Friday, February 28, 2014

Max & Mark 6

Well, you can either spend your life confined to the pistes cultivating your snowplough and balance or you can do it like this…


Off Piste

The boys were wearing avalanche transceivers because we had at least 30cm of fresh snow at altitude and we were going to make use of it. With every section of deep snow the boys grew in both confidence and competence. The main goal was to be able to link turns rhythmically and to carry some speed without the threat of being overpowered by the skis. We had of course worked all week on building awareness of the physical dynamics and the emotions involved but it was interesting to see if this had prepared them to adapt to serious Off Piste. The first run started on a short very steep section. I didn’t give them time to think so that they wouldn’t even entertain the idea of fear. Max had to ski first to a designated point and then Mark. I had to stay uphill in case either of them wiped out and lost their skis. It can be a real struggle to find skis lost in deep powder and sometimes people spend hours stuck there searching. After only a few sections it was clear that both the boys were very solid on their skis and were on a positive learning curve. This development permitted me to take the risk of skiing ahead to show the route and to film better from below. On each section there would be some minor feedback and modification. One of the best things Max did was to ski in my tracks on a steep section. I hadn’t intended for him to do that but in the space of a few dozen turns he understood the rhythm – and of course Mark didn’t miss this development either.









Despite the slopes being steep and bumpy underneath the fresh snow the boys didn’t have a single wipe-out all morning. Something else important needs to be mentioned: They were not using Off-Piste skis! They were on short, narrow carving slalom skis. This proves that technique is the key to everything. For many years I always skied on short slalom skis Off-Piste and only changed to wide all-mountain skis when technology eventually evolved in some specifically interesting directions. The fact is however that wide skis are too forgiving for learning – allowing bad skiers to ski almost anywhere. The boys in contrast remained standing only because they were skiing well.


We did two serious Off-Piste descents in the Solaise - Le Manchet sector then headed up the Olympic lift to the Bellevarde sector by 11am – at which point the weather changed with cloud and snow arriving and loss of visibility. The weather window had been perfect for us and so we went into a café for some refreshments. Only the boy’s competence and courage had made the adventure successful and to be honest they were both impressive. Today they became real skiers.

On Le Manchet chairlift the boys asked me a question: “If you could meet anyone in the world who would you chose?”. My answer was “My first serious girlfriend”. I explained that the first time you fall in love is special and some part of it stays with you for life. Mark then made one of his inimitable observations “The rest are just Hillbillies!”. If Max grows up to be a lawyer then Mark will surely grow up to be a philosopher or artist. Max is very logical and seems concerned with reasoning and working things out. Mark goes with the flow – and was singing to himself most of the time when skiing. I couldn’t understand his rapping though.


One last airbag jump each was in order and the goal was to try to jump at take off to increase the height. I’m not sure the take-off ramp is well shaped for that though being a bit of a “kicker”. Mark got half way up the runway and gave up due to the difficulty of climbing with skis on. I obliged him to continue to climb slowly and not to give up. He needs to learn that when confronted with a task like that then little steps and persistence gets you there. This is where his impulsiveness works against him!

Mark did request more jumping later on but it was important to use our afternoon (and the bad weather) for working on technique.















Max desperately wanted to knock off two tenths of a second from his slalom record to get into the qualified racing categories – but due to the bad weather the slalom course was not reset for the afternoon so it was in bad condition. Despite three brave attempts Max remained a fraction of a second off the time – but he improved his dynamics and just coping with a rutted course like that would have been impossible for him even a day or two earlier. I explained that the time he was going for wasn’t an issue – the important thing was that his skiing was improving and I was able to see from the slalom what we needed to work on next. The main area to develop now for both Max and Mark is the timing and range of motion of the legs. Both boys are relatively rigid. Although the deep snow and dynamics had made both of them bend in response to the forces involved they now had to generate some of this leg activity consciously. Slalom is on a hard surface and this tends to make people react by becoming more rigid through bracing and resisting. Max was clearly now letting the skis run forwards (instead of throwing them sideways) and using them as a platform to move his centre of mass – but this is still only the beginning of his skiing development.














