn more than anything else is “speed” – so a skier with a good level of skill can exploit the power involved while a lower level of skier is completely overwhelmed by it. This is why “racing” is important and the feedback generated by a correctly set race course is invaluable. Strength, fitness and equipment play important roles but the number one role is skill – that is – “the unconscious application of acquired coordination in appropriate movement patterns and responses”“skill” is much simpler to say. One skill that had been completely missing yesterday was the deliberate use of dynamics in terms of directly using the centre of mass to initiate and control the turn. Likewise there had been no appropriate use of coordination or timing within the body to be able to be able to apply the dynamics – so yesterday was really focussed on generating this base of fundamental skills. Once dynamics are being used – then we can begin to look for the most obvious issues to improve and develop. In general, once there is a basic set of rules established, the centre of mass, legs and feet are all roughly trying to work in harmony (instead of against each other – as they are taught to do by BASI, ENSA  the PSIA and every other brainless national instruction system on this planet) then we can begin to work things out.

On top of the basic details for feet and leg muscle coordination and timing and centre of mass displacement we then have the complications of hip, shoulder and overall body rotational issues and hip angulation to deal with. This is already being addressed within the context of “skating” skills, but confusion is massively introduced here due to the turning effect of the whole system. Just like the skier shouldn’t “try to go fast” in a race course, the same applies to “turning”. You don’t “try to turn” directly – once again the turn emerges from  a sequence of other actions and events. The emotional drive is to “try to turn” and most ski instruction spares the poor teacher from the effort of actually trying to deal with this issue by actually helping the unsuspecting student to “try to turn” – by teaching “snowploughs” and other inappropriate coordination including senseless timing and mechanics based on balance derived  “statics” instead of acceleration based “dynamics”.

Mark is clearly not standing solidly on his right leg. The resultant forces should be passing through his right hip and they are not. The right ski should be visibly flexed through the pressure on it but it’s flat due to just drifting sideways and having pressure distributed on both legs. The right knee if anything is pointing slightly outwards and the hip is sticking out too (This is before we altered the boot alignment – which was over-edged at this stage): They should both be held slightly inwards. The spine is kinked sideways to compensate for falling off the outside/support leg. This could be referred to as “hip rotation”.




We can be sure there is a definite use of dynamics due to the big improvement on  the clock. Mark’s use of dynamics was clean and correct and not introducing any strange effects or compensations elsewhere.

Once again the outside ski can be seen to be flat. The same problems exist on this side but are less obvious due to the left leg “bracing” against the sideways drift. This bracing is a locking up of the leg and contraction of inappropriate ‘antagonistic” muscles. In general Mark tends to lock up his hip joints instead of relaxing them. Working on using the adductors and intentionally relaxing the hips will help this. ChiRunning would help it enormously too. ChiRunning requires a conscious development of relaxation in the hip joints. Working on efficient pivoting will help to develop the right coordination.


Christine didn’t manage to dramatically increase her speed in the course but it’s not possible to say whether this was due to a failure to increase dynamics or a failure to deal with the increased speed in the course. I suspect that it’s the latter. The upper body seems to be clamped into a fixed position with very little mobility around the hip joints. The hip joints are the biggest ones in the body so we need to use them – not just as hinges but as rotational ball joints. The result here is that although Christine is well inclined into the turn there is a whole body rotation and absence of hip angulation. (This rotation even appears to be actively used to force the skis around sometimes when pivoting) This condition is also best improved by lots of work on developing accurate pivoting skills.



The whole body is being used to “brace” against the sideways drifting skis with a tendency to be too “two footed”in this process. There is nothing too much to say abut the “parts” here, it’s more the overall goal that appears to be out of sync due to being driven more by complete body rotation rather than by dynamics and the interplay between the skier driving everything down and inwards and the ski lifting up and off in a straight tangent to the arc. The arms are being held too low and immobile which is a clue to the rigidity of the body.

If dynamics are being used then it’s possible that the rotation and two footedness is causing all the gains in speed to be lost on the steeper sections by increasing the sideways drifting.



