Thursday, January 16, 2014

Luke, Tibo, Leonie, Florence – lean On Me


This morning everyone was on short skis – though the 120cm skis were not really reactive enough for confident building up of dynamics. I found that they performed more like slalom skis with quite a long carve radius for short skis. In Courchevel none of the shops stock Snowblades anymore.  My own pair has vanished along with my 150cm World Cup Fischer slalom skis – probably lent to somebody. Leonie and Florence needed an introduction to carving on the blades so we repeated the carving lesson from yesterday – with rolling from edge to edge of both skis on the flat with a toppling of the centre of mass. Leonie had a tendency to push her hips to one side and keep her head and eye-line in the horizontal.  I explained that the head had to incline with the body to line up with the resultant forces in the turn – and not remain in the horizontal. Horizontal is only useful when we are relating to the vertical. At first Leonie couldn’t hold the ski on edge and would allow the ski to flatten and drift instead of carve but this was sorted out in a few minutes. We didn’t spend long on carving because the slope was a little bit too steep, so we moved onto pivoting.

Later on, near the end of the session we returned to carving and I got Leonie to “Lean On Me” with a view to refreshing how to generate active dynamics. The blades are excellent for developing active dynamic range so I wanted her to move more and she did achieve this. Later the sentiment was captured in song by Luke and Tibo in the following video clip…



Somehow Luke manages to initially do every new exercise correctly and then eventually to find a way to return to being glued to the back of the boots and skis. Yesterday the blades allowed Luke to be well centred but today he was in the back seat once again even on the blades. Leonie responded well to pivoting in a wide stance with the feet held at the same altitude on the hill (instead of one above the other). Getting Leonie to remove her skis I asked her to face downhill and jump, turning both legs in the hip sockets, landing with the feet facing the opposite direction (from left to right etc). When back on skis the idea was to feel each leg pivot independently. Leonie understood this and for the first time was able to get control over her hip rotation as a result. 

I helped Luke to feel this by physically pulling his skis through the manoeuvre – but although he seemed to get it at first he couldn’t retain it.  The right leg in particular was troublesome. Luke needs more time to develop awareness of the body in space and the relative positioning of the feet to the body – plus to be able to discern the causes of the physical differences in action between the two sides of the body. When you can do something well on one side and not on the other then main the issue is body awareness.

Tibo had an issue with rotating his pelvis into the turn with a major twist of his spine – so I pointed out that he was actually supposed to pull the hip backwards – the opposite direction – and that his current spine twisting could be very damaging to the body. The wide stance pivoting was partly to help him to realise that the pivoting had to come from the legs and not the pelvis or above.

We did a couple of runs working on this and then decided to head down to change back to normal skis. There were too many dispersed individual issues between the four skiers for enough attention to be given to any individual and so only Leonie had managed to make a real breakthrough. Tibo had also certainly reigned in his spinal cord. I could also see how Luke systematically pushed out his right foot and so this gave me more clues to his issues. Florence just worked along at her own pace and I pointed out that she needed to leave her comfort zone a little bit more to be able to bring about real change from her current situation. More control at lower speeds would give her more control at higher speeds and so lead to greater confidence off piste and in general.

Everyone managed one ski pivoting, thanks to the short skis.


After lunch we tackled the black “Sanglier” run down into Meribel and I asked Luke to bend the legs low to try to avoid being jammed in the back of his boots. A permanently flexed stance is called “midstance” and is an old Austrian technique. This appeared to work initially but then the back of the boots took over again. I pointed out to Luke that the foot of the uphill ski had to be kept well below the body – downhill – to be able to pivot. Awareness of the positioning of the skis and their edges is extremely important in this manoeuvre. To go one step further, the edge of the foot and the ski have to be felt separately. Standing on the uphill ski, with it kept downhill of the body you initially stand on the uphill edge of the ski and foot. You let the foot relax and so the ski flattens slightly with the shaft of the boot pushing the knee slightly laterally downhill and bringing the foot onto its inside edge. The boot shaft also maintains the ski on its uphill edge at the same time. Now the foot in on the inside edge and can pull “inwards” pulling the front of the ski downhill into the turn. This pulling accompanies a subtle motion of the centre of mass directly downhill.

