Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Luke 3

Tentative start to the off-piste today – but the snow was heavy with the sun and heat…

Everyone (except me of course) had a hangover today and Ella was looking remarkably well considering that she had been out until 5am. Given the circumstances it was obvious that a slow start working on technique would be the order of the day. No plunging into deep powder on the warm up run like we had done yesterday.

Skating out the stiffness

I decided to attempt to address some of the stiffness and tension that had been apparent yesterday – with Leonie, Florence and Ella being the least flexible on skis. Luke was relatively active and flexible already but no doubt there would be something useful for him too in the exercise. It was clear that teaching anything was going to be slightly awkward today as concentration might be a significant issue – but it was still the best option. Normally I’d work on developing flexibility with lots of jumping exercises – but that didn’t seem to be sensible either today so I decided to attempt to use skating skills for this purpose instead.

Asking everyone to skate downhill on a gentle gradient and then to bring in dynamics to generate turns from the skis – without stopping the skating – showed that we had some work to do.

The next exercise was to skate across the hill – skating from the downhill leg and ski onto the uphill ski and standing on its uphill edge, then repeating this in a skating step manner right across the hill. Everyone was extremely static with the downhill leg to begin with. There was a lot of muscle resistance as soon as weight went on the downhill leg. Nobody could simply flex significantly at the knee and hip to be able to then push back up for the skate. They were relying on the lower ski skating away downhill to make the actual skate – instead of bending and extending the legs and moving the centre of mass. We worked at this statically and in motion. Florence had a tendency to just tilt forwards at the hips and leave the legs relatively straight. She also found that she compensated by leaning on the backs of her ski boots if she didn’t tilt forwards. I explained that you can still touch the front of the boots with the shins and bend this way without exaggerating any tilting forward at the hips. This however requires fairly good strength conditioning in the legs. Gradually everyone managed to increase the range of motion of the legs a bit – but Luke’s  hangover was interfering somewhat with his coordination and he had a tendency to flex and then get stuck in that position.

We next tried this same exercise in a long arc, stepping inwards. I emphasised pulling back the outside hip to facilitate flexing at the hip joint. Next exercise was to just skate like this two or three times across the hill and then when on the uphill edge of the uphill ski, fall over downhill and start the next turn. The idea now was to use the pressure of the turn completion to flex down and then make the first skate by pushing back up. Everybody responded to the pressure in the turn by stiffening up against it instead of flexing. This is the core issue that we were trying to resolve. Bringing this to the attention of each person we were able to squeeze out some flexion and get the hips to relax through the turns. I stood beside each person and held them as they “dropped” against me – letting the hips and legs go limp – to show what sinking into a turn really feels like – and how “relaxing” the hips is really a “letting go” for a moment.

I demonstrated this in short carved turns where I dropped down into the turn and sprang back up. Luke got stuck in the flexed position again when he tried.

Returning to our first exercise – skating into skiing – Leonie had the correct rhythm and movement. Her skis gripped instead of the usual skidding induced by the stiff legs and poor timing. Florence as usual had the correct timing but just needed to exaggerate it more. Ella’s coordination was just wrong. Any work on skating is useful for Luke to force him away from his “two-footedness” and to develop independent leg action.

I think this all took place on the first run of the day – but I encouraged everyone to stop for a drink already.

After the drink we went off-piste as seen in today’s video clip. The snow was heavy and tricky but the aim was to stay “inside” the turns with the hips flexing and Florence didn’t quite manage it – as is seen at the end of the clip. To Florence’s credit she didn’t give up despite feeling very nervous and frustrated. I explained that with time and persistence the body adapts to the instability in deep snow and the freedom and stability from dynamics gets the chance to grow. You just have to persist. 


In the afternoon we started off by frightening Leoni on the steepest section of the Face de Bellevard. She couldn’t make her first turn from standing still. Once she got going then there was no problem except she was aware of her hip swinging forwards and leg stiffening. Awareness is the first step required for changing anything.

Once we arrived at the entrance to the Cugnai Leoni panicked again due to the big avalanche warning sign. A little persuasion got her past the point of no return over the col and into the big basin. The centre of the basin is safe from avalanche risk from above and the traverse over to it was quick. Everyone skied the main pitches well – except Ella was holding back from coming out over her lower ski to complete the turns – so this was pointed out and corrected. Leonie had a few wipe-outs and managed one complete front flip but picked herself up and continued. I asked Leonie to push both her feet forwards during the turns to prevent any more forward flips. I also explained that if she picked up speed again to just turn a bit more back up the hill to brush off the speed. She was having a good go at linking turns and using dynamics and this was in heavy wet snow and on steep terrain. Luke skied well with good dynamics and control over his hip rotation. Ella improved again and never got spat out of a turn once. The little cafe at the bottom of the Cugnai was a welcome drinks stop and this got us back to Le Manchet chairlift shortly before it closed – good timing.

Final Run

Last run of the day was on the Mattis piste, where we just worked on the hips and flexion. Ella lost it for a while and started pushing her legs out – because she was racing Luke down the steep and icy section and not thinking about her skiing. I explained that the ski and leg are always pulled inwards right up until the end of the turn – and that’s what helps the ski lift the body up and out of the turn at the end. You have the paradox of pulling inwards while the body moves outwards! Ella then followed me on the ice and skied much better. Carving the last bit a high speed she reported being able to feel all the things we had been working on. Luke pointed out how he was irritated by the other skiers bombing down the hill around him while he was trying to concentrate on his skiing – reflecting on that fact that not so long ago he was one of those “bombers” with no real reflection at all about his skiing or what his body was doing. That shows how far he has really come along.

Early morning moon through light clouds…

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