Brian successfully integrated the dynamics and had a good four seconds time improvement. His tendency to generate a “knee tuck” and drop his hips into each turn caused him to be blocked through each turn transition. He responded by trying to lob his upper body into the new turn – but this causes a delay in moving the centre of mass and then in his case leads to a strong push out of the heels and skid at the start of the next turn. When the turn forces build up later in the turn he then has to brace against them. The bracing shows up here as a complete lack of hip angulation. This situation is aggravated by trying to face the upper body downhill instead of relating it to the mechanical function of the rest of the body.



Here’s the knee tuck developing…







… and here’s the consequence of the entire process! Even though the hip is dropped into the turn at the start it ends up rotating outwards and the spine is twisted as a result.

Practice on pure carving with a wide stance and clear feedback would probably be the most useful exercise to help to eliminate the knee tuck and the consequential “hip dropping” into the turn.





The race course is fantastic for exposing technical issues on all levels. Once basic body management is under control we can begin to work on adapting in a more tactical manner to deal with specific technical aims in mind. Courses are set by licensed professionals because the are not arbitrarily set out – they follow strict rules so as to present the skier with specific technical challenges. “Rhythm” and “Change of Rhythm” are at the root of the course setting and this has to interact with the terrain. The skier can explore an entire universe of movement to deal with this – but it must be built on a solid foundation.



Prior to beginning to tackle the issue of “hip angulation” and rotation I decided to start this off on a more general footing by looking at the principles behind Chi-Walking or Chi-Running.


The first thing that is dealt with in what we will call Chi-Skiing – is alignment. Both Brian’s and Mark’s boots were incorrectly aligned. Brian had the worst problem and his boots had been aligned by incompetent professional bootfitters – namely “Surefoot”! When the legs are fully extended at hip width apart in a seated position then the soles of the boots should be flat. The straight knee cannot compensate for any errors so this is the position required for adjusting the shaft of the boot to the lower leg. The shops have the skier stand and flex and also pretend that footbeds have an influence of this alignment – and they don’t. Footbeds are a totally separate issue and it’s always best to learn to use the feet muscles correctly instead. Brain was significantly under-edged and this has probably encouraged his development of a knee tuck to try to find edge grip. Mark was over-edged and that’s what has probably led to his hips being locked and falling off the over-edged outer ski onto the inner ski with his knees “bowing” slightly outwards. Christine’s boots were fine and that reflects in her relatively natural stance regardless of her two footed tendencies (a result of faulty teaching not miss-alignment).

Brian’s boots – the angle of view not really showing how bad the misalignment was. Fortunately his boots had enough range of adjustment to cope. He really needs stronger higher level boots though. I would never have sold such poor boots to a strong skier. The boot market is more a matter of outright incompetence (including podiatry) and professional snobbery than pure robbery. Surefoot are probably still better than anyone else.







I asked Christine and Brian to take “large steps” in the snow in their ski boots. Predictably they both reached far ahead with the foot and hip, slamming the heel on the ground. I demonstrated the difference with chi-walking – showing with the support of two poles in slow motion how the body falls forwards with the leg extending behind and the other foot just dangles underneath the body, finally dropping into place without reaching ahead. The leg stretched behind pulls the hip backwards and twists the spine slightly – tightening and stretching the abdomen. That leg is then actively recovered by using the psoas – and other core muscles, while at the same time the glutes are employed to extend the hip  of the support leg and lengthen the stride behind again. Forward impulse only comes from gravity and the extending leg just maintains the height of the centre of mass. Walking this way employs the powerful core muscles and makes climbing uphill much easier. This also massively improves posture and protects the lower back and joints at the same time as mobilising them. It feels like an on-the move internal massage.


There is a slight obstacle to seeing how those principles can apply to skiing and it’s because the foot is kept in a fixed position and not permitted to displace behind the body. It’s clear in running or walking that the support hip must not at any point be dragged ahead of the body. As soon as a load goes onto the leg (outside of new turn) then the hip has to be actively pulled back – increasing this during the turn as the load builds up. This has a similar effect on skis as pushing the foot forwards because of the relative displacement between the foot and the hip. In fact the turning effect, especially in pivoting, is more effective than pushing the foot forwards.