I pointed out that Luke needed not only to start to avoid lifting up the tip of his inside ski high in the air but he should really be forcing the tip downwards instead – especially when going down the drop after a bump. In bump skiing in particular the toes have to push both tips down quite hard into the trough following compression and bending on the bump. This action later on becomes a common reflex even off piste.

To help Luke avoid snagging his inside ski I also pointed out that “inside leg steering” was necessary – where not only independent leg pivoting was necessary but the inside ski needed to be consciously swung out of the road whether on the snow or in the air.

Leonie struggled with her pivoting here because she had difficulty initiating the pivot from a sideslip and had a strong tendency to slide forwards and the try to grip with whatever edge she was sliding along. Her default defensive reaction to approaching the fall line is to look for the inside edge of the outside ski to grip with while still using the lower ski as a brake and platform (hence a stem). Allowing a slip sideways from the top ski into the fall line is still uncomfortably alien to Leonie. 

We had to go in for a drink due to Luke’s right foot metatarsal arch being in agony. It seems that whatever he is doing on his right side is leading to some sort of contortion and tension in the foot. Even his footbed inside the boot was in agony…

Off Piste

After drinks we stumbled upon some remaining unskied powder snow leading almost all the way down to Meribel. Leonie managed to ski some of this in the fall line, with control of rotation hence control of speed, with a continuous rhythm for the first time ever. Luke skied it well too but technically Leonie was now marginally better. Tibo was still on the blades and was doing a good job of controlling his rotation now too. Although he wasn’t getting a lot of direct input he was taking information on board. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to film any off piste – which ended up with a trip through the trees at the bottom. Part of the purpose of al this was to blow away the cobwebs from hours of sometimes frustrating exercises.

Short Swings

Near the bottom of the off piste, for Tibo’s benefit I explained the timing for jumping (short swings). The jump has to be from the downhill leg because it isn’t a jump into a turn it’s a jump out of the existing one – matching the bounce from the dynamics of powder skiing or the rise up at the end of a skate or simply the force of the ski bringing a skier up out of a turn. The jump is to permit the first part of the next pivot to be executed in the air when conditions are unfriendly to this weakest part of the pivot on the ground.

Pole Plants and Pole Touches

We completed the day with a couple of runs on some steep black runs. Leonie may have freaked out mentally but she held it together flawlessly with her skiing and had no problems controlling her speed on the steeps. Between runs I explained pole use, mainly to help Tibo reel in his wild arm gestures a bit.  In braking turns such as pivots we use a solid pole plant (in bumps or steeps) to support the body entering the turn. You can literally lean on the pole for this purpose. Being aware of this is a good trigger for preparing angulation and a strong completion of the preceding turn – as the angulation then automatically leads to a strong pole plant and entry into the next turn.  Luke had never been using his poles with his angulation being so week so this was also a good exercise for him. The pole use also helps to keep the body centred over the skis and prevents falling backwards.

In dynamic skiing where the turn is initiated on the inside (downhill) edge there is no “pole plant” but only a pole touch as the body passes the perpendicular in the turn transition and enters the new turn. Only a slight wrist movement is necessary as the global movement of the body places the pole touch. In general the arms are carried loosely in front of the body (goal keeper position) and are always visible in the peripheral vision.

Fronts of Skis

We completed the day with a last look at Luke’s fore/aft issue. On the steeps I asked Luke to remove his skis and stand facing downhill. This way he could find a relaxed and flexed stance. The point is that that when skiing the dynamics (accelerations) of the turn have the same effect as gravity which helps to maintain this seated stance without falling backwards:

Luke’s posture here isn’t perfect (lower back slightly hollow) but in general the legs are fine. There is no reason why this can’t be achieved when moving on skis. In deep snow an even lower stance can be maintained because the snow acts like a brake at the feet forcing the upper body forwards (as is gravity in this picture). The deceleration in the end of a turn has the same effect and gravity its self has this effect at the start of a turn. In contrast Luke when skiing tends to push against the back of the ski boots tensing up the feet, ankles and legs and then break forwards (bowing forwards) at the hip joints while hollowing his lower back.

I then asked Luke to ski a moderate slope while feeling the fronts of the skis by  tilting forwards from the ankles. This is just to get a feeling for this extreme and for the grip and stability of the whole front of the ski – to realise that it’s there! Luke had trouble doing this without locking his legs rigid but eventually realised that he could achieve this even with the legs flexing.

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