Monday, April 15, 2013

Stuart 1

Stuart is an intermediate skier who has been taught through normal processes – from snowplough onwards. Like many people at this stage he has found that he is unstable, unconfident and very quickly tired – despite being fit from other sports. He feels responsible for those limitations but is unaware that his original training is deeply flawed and has this effect on many good athletes – incapacitating them almost totally. Some people – a small minority – flourish regardless of what they are taught – because they tend to go by feel. They will also be held back – but only at higher levels of performance where they “plateau” off and usually remain permanently – until they are made aware of the underlying issues (which almost never happens) – or are exposed to specialist training such as racing through gates/poles every day for about a decade. (The physical constraints gradually shape the skier – but only in that specific discipline and they have very low awareness and understanding – and there is only one winner.) People who focus intently and apply (bad) instruction accurately but have no other external references – such as a skating background -  can be utterly tied in knots and find skiing to be a complete battlefield.  This is not to be confused with our natural limitations or aptitudes. We are all different to some extent – but unless somebody has a real physical impairment or is paralysed with fear then there is a reasonable range of rapid progress and performance that can be expected where skiing in practically all terrain, snow and weather (except the most extreme) should be achievable and enjoyable without excessive fatigue.

Although Stuart had some coaching in the right direction from Chris the day before, I was planning to go into things much more deeply and to return to basics. The first video clip here shows were Stuart’s skiing was at the start of the session. There is an almost complete absence of dynamics – with the centre of mass moving in the wrong direction – towards the outside of the turn. The outside ski is stemmed to initiate the turn with the leg and ski being pushed away from the body and the foot flattened and rotated inwards inside the ski boot. The ski is forced into the turn and then followed with a full body rotation during the turn and a precarious “two footed” sideways drift. Stuart is also trying to rise up to initiate the turn and sink down at the end. The legs are rigid and there is a great deal of energy expended fighting the consequences of all of the mechanics of the turns being incorrect. All of the above – while being incorrect mechanics – is exactly what is taught in national ski schools. When people are not taught those things then they don’t do them. When they are taught them they often find it extremely hard to deprogram those movements – which are largely primitive and very defensive.  Those movements are addictive because they generate a “positive feedback loop” which means they amplify the fear and defensiveness constantly and so encourage more of the same.


The most obvious thing to correct first of all was “dynamics”. (Link here to detailed explanations) We did the usual static exercises so that Stuart could become aware of the different feelings of pressure on the skis associated with different ways of moving the centre of mass. The main goal here was to get his centre of mass to move “inwards” instead of him using a “transfer of weight” outwards during the turn. Stuart’s experience of water-skiing provided a useful reference here. He pointed out to me that when on two skis in water you can’t turn! Skiing is the same – it’s a “one ski” activity for the most part. The inclining into the turn is not just a “lean” it’s the single most active thing you ever do in skiing. I explained how “balance” was the wrong objective and that skis worked by you “falling” to one side and then the ski’s job is to bring you back up (all dependent on forward motion).

To assist the development of dynamics I asked Stuart to lift his inside ski slightly at the turn initiation. This also encourages independent leg action and helps the skier sense the superior stability from “one ski”.

I explained that for "vertical” down - up movements all that was required at the moment was to see the inclination on the body as providing this. When a motorbike inclines into a turn it drops down and when it exits a turn it comes up. Dynamics naturally gives this correct timing of “down/up”. Skis are manufactured to work with this basic aspect of mechanics and have been so since the 1970s – though ski schools still teach the opposite due to pure blind regurgitation of educational dogma and an intense need or desire to conform backed by phenomenal degrees of stupidity.


It was clear that Stuart was not aware of how to use the feet – which makes good dynamics rather difficult. We went indoors for a drink and a look at the feet. The first thing I looked at was the alignment of the ski boots. The boots each had a single adjustment on the outside of the ankle – and each boot was adjusted to the opposite extreme of the other. I tried to correct this but the aluminium Alan key hole had already been stripped on one boot – which is why the technician probably just left the boot in this mess. This partly explained a lack of lateral support that I’d noticed when Stuart was standing stationary on his skis and the downhill ski was tending to flatten inappropriately.  Alignment can only be tested without any weight bearing. Sitting down the legs are extended straight from the hips and the exoskeleton of the boot is adjusted to match the body skeleton. Foot pronation is irrelevant here. The knees are locked out straight so that the real skeleton shape is used. Shops have systems for doing this which are commercialised and all involve weight bearing – standing up – and which are useless and confusing. They simply bamboozle people (and themselves) and make money in the process whist doing a bad job. They often combine this with selling expensive footbeds and even foam injecting the boots so that the feet are effectively set in concrete and utterly immobilised. Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and 100 ligaments.  Most people are only vaguely aware of the “foot” as a whole and never think how to use it – yet it’s all there is providing contact with the ground and proprioception so that we know where we are relative to the ground. Many reflexes are triggered through pressure on the feet.


