Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Steeps Madness

Went skiing with Gareth today. It was the usual madness. Just a casual prompt from me “Oh Look! There are tracks heading off down there!” And off he goes into the unknown. Remind me why I never like following anyone! I’d rather however be obliged to follow Gareth’s randomness than any official “off-piste” guide – because that’s a real game of Russian Roulette. The following quote applies well here: "Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts" – Richard Feynman. Just replace “Science” with “Survival”!

The Avalanche Barrier Song

We did end up with some great untracked snow between the trees and working with chi-skiing it was real fun making tight turns. Gareth is pretty good at heaving his massive belly around tight turns too – but he is always very close to splatting against something. The last time he got near avalanche barriers he splatted against those and broke his back. Fatefully all the paths here converged on a narrow chute filled with avalanche barriers. The snow was rotten at a certain depth because it took the sun there. I opted for safety and started to try to climb back up – but the snow was too soft and deep to avoid a major effort. Gareth gave in to his fatness and pleaded the case that skiing it would be better than climbing – probably by assessing the risk of heart attack. After 5 minutes of sinking to my waist in the snow I agreed. I’d given Gareth a transceiver, but not so I could find him if he got buried – it was so he could find me if anything happened. I had the complete kit including air bag. The only thing I didn’t have was my “Avalung” breathing tube – which I’ve only ever used when heliskiing in deep powder. This was one situation where a full jet pack with self-orienting vertical take off capacity would have been desirable.  As it happened we found a couple of relatively safe passages around the barriers where there were trees that had survived a good dozen years or more. Considering that Gareth had a migraine because of his stressful lifestyle and I was feeling a bit stiff and unmotivated we did pretty well. It’s the first time I’ve used full chi-skiing technique in the trees or tricky steeps so it was very interesting and good fun.

The Missing Link

After returning to Tignes we agreed to continue skiing and went up the Grande Motte. Launching myself onto a steep off-piste pitch, untracked and through the rocks I was hesitant again with the real steepness. I explained to Gareth that it was bugging me that I couldn’t get the 100% control that I wanted when initiating a turn on the steep from a static start. I know that when I have some speed – if the outcome is guaranteed to be safe – then I have no difficulty. Somehow the tension in the body was inhibiting the static start on the steep ground and my conscious efforts to overcome it were not doing the job properly. Gareth just told me to get on with it so I did. Two smooth turns later I stopped, unhappy at the slight excess of speed. Gareth probably just thought that I’d managed two nice smooth turns but I wasn’t happy. Then Gareth launched himself into turn number one and almost went over the front of his skis – compressing his knee in the process and hurting his leg. Turn number two was a sort of linked recovery – minus the usual Gareth headplant or cartwheel. He then managed another fairly tight turn and bailed out accelerating past me in a straight line yelling something resembling “Mayday, Mayday….” Apparently my turns had mistakenly led him to believe the snow was nice and skiable – but it was far from it. One more steep pitch and he spotted the missing ingredient! I was forgetting to retract! In the effort to either generate pressure or to jump from a stationary I was losing the normally reflexive retraction which stops you from popping up too high after the body is lifted up out of the turn. It was too steep to just fall over into the turn as in a compression turn – for fear of the the skis not making it round to follow the body. Once that was identified I added it to the mix and sure enough even gnarly steep snow became easy again. Gareth has been a pro for about 30 years and it’s the first time I’ve had anyone manage to give me useful feedback for about 17 years! Ironically it was me who showed Gareth how to retract and fall into a turn using dynamics – but not on neck breaking steepness – which is Gareth’s natural headplanting domain.


It’s safe to say following Gareth’s display of linked recoveries that every run we did was on terrain where I’ve never taken a client. I’d be more nervous for their safety than my own. It’s very unnerving watching your client cartwheeling past you or acting like a luge face first down a couloir without skis. Fortunately I’ve never once managed to get a client into an avalanche – all those other things yes – but never buried! Most injuries I’ve seen have actually taken place on green or blue slopes! Perhaps the flatter ground causes a greater impact? Yes that must be right. Green slopes are more dangerous. Gareth’s problem now appears to be simple to me and something that can be relatively easily solved. We tried many things over the years but nothing worked, because the root of his technical problem was well hidden. The answer is in chi-hips! All Gareth has to do is hold his feet and shoulders steady while pulling back the outside (of the turn) hip. This integrates the upper and lower body instead of “separating” them and it prevents his hip rotation and the outside foot from trailing – which together cause his troubles. Gareth tried this on the piste with carving and the difference was noticeable to me as he could get much lower to the ground with hip angulation and the foot was trailing much less. He couldn’t hold it together off-piste though, but that’s normal when learning something new. Gareth could feel the spine twist appropriately and understand the full chi-skiing action. Until this season I couldn’t teach this in such a clear and uncomplicated manner – but confidence in seeing the dramatic improvement of other skiers with it – and isolating the essentials - have gradually altered my own perception of this issue.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ski Touring at Dusk

Went out for a late afternoon ski touring workout at low temperatures and really enjoyed it. The mountain was completely empty of people and nobody had even made tracks up there all weekend due to the cold. My only company was a lone fox and our tracks crossed at 6500ft altitude. It amazes me that animals can live and survive wild all winter in such an environment. Animal intelligence is impressively independent. I wonder what the fox thinks of our cars, towns, supermarkets, corporations, medical system, military, health insurance, taxes and on and on and on? It probably just looks at us humans and thinks “assholes!”