The same issue is noticed on a bicycle where the leg extension is done with the foot moving forwards (similar coordination can be applied to climbing steps). Most people allow the hip to follow the foot and while this is more powerful in the short term it eventually leads to back trouble and less efficiency – especially in hill climbing. On the bike the hip has to pull back as the foot goes forwards and then when pulling up on the pedal and retracting the leg with the hamstrings the hip pulls forwards with the psoas. It feels like the hip makes a small circle in the opposite direction from the foot. The timing of this is fine tuned so that the hip actually follows the foot forwards just towards the end of the extension for power – there is not a total dissociation – it’s more of a slight overlap or de-synchronisation and this probably happens in skiing and running too.


It’s not just the boots that have to be aligned. ChiSkiing has the benefit of strongly aligning the leg from the hip downwards to support the loads through the turn. I explained that to achieve good hip angulation the upper body needs to be tilted forwards on the hip joint and the muscles around the hip relaxed. The upper body must then be free to rotate around this ball joint and remain perched on this single hip joint. The angulation comes from this relative rotation – either the skis coming around or the body rotating over the leg. Looking along the skis from the tips towards the tail will show if there is any hip angulation or not – and this is naturally closely related to “hip rotation”. If the hip comes forwards instead of backwards then it is impossible to maintain hip angulation and this is normally referred to as “hip rotation”.


There was clearly not enough time to deal with postural issues here but ideally this is a subject which should be addressed. Nobody here had desperate postural issues anyway although Mark was borderline. The key to good posture is pelvic tilt – pulling the pelvis up at the front while simultaneously relaxing the hip joints. Had Mark tried to pull up his pelvis he would have locked his hip joints even more and just rounded the base of his spine outwards – which is no better than letting it go hollow regarding protecting the back.

Protecting the Spine

I asked Brian to wind up his body into an “anticipated” (facing downhill) position as is classically taught for short turns – the upper body being forced to face downhill. His spine was twisted at the lumbar area in the direction his shoulders were turned. This squashes the midsection of the body and sometimes the ribs can even hit the pelvis. There is no protection for the back.

With ChiSkiing, pulling the hip backwards MORE that the shoulders are brought around, then the spine twists slightly in the other direction, which stretches it and activates the core muscles and lower abdomen in a reflexive and protective manner. This can be seen in modern slalom with its “breakaway” poles and the skier clearing the pole with the shins and the outside arm, instead of twisting away from the pole with the shoulders and clearing with the inside arm.

Moguls (Compression Truns)

From the race course into bumps – the common denominator here was mainly the control of rotation and working with the hips. First of all the bumps had to be simulated on the flat with “compression turns” which are actually simulated with a leg retraction. This involves a strong support from the downhill pole – and very significant angulation/anticipation. The turn is initiated with a flexion to around 90° of the knees and hips. Pole support is used with the pole behind the feet and downhill. It has to be behind because the low flexed or seated position causes the centre of mass to be behind and this static starting position across the hill is somewhat artificial. In practice the skis won’t be across the hill so the centre of mass will not fall behind the resultant forces though the feet. The pivot starts during the flexion with the body being lowered down towards the centre of the turn and pulling the skis inwards on their uphill edges. Feet need to be kept close together to prevent any snagging of edges from the terrain.  The outside hip needs to pull back during the pivot so that the skier doesn’t rotate the hip or whole body through the turn. During the second half of the turn there is an almost full leg extension, with the outside hip pulling backwards and underneath allowing a good angulation to develop on the other side – giving access to pole support to immediately go into the next turn.

When in the actual bumps and doing this slowly the legs still need to retract as it’s only when going faster that they will be actually compressed. The second part of the turn sideslips down the face of the bump extending into the trough. The overall image of a good bumps skier is that the body is stationary because the terrain provides the forces that would have matched the down/up of skating timing on flat ground.


Bodies rotated – all three!







Knee tuck. Hip rotation. No pole support or angulation.







Good flexion.

Leaving the arm behind – “forward gear shift” needed. Leaving the arm behind will cause both rotation and an inability to angulate for the next turn.