Short Swings

One of the exercises to begin to get the legs working is “Short Swings”. This is essentially a pivot with the turn transition carried out in the air from a jump. First of all we had to work a little on static jumping. Mark had trouble getting off the ground at all but both of the boys jumped with a heel retraction to get the skis up. The jump should fully extend the legs when in the air – landing with straight legs and then bending to absorb the landing. We didn’t spend a lot of time on this. Both boys were familiar with Pivoting – the pulling/swinging of the airborne ski tips inwards over a Mogul – so the instruction was to jump up and do the same. They both managed reasonable Short Swings after a few attempts.


During the week my only mention of ski poles had been to avoid wearing the straps and not to throw the poles away during a fall. For a short while Mark had to wear the straps because he was throwing his poles away every few minutes – but this phase was rapidly left behind. Straps are never worn near ski lifts or Off Piste (for safety reasons) and in reality they are just not needed when skiing. Pole “Planting”is fairly critical in any  Pivoting (braking) skiing (Moguls, Short  Swings, Steeps etc.)  – but Pole Planting does not occur in flowing skiing – which is why I have hardly mentioned the poles all week. I did mention and demonstrate Pole Planting with the Pivoting in Moguls but deliberately didn’t focus on this as the boys seemed to understand and copy reasonably well. There are issues of “Hip Angulation” involved with pole use and more complex aspects of coordination that would only have served to confuse the boys. They did incredibly well without any of this complication. Watching them skiing the deep Off-Piste without even using their poles (Pole Touch for flowing skiing) is very interesting. They get away with this partly due to low body weight and the combination of deep snow and air resistance dampening the accelerations.

Heavier (adults) people accelerate more due to pushing through the air and snow with less resistance. Body volume (mass) increases by its cube whereas surface area increases by its square – so bigger people are much less affected by air resistance. Children suffer from cold more easily for exactly the same reason – they have a greater surface area relative to their body mass.

Without pole planting being introduced the boys would be limited in their Short Swing ability – but there was no time to work on that and the objective was just to get the legs active – as opposed to being only reactive.


Once the legs were moving it was time to get back to skating exercises and see if we could move further forwards with this. Neither of the boys had previously managed to integrate the skating properly into their skiing because there were too many opposing movements already in their skiing. All week we had worked on replacing those other movements so it would interesting to see if a skating action could now be developed. Max’s first attempts were still affected by him switching from initially skating to pushing his skis sideways to try to turn them – but this time he was able to sense the difference when brought to his attention. Both Max and Mark then managed to skate their turns – moving the body (Centre of mass) instead of pushing their feet away. This can be seen in the video as a distinct skating “Down/Up” timing in sync with the “Down/Up” timing of the dynamics. The goal is to establish a resonance through using the legs. Max in particular had already managed this resonance in the deep snow when the forces involved imposed it upon him due to getting his body in the right place – but now the goal was to develop this sensation through actively bringing it to life with the legs on hard ground.


During the afternoon the visibility  and light dropped so that is was impossible to distinguish any physical relief even on the piste. Mark responded by slowing down to a crawl at one point. I told him to stop staring at the void in front of him and to look at me instead for his cue. He caught on quickly. It’s also important to know that when you can’t see then you have to learn to focus on feeling instead because being over attentive to vision actually causes you to tense up and become unable to respond reflexively to surprises. You have to work at “not looking” and concentrating instead on sensations from the feet and relative positioning of body parts (Proprioception) in motion. When you do this correctly it’s extremely rare that you actually experience a problem that the reflexes fail to cope with – even Off Piste in a White-Out – as long as you generally know the terrain.

Conclusion (Centring)

The boys did amazingly well in every respect – but the video and photos are all that’s really necessary to make that clear. One thing to bear in mind in future is the negative effect of poor teaching. Max’s perplexing problem – which we overcame – was not his fault but was produced by the effect of very inappropriate training. Max’s inability to perceive my instructions should be a warning as to how we all easily become rigid products of brainwashing that disconnects us from ourselves and reality. Mark’s different thinking processes probably permit him to circumvent those issues more easily just by being more centred.  Max gradually became more focussed on moving his Centre of Mass. All body movement should be from the centre outwards and attention should be focused on that centre. Strangely, the mental and emotional centring are linked directly to the physical aspect.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Max & Mark 5

Today there was no new technical input  (other than correction) – it wasn’t necessary. It was time to ski, time to put to use the new skills and let them grow in their appropriate environment; Off Piste, Slalom, Moguls and Steeps (including steep off piste).