Presence, Process, Chi-walking

It’s the first time since using lightweight equipment that I’ve started to feel a natural movement when climbing. The ski slides along the ground when you advance and the temptation is to slide the foot too. It’s really more like cycling though in that your foot goes in a more circular path due the the hinged toe piece. Once that feeling is there the leg relaxes better and that probably improves blood flow – the legs being a pump that assist the heart anyway.

Apart from the feeling of the need for exercise and the desire to be outdoors and away from people there is another significant motivation: Presence. During the day the mind gets caught up in all sorts of tasks but few of them are related to observing our own behaviour or activity. Something like 95% of our behaviour is governed by the unconscious part of the brain and all day long we just let if get on with the job and put up with all the fears and irrational junk that it generates. Meanwhile the conscious 5% is fully occupied with filling in tax returns or trying to get money, spending it and avoiding losing it all. When we take that conscious mind and directly apply it to monitoring and modifying our unconscious behaviour then that leads us to “presence”. Presence is a combination of self-awareness and being “in the moment”. Practising this leads to changes in perception, self discovery and re-programing of the unconscious mind – an entire process that becomes a goal in its own right. This process still needs one other vital ingredient and that’s where human intelligence comes in. It needs knowledge – at least a key, an insight – to get the process started. For me the relevant insight here comes from “chi-walking”. Using the mechanics of chi-walking allows the focus to move onto the body and to apply the conscious mind to internal management - re-programing the unconscious mind and changing the inappropriate habits it imposes on us. During the workout the circular action of the feet became steadily cleared to me. I was focused on avoiding bringing the foot and hip too far forwards so as to ensure less use of the quads for climbing and more use of the hip extensors. After about an hour it suddenly became much easier even though it became steeper – and that’s because I realised that the hip had to be pulled much further back during the hip extension than I thought – exactly the same intensity as during downhill skiing where the hip has to be consciously pulled back. When the spine became clearly involved and the hip came well back then the apparent effort decreased dramatically. I didn’t want to stop climbing because it became enjoyable – but it was getting dark and so at about 2000m altitude  - near the home of the fox, I pulled over beside an old building (c 1802) and stopped.

Chi Skiing

The snow was crusted at 2000m but soon gave way during the descent to a properly transformed solid base at lower altitudes where it had been exposed to the sun. I had my 1200 lumen Chinese LED headtorch on and it was the singular most enjoyable descent of the entire winter. It felt great! I used chi-skiing in the descent to ensure good alignment and turn initiation in case of any surprises – but there were none after the start had been carefully negotiated. The quality of the descent was so good that it beat anything in a ski resort. Great workout – great skiing!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sophie & Emily day 6

Short Swings

Good progress was made yesterday but I’d noticed a postural issue that needed to be addressed for Sophie. This postural issue decided for me that the theme for the day should centre around relaxing the hip joints. Emily has for very good reasons not been the main centre of attention during the afternoons but I started the session with her and asking her to jump. The best way to jump most of the time is to fully extend the legs in the air and then bend to soften the landing. This guarantees a clean movement of the centre of mass upwards. Most people initially jump by mainly retracting the heels and failing to move the centre of mass. Any exercise that moves the centre of mass and uses the full range of motion of the legs is going to be useful. Emily already knew how to swing the skis into a turn from a pivot with the skis on the ground – sideslipping the fronts of the skis into the turn. Without realising it her playful practice at 360° spinning was also helping to develop this skill. The use of the adductors (“leg muscles” – as we called them in the session) also works for swinging the outside ski into the turn and enhancing the correct coordination. The upshot of all of this was that Emily’s first ever attempt at short swings (rhythmic jump turns)  was surprisingly good – especially as she had no use of her poles for support – not having yet been taught how to use poles for short pivoted turns. The main point of this exercise was to make Emily bend and relax at the hip joints – sinking down through each turn so that she would be able to jump back up at the very end of the turn. This leads to a natural flexing and relaxation around the hips and permits a greater degree of dynamics while allowing the upper body to become more independent from the legs and rotate less in the turns. A skier’s development centre's principally around increasing their dynamic range.

Pelvic Tilt

For Sophie we worked on pelvic tilt so as to achieve “neutral pelvis” and a slight contraction of the lower abdomen. To do this the hips need to be flexed to start with and after the pelvis is pulled up at the front the hips need to be relaxed again to ensure they are kept independent from the pelvis and not locked up. This spontaneously changed the arm carriage the first time Sophie did it, correcting it by bringing the elbows out to a normal position. In the photos below the arm carriage can be seen to be normal. The aim of “pelvic tilt” is to prevent the lower back from hollowing and so to protect the whole back – also integrating the upper and lower body correctly. When skiing Sophie had to remember to maintain pelvic tilt and to pull the hip back during the turn – quite a lot to handle really. Some people would really struggle to feel and sustain those things but Sophie has good body awareness and was able to achieve this with relative ease. The net result of all this concentration on everything from the feet to the overall dynamics in and out of the turn – and the flat ski glide between turns - was that her turns on steeper terrain were even more secure and skiing was not tiring her out.

Emily’s first attempts at Short Swings – displaying good coordination and range of movement.

Sophie is now much more symmetrical turning in left and right turns – with the severe right hip rotation now under control. Through the last half of the turn – before coming up to complete the turn – there is some more flexibility in the hip which allows pressure and directional control to build up with the body being held more securely inside the turn.









Sophie is skiing much faster, more securely and without any difficulty on steeper sections. There is still the glitch during turn transitions but it’s more of left over artefact now than an indication of fundamental problems. It’s impossible to focus on all the changes that Sophie is making and also completely avoid every additional unconscious act.  Practice is obviously necessary to consolidate all the different parts and then the overall picture would tidy up dramatically.









