Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Emine and Derin


Emine is already a very accomplished young lady – in gymnastics, martial arts, and music – plus being bilingual. Her skiing however didn’t seem to be too comfortable – she described it as not bad but not good. Personally there was no need for me to make assumptions – I knew exactly what the reason for this was likely to be – and the fault would not be with Emine. I asked Emine to tell me what she knew about skiing, about how to move and how to make a turn – but she couldn’t think of anything – other than she had been told to bend her knees more and she couldn’t. That’s unfortunately quite typical after five years or more in ski school. To be honest it doesn’t really matter what the person remembers – it’s what the body remembers that matters. After a warm up run and watching Emine to see her level of comfort we stopped to video her current skiing, before I explained anything new to her. Emine displayed a typical movement pattern with an up movement to start the turn and down-sink and pole plant to end. She actually carried out this movement very well and demonstrated that she was obviously a good student. Once I mentioned this movement pattern to her she remembered that she was doing this.

The outcome of Emine’s correctly executed movements was very unstable and insecure skiing. This is demonstrated in the first video clip.


Centre of Mass

Despite the biting cold on the chairlift I used the time there to explain the “centre of mass” to Emine, giving some examples that she could relate to gymnastics, such as spinning or rolling about the centre of mass. In her case, as an upright skier, all she needs to know is that it is a point between the pelvis and the belly button just in front of the spine – but that it free to move outside the body when different shapes are made. The centre of mass is what skiing is all about. When we move the centre of mass then the skis work for us.

In all physical activity movements should also start from the centre and work outwards – this being where the real power of the body lies. (Most people do the opposite!)


Our first technical session was on dynamics. I explained that dynamics just meant “accelerations”.

Standing to the left of Emine I asked her to place pressure on her right ski – and she moved to the right – away from me.  This is what people do normally and it’s what Emine was doing when skiing at the start of each turn to the left. I then asked Emine to move to the left and push hard against my shoulder. When she was hard against me I asked her which foot had the pressure on it. Of course it was the right foot – but this time she had moved to the left instead. I explained that although I was holding her up when not moving the ski would hold her up when moving and she would feel the same pressure under her foot – but she would have to move left to turn left. To clarify this I asked her to bridge the gap between our shoulders slowly. Bridging the gap slowly the weight went on her left foot until she could push against me. Then I asked her to move fast across the gap so that she accelerated her body – and immediately she felt the pressure on the right foot instead. The point is that depending on whether you move with an acceleration or not the result at the feet is completely opposite in each case. Emine understood that she had to move into the turn with an acceleration of her body in the direction of the turn. She understood well enough that we didn’t have to waste time on exercises and she was able to turn with this almost immediately.

Emine’s reaction to the change was to remark that it felt much easier to ski this way. In first part of the second video you can see that she is immediately moving with a natural fluidity with only having made this one change. 

I later explained that this new movement pattern was down/up – that is down to start a turn and up to complete it – just like a motorbike, or anything else for that matter. This is the correct basic timing for skiing.


I explained to Emine that the real problem of skiing was not “balancing” or staying upright. When you try to fall over laterally to the skis you are quickly matched by the power of the ski bringing you back up. Most people can only manage to fall over about 20° to 30° at the very most. The goal of improving your skiing is to extend this dynamic range as far as possible. No matter how hard you deliberately try to fall over to the side you will not manage – unless you collapse your body at the same time. If you are trying to stay upright and in balance you will never ski well and you will always be unstable and insecure. The same if your timing is back to front – coming up to start the turn – because it will stop you from moving down into the turn like on a motorbike.

To complete the dynamics session I asked Emine to just observe the pressure under her feet and how moving the centre of mass from side to side caused the pressure to change from one foot to the other during skiing. After we stopped skiing I had a difficult question for her. I asked if that feeling reminded her of anything she was familiar with. She thought for about two minutes and replied “ice skating”! She was 100% correct! Skiing is a disguised form of skating and skating is fundamental to skiing. Once again this fundamental is completely missed by the ski schools and is only considered as an advanced racing element. We would come to skating in the coaching soon but first of all I wanted to be sure that she was aware of how to use the feet.

Feet and Boots

Emine’s boots were wet inside – they need to have the inners taken out and properly dried on a radiator each night!

