Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lydia 1

Lydia had skied 5 years ago aged 7 and had not really skied since. She had been taught snowplough and remembered more than most people do from her lessons. She knew to put the weight on her outside foot. What she didn’t know is that the reason all of this is very difficult is because it is mostly nonsense (despite being taught all round the world) and it would even present a significant obstacle to her learning properly. Fortunately Lydia is clearly athletic, keen to learn, very bright and able to understand some quite complicated ideas. In addition Lydia has a great attitude and is not afraid to try things so she learns quickly. The snowplough influence never disappeared completely – but she went a long way towards losing it in a very short time.

Warm Up

We began with a warm up to get Lydia used to sliding again. I deliberately didn’t teach anything to begin with and just observed. When the slope was anything other than very gentle her snowplough was making life very tough – but she was coping well. It didn’t take long before it was clear that it was less than constructive to allow this to continue and so we went straight to work.

The video sequence below shows Lydia in her snowplough on very gentle terrain – then one hour later on steeper terrain skiing parallel. An hour later and her movements were already stronger and much more dynamic…

Magic Wall (Dynamics)

With Lydia’s keen interest in sports I decided that the first thing I should teach her was “Dynamics” (hyperlink to this subject). I gave her the choice of explanation in either physics or magic – she chose magic. The magic wall is fully described on the linked page above so I won’t repeat that here. She fully understood the explanation and the static exercises – and how accelerations caused pressure on the feet in certain ways. The key point at this stage was to make it clear that you don’t get weight on a foot by moving the body over it (as in the snowplough) but by accelerating you body into the turn – away from the foot. She understood this because it’s what you do in any other sport.  She knew the magic wall only worked when moving forwards and that moving the body against it to either side of the skis would prevent her from falling – exactly the same as on a bicycle. The tyres on a bicycle don’t have much grip – but the more you fall over to the side on skis the more grip they have. The skier’s job is to fall over – and the ski’s job is to lift the skier up. If you never fall over to the side then the ski can never work properly.

The main aim was to learn to move the body instead of pushing the ski out to the side. After some static exercises pushing against my shoulder Lydia managed to do this straight away when making single parallel turns from straight running out to either side to a stop. After about a dozen successful attempts she was then able to start do do full turns and link them together just using dynamics and with the skis parallel. In fact it’s dynamics that is the cause of parallel skiing.

Progress was compromised due to Lydia not knowing what to do with her feet. The incorrect coordination given by the snowplough was interfering so we had to have a pit stop where the boots could come off and some work done to understand the feet better.

Feet (Support for dynamics)

Lydia demonstrated (photo below) what happened with her feet during a snowplough turn…











In the photograph on the right she shows how trying to put weight on the foot makes the body move in the wrong direction – to the outside of the turn instead of accelerating it inwards. The foot is twisted and forced unintentionally onto its outside edge.

To correct this I asked Lydia to stand with her feet parallel and place the weight on the heels just below the ankle joints – without leaning back on the ski boots. This permits you to use the subtaler joint which lies between the ankle and the heel and allows you to rock the foot from edge to edge while there is weight on it. Lydia did this very naturally – with her centre of mass moving to the left when rolling both her feet to the left – same in the other direction. Trying this with weight over the whole foot and she discovered that you can’t roll the foot anymore – the knee wobbles around instead. I explained that the edges of the feet correspond with the edges of the skis.

I showed Lydia that rolling the foot onto its inside edge causes the foot to slightly turn away from the direction of turning – the opposite from that seen in the photo above. This gives a strong platform of support and the ski boot shaft running up the leg stops the ski from flattening when you do this. You must never twist the foot into the turn – just roll it onto its edge instead and let the ski do the turning.

In addition to rolling the feet I explained to Lydia that when a foot is rolled onto its inside edge the muscles on the inside of the leg can be tightened – pulled inwards. Those muscles are called the adductor muscles. This is exactly the opposite from the snowplough where the leg is pushed outwards. The leg should be pulled inwards!