When I’m not watching Emily and asking her to focus she has a tendency to fall over during just about every single run. I suspect that it’s because when she is not focused on dynamics she stands on her inside leg for support – as she always falls into the hill. This is most likely coming from other things that she is picking up elsewhere because there is no sign of the problem when specifically applying correct instructions.

The moon looks surreal in daylight…

…an hour later…

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sophie & Emily day 5

Inner Pistes

Starting off the day I asked Emily what she had been up to in the morning. She had skied a red run and some blues and learned words to a song. When asked what she was thinking about regarding her body when skiing she had no answer. It seemed that any attempt by me in the afternoons to raise her conscious awareness was being cancelled out by the fun she was having in the mornings! The only way to deal with this is directly. For the next hour before each run I asked Emily to give me a check list of things she had to focus her attention on – all things inside her body. The list was to start at the feet and work upwards. All she had to remember was to roll the feet, pull inwards with the adductor muscles and push the centre of mass against the magic wall. On top of this I added “pushing the outside foot forward”. It took some time before she could remember and repeat this but it’s probably more useful than the song she learned in the morning. I explained that skiing isn’t about what run you skied or looking good to your friends or keeping up with others It’s about the Inner Pistes connecting your consciousness to your body and developing your sense of presence. If you are unaware you are on a green piste and might spend your whole life there no matter what or where you ski. The real exploration is on the inside and we need to strengthen it through constant practice. Focusing on the body is what leads to greater presence and awareness. I hoped to see Emily on a blue piste by the end of the day and singing a new kind of song.


Sophie continued to make progress with dynamics, focusing on the turn completion and allowing the body to come up to the perpendicular while still on the lower ski. I explained the illusion of “centrifugal” force and how in the absence of any real outward force it was necessary to work to ensure that the body completed the turn correctly. The ski lifts you up and gravity also helps you fall from vertical to perpendicular – but both those aspects of turn completion remain a choice and under your control. To help achieve this I asked Sophie to try to let the skis run flat for a second at the very end of the turn. This worked and narrowed Sophie’s stance even more than before and made her turning very smooth. It also exposed a lingering rotation on the right side (turning to the left) at turn initiation. It’s almost certain that the weak turn completion dynamics (left leg) is the original source of the rotation habit as a compensatory way of forcing the skis around. I didn’t film the improvement in stance – which was nice – but Sophie could feel the difference anyway.


My re-definition of the term “chi” is here in an article titled “The Energy Illusion”.

Yesterday I taught “feet forward” technique but this was only a prelude to chi-skiing as a means to eliminate hip rotation. The key to eliminating hip rotation is simply to pull the hip on the outside leg backwards all the way through the turn – but to ensure isolating the hip while doing this so as not to pull either the foot or the shoulder back too. The relative displacement of the foot and hip are the same as when pushing the foot forwards but now we make it also happen from the hip and this has a profound effect on the turn transition, making the start of the new turn remarkably easy. There is a detailed page on chi-skiing here.

There is another page with an example of working on chi-running here.

We did some walking exercises initially to explain the basis of chi-skiing to Sophie and she understood this. Her current knee problem is probably due to walking on high heels and being a strong heel striker. I helped Sophie isolate the pulling back of the hip so that she could feel the stretch in the abdomen. When the hip is allowed to rotate the abdomen compresses instead and the spine twists in the opposite direction in a damaging manner. Chi-skiing is all about being able to activate reflexes which protect the back and using the core muscles and glutes effectively. It is about alignment of the body and legs in a way that is both protective and effective. Sophie managed to bring this into her skiing immediately and feel the difference. The dynamics may have suffered a bit and the overall picture might not be so tidy when focusing on this new element but the important thing was to combat rotation and that was achieved. I would rather see strongly aligned legs than pretty skiing.

In the photos below both skiers are managing effective use of the feet, adductors and dynamics. Sophie’s arm carriage reveals that the lower back is too hollowed and she needs to use some pelvic tilt. Posture like this, if not corrected, can lead to back and neck problems – also related to walking on heels. Chi-Walking is a fantastic discipline to deal with this. Every time I walk anywhere now I think of my mechanics of movement and it feels so horrible to slump into my old way of walking – with the core and posture dysfunctional – that I immediately correct it.

















Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sophie & Emily 4

The main focus today remained on consolidating confidence for Sophie. Emily was doing a good job of being patient and working on building her own technique. She has the morning skiing with a group of children her own age so she has a lot of freedom there and any time spent building her technique here is working strongly to her advantage.

Base of Support

Emily’s dynamics hadn’t been great up until now and her turns had remained rushed. Adding the feet and adductor muscles (inside of the leg) to the dynamics changed all of that. One problem with dynamics is that if the support at the feet is not correct then it can be almost impossible to generate effective dynamics. Suddenly Emily’s turns became rounded and smooth with her stance changing, combining inclination and angulation, all coming from a good “skaters” support at the level of the feet. Sophie’s stance automatically narrowed and although her “glitch” didn’t disappear completely it was much less due to the narrowed stance. Previously the “glitch” caused a big separation of the skis. Pulling inwards with the “outside” leg was giving Sophie a much better base of support. Before we used the feet and adductors along with the dynamics we did a static exercise where I stood in place of the “Magic Wall” and the feelings were generated when leaning downhill against me.


