Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dee, Eve, Connie – day 3

Dee is progressing rapidly despite spending very little time on her skis. The important thing to realise is that although she was previously a nervous snowplough skier she has had the courage to totally kick the snowplough habit into touch and start from square one with no snowplough for turning.

Dee was still tending to sit down during small accelerations even when I was supporting her in pivot turns – though she was still consistently improving. We had changed the skis for shorter ones for better feedback and lighter swing weight before starting but that made no immediate difference – other than a few skating exercises on the flat were made more effective.  At this point there was the option to persist and of course there would be slow and continued progress as my physical support would allow her to absorb the appropriate feelings – or take a risk and try an alternative approach with a view to finding a faster route to success. Some intuition told me that getting Dee to jump might work. This could also backfire because of the instability that can be caused when jumping – but it worked. We started on a very flat part where Dee could jump, swinging both her skis into the turn without any risk of significant acceleration – then moved onto steeper parts of the slope. The important thing here is it stopped the skis locking on their edges and running off with her – causing her to sit down backwards. When she jumped she naturally adjusted to the perpendicular to the skis. This was improved by directing the body towards the inside of the turn – slightly downhill and forwards to begin a turn and inwards during the rest of the turn. The second half of the turn requires a stronger motion inwards/uphill because it is working against gravity while the first part of the turn is easy with gravity assisting the body to move downhill. I explained to Dee that this motion of the centre of mass was really the key issue. Finally, on a gentle gradient Dee stopped the jumping and just moved her centre of mass and so put together a few parallel turns. This would have been slightly easier with the feet about hip width apart for stability instead of held too close together. A close stance is only really suitable for very tight pivots.

…Dee’s close encounter with the skier in green who sprayed her when passing by very closely – the look of shock on her face tells the whole story!

This is a good stance, everything in the right place – encouraged by the jumping.


Eve and Connie were both lacking sleep and Eve’s cold was worse than ever. The good news was that Eve’s shins were not too bad and the replacement “Technica” ladies boots were working.

Skiing down from the top of the Tovière back into Tignes, making short pivoted turns,  I noticed that neither of the girls had much leg movement. This observation led to the decision to introduce them to bump skiing technique – on a handy steep “black” bumps run that was just beside us. I knew that both of them could pivot well enough to manage the slope so they would also be able to focus on the specific adaptations needed for bumps. Bumps require a great deal of leg movement.

Compression Turns

Proper “bumps” turns are called “compression” turns – because the bumps are allowed to compress the legs. When done very slowly as an exercise this is really a retraction of the legs – bending close to or beyond 90° at both the knees and the hips. The pole is firmly planted on the bump apex and when the skis are on the upper shoulder of the bump the skier bends while simultaneously pulling the skis into a pivot and letting the centre of mass fall downhill. At higher speed and with bigger bumps the legs would actually be compressed and the knees can sometimes hit the chest. After passing over the shoulder of the bump the legs are extended into the hollow below as the skier sideslips down the bottom part of the bump. It’s important to avoid the upper body and hips rotating through the end of the turn. Eve, below is standing is a classic position for the start of a pivot on the bumps.

Connie is also in a good “anticipated” position (meaning the body is already facing downhill) though her feet should be closer together for bump skiing.

We did some traversing across sharp bumps to practice active flexing to absorb the bumps and active leg extension to force the feet down into the holes. Most people just allow the legs to become more and more compressed.

The perspective of the steepness of the bumps is lost in the photograph.

We had a long run after this intense concentration just to blow away the cobwebs, but I insisted on active and conscious use of the legs, flexing progressively through the turn to keep the body down and inside the turn and for Connie in particular to work on pulling back the hip to aid this flexion. It might take muscle power to flex the legs when under load – but it’s a lot less muscle power than is required for “bracing” with stiff legs.

Carving, Neutral and Turn Exit Dynamics

After lunch I’d wanted to go off-piste but the light deteriorated to the point where it was not possible to see the snow ahead off-piste. I’d wanted to work on aspects of dynamics that really help deal with difficult snow, but decided to do this anyway on the piste and attempt to combine it with carving. Both the girls had taken surprisingly well to carving – probably due to their skating backgrounds – so they would enjoy developing that a bit further.

Working on the carving first of all I did a static exercise using ski poles for support to show how the edges are changed by the body moving across the skis. It’s tricky changing onto the downhill edges because the ski must not slip away downhill when flat – there has to be a clean roll from uphill to downhill edges and the body supported downhill of the feet by the ski poles.

When the skis are completely flat and the body completely upright and perpendicular – facing across the the slope – then this is called “neutral” in a racing turn. The racing turn is not completed when the body is vertical and the skis on the uphill edges – the body needs to be perpendicular and the skis flat in a dynamic process that can only be sustained for a fraction of a second.

After “neutral” was understood I then explained that in getting to neutral the body had to be supported by the downhill leg until it was completely out of the turn. Eve had a bit of trouble understanding this at first but both Connie and Eve caught on quickly and managed to achieve this action – standing on the lower leg until the ski was flat and body perpendicular across the slope – and then standing on the uphill leg and continuing to fall into the new turn. This is the “turn exit dynamics” that makes a dramatic difference to skiing off-piste in difficult snow – but is also required for ski racing. Until now we had only looked at the dynamics for the beginning of a turn and then tried to hold the body into the turn by flexing though the turn. With the pivot this dramatic “turn exit dynamics” is not required – but when carving or difficult snow the ski cannot pivot. (with the exception of jumping)

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