Slalom Max 33.07, Mark 41.11

We had to devise a “Russell” points system to see who might end up taking the day’s Russell award. We decided on 1 point for a snowplough or a bad decision and points for each person knocked over from a crash – excepting snowboarders who counted as negative points. Negative points could also be won through exceptionally good results or clever decisions. Mark blew it when he fell off the button lift at the slalom and then skied down through both race courses and through the finish line triggering the timer! He was so upset at becoming the day’s Russell that he had to be given a special one off dispensation.

The day included airbag jumping – which was hard to get Mark away from once he got started. We managed some steep and deep off piste on which neither of the boys fell over. Later on we descended one rocky gully which needed a rope to climb down at one point and then finished with the hardest black run in Val d’Isère – the Epaule du Charvet. Which was skied well by both the boys.




Landing on his feet…



Piste perdu…

The boys are on the ridge at the bottom right…

This is a bone eating vulture – not an eagle – you can tell by the shape of the tail…

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Max & Mark 4

Today the entire focus was on sorting out Max. Yesterday every attempt to correct his stance actually made it significantly worse so it was a very strange situation. I brought along two pairs of 3m carving turn radius snow skates – for Max and myself. The shops don’t hire out such equipment nowadays which is a real shame because they are fantastic learning tools.


Max’s ingrained movement patterns were so overwhelming that they even managed to dominate the snow skates. We battled for over two hours in a blizzard to try to find a way around this. Sometimes I had to just switch off and ski for a while to simply allow time for alternative ideas to come to mind. I would raise my inside arm in a turn and Max would set off raising his outside arm – so as to maintain his problem rather than correct it. I would push my bottom into a turn he would push his out.  This went on for hours with every exercise I could think off. I even had him physically push up hard against me, leaning into me with all of his weight on his outside leg – then I would move him forwards to slide and let his ski carve an extremely tight turn against me – but he would just fall off the leg and onto the inside one as soon as the turn began. All he had to to was to stand strongly on that one leg (as in skating) and let the turn progress but it just wasn’t happening. Meanwhile we were battered by the wind and snow and both feeling very frustrated.

The solution came by getting max to stand in a very wide stance – which already creates some hip angulation and separates the legs distinctly. I asked him to extend the uphill leg to start a turn – using it to move his body across into the new turn (not to pop upwards). This pressure on a single strong extended leg would prevent him from doing his two footed twisting and he would feel the ski dictating a strong progressive start to the turn instead of his usual rapid sideways skid. The snow skates would respond instantly with very strong feedback and enhance the independent leg action. This finally cracked the deadlock and allowed Max to feel a basically correct stance and turn initiation on one leg. Nearly all skiing is “one legged” because it is fundamentally skating. Even when the feet are together it remains a one legged activity and only specifically in pivoting can two footed skiing be used constructively – but the body even then remains oriented over the outside hip – one leg!

The best description of “hip angulation” is; “having the upper body tilted forward and perched over one hip joint and able to rotate on that joint”. Until now Max’s efforts to get there were overwhelmed by his emotional need to torque the body into a turn and he simply couldn’t poise himself over the outside hip joint and stand on it while sliding. In the end he didn’t get it all perfectly by any means but he got into the ball park and so could work constructively on improving it. This is where he needs to be. In slalom he slowed it all down and worked purely on technique. Max stands better on his left leg – probably due to overpowering rotation on his right side. (Often the physically stronger side is the problem side)











Now that Max’s main issue is under control we can get back on track with everything else tomorrow. He will need to revise all the stuff we have covered so as to get the feeling of it along with the stronger stance and better awareness.

Unfortunately, although this picture looks great for hip angulation Max is sliding sideways not forwards!