Feet Forward

To combat upper body rotation on Sophie’s right side (turning to the left ) I introduced “feet forward” technique. We did a static exercise with the skis off which both Sophie and Emily managed very well. It’s a hard exercise to do but the work with the feet rolling and the adductors made it much easier for them. The feet are initially pointed across the hill and the body supported on the lower leg (and ski poles) with the weight on the heel to act as a pivot point. The upper foot is pushed forward along the inside edge of the boot to scribe an arc in the snow. The purpose of this is to feel the sensation of pushing forward – with no twisting action involved. When this is done with the skis on it “drives” the turn, tightening the arc more the faster and harder the foot is pushed forward. It’s a very powerful way of controlling turn radius and at the same time limiting unwanted upper body rotation. Sophie managed this well and was now well within her comfort zone tackling a long blue run.

Alex & Daisy 3


Alex and Daisy were taught how to use their feet correctly for skiing for the first time this morning after finishing breakfast. They were only taught how to place the weight on the heels and rock the feet from edge to edge beneath the ankle joints. Along with this they were taught how to feel the adductor muscles on the inside of the legs – critical for appropriate coordination – especially during pivoting but for all skiing in general. Most people either instinctively or due to learning the snowplough tend to push the leg outwards, flattening the foot and using the muscles on the outside of the leg – but the correct coordination is the exact opposite. We applied this as soon as we began skiing, adding it to dynamics – rocking the feet towards the turn. I supported Alex and Daisy (substituting myself for the magic wall) so that they could feel the feet and the appropriate leg muscles statically before skiing. The idea was to do a couple of runs like this and head straight into the slalom before the course deteriorated.


Alex and Daisy were asked to now apply this in slalom. Alex’s run of 40.49 seconds was no faster than yesterday and so I asked him what he had been thinking off. Alex started to reply “My feet and my leg….” but I stopped him! Me: “Alex, I got the impression that you were only thinking about going faster and forgot all the technique. Is that not true?” Alex: “Yes!”  After that I was much more strict with Alex and pulled him up every time he showed signs of not listening to (or ignoring) instructions. Daisy on the other hand did listen and reduced her time by 6 seconds to 44.48 seconds. She still reverted to a racing snowplough but there was enough working to give her time a massive boost. Unfortunately it was too busy for them to make a second run without wasting too much time queuing.

Off Piste

We headed straight from the slalom to some steep off piste in soft snow. The skis lift you up much more easily in soft snow so the error novices make is to underestimate how much more it is necessary to move the body into the turn. The Magic Wall has to be used more strongly than on the piste so this is a good lesson – extending dynamic range naturally. Once dynamics are more or less in place then there is no difficulty in going off piste. Both Alex and Daisy were rapidly comfortable with their new environment.


Slalom, Off Piste and Bumps are the three main areas of physical constraints that are used to develop skill – so from the top of the Tovière we went straight into bumps on a steep slope. I showed how the pivot can be used effectively with the ski tips being airborne over the crest of a bump – so the bump itself has a similar effect to jumping – getting the skis in the air. Daisy understood and used the bump to help the pivot but Alex didn’t listen and started jumping and turning almost at random. However it was their very first attempt. Daisy shows an impressive ability to pay attention and learn.


After the bumps we continued off piste for their first really long excursion  – right down to La Daille and using “la Familial” which was well ski pisted (though steep and bumpy) and “Piste Perdu” which is in the photographs…

La Face de Bellevarde – Black Run

We finished by skiing the whole of the Face which is a long, steep and relatively icy world famous black run. Daisy stopped only once but quickly overcame her worries and skied the entire run without any difficulty. Alex was already comfortable on steep terrain but Daisy has made great progress catching up. Alex will have to listen to instructions more if he is to remain ahead!

(Latest update since this was posted: Alex 39.5 and daisy 40 seconds  in slalom!)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sophie & Emily 3

Dynamics Part 2 – Turn Exit

Sophie’s confidence is returning bit by bit so we just worked on consolidating the progress and continued the focus on dynamics. She mentioned that she was having some trouble starting the turn to the left and yesterday I’d noticed on the video that there was a glitch – but the glitch is at the end of the turn to the right. I’d already decided to address this issue by introducing the second part of dynamics – the turn exit.

To explain the turn exit I had to clarify the difference between vertical and perpendicular. A motorcycle on flat ground comes up to vertical (to gravity) at the end of a turn and this is also perpendicular to the horizontal ground. On skis at the end of the turn (when using dynamics) you have to come up right past vertical all the way out to perpendicular to the tilted slope to have the skis flat and complete the turn – this position being called “neutral” and lasting only a fraction of a second during turn transition. This is slightly scary and it’s the reason why most people naturally get stuck at this point – especially when completing the turn on their weaker leg. We live most of our active lives in the vertical so it’s normal to have to learn to adapt on a hill where vertical and perpendicular are not the same. Sophie managed to understand and apply this and went a long way towards smoothing out the glitch and also linking her turns better.


Emily here is managing to use the magic wall better while working on dynamics. You can see the increase in inclination supported by the outside ski.










I introduced pivoting as the third key element to skiing. 1 being dynamics, 2 being skating and 3 being the choice of edge for turn initiation. After demonstrating the very tight turns being initiated from the outside edge I then assisted both Sophie and Emily through a couple of pivots so that they could learn to identify and understand the feeling of sideslipping into a smooth turn at very low speed. This is technique that is used for direct “fall-line” skiing and is extensively explained here! 

Feet and Stance

Once indoors at the end of the session I took the opportunity to explain the correct use of the feet. From placing the weight on the heels the subtaler joints between the heels and the ankles were introduced to show how they are used to rock the feet and place them on their edges – which correspond to the edges of the skis. I showed how this actually slightly turns the foot in the opposite direction form the turn. The foot rolling was then linked to the adductor muscles on the inside of the leg – which is the correct muscle coordination for holding a ski on edge. Snowplough actually uses the muscles on the outside of the leg and prevents development of this coordination. I also demonstrated that standing on the middle to front of the foot and flexing caused all of this control to be lost and for the knees to twist vulnerably into the turn instead.

