Tuesday, January 14, 2014

“Try to Feel the Force Luke!”

No photos or video today. The video was considered by Luke to be demoralising and after some reflection I decided to agree. It’s up to Luke to give impressive performances from now on though so we can have something worthy of publication.

Powder Intro

After my marathon drive up to Courchevel this morning – returning down the mountain and climbing back up via Meribel due to a blocked road – it was time to get everyone into the fresh powder snow. Actually “powder” doesn’t fall from the sky – it forms on the ground due to a transformation of the snow crystals as the crystals lose their interconnecting cohesion. There was plenty of powder around but also plenty of rocks and not perfect visibility. The first priority was to ensure that nobody went fast and out of control – so the previous two day’s work would automatically help out here. The only advice I repeated was to adopt a low “seated” stance with the knees and feet ahead – and to move the centre of body down into the turn.  The turns are made by moving the body – not the feet or skis.  Florence managed her daily face plant early on and became momentarily discouraged but then seemed to become resigned to extended torture. The tension in her legs was visible and this makes her her own worst enemy because she is otherwise very capable. Tension has to be managed through a combination of awareness and then conscious relaxation of the muscles and flexion of the joints. Tibo was doing relatively well at this stage but soon found out that he couldn’t skate straight downhill in the powder – only dynamics would work. We used relatively gentle slopes and soft snow to get comfortable before heading up higher to steeper slopes.

At one random moment in the day Luke suddenly realised that “falling” into a turn actually meant “falling”. That’s kind of how this learning process works. I say it a million times and then eventually somebody repeats it back to me – but with understanding in their eyes. Then they wonder with bewilderment why they didn’t “get it” before. Perception is a strange thing.

Dynamics – Part 2

With visibility not being great I decided to focus on technique relevant to both off-piste and lumpy pistes. Until now I hadn’t mentioned the importance of how to use dynamics to exit the turn – only how to use dynamics to enter a turn. The turn should be completed by sinking into the existing turn to build up force on the lower leg – then allowing the body to use this force to be lifted up and out of the turn over the top of the downhill ski. As the body passes over the perpendicular to the slope it then automatically becomes very easy to start the next turn. Most people are scared initially to “risk” this – as they are committed by default to going into the following turn once they go over this lower ski. Quickly though people learn that this makes the start of that next turn bomb proof and so confidence and fluidity grow together. It was at this point that I uttered the classic “had to be said” statement “Try to feel the force Luke!” The force being the power of being lifted up and out of the turn fully on the lower ski. This instantly earned me many Yoda points.  Often people don’t feel the force because lack of angulation or inclination prevent the force from developing in the first place – so they end up in some sort of forceless dysfunctional limbo. Such individuals have a hard time graduating as Jedi Knights.

Luke might have struggled to feel the force but his stomach had no confusion whatsoever about the need to find a restaurant so we headed over to Meribel – where Luke pleaded with me to go off piste down the side of the black “Sangliers” run – totally disregarding the possible fate of the rest of his family. Unhesitatingly of course I agreed that it was a good idea and so off we went. (All group members were wearing avalanche transceivers). The steepness of the virgin off piste surprisingly seemed to help everyone. Florence did manage a few more face plants but was strongly outnumbered by Tibo by now who was going for a record. Luke skied it well and Leonie had speed control that would have been impossible a year ago.

By all accounts Tibo has decided that he prefers creative falling over – to skiing. To his full credit he does manage to practice this art form discretely without dragging anyone else into his performances. Every fall however is characterised by extreme leaning backwards up the hill where there is a total refusal of the brain to accept gravity induced sliding. When he is allowed to propel himself as in skating he is quite happy – no matter what gradient he is propelling himself on – but he stubbornly refuses to accept the authority of gravity.


After lunch visibility was poor and keeping in mind the tension and tiredness that some would experience I decided that it was best to focus on slower technical issues which needed to be addressed anyway. Pivoting (link) is tricky for people because it involves edge control, body rotation control, angulation, pole planting, accurate dynamics and avoidance of any twisting.  Needless to say this tied people up in knots for a while. After the initial wave of utter despondency in the group (at realising nobody could get any aspect of pivoting correct) had passed, there was a concerted general effort to get to grips positively with doing something about it. All in all there was some good progress – especially when I took a ski from everyone and there was no choice but to stand on one leg and adapt. The key is to be able to use the uphill edge of the ski as a brake for as long as possible, feeding slowly into a turn. The ski is only in the fall line very briefly and then flips to its new uphill edge to complete the turn. I explained to Leonie how her tendency to stem was very counterproductive as it placed the uphill ski on its downhill edge and set it up to send her off downhill like a rocket.  Luke made big steps towards controlling his rotation and angulation towards the end of a turn. His main tendency is to get too far back and then feel forced to rotate his upper body to force a turn. We worked on trying to make all the movements of the body lateral to the skis and not rotational. Sitting on a bicycle you do no try to rotate any part of your body to turn! Skis are the same. If the femurs turn in the hip sockets it’s because the skis impose this on the legs. We worked on pivoting on one ski only and Tibo worked on perfecting his falling.

Skating Timing

Back on the flats to finish the day I decided to blow away the pivoting cobwebs with some faster skating exercises. I demonstrated how racers simply skate straight down a course and that this is why they end up facing downhill (not because the TRY to face downhill). It was actually a bit too bumpy for this exercise and nobody really got much out of it so I reverted to something simpler – just observing the sensation of the “skating” pressure cycle imposed on the feet and legs from just toppling in and out of turns rhythmically.  This exercise was more appropriate for the group and had a positive response.

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