I explained the usual relevant stuff about the feet – placing the weight on the heels (front of the heel just below the ankle). Stuart felt the anterior-tibialis muscle tense (shin) when flexing at the knee and hip but keeping the weight isolated on he heel and avoiding the collapsing of the ankle. We then worked on the rocking of the feet from edge to edge using the sub-taler joint below the ankle. Later on I linked this coordination with the adductor muscles on the inside of the leg – rocking a foot on its inside edge tenses the adductor muscles on the same leg. Stuart could see how his previous “twisting” of the foot had an opposite effect from rocking the foot – making the foot flatten and taking the ski off its edge. The next stage in skiing was to combine the rolling of the feet with the dynamics  to provide a much stronger base of support for the dynamics. (When the foot is “twisted” into a turn and the ski stemmed out to initiate the turn then the coordination is completely incorrect. The muscles on the outside of the leg are used to push out and the foot flattens so the entire base of support is destroyed. When this is then accompanied with a movement of the centre of mass (body) also towards the outside of the turn – and also an upwards movement – then the total destruction of useful mechanics is achieved! )


I briefly demonstrated how skating evolves into skiing through the simple addition of dynamics. This demonstration involved skating downhill and then starting to fall inwards during each glide, progressively more violently, causing the ski to go more on edge and generate an arcing trajectory. The aim here was just to show how the timing of skating “down/up” compliments the timing of dynamics “down/up”. The two work in harmony and with resonance – like bouncing on a trampoline. The effect actually turns into a bounce when off piste in soft snow.

Extending Dynamic Range

While working on dynamics I demonstrated with  higher speed a much greater range of dynamics – to emphasise the fact that the real limitation for a skier is not the ability to “stay in balance” but the ability to “fall over”. Stuart managed around 15° of lean but simply couldn’t manage more. This was however a significant achievement compared to the very upright stance and previous tendency to move entirely in opposite direction! (Only the skis were displaced to the side and with the body following them. This looks the same to the untrained eye – but the body is moving in the wrong direction) I demonstrated turns that should have shown about 60° of inclination and gouged rock solid deep tracks into the snow.

Feet Forwards

Without spending any time on the subject I asked Stuart to push the outside ski forwards at the start of every turn and throughout the turn. This has the effect of tightening the turn when combined with dynamics and is very important for control on steeper slopes. Stuart picked this up quickly even though we did no exercises for it.

Uphill Edge

Stuart still had a tendency to resort to stemming when tired or anxious so to help to combat that I asked him to modify the preparation for the turn by standing up on the uphill edge of the uphill ski at the turn completion and then falling into the new turn from this uphill edge. This changes nothing other than it makes it impossible to stem the ski outwards due the ski being on its outside edge initially. This confused Stuart for a while but eventually he could see that is was only a small change – though difficult to do because it deprived him of the stem.


Stuart is currently naturally apprehensive about turning in a narrow passage when there is a steep drop to one side. He has always been taught to initiate turns on the inside edge of the outside ski (hence the frequent stem) so he could not turn tightly in control. For this reason I wanted him to experience the pivot though I was aware that he couldn’t work on it at this stage. I demonstrated the pivot being used and assisted him through a pivot so that he experienced the sensation. (Pivot details can be found at this link) 


Stuart understood and applied the principles that we worked on and just needs time on gentle terrain to build up the new skills and remove the old programming. When the new skills become clearer and stronger then confidence will grow. Already in the video clip above there is better flow and the skis are now not being systematically displaced out to the side and so provide more security and stability.

With correct coordination then the process of skiing stops being a fight against yourself and stops being exhausting. You have to work with forces such as gravity and the angular accelerations provided by the skis – instead of fighting them. You have to work with your reflexes instead of fighting them. I explained how “centrifugal force” is a “fictitious “ force (same as “dynamic balance”) and a powerful illusion. We deal with many illusions in skiing on many different levels. The skier experiences a “centripetal” force (inwards) from the ski and has to work to enhance this (inwards) with the foot, adductor muscles and centre of mass –  and not get caught up “resisting” an illusionary “centrifugal” force that doesn’t exist by pushing outwards and bracing.

I briefly mentioned about “turn exit” dynamics and the need to get the skis flat for a second or so during the turn transition – but Stuart wasn’t ready for this. It’s simply referring to the need to come up and out of a turn at the end and to be momentarily perpendicular to the mountain with the skis flat as you go across the hill. This helps immensely with “flow” from one turn to another.



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