For stance the important thing to feel is the strengthening of the ankle when flexing and how the bending is now in the knee and hip instead of at the ankle. The anterior tibialis muscle in front of the shin must tighten when standing on the heels and bending and the quads are used in the legs – the movement resembling more of a squat with the knees and feet being ahead of the hips and better able to respond to terrain and bumps or deep snow.

Alex & Daisy 2

One Ski Skiing

Today’s session began by asking Alex and Daisy to try to ski on one ski. Although this can be seen like a game it’s meant to test their current ability to perch themselves on a single leg and then manage some sort of edge control and dynamics. Predictably this was impossible but “playing” like this helps to develop the skill.

Jump Turns

I’d explained to Alex at breakfast that the skis are not turned into a turn during a pivot, they are swung into the turn by pulling them sideways – like a knife spreading butter. In the jump turn we only have to swing both skis about 10° through the air to start the turn. One pitfall to avoid is the temptation to start the turn before the jump –  the jump at the end of the previous turn. This exercise was intended to help daisy to get rid of he snowplough and it worked very well for her. It also helps develop timing and coordination – plus it’s a valid technique in everything from off-piste to racing. This exercise was also leading on from yesterdays rhythmic jump turns (short swings) and the act of swinging the lower ski tip downhill into a turn.


I used some gullies and the natural banking to begin to work on dynamics – children loving this and finding it to be a game more than an exercise.

Now that both Daisy and Alex were skiing more comfortably without using the inside leg as a brake of stabiliser it was time to re-introduce dynamics. They didn’t know about the magic wall- so I had to explain it to them. The magic wall only appears when moving forward and it’s on either side of the body but completely invisible. When you push hard against it with your shoulder all the pressure goes on the furthest away foot so if you push against the wall downhill of you then all the pressure goes on the uphill ski. With the wall being invisible you never feel anything against your shoulder – but the more you believe in the magic and harder you push the better it works. Dynamics is explained in full here! 

In practical terms I had Alex and daisy one after the other push their shoulders against my hands (me being downhill) and feel all the pressure on their uphill skis and the lower ski coming off the ground. I then asked them to start the turns like this and to deliberately lift the lower (inside) ski at the same time to help. They were already familiar with lifting the ski but now needed to add the magic wall. The coordination was already in place for this to work. Both Alex and Daisy managed this well and so it was time to let them try the slalom.


We had a practice run together for everything to be explained about using the race course and timing. Daisy got lost on her first few runs and only managed to find the course on her third run. She naturally went defensive this being her first time on a black run and so the gigantic snowplough reappeared and her dynamics disappeared – but she still skied confidently despite this and managed 50 seconds on her first score. Alex attacked the course and skied well scoring 39.5 seconds on his first run – but then frightened himself significantly after straight-lining it all the way down the Poma button tow line and trying to hockey stop and 90mph at the bottom. At least he was more frightened than damaged and learned never to do that again! Mike also had a go but his wide off-piste skis are not really suitable for a slalom course

Alex looks great here but he’s travelling as much sideways as forwards and you can see the skis are not bending. His attack on the course was brave but now he has to start to think about applying the technique that he is learning.









Daisy is doing the fastest snowplough in France here. She needs to lose that stabiliser and think about using her newly developed magic wall (Dynamics) – which had her skiing beautifully parallel on the piste.









Mike looked on target to become the family champion but was thrown out of the course due to rotation. Dropping down lower into the turn would have done the job – staying softer in the hips.










Took the Olympic to get back fast to Val at the end and sort out my gear at the same time….

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sophie & Emily 2

Emily had been skiing all morning in a small group but after refuelling at lunch time she was raring to go for the afternoon. My attention was mainly focussed on Sophie this session but Emily enjoyed skiing on one leg and was able to understand some of the explanations I was giving for Sophie’s benefit. Emily’s skiing today is more fluid and confident – more oriented on one leg and a bit less rushed at the start of the turns as a result. Regardless of Emily’s confidence it’s probably Sophie who has made the biggest changes – much stronger dynamics, much rounder turns and pressure on the outside ski all the way through the turns.

Emily with a strong stance on one leg, with some hip angulation showing but not enough dynamics. The leg tends to be pushed out and away from the body instead of the body (centre of mass) moving inwards.

Sophie with good dynamics leading to effective body inclination and a strong support on the outside ski. Once this is consolidated then some more  hip angulation needs to be developed.


For Sophie today it was the occasion to clarify dynamics and remove any lingering confusion. It’s normal to find this subject confusing – phenomena based on gravity were never understood correctly until the genius of Galileo came along. Aristotle got it all wrong and so did all of Western education for the following 2000 years. I helped Sophie to feel the sensations though supporting her through some exercises and then to have a picture of a bicycle or motorbike to give a visual image. I also changed her concept of “uphill” and “downhill” skis to “outside” and “inside” for during a turn. All of this together brought results.

Dynamics generates a natural down/up timing as the skier tilts over into a turn and then comes back up at the end. This is the opposite of the up/down timing taught initially by ski schools. That down/up timing creates a skating pressure cycle against the legs and because of this the legs can be used actively in a skating action without it even being visible. Skating adds energy and power to a turn for several reasons. (changing pressure and edge angles through muscular impulse and changing body shape) This pressure cycle is essential for smooth turning and reducing shocks on the body and joints. The function of the leg (skating) and dynamics is natural and the pressure cycle ensures correct reflexes which protect the body from trauma and trigger automatic and supportive involuntary muscular actions including postural support. Most of the body’s proprioceptors (6th sense for positioning in space) are in the feet so the right pressure cycle is extremely important.

