Saturday, February 2, 2013

Okan 1

Creative Driving

Snow had been falling for two days straight and with it being change-over day (Saturday), driving up to Tignes was going to be a daunting task. I left early at 6:40am to be sure of getting there. Normally that is already too late to avoid getting stuck but it usually guarantees getting there in time for a 9 o’clock start in the worst case. Most crashes or blockages appear to happen around 7am and true to form there was a string of busses without chains blocking the road from Tignes les Brévières upwards. It was a battle to get through that lot because once you stop on a steep hill like that there’s no guarantee that snow tyres will grip well enough to get you going again. After passing the jam in about 30 minutes the rest of the road was a mess that strained my car’s old shock absorbers. I can drive pretty aggressively so I barge through and get there – but anyone holding back could easily be stuck there for half the day. Arriving at Tignes les Boises and starting the winding climb from there there were two more vehicles blocking the road on a steep pitch but I managed to squeeze past and then found two VW Transporters in a head on collision at the next bend. The rest of the way up involved some creative overtaking and passing a broken down snowplough – which partly explained the mess on the roads. The snow was so deep on the road that the Nokian tyres were barely able to grip at some points. Still, I got there early enough for a 50 minute breakfast of coffees and tasty French pastries with plenty of time to wind down ready for teaching. The mountain wouldn’t be opening until 10am at the least so the lesson would start indoors.


Normally I don’t have the opportunity to teach people about the feet before working with them on the mountain – but today the adverse weather was actually working in our favour. Most people don’t expect me to take them indoors and tell them to remove their ski boots – but it’s the only way to explain how to use the feet correctly.

  1. Lateral stiffness. This is the reason the boot shaft goes high up the leg – to stop the foot from flattening and to hold the ski on edge. Lateral stiffness is what makes ski boots different to most other kinds of boots.
  2. Ankle flexing and boot leaning.  Pressing on the front of the boot is a mistake taught to try to compensate for people standing vertically instead of perpendicularly on the mountain. We don’t press or lean on any part of the boot when skiing. Most people stand on the whole foot and when they flex they bend the ankle and lose all strength in it. This is hidden by the ski boot. They then try to twist the ski into the turn and this, through the weak ankle forces the knee into the turn and endangers it.
  3. Point in front of the heel. We aim to stand on a point just in front of the heel  so that to flex and keep the weight there we need to “squat”. This tenses the anterior tibialis (beside the shin) and strengthens the ankle.
  4. Subtaler Joint. Below the ankle and above the heel we find the subtaler joint which allows the foot to rock. When standing on the heel we can easily rock the feet onto their edges. The edges of the feet correspond to the edges of the skis.
  5. Adductor Muscles. Rocking a foot onto its inside edge tenses the adductor muscles in the upper leg right up to the groin. Those muscles are later used in pivoting and should be actively used all the time. When the leg is pulled inwards with those muscles the knee can only move inwards a limited amount and is protected.


Okan already knew the principle of dynamics so we carried out the basic exercises indoors – using a wall to lean against. Normally I use my shoulder when standing outdoors on the hill. I explained the difference between statics and dynamics and the corresponding instructions. A detailed account of dynamics can be found at this link: “DYNAMICS” Okan could feel how the acceleration placed pressure on one foot while a slow movement put the pressure on the opposite foot. Even though the leg pushes the shoulder against the wall with an impulse the body drops down against the wall. Likewise the skier drops down into the turn like a motorcyclist and only comes back up at the end of the turn (generating the correct pressure cycle on the skis). The work with the feet and adductors is necessary to support the action of dynamics when skiing. With all of this indoors work completed Okan was ready to try it on the snow.

Our first exercise was just swinging uphill from a shallow descent. Once that was mastered the next exercise was to turn off downhill. With both exercises I had to stop Okan from rushing the start and trying to throw the skis around. The turning comes as a consequence of those simple movements and the dynamics generated. The idea at this stage is to follow the skis around and move only  laterally with the body.

I wanted Okan to feel a strong pressure on his outside ski from the start of the turn, to rock the foot and pull in with the adductors even before moving the centre of mass (approximately above the pelvis and in front of the spine – when upright). The turn had to be round at the start and control of speed from completing the turn properly not from rushing the start and then braking. He was able to do this and avoid rotation with his body or legs. His right hip tended to rotate outwards and this can be seen in the second of the photos below – forcing him off the right leg.

In general he has to become much more “one footed” but this takes time to develop especially when someone is not a skater.


We started skating on the flat and I explained that to skate we use gravity by simply diverging the skis and then lifting one and falling forwards. Gravity makes us fall forwards and the leg extends to compensate – maintaining height.  Changing direction is by stepping more to one side than the other. There are many racing drills involving skating step turns – always driving the centre of mass into the turn centre. When one skate is made to last longer with the body using dynamics to “fall” inwards then the skating turns to skiing and the down/up cycle of the legs resonates with the down/up cycle of the dynamics – and a rhythm is created. Okan managed to do this quite well for a first ever attempt and in the video clip the dynamics and slight skating are both visible.


I wanted Okan to know about pivoting even though he already had plenty to work on. There are three main elements to skiing – the two most fundamental being dynamics and skating – but the third is about being able to initiate a turn from the outside edge. This is the basis of all fall-line skiing including bumps skiing, deep powder, jump turns and steeps. Okan could see the advantage immediately of the very tight turns and supreme control of speed – so he made it his mission to be able to do it. Unfortunately I probably make it look very much easier that it really is. Detailed information on pivoting is found at this link: “PIVOTING”. The hardest aspect for Okan to get was related to placing weight on his ski pole and moving his centre of mass into the new turn. (We only use the pole for support in fall-line skiing) He had a strong tendency to move outwards instead – especially with that right hip. In order to attempt to address the problem with the hip and an obviously related “angulation” problem I decided to try the exercise for individual leg rotation – in the hip sockets – standing facing downhill (tilted forwards at the hips) with the skis off and jumping, turning the legs in their sockets and preventing the pelvis from coming around. I encouraged Okan to use two poles for support. Okan was able to repeat this on skis to quite a reasonable degree. He was then able to reduce the jump to a skating push up of the body from the outside leg at the end of the turn and coordinate this with the pole use – at least until he became muddled. The solution was always to return to the two pole supported jumping. I explained that the “muddle” was due to the “vertical/perpendicular” issue at the end of the turn and his tendency to stay a bit too long in the vertical and then not manage to move into the next turn at the start. Strong pole support would get the body in the right place for the pivot to work. Okan had a clear tendency to be unable to get any pole support and only the jump turns at the moment could correct both that and his right hip rotation.

Okan was like a sponge taking in a great deal of information and only showed signs of tiredness right at the end of the day. Mini Derin had made a brief attempt at skiing in the storm after lunch but the weather was really not suitable for anyone so small so after one run she happily went home. Okan worked really hard and very enthusiastically at everything. All the things we did today are very hard to learn for someone with limited experience of sliding sports so Okan did extremely well and showed great promise. Hopefully today’s session will open a few doors for him towards getting much more out of his skiing in future.

We finished the day back working on dynamics and trying to extend the dynamic range. Okan finally understood that the real problem in skiing is not about staying upright in balance but the great difficulty in falling over.

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