Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Connie, Eve–Invisible Rules

During the warm up run I skied behind Eve and Connie to watch them carefully for a while. Connie was not managing to exit the turns correctly and was making a platform with the lower ski at the end of the turn and using this to then step out the uphill ski into a stem (converging). Eve was rushing the start of the turns and then once the skis were below her on the mountain she was leaning her hips into the turn and almost traversing – so the turn shape was wrong and she was not getting progressive edge control. The goals for the day would be to reduce or eliminate Connie’s stem and to round out Eve’s turns, giving them both more control. In fact they would have to learn some of the “invisible rules” of skiing and how to work the turns.

Connie was still confused about how it was possible to ski on the heels without going back in the ski boots so I decided that we would go indoors early to look at the feet with the boots off so that I could explain.


We didn’t get further than this anyway because Connie’s boots were hurting so we went indoors to see if we could fix the problem – by removing the socks.  This didn’t work and eventually the boots were changed out for proper women’s boots with more space for the soleus muscles. This also solved Connie’s stance problem and allowed her to be able to stand more upright and avoid collapsing into the fronts of the ski boots.

While in the café I went through the working of the feet – showing how the ankle goes strong when pressure is only on the heel and all flexing takes place at the knee and hip (squat). This allows the foot to rock at the subtaler joint below the ankle to access the adductor muscles on the inside of the legs simultaneously – for use in either pivoting or holding a ski on edge during a turn. The point is that the leg provides a lateral force from the foot up to the pelvis – but not a twisting action.  Standing on any other part of the foot causes the knee to twist inwards during skiing and makes the ACL’s very vulnerable. The skier can train to use other parts of the foot but that is too advanced to be dealt with just now when there is already enough to think about. Just staying on the heel simplifies things enormously. It’s easy to see that dealing with decelerating forces during a turn is like having somebody pushing you backwards – and being on your heels (which are behind you) then makes you less likely to fall backwards not more likely.

When skiing back down into Tignes to change the boots Connie was struggling to control speed on the steep black run. She didn’t seem to realise that most skiers would be nowhere near a black run after only two seeks of skiing.




Foot Forwards

To address all of Connie’s current skiing issues I decided to introduce the idea of pushing the “foot forwards”. We did a static exercise with pivoting on one straight support leg and making an arc in the air with the swinging outside leg. The swinging boot was then allowed to touch the snow and make an arc as it swung around. The boot was next pressed slightly into the snow so it had to be pushed or pulled against a friction. I explained that this was the sensation of pushing the “foot forwards”.

After a few turns on skis Connie correctly identified that this action tightened the turns. I hadn’t told her that but this is the whole point. The way to change turn radius is to push the foot forwards – it actually never gets ahead because the turn just tightens instead. It’s the main way to control turn radius and hence grip – especially on steep slopes. Eve was not getting it at all at this point. (because it’s not visible)

To help Eve I quickly taught her a proper snowplough and then introduced the “foot forwards” action to the plough – and she started to feel it from this. However, I didn’t want to leave it there because I felt that Eve needed additional aspects to be able to move forwards in her skiing – which is generally stronger than Connie’s at the moment.

Skating foot Forwards

It was now time to point out that the previous skating exercises were more than just exercises – they are an integral part of skiing. When skating on skates there is a pushing forwards of the foot as the body falls inwards at a right angle to the direction of travel of the foot. This skating action now needs to be integrated into the skiing. The foot pushing out diagonally from the body when skating is much more natural than trying to push a foot directly forwards from the body. In skiing the foot is brought back around and in front of the body due to the ski arcing. Meanwhile the result is that the skier ends up facing downhill due to linking those skates – not due to artificially trying to “face downhill”. Eve eventually grasped the concept and realised that she could skate out the foot to start the turn and then sink down into the turn to build up pressure during the rest of the turn.

Both skiers developed a stronger sense of working the turns physically instead of just being passive passengers. Connie was able to ski the black run again back down onto Tignes with a satisfying level of control and in the video she had much less stemming in evidence. Eve’s turns became much rounder with the skating making her use the first part of the turn instead of rush it and her stance on the skis looks much more solid as she works the ski around the turn – pushing forwards and gripping – rather than just sitting into the turn and waiting.

Somebody trained in slalom would naturally work the skis and work the turns because they know the rules of what works, what is efficient and what actually serves a purpose. This is learned from dealing with the harsh physical constraints of gates/poles. On a groomed piste there are no visible constraints and so untrained people have no clue about what really constitutes purposeful and active skiing. The rules of skiing are literally invisible. Learning to be aware of this doesn’t necessitate skiing in gates if an understanding and feeling can be constructed instead.

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