Alex & Daisy 1

Alex and Daisy were back on skis for the first time in almost a year. Naturally the first few runs were aimed at getting used to sliding again. The perfect weather and snow conditions certainly makes this process much easier and more enjoyable. I’ve not skied with Alex or Daisy before so was a bit surprised with what I saw. Alex was trying to lean over – but not by using dynamics! He would simply stand on his inside leg to facilitate leaning over more and jamming the outside ski on its edge – a recipe for out-of-control disaster and high speed wipe-outs. He could also force his skis out into a sort of abrupt hockey stop which he seemed to use at random to slow himself. Daisy was pretty much blocked in a snowplough with no dynamics and again standing on the inside ski but with the plough leading to skis crossing and various other issues. I could see it was not a good idea to work on dynamics here because it could be tricky to untangle the current movement patterns – so I decided to work on pivoting.


A basic summary of pivoting can be found at this link here.

The exercises started with simple sideslipping on a steep slope. Daisy was struggling because her top ski would point downhill in a snowplough automatically – so this was a key thing to correct. With both skis pointing across the hill and on their uphill edges then she would have a lot more security. Sideslipping takes practice. Alex was already comfortable with this but we soon added forward and backward diagonal sideslipping – by swinging either the ski tips or the tails downhill.

After demonstrating the pivot from the uphill edge of the uphill ski both Daisy and Alex made brave attempts at it. To make this easier I worked with each individually so that they could feel it as I supported them through a pivot. Following this I skied with each of them holding onto my pole and helped them pivot through the turns. This worked quite well and produced a visible difference. I explained with a brief exercise of pulling the ski tip against a pole stuck in the ground that the muscles on the inside of the leg needed to be used to pull the ski into a pivot. This is not strictly true but the coordination is correct and the main aim was to prevent them from “pushing out” with the ski as they had been doing until now. When it wasn’t too steep Daisy was managing to get rid of her defensive snowplough quite well because she was getting speed control from sideslipping the skis into the new turn.

To help Daisy further I asked her to lift the lower ski at the start of the turn and swing the tip off downhill (diverging the ski tips) and at the same time the uphill ski tip would be pulled inwards into the new turn. Both Daisy and Alex did well with this.

Short swings (rhythmic jump turns) were done as an exercise for coordination – so that both skis could be swung simultaneously in the air. Alex was much stronger at this and managed to control his speed very well for such a difficult exercise. Daisy was tending to twist her feet rather than swing her skis so we need to take a look at the feet and how they work in ski boots tomorrow .

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sophie & Emily 1

Starting off with a few gentle warm up runs both Sophie and Emily rapidly found their feet and their confidence. Both have a very similar level of skiing and use similar movement patterns. Sophie was very brave managing to overcome fears from a previous extremely serious injury and the initial anxiety and hesitation gradually disappeared.

The Magic Wall (Dynamics)

Apart from the usual occasional parent / child interaction there was little stress around – with the skiing seemingly doing its job of transporting everyone into an internal world and away from outside stress. The more aware of the use of the body that the skier becomes the easier it is to be focussed on it. I introduced Dynamics as the “Magic Wall” to give an overall framework from which to develop – briefly mentioning “centre of mass” later on. (Dynamics can be read about in depth here!) I have published a couple of interesting articles explaining where the teaching confusion about dynamics arises and the historical origins – they are here 1 and here 2)

Watching both skiers it was obvious that dynamics is the most important thing for them to learn at this point. Their skiing is currently at a very typical intermediate stage with no serious problems. They have clearly been taught in the classical manner. Sophie had been tending to use a bit more natural dynamics than Emily – but in a  passive way (reacting instead of moving the body pro-actively). Never having been taught dynamics before means that both were rushing the start of the turns to get the skis quickly below them. To address this I asked them to try to follow my tracks as best as they could – to round out the turns and allow the new dynamics to work. Both could feel the dynamics working right from the start – commenting that is felt easier on the hips and easier turning.

We didn’t go into a lot of technical detail because today was really just about building confidence and feeling good to be on skis. When everyone is at ease then we’ll get a little bit more technical and try to make the skiing experience more rewarding. That shouldn’t be too difficult for either Sophie or Emily.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ski Touring–heavy workout.

My ski touring today turned into more of a weight training workout due to the snow constantly sticking to the skis. Sometimes it built up so much that it felt like being on stilts!

The legs were tired from a short run yesterday but apart from the sticky snow I’m sure this is much tougher than cycling. I’m glad I could bail out after only a short climb. When on the bike time passes very quickly but that really doesn’t happen to me when ski touring! The descent was interesting. The tiredness alone guaranteed an interesting descent but with the skinny and short skis with touring boots and wet sticky fresh snow the first few turns were not too elegant. I stopped and composed myself but  interestingly the only thing that really helped was the application of the “chi hips”. That was a surprise! I tried narrow stance, wide stance, pressure, reducing pressure, dynamics, low seated stance, adductor muscles – everything – but the chi hips made the biggest  difference.

Les Arcs to the left and La Plagne in the middle.

Mont Pourri

Looking down over Sangot, Macot and Aime.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Best Off Piste Day of the Season


I had just one intention today – scare myself! That was all too easily achieved! Too much time spent teaching on the nursery slopes has a detrimental effect on your own skiing. I just wanted to get out and ski some of my old haunts and blow away some of the cobwebs.