Mark was quite happy patiently getting on with things in the background and he must have been listening because his skiing also improved. His skiing in the slalom is almost totally free from the snowplough already. Mark’s recorded time is not faster yet but he is skiing technically better so on a fresh course he certainly would be faster. I will need to work on Mark’s stance too as he is collapsing a bit at the waist – but his overall progress is already great. He was worried about skiing down the Face again but in the end he made easy work of it and surprised himself – as I told him would be the case! The slope conditions were better than yesterday and each time completes the run it will be easier. He can sideslip confidently now and is parallel most of the time when skiing so he is responding perfectly to all the challenges.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Max & Mark 3

Feet (Slalom – Max 37.12)

The day started off with a dash into the nearest café up the mountain as soon as we arrived. I wanted a quiet, dry place to remove the ski boots and show the boys how to use the feet correctly inside the ski boots before we went any further with technique. Max had some sort of stance problem – apparently not being able to hold the outside ski on edge properly and there was a very good chance that this was due to issues with the feet.

When asked to show me what they normally did with the feet when turning, both showed me the foot twisting, going onto its outside edge and flattening. This is what happens when people try to twist a ski into a turn. The foot (outside ski) should in fact roll onto its inside edge with the forefoot turning outwards. The foot rolls from beneath the ankle joint and this is most easily achieved when putting weight on the heel. The actual joint used is called the subtaler joint. The other foot can be rolled onto its outer edge to keep the body symmetrical and help the movement of the centre of mass over to the inside of the turn. We practised that with the boots off so that the feet could be seen.


I explained that the only real physical contact we have when skiing is through the feet and so the feet have to be used intelligently. Most of our postural reflexes are also activated through pressure on the feet. We can think of the edges of the feet as representing the edges of the skis. Considering that the feet have 52 bones and 214 tendons and ligaments they are pretty complicated structures but we usually remain impressively ignorant about them. Just a little bit of knowledge here goes a very long way. There is a lot more to this subject obviously but that was all that was necessary for the moment.

We practised this for one run and then went into the slalom where max improved his time by 1.6 seconds to 37.12. Mark took a slow line in the slalom to work on his confidence after two falls yesterday. Mark’s achievement was to use much less snowplough in the slalom.

Dynamics cannot be generated effectively if there is not a secure grip with the ski. Max immediately commented on the improved grip from rolling his feet.

Off Piste

Off Piste meant further face-plants again today. On the positive side they both managed to cope with recovering the skis and getting back up efficiently.  I explained that the skis are designed to bounce in soft deep snow and that you have to start the bouncing just like on a trampoline – except that it also requires forward speed. Once you get the rhythm going in bouncy snow you then use the pivot exactly as we had already done in the bumps – pulling the tips inwards as you bounce out of the snow and continuing inwards as you sink down and into it. Mark enjoyed the feeling of bouncing.











Today I demonstrated and explained how the pivoting works from the upper edges of the skis and how this is the exact opposite of the snowplough. Mark could now sideslip competently so it would be much easier for him to now improve his pivoting. The main thing at this stage is to impart an understanding of the differences. It can take some time to develop the skill because although extremely effective this action requires much more subtle control over the dynamics and the edges of the skis. (largely involving the positioning of the feet )


Edge changing between turns is the tricky part of carving so after working on static exercises (video clip) we then went over to a flatter slope to try to make some first carved turns. Mark succeeded very well with this but Max just couldn’t quite get it. Max’s struggles revealed that the work with the feet hadn’t sorted out his uncomfortable stance issues. I’d hoped that he would pick up the carving quickly (as Mark did) but unfortunately it didn’t work out this way. Every time Mark did the exercise across a hill he was fine but when he had to link turns on the flat his skis would wash out of the carve into a skid and his stance would look very uncomfortable.