Stronger pole use need.

Good flexion.













Right knee  - lack of adductors and hip work!














Can’t hide this one! Using the lower ski as a support and stemming out the upper one – wrong muscle coordination (abductors instead of adductors). This is clear evidence of the “two footedness” I mentioned in the slalom section.





Bumps Dynamics

Once the main bumps had been negotiated one-by-one we came to some smaller bumps where is was time to get things flowing a little. Dynamics have to be added to the compression turn formula. It’s best to look at the bumps like a slalom course with the bumps acting as breakaway poles. You aim for the feet to pass over the shoulder of the bump and then down the face, while the body is aimed to go the other side of the apex from the feet. A bumps turn to the left would have the feet pass on the skier’s right side of the bump and the body on the left. The centre of mass has to be moved actively but this is not visible because it is cancelled out due to the skis travelling around the bump. The appearance is of the body going straight downhill – but this is only appearance  or illusion – it has to be moved very actively. The dynamics is what really makes sure that the body will be in the correct position for the next pole plant.

Christine isn’t the only one! Two footed stemming!







Rotation and blocked hips, no angulation. This is meant to be fall-line skiing so there should be no significant travel across the hill.







Pole Touch

Prior to venturing off-piste I demonstrated the difference between a pole touch and a pole plant. Christine was using the pole plant for all sorts of turns and this was throwing her timing off because she had been incorrectly taught that it should mark the end of a turn. This isn’t a really problem for pivoting because the end  of one turn is so close to the start of  another – though it can still upset the timing even there. It is however a real problem for any turns which are flowing and travel across the hill. 

The pole touch requires a touch of the downhill pole in the snow from a fully extended stance just after passing through “neutral – flat skis"” across the hill. It gives feedback to the body when falling into the new turn. It’s the body falling over that causes the pole to touch the snow and it is placed in the right position with just a small flick of the wrist and no arm movement. The pole handle should be strongly grasped with just the middle two fingers and the thumb to facilitate the swing of the pole from the wrist.

Christine had been trying to come down to plant the pole during long turns when she should have been using her legs to stand up – thus it had been interfering with her timing. She was however the only one to get it right after being shown how to use the pole touch instead of the pole plant.

Similarly with the solid pole plant for fall line skiing it’s the body that plants the pole (with angulation and dynamics) so all the arms flying around that we see on video is a problem. The pole plant also indicates the start of the turn – in this case the start of a pivoted turn. This is useful to be aware of for bumps skiing.

Deep Snow

After a long traverse we managed to find some untouched deep snow for making fresh tracks off-piste. I explained that in soft snow the pivot would work very well but the stance needed to be lowered to an almost seated position to keep the knees and feet ahead of the body. This seated position works well for any skiing directly in the fall-line because it alters the shape of the body to get the feet ahead to deal with any obstacles or the snow resistance against the boots and legs – without any leaning backwards against the ski boots and the associated locking up of the muscles. The feet are best  to be held together in a close stance so there is a two ski pivoting platform – though the body functions as if standing on one leg. This is the same as for bumps.

Where the snow cannot be guaranteed to allow the ski to pivot then the key is to use big dynamics – especially to have the confidence to stand on the lower ski and use very strong “turn exit” dynamics. If in any doubt then this is the answer – provided there is enough space to turn. Dynamics is the “default” in off-piste. If in a tight couloir and there is doubt about getting a turn in then the answer is the jump turn – with the pivot initiation done in the air.


With dynamics, off-piste is much more forgiving than either slalom or bumps!

No angulation.






No angulation.







Still in the back seat – legs need to be flexed to prevent leaning against the backs of the boots.







Tidier than the others and well centred on the skis.







Both the pivot and the dynamics were employed during the overall descent and everyone skied the deep snow without difficulty. The reality is that it should feel no different being “in” the snow to being “on” the snow on the piste. Good dynamics take care of most things and pivoting skills deal with the rest. Good rhythm off-piste leads to a resonance and bounce from the entire base of the ski loading up in the snow, complimenting  the “down/up” dynamics and skating action of the legs.

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