Lacking the habit of skiing couloirs I found myself a bit too tense to ski the entrance properly (at least to do so willingly). Experience teaches you that any mistake can mean cartwheeling all the way to the bottom  - so as you get older (and hopefully wiser) you naturally get more apprehensive. It’s annoying because you know it’s easy to ski but the risk just doesn’t seem worth it at the time. This is why those things need to be practised regularly. I’ve noticed several times through my life that fear of height disappears completely with familiarity.  I will now make a point of skiing much more steep terrain so as to recover the necessary relaxation and composure. Technique isn’t an issue here – psychology and attitude are.

Seen here from another view point…

Almond Magnum Ice Cream Snow

This next pitch was scary too because of avalanche risk. Just a few metres above was a “gasex” unit that sets off explosions so for the snow to still be there it must be relatively stable – but it was deep and being North East facing there as a layer of depth hoar far below that I could feel with the ski pole when probing. The snow however was phenomenal to ski. Being so steep it means that you sink in at an angle and the snow comes half way up your body. The surface of the snow had nutty texture like the coating of a Almond Magnum ice cream and it was then soft and deep inside – Great! The first two turns gave me the feel for the snow then it was just playtime.

Another viewpoint – my tracks on the right…

Chi Skiing

After this lot I developed an appetite and so went for lunch and then later decided to just stick to safe off-piste for the rest of the day – up near the glacier. This was fantastic because with no clients to worry about I put my headphones on and the extreme cold seemed to vanish with the warm tones and rhythms. I could also stop and photograph anything interesting – as long as the gloves weren’t off for too long. Making circuits one after the other in virgin powder (Almond Magnum flavour) is fantastic. I experimented with the chi-hips and found that it often seemed to cause too sharp a turn initiation for this type of snow so the apex of the turn had to be brought to the side and not so much below – which is good. There is still a lot to be found out about this move. It must not be confused with “counter rotation”.

On the last run of the day I went back on some very steep terrain but with deep broken up snow. Normally I ski that sort of stuff comfortably with pressure and no jumping – but today I deliberately wanted to practise jump turns. I was surprised to find that I was not so good at them in this type of snow. The skis needed to be swung around more than expected in the air to guarantee the turn completion – so I reverted to applying pressure instead. I’ll have to go back and work on this to iron out any remaining issues. It could just be rustiness. Once again – too much time on the beginner’s slope doesn’t do a lot for agility and technique on the steep.




Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mini Derin 5

Derin once again proved that she is definitely not a “morning person”. Her silence going up the Bollin chair spoke volumes. If there is a collision with people on the mountain and you are not sure if someone is fully conscious there are a few questions that you ask them. First you can ask if they know where they are – she failed that one – not knowing she was in Tignes. When asked her name she did reply “Derin” so that was hopeful. True to form when I let her go on the gentle portion of the piste she practically straight-lined it and ended up eventually off the side somewhere in the deep snow. I really wanted her to be skiing under control today so this was not an encouraging start. After about an hour or so I decided that she needed a hot chocolate to wake her up because it was going nowhere. Indoors I asked her to use her left leg and body to push against the magic wall (Tiffany in this case) and she couldn’t clearly remember what she had seemed to understand so clearly yesterday – so we revised it and it returned to her quickly. She admitted that she hadn’t been using the Magic Wall this morning. Tiffany tried a focusing exercise with Derin where she had to write a big circle in the air with her finger tip and keep her eyes completely on the finger while doing it. Absolutely impossible! Hardly a second would go by without attention and eyes darting off almost at random – and that was even after the hot chocolate. After getting back out we had to ship camp to Tignes Le Lac due to some sort of malfunction of the Bollin chairlift. Hopefully those people already on the lift weren’t stuck there too long in the wind that was building.

True to form Derin woke up for the second session. It’s easy to know when she is awake because the noise is continuous. When she got bored with me not understanding a word she said she would just sing endlessly to herself. On skis the Magic Wall magically returned and she was on top of things – able to easily follow me down the mountain. She started off being let loose about 1/3 of the way from the bottom and soon worked her way right up to the top – all except the narrow and steep entrance where it was simply not worth the risk. When following me I had to anticipate her actions because she would aim straight for me at any instant instead of following my tracks. The key here is to turn sharply so that she never needs to stay pointing downhill too long. Now we had the opportunity at last to get some useful and unassisted mileage under her feet. My line was designed to force her to almost stop and have complete control of speed on every turn until the flatter section at the bottom of the piste. I don’t think she was really aware of the function of this although I explained it constantly.

We had completed this without any incidents whatsoever several times so I decided to try to film her myself. On her first turn – near the top of the hill – she just pointed herself downhill and headed straight off totally out of control – a ‘tout droit” as the French call it – a favourite trick of young children. I had to let go the camera (thankfully hanging around my neck) after she failed to respond to my shouts and skate like mad to try to catch up. I thought I’d never be able to get to her but I managed to catch her and lift her off the ground before she impacted with anyone. I’m not sure really who was the most scared by this – perhaps me! I asked her why she had let that happen and she said that her hair had gone into her eye. In reality it was probably a necessary experience for her to learn that she must always turn and stay in control. By this time the weather was very wild and she was probably becoming distracted. For a little girl of four from Istanbul she was already doing incredibly well dealing with extreme mountain weather. She bravely agreed to do one more descent so as not to finish on a bad note and the next time she stayed in control again.