The main problem for Max appears to be that his brain now unconsciously associates the start of a turn with some sort of rushed twisting (skis, feet, hips and shoulders) or pushing outwards of the skis. This causes Max to force out his hip while standing  on his inside ski through the start of the turn. It causes him to fall frequently. Even when trying to deal with this with skating exercises – tucking the hip beneath the body to skate properly – he would only sometimes manage this – reverting to skating with his hip and bottom rotating outwards over his skating leg. This is very odd for someone who is a skater!  I tried several different exercises to get the message across – including parking his skis across the hill and letting him point his ski poles towards me while I tried to pull him over. He could feel the difference in strength when the bottom was turned uphill (away from me) and his hip tucked in so that he could pull against me – but he couldn’t relate this feeling to the turns. He seemed to improve after a while and so tried it in slalom – but did the exact opposite in the course as can be seen in the following photo…









We finished off the day with a ski all the way down the now bumpy and icy Face de Bellevarde – the Olympic men’s downhill run – which is of course a black piste. Mark was ready for this now and didn’t fall over once or lose control. Max had been tired all day due to not sleeping the night before because of neighbours having a drunken techno music party – so I expected him to be tired and struggle. Tomorrow will be a better day (if he sleeps!). We will use short skate skis tomorrow to try to sort out Max’s angulation issues rapidly. There is a good chance that clearer physical feedback will help him to make the necessary changes.

Mark wanted to jump on the airbag today (obviously because his brother did) but I explained that he was not ready for that yet. We were too busy trying to sort out technique for Max to return to the jump to improve his take off.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Max & Mark 2

Warm up / Revision

We began our warm up run on the training piste with a view to combining the warm up with revision of yesterday’s key points. Mark declared that he couldn’t ski without a snowplough so we began by skating straight down the hill – into turning – so that snowploughs were not an option. The warm up involved focusing on dynamics (invisible wall), skating and pushing the outside foot forwards. Mark could only remember one of those three things from yesterday – the invisible wall - until he was reminded.


Slalom Max 38.74, Mark 42,22

Yesterday I had prepared the boys so that they could easily ski black pistes, but what I hadn’t told them was that this would be so that they could manage to begin slalom training. The morning revision was also to strengthen them technically in preparation. It’s important also to get to the slalom course early while it is in good condition so the first part of the morning was structured around achieving this. I took them through the slalom course, explaining the electronic timing and how it is triggered. They also had to know what to do in the event of a fall and how to avoid the finish line so as not to mess up the timing for someone else. Once familiar with the system I could let them use the button lift and do circuits while I could observe and film from below – then give feedback after each run.

The brothers decided to race each other first time and Max scored 43.17 seconds to Mark’s 46.13. Second run Max fell off the button lift so Mark went on his own and scored 42.22 to go ahead of Max. Considering that Mark yesterday believed that he couldn’t ski a black slope it was interesting to see him trying to go faster and succeeding in beating his brother – despite his precarious “racing snowplough” stance! Max however responded straight away with a 38.74 second run to take the honours for the day. I stopped them both then because they were on their limits and needed to go back to working on technique for a while. Mark asked to continue – obviously wanting a chance to take the lead again but it was time to move on. The slalom had exposed some technical faults that would have to be worked on. Max was clearly rotating into the turns with his upper body (hips and shoulders) and this was destroying his attempted dynamics. Mark had a horrible snowplough issue which dominated him. Both the boys admitted that all they had thought of in the race course was “speed”. It was clear watching them that they had totally forgotten their technique training. This is an important lesson. It’s when remaining centred – focusing on your body and being aware of what you are doing – that creates speed. When you are distracted by external goals then you lose track of yourself.

I started to give Mark a hard time for his snowplough – especially when we had to sideslip and he found his uphill ski compulsively switching to the inside (downhill) edge as if he had no control over his leg. I told him that the snowplough was stupid and that it was totally avoidable and that it was wearing out his legs – and that he would have to just stop it and use dynamics instead when turning.

With Max the issue of rotation required some explanation and the solution I gave him initially was to skate his turns but then I added that he had to pull back the hip on the outside leg. Pulling back the hip allows a skating stance from the very start of the turn (this comes under ChiSkiing). Combining the conscious pulling back of the hip and skating did prevent Max from rotating his body into the turns. He also understood that this would facilitate and improve his dynamics. I explained that when he is on a bicycle he does not rotate his body into a turn – instead all he does is incline and the bicycle turns his body. Skis do the same thing. Out of the blue Mark announced that he could ski without a snowplough. Either he had been listening to the advice given to Max or he had just decided to stop the snowplough as I had suggested – nobody is sure which – but he was right and I filmed it. Not only does Mark have his skis parallel but he has pretty good dynamics and inclination too.