The aim now was to return to the snow and combine the rolling of the feet with the dynamics – always moving the body in towards the centre of the new turn and rolling the feet in the same direction to give a much stronger base of support.

Horse Riding (controlling turn radius)

Knowing that Lydia was keen on horse riding I asked her if there was any use of the legs in controlling the horse when turning. She said that to go left you can push the right knee forwards and pull inwards. I explained that she should try to do exactly the same in skiing. The way to tighten a turn is to push the outside foot (along with the knee) forwards during dynamics. (not squashing on the front of the boot – this really means push the foot ahead)  On steep slopes you have to move more with the dynamics and push more quickly forwards with the foot. All the time you need to pull inwards with the leg and keep the foot rolled inwards. Everything is “inwards”.

Extending Dynamic Range

Lydia could see that most people hardly moved their bodies – they were so desperate to avoid falling over! I demonstrated how far I move my body with a bit of speed and warned Lydia not to go too fast herself at the moment. She did move her body much more though and discovered the incredible liberty that this brings – when you stop mistakenly trying to be “in balance”.


It was a little bit too early to introduce the correct placement of the hips to Lydia but I decided it was useful to mention it and give a few quick exercises. She had said that the core muscles are used strongly in horse riding but because most people move incorrectly on skis they end up never being able to use their core muscles. The trick is to pull back the outside hip at the same time as pushing the foot forwards and this creates a slight twist in the spine up to the ribs  -stretching open the lower abdomen. Lydia was able to feel this and apply it when she worked at it. More can be found about this subject here  - “chi-skiing” . As I said, nearly everybody gets this wrong and they wind up the body against the turn direction as the skis come around the turn – which is extremely damaging for the lower back eventually.


Each time we came to a steep section I would ask Lydia to sideslip instead of ski – because I wanted her to develop control and confidence sideslipping. She had a very strong tendency to allow her uphill ski to stem out into a snowplough and point downhill. I joked with her about who was in control – her or her left leg? It was as if the leg had a mind of its own – which it of course did! - the unconscious mind! That’s the damage that bad training causes – but Lydia was fighting hard to overcome it very quickly.


Lydia focussed really well throughout the long session – until the final moment when coming in to stop beside her dad. She must have been distracted because she went ploughing straight into the group knocking them all over like skittles and starting a domino effect that took out a group of Germans and almost started World War 3 with a woman who mistakenly thought she had just been rammed by a bunch of skiers skiing out of control. Nobody was seriously hurt – but even I was surprised at the extent of the chaos!

During the lesson sometimes Lydia was losing focus and allowing the left leg to push outwards flattening the foot – instead of working inwards all the time . I had to bring this to her attention and ask her to focus on her movements and forget everything else. Skiing into her dad was proof of her tendency to be distracted and lose focus. You need to lock your focus onto the internal workings of your body and push everything else out. She is actually pretty good at this for a 12 year old!

Centrifugal Illusion

I first of all explained centrifugal force to Lydia – which she understood to be the feeling of being thrown out of something spinning fast. Then I explained that it is an illusion! Using the example of a ball on a string held in the hand and spinning around your head I pointed out that the string attached to the ball can only pull the ball inwards – so the only force on the ball is inwards – there is no force outwards. This is the same for a skier! The skier struggling during a turn can either claim to be the victim of centrifugal force (which doesn’t exist here) or can realise that she is not working to generate enough inwards force – by moving inwards and rolling the feet inwards and pulling the leg inwards. This is especially important in the second half of a turn where the skier needs to generate even more inwards force to combat gravity and the ski lifting you up. Off-piste the whole base of the ski works to lift you up and so you need to work even harder to stay inside the turn. Lydia could clearly see the purpose of all of this and worked harder towards the centre of her turns as a result.


We didn’t have time to work on skating, timing or pivoting but I feel that we targeted the right things at this stage to get her going properly and to remove the snowplough. Lydia’s attitude is great and she learns quickly!

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