Below: Derin having some energy food between ski sessions after failing to eat lunch due to a doomed power struggle with her nanny and English teacher Tiffany, which caused her to spend the entire lunch with her neck warmer pulled over her face. I managed to avoid getting too involved – female psychology being well beyond me at the best of times. Getting back on skis did the trick of getting her to focus on other things and to forget her negative emotions. Afterwards she was very affectionate towards Tiffany – who obviously did a good job with her – and a great job of filming with my camera for the video clip.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mini Derin 4, Derin 6, Defne 5, Dilshat 1

10 Pin Bowling

Little Derin began the day slightly apprehensively. I was surprised to hear her saying that she didn’t want to let go of the pole. Perhaps her first ever fall (when skiing by herself) at the end of the last session made her a little bit worried. Regardless of this when we were near the bottom of the steeper part of the Bollin piste I decided that it was suitable for her to pick up from where she had left off yesterday. Below us a French ski teacher had a group of little boys stretched across the piste like skittles in a bowling alley, but I was confident of Derin’s ability to turn and avoid them as they were mostly quite far apart. Unfortunately Derin seemed to be attracted to one little boy and went straight for him taking his legs out from beneath him and one of his skis. The poor little boy didn’t even see it coming. The upset ski teacher shouted that Derin should have been in a snowplough so, knowing there was no hope of explaining anything I said that the  problem was that she just isn’t really a “morning person” and that we were sorry for knocking her class down. She seemed happier with the apology.  Most importantly nobody was hurt.

Derin skiing to Paganini’s Caprice for Violin Solo in E major….

Magic Wall

After the wipeout I decided that it was time to begin working on dynamics. How do you explain dynamics to a 4 year old child with Turkish as her first language. Newtonian mechanics might not be ideal.  I tried to explain the Magic Wall version but realised that it was hopeless so decided to go back to base (Tavern restaurant) and see if Tiffany could help with the communication. This of course meant that I had to explain the Magic Wall to Tiffany first so that she  understood it too. I liked Tiffany’s solution and her way of getting Derin to close her eyes and visualise. Hypnosis is like this – transporting someone to another place in their mind – and it was clearly working. The main thing about the magic wall is that when you push against it you don’t actually feel it on your shoulder because it is invisible. (Though in our exercises indoors you do push against something) You have to believe the wall will hold you up when skiing because that’s how magic (physics) works. The more strongly you believe the stronger the wall becomes and the harder you can push against it. The wall protects you more as you push even harder. Most people just think they will fall over and so try to stand up in balance all the time – so they never become good skiers. All ski schools teach “balance” or “equilibre” except in New Zealand where they recognised there is a problem with it – but still didn’t figure out what it was. Perhaps they just don’t believe in magic.

Derin was able to use the magic wall – pulling with the left leg meant pulling against the wall to her right – we worked this out indoors. Straight away her turning was much better as she could now begin to deal with the “lifting up” forces of the skis and begin to interact with them more positively. Occasionally she would fall because the forces surprised her but this is a completely normal part of discovery and learning. She finished the session excited and wanting to continue. At the moment she is still not aware enough or experienced enough to negotiate steeper slopes unassisted – but that will come soon. 


Dilshat, Defne & Derin

All of the girls are within one second of each other in the slalom so the competition is heating up. Defne currently leads Derin by 0.25 seconds.

Dilshat could gain a big advantage if she reduced rotation slightly and increased hip angulation – her inclination (dynamics) is strong and her line is good. Some work on the “chi-hips” would do the trick. For off piste fall-line skiing there could be more use of a two footed platform and pivoting from the outside edge to initiate the turns. Lack of pole support during pivoting exposes the angulation and rotation issue again as a limitation. There is a good range of movement in the legs along with good inclination when required.

Defne showed good pivoting skills off piste and good control in the slalom – producing the fastest time of the day. As with Dilshat there was no pole use during pivoting and the main culprit is tension in the area of the hips – plus leaning back a bit too much. Working on the hip area would free up her skiing a great deal. Currently she is doing everything she has been taught well though the dynamics could be stronger.


Derin was the main focus of the session and she again improved her slalom times enormously – knocking another three seconds off her best time – to 33.55 seconds.


In training we had worked previously to increase dynamic range and touch the ground during carving. Improved dynamics is probably the biggest factor in her improvement. Derin looks like a real racer in the photo opposite – except that she is about a kilometre away from the poles! Although Derin has natural hip angulation she is struggling to increase her dynamics range at this point. There is a reason for this we will come to later.




We had already started to work on improving the line by considering the pole as the apex of the turn – the apex being to the outside of the pole and not beneath. I showed Derin that she has to look downhill and try to see the outside of the poles in the course like a wall that she can bounce off. Simply trying to start each turn earlier can help to get there and doing this produced her fastest time of the day.






Derin is trying here to turn earlier but her skis are just drifting sideways and losing a lot of speed. This is also the reason that she can’t increase her dynamic range any further. The key to her improvement to another level will be when she is able to carve most of the course instead of allowing the skis to pivot.

After the slalom session we worked on carving and even tried to include the chi-hips – though I’m not sure that’s really necessary for Derin – though sometimes I do see her blocked at the hips and rotated when going faster. It appears that the key is now to focus on building the confidence to hold the skis on edge and accelerate.

Off Piste

On the way back after using the slalom and training piste we went off-piste and Derin made her first ever recorded fresh tracks in deep snow – and looked like she has done it all her life.




Derin didn’t believe that people bicycle down the mountain in the summer and use to lifts to get to the top. The Face de Bellevard in the French championships takes about 4 minutes 30 seconds to descend.