To help Max I pointed out that the inside edges of the skis are not beneath the centre of the feet and in his case this was pulling his knees out when he was skating and skiing. To compensate for this the muscles on the inside of the legs need to be used (adductors) to hold the knee in place. Rocking the foot over onto its inside edge and feeling the inside of the heel can help this process. During a turn the foot and the adductors need to be pulling inwards along with the centre of mass moving inwards. This can be tricky with teachers have always taught you to push outwards into a snowplough (using the outer muscles in the leg – the abductors) and to transfer your weight moving your centre of mass outwards over this leg that is being pushed outwards! With the ski trying to flatten and pull your foot flat and knee out all at the same time then obviously it’s important to rebuild a new skillset to deal with all of this. With Max this will take a few days and tomorrow I intend to go into that with him more carefully – but today we just had to get the machine rolling – there were lots of things to do.

Later – in the afternoon we did have another slalom session. This time on his second run Max did remain centred and managed to focus on correcting his technique and preventing the body rotation. Mark in contrast was only focused on regaining the fastest time and so returned to his racing snowplough and blew straight out of the course…


All kids love to jump but they are not aware of the risks of injury on landing. The beginner’s jumps in the snowpark are relatively safe so we had one run over those jumps and then Max decided that he was up for a go at jumping onto the airbag. He was a bit shaky from nerves on the run up to the jump and so compressed on the ramp – which threw him onto his back. Next time he will be ready for it!

Off Piste (Russell Award)

There was a dramatic difference off piste today – especially regarding Mark’s reactions. No more drama! Max managed an early face plant himself and came up laughing. Both the boys were autonomous and quick at sorting themselves out after any tumbles and there were no more complaints. In the picture here you can see both their helmets covered in snow as they sort themselves out. By this time we had entered into the competition for the “Russell award”! I spotted that Mark is in fact Russell  - the cute little boy scout from the “Up” animated film. Russell then became a name associated with snowploughs and falling – so it started to be attributed to who made the next fall or did something silly. Max had done a lot of silly things today – including falling off the button lift twice so at some points he was leading the chase for the Russell award himself.




















Pivoting (No 3 fundamental of skiing)

I introduced work on pivoting (Pivot). This is a big subject and but we just touched on it lightly as it has to be introduced as soon as possible. Bumps were used to get the idea across without the need for any technical explanations. (explanations may begin tomorrow) All the boys were shown was how to stand on a bump with the ski tips in the air, plant the pole downhill to lean on and the move the body between the ski tips and the pole – pulling both the tips inwards to create a pivot. This ties in with the sideslipping that I’ve been making them do. The general idea is to begin the turns from the uphill edges – not changing edges until the skis point downhill. This is dramatically different to the snowplough where the edge change has happened even before the turn starts. At this stage I’m tricking them into doing this without them knowing what is technically significant or different. They just watch and copy with the terrain (bumps) providing the mechanism. There is an example of Max pivoting in today’s video clip.

Carving (No 4 fundamental of skiing)

There was also a very brief introduction to carving – railing the skis along two edges. This is essential for more advanced racing but it is important that there is an early introduction and awareness of the specific qualities of carving. We started with just carving tracks across the slope in a shallow traverse. Carving provides very clear feedback and solid grip and so helps to develop good dynamics. Very short carving skis  (like skates) help with this so I might see if some are available for hire for the boys  later in the week for a session. The photo shows three sets of carved tracks.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Max & Mark 1

After testing out Max and mark on the beginner’s slope in Val we headed up the Bellevarde Express. This is a two part chairlift system with an interconnecting path so it’s better that their return to skis was on a wide piste at the bottom of the mountain and not on this path. Mark didn’t seem to have a lot of edge control during this test but that was probably just initial wobbling at getting back on skis after a long absence. Once up on the plateau we accessed the Vert training piste where we would spend the morning in relative safety while working on technique. The piste was empty when we arrived so the first thing we did was a complete non-stop run just to help the boys properly find their skiing legs again. We repeated this but had a stop while I filmed their skiing prior to any coaching.

Video prior to coaching…



Prior to coaching it’s interesting to note the strong and weak points currently in their skiing. One important positive aspect that they both share is that neither of them lean back in their ski boots. They both stand up quite comfortably. Max has some natural dynamics in his skiing which can be seen by his body moving slightly into each turn.

In general the boys are extremely static with the legs hardly moving and the bodies held upright and relatively immobile too. Mark pushes his skis out into a snowplough and remains even more static as a result. He had great difficulty sideslipping down the entrance onto the training piste and wanted his uphill ski to push out into a snowplough all the time. When confronted with the instruction to change this his attitude was defeatist – within seconds saying that “I can’t” and thinking that he could just give up on it there. It was clear that coaching would have to address more than the technical side of things with Mark. Max in contrast was extremely positive but his technical skiing was very weak and this would have to be changed before we could even contemplate doing anything interesting.

When asked “What is the most important thing you have to try to do in skiing”? Mark answered “Balance”! This is precisely why the two are so static! This answer provided the perfect cue to begin the training.

Dynamics (The No 1 fundamental aspect of skiing)

Our first lesson was on dynamics. Both the boys understood this without any difficulty. I used the standard static and moving exercises and explanations described on the fixed page (Dynamics) – including the “Magic Wall”.

Understanding that our job is to “fall over” laterally and that the ski stops you from falling by bringing you back up presented no difficulty to the boys either in terms of understanding or practice. They could both feel that when trying to fall over they simply couldn’t and they described this as the ski “helping”.  The fundamental change in their skiing was visible immediately and so on the following run this allowed me to introduce them to powder snow off piste. When you begin to have dynamics then you can also begin discovering off piste. The lifting power of the ski is magnified off piste (as the entire ski base loads up) and this is what makes off piste impossible for people who do not actively move their centre of mass to the inside of the turn. Falls are guaranteed initially regardless as experience is necessary, but when you understand dynamics then it’s easy to adapt with the right corrections – which always involve moving further or more strongly to the inside of the turn. Mark was a bit shocked at the effect of face-planting in the powder snow – but that’s probably normal for a 9 year old. Max in contrast laughed when he eventually face-planted in it himself.


Skating (The No 2 fundamental aspect of skiing)

At lunch I found out that both the boys are skaters – so it was clear that no time should be wasted bringing skating into their skiing. The basic timing in skiing comes entirely from skating but once again the ski schools miss this – teaching the exact opposite. The reason the boys haven’t been using their legs is because they haven’t been given the right movements to allow them to. We began with the “direct method” which involves skating straight downhill and then as speed builds up falling to the inside more so that dynamics naturally increase the the skis begin to turn – but keeping up the skating all the time. Both boys did well at this for a first attempt. They had obviously never skied before with their skis diverging so it is a big change to make. The down/up motion of the legs in skating compliments the down/up motion of dynamics (like a motorbike going down into a turn and back up out of it).

We covered some mileage skiing with skating the outside ski in the turn – pushing the body into the turn on each skate. This the boys found out is very tiring. Initially we used four skates per turn, working down progressively to three then two and finally just one.

I wrote a large section on skating just a few days ago…

Now that the boys were skiing more confidently I took them off piste into gullies and sometimes cutting through powder. They were now enjoying it already. The also enjoyed being able to ski faster working on the dynamics and skating on the pistes.

At this point Mark proclaimed that by the end of the week they should be comfortable on blue runs. I listened but said nothing because I had something else in mind for him that was dramatically different from his expectations.

Foot Forwards

To prepare Mark in particular for steeper terrain it was necessary to introduce “foot forward” skills. The exercise with the skis off is seen in the video clip. The idea here was to create a resistance on the snow with the boot so it would have to be pushed forcibly. Once the feeling is understood then this has to be done on skis – with the outside ski in the turn.  Our first attempt at this with skis was the steep section at the top of the Borsat charilift. Max’s response was that it made the turns quicker. Absolutely correct! Combined with dynamics the pushing forwards of the foot is how turn radius is controlled and the harder you push the quicker and tighter the turn. The foot never actually goes ahead! Mark obviously succeeded too because he got down without any trouble.









When working on the dynamics on the steeper ground I shouted the instruction to push the foot forwards and also to finish by  pushing up to complete the action in a skate. The idea was to connect the pushing forwards with the skating action so they could feel how all of this connects up. We skied all the way down to the bottom of the mountain In La Daille and only then did I let them know that we had just skied a black run. I had avoided telling Mark so that he wouldn’t panic. They had found it so easy that neither of them would believe it was a black run. In fact it was the Raye race piste which is unmarked  (no black poles or signs) and that’s why there was safety netting surrounding all the steep parts! I use this piste deliberately to introduce people to black runs specifically because of the safety nets.

I wanted to wind it up for the day after that so as not to tire them out too much on the first day. The intention was to use the Marmottes chair to then connect with the Olympic cable car back to Val and avoid skiing the last run after 5pm. However, the chair broke down and so we were force to ski back down to La Daille and take the black run again (the other runs being filled with drunks leaving the Follie Douce party). Mark’s legs suffered this time because his tiredness caused him to revert to his snowlpough tendencies – but he skied it again without falling and without significant delays.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Maxwell 3

Maxwell was on form today despite the poor weather. After a warm up run on the nursery slope we skied over to the chairlift for his first ever experience of one. The chairlift gives his legs a rest and also opens up much longer runs and at this stage mileage is critical.


Once again we had problems with the fresh snow sticking to the skis and forming ice which stopped the skis from running. Maxwell needed some gentle persuasion to try a few things on his own but his judgement is pretty accurate regarding his capabilities. He instantly knew when it was going to be too steep for him to have the required control on his own. The goal was for him to feel good about skiing and about himself – at this stage that’s all that’s really important. He really enjoyed going fast again (holding on) but his attention was all over the place as there were too many new and fascinating things for him to look at. I feel he would have done a little bit better with better skis (perhaps also shorter to avoid overpowering his left leg). He weighs so little that with skis that were not sliding perfectly he could hardly move by himself where the slope was shallow enough to let him go. I had him attempt to practice some skating movements – especially stepping around in a circle to the right – with the aim of cultivating the use of the inside of the left foot. He tends to let the left foot pull onto its outside and to twist inwards at the toes  – but this might be due to the skis being slightly too long. I’ve seen this recently cured elsewhere by using shorter skis. The shops tend to give beginners skis which are too long because that is not a specific problem if the child is forced into a snowplough  - the feet turn inwards anyway with a snowplough!

back at the hotel Maxwell showed me his little furry toy dog and when pressed to tell me the dog’s name he called it  “Fast Doggy”. I think “Fast Maxwell” is also appropriate! I’d have like to have seen a bit more perseverance and progress but I understand this is just a taster for him. The important thing is that he was not taught any nonsense – the body remembers what it is trained to do!

Alex 5

Today’s objective was to try  to get Alex’s legs active and produce a good skating rhythm and larger range of motion in his skiing. So far he had been bracing and resisting while leaning on the back of the ski boots for support and locking up all his leg muscles.


Warm Up – Skating

Immediately during the warm up run we were working on skating. Skiing is just disguised skating so anything that reinforces this connection helps.

Several things disguise the skating:

  1. Skiing is on a significant slope so movements are asymmetrical. (top part of a turn is with gravity and bottom against – until the very last part which is with gravity again)
  2. The two edges of the ski are not beneath the centre of the foot.
  3. There is a clear choice of edge use with extremely different effects.
  4. The ski edges and base provide separate mechanisms that cause a curved trajectory and not a straight line.
  5. There is a significant delay before the skis responds when using dynamics. (Unless strong muscular action is added)
  6. Sometimes due to high forces the timing of the legs and muscular impulses need to be reversed.
  7. Gravity induces the accelerations not the person.
  8. Fear, anxiety and tension are induced when accelerations are not confidently controlled.
  9. Because there is no apparent need to generate propulsion there appears to be no need to use a skating action.
  10. Terrain and surface are extremely varied.
  11. Ski schools teach the opposite timing from skating – despite the engineering of ski design being based on the opposite since around 1970.

This list could probably be considerably expanded. Short carving skis help enormously to overcome all of those issues – the shorter and more parabolic in shape the better. Modern racing skis are incredibly stupid in design