Thursday, January 2, 2014

Brian, Christine 2

Watching Christine ski I could see that she had consolidated the work we had done at the beginning of the week. Dynamics were clearly visible the turns were tight and speed controlled with pushing forwards of the outside foot and standing on the heels. The last two are not visible other than in the tightness of the turns, security of the stance and grip of the skis. The main area for Christine to develop now would be angulation and upper/lower body separation.


To teach Christine “hip angulation” I decided to use a static exercise with the skis off.  This was initially a repeat of the exercise we used for “foot forward” technique but with an additional part. Standing facing downhill a foot is placed behind the body pointing outwards and then as it is swung round in the arc the leg rotates so that it finishes with the toes pointing inwards in front of the body. The pelvis is not allowed to rotate with the leg. This creates an angle at the hip which permits the upper body to be held down into the turn but also to come out of the turn very rapidly. Christine worried that this might not be so strong as when the body just follows the skis so I stood downhill from her and with her ski poles held like swords in her hands and with her arms straight I pulled the poles for her to resist. She could feel very clearly that the angulated position is much stronger.  We didn’t go into a great deal of depth regarding angulation – all I wanted to see was that she could recreate some degree of the static exercise while skiing and start becoming aware of the issues. Until now it was fine to let Christine just follow her skis because this makes the development of dynamics simple with only lateral movements (like riding a bicycle) to be considered. Once upper/lower body separation is introduced then dynamics can appear to be much more confusing.


Pole Planting For Pivots

Christine was able to use her previously developed pivoting skills to be able to exploit angulation with the aid of a solid pole plant. Holding the poles each between the two middle fingers and thumb and planted at arm’s length downhill of the feet, angulation permitted a lot of weight to go onto the pole on lifting the lower ski. The body could then fall into the turn slowly and due to the angulation the outside ski could be held on its uphill edge long enough to generate a very clean pivot. I explained how the pole plant (instead of “pole touch”) is only used in this sort of “braking” turn – where the skis are kept downhill of the body and are always on their uphill edges to avoid accelerations. Angulation allows the skis to pivot and it also gets the body both into and out of the turn very rapidly.

Upper/Lower Body Separation – Chi Skiing

Angulation is part of upper/lower body separation – the ability to uncouple the upper body and allow it to move separately from the legs. One snag is that nobody is totally clear where this separation really should occur. Hip angulation is very clear – it occurs at the hips. Standard dogma is to face the shoulders downhill – referred to as “anticipation”. This causes a rotation of the base of the spine against  the direction of the turn and causes the ribs to squash up against the pelvis and for the upper body to have no muscular or postural connection with the activity below the pelvis. The upper body just becomes a deadweight.

Upper /Lower body separation should really take place at the 12th thoracic vertebra – where the spine meets the lower ribs. Facing the pelvis downhill alone and keeping both the feet and the shoulders following the turn causes a muscular tension across the lower abdomen and correctly activates postural muscles. The tension in the midsection causes a hydraulic sac to be generated. Forces then going up and down through the body become distributed over the cross section of this hydraulic sac instead of concentrated only in the spine. The core muscles become active and when this is done statically pushing against a wall the power in the core can be clearly felt – in contrast to the total absence of power when the shoulders are countered to the direction of turning (facing downhill).

To master this movement of the supporting hip being isolated and pulled backwards and the spine being rotated up to the ribs, it is necessary to first of all master “neutral pelvis” – the pelvis being tilted up at the front and then released at the hips by sitting slightly.


Pulling the hip backwards (chi-hips) causes the leg to align straighter on the ski. Christine’s legs can be seen to be straight in line with the skis in the video clip here as she practices pulling the hip back using this complete version of upper/lower body separation. With the leg aligned well it is easier to feel the function of the adductor muscles.

Adductor Muscles

Placing a fist between the knees and squeezing you can feel the adductor muscles on both legs. We practiced a few pivots to cultivate the feeling of the adductors. Standing on the uphill ski alone, letting the ski flatten so that the foot would roll onto its inside edge the shaft of the boot would force the ski to remain on its uphill edge. This causes the adductor muscles to tighten on the inside of the leg and then they can be used to pull the ski down and into the pivot as the body moves slightly downhill to get the ski slipping.

I explained that the adductors contribute normally to holding the outside ski on its inside edge because the edge is not centred underfoot. The main way to hold the ski on edge however is by moving the centre of mass inwards so the adductors are only fine tuning. The key is that everything pulls or moves inwards – never outwards until a turn is finishing.


All of the elements above are to support the motion of the centre of mass. It’s the centre of mass that makes the skis work and the rest is just the support. Using the centre of the body, the core, actively for both power and as a point to move in space makes skiing both safe and effective.

Chi Walking

Finishing up after working hard on the hips we tried some chi walking uphill with no skis. Taking the hip and spine motion directly into walking – with the leg extending behind instead of being pulled around and in front makes it clear that the action is fundamentally the same. The exaggeration required to feel the effect in skiing then helps people to sense the complete movement properly in walking. Christine could feel the spine rotating and the glutes contracting with an upright posture and the quads not being tired out when walking uphill.

Mr Vertical

Brian had an hour (or two – after dark!) at the end to try to straighten out his angulation problems. In the video clip his first run shows how bad the hips appear to be – but I spotted that this probably was not the cause of the problem. The real problem is that Brian remains all the time in the vertical and relying on the back of his skis only. I explained how the body has to change from being vertical in the traverse to being perpendicular to the slope when going downhill and that this requires the body to tilt from the ankles (as in chi running) just to effectively remain centred over the skis. Most people simply get “left behind” as the skis accelerate off downhill into a turn. It’s not just a compensation for the gradient but also for acceleration.

With skis off we walked up and downhill to show how the body remains vertical all the time. Running downhill Brian could get perpendicular instead. Brian was then asked to hang forwards in the front of his ski boots and to apply very strong pressure to the fronts of his skis and to attempt to ski that way – as an exercise. Later on – both in normal skiing and carving he was asked to pressure the front of the skis and hang forwards – which in his case, when there was a little bit of speed, would just be enough to centre him correctly over the skis and enable the use of the whole ski. This can be seen in the last part of the video clip where Brian thinks he is leaning strongly forwards but the camera shows that he is well centred as he passes the camera. The idea is not really to load up the front of the ski – though this can be used to initiate turns in racing – but I was pushing Brian into new territory to make him aware of his over reliance on the backs of his skis and hoping just to get him somewhere in the middle. In his efforts to get on the front of the skis Brian has a tendency to drop his hands low in a sort of Zombie skier mode  - which however is an improvement over his normal arm flailing as seen in the first video section. I explained that the arms are held still and open in a “goal keeper” position about rib height. His legs would also go static when trying to stay centred – another form of Zombie effect, so I asked him to skate and be active but to be sure to get the timing right and not come up into the turns. We revised “neutral” so that the turn had a short perpendicular neutral phase, with flat skis moving across the hill before sinking down into the next turn. When centred on the skis Brian’s hips looked normal and correct.

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