With the ski boot off she showed me how she uses her foot. I have seen hundreds of people do this but she is the only one ever to have got it right without being told what to do. She rocked her foot onto it’s inside edge from beneath the ankle bone and the forefoot actually turned away from the direction of the turn – and this is correct! She also astonishingly showed that if she went onto the front of the foot she stood up on in instead of collapsing down which everyone else does. I’ve never seen anyone get that right before either!  She even understood that ski schools tell people to bend the ankle and push the knee into the turn, twisting and flattening the foot instead and putting the knee at risk of injury. Taking it from there I explained that the foot rocking onto its inside edge had to be linked with tension in the muscles on the inside of the upper leg and with the movement of the centre of mass – everything moving inwards together. The shaft of the ski boot prevents the ski and foot from flattening on the snow. I explained that when ice skating this isn’t necessary due to the edge of the skate being under the centre of the foot but in skiing all of this is necessary – including the stiff boots – because the edge is offset to the inside.

We had hot chocolates and watched the videos of “before and after” of her skiing before going back out to work on skating.


I checked Emine’s skating on the flat and saw that she is a strong skater – which is not surprising considering her awareness of her feet. The only exercise I gave was to skate straight downhill and once there was some speed to start to allow the centre of mass to fall more to the inside of the supporting leg – so this would create dynamics and allow the skating to evolve into skiing. She had a great skating/skiing rhythm immediately. This can be seen in the second part of the second video clip.

Slalom - 33.37 seconds.

Emine was keen to try to timed slalom so I sent her up while I filmed from below. After the first run I told her to focus on bringing some skating in at the start and then to remember the dynamics and so she improved by a second on this run. Conditions permitting we will work more in slalom now that Emine is aware of dynamics and skating and will understand my instructions and how they apply in the race course.  The race course adds natural physical constraints to the equation and so when you work on applying the technique you get very clear and honest feedback. Emine looks good in the course from the start and as she gets used to working with dynamics her time should rapidly improve.

Off Piste

We went into some deep chopped up snow over variable terrain using the dynamics and Emine had no problem staying with me. She appeared to enjoy the off piste. If you can ski with dynamics then off piste is fun.


Before ending up our session I wanted to introduce the third major aspect of skiing to Emine – Pivoting! Skis have two edges so either can be used to initiate a turn. This is also totally missed by ski instruction world wide. I demonstrated in front of Emine and asked her to watch and see if she could spot the difference but she couldn’t see it. I’d have given her my pro license if she had spotted it but at last I’d found something she couldn’t do! 

There is a full section on pivoting linked here “pivoting” so I’ll not write about the details. Emine was struggling and trying to force everything but we will spend more time on that tomorrow and sort it out. Pivoting is a major aspect of skiing and we will go deeper into this next.


Afternoon Derin

Derin was becoming more and more reticent about trying anything on her own – without me holding her -  until her sisters and parents appeared and then she flipped and wanted to do everything alone.  My objective today was to extend her freedom to work on her own but this was just not getting anywhere in the first half of the afternoon. We did run after run and I simply worked on different exercises with her to encourage her to stand up on her own and to feel the skis supporting her.

With every turn I try to get her to feel the right amount of drifting of the skis and the right turn radius with the right amount of movement of the body into the turn. She is aware of the need to push the outside ski forwards and now she can also pull it inwards without any twisting outwards that would resemble an inappropriate snowplough action.

Her fear is not really irrational and it became clearer to me this afternoon that it’s linked to her slight lack of control over the left leg and ski. The skis seem just a bit too overpowering – they are strongly shaped and they carve a bit too easily. She tends not to stand securely on the left leg and so moves over her right leg pulling the left ski over onto its edge – so the ski just tracks off on a fast carved turn. (Many advanced skiers can only dream of doing this!) The acceleration frightens her because the turn takes too long so she then backs out of it instead of just completing it. Rather than get bogged down with this issue it seems more appropriate to change the skis for shorter less overpowering ones that will encourage more confidence to stand on the left leg. Some specific exercises will be needed anyway – but normally the body balances out such problems when given a chance. Her “pulling inwards” of the skis will also help to overcome this blockage. We also just need to be patient – it will all fall into place when she is ready.  Thanks to the added presence of mum and dad she saw the rest of the session though happily. Just getting as much constructive time on skis as possible is the most important thing of all and keeping it all positive!  Tomorrow we will work on some skating exercises to make her more active with the left leg.

Tout Droit!

The video is Derin being set off to make turns down towards me. Instead she does the classic kids “tout droit” heading straight for me! I had zoomed out the camera as she approached and just looked up in time to spot that she was about to go straight into me and managed to step my skis out of the way with a fraction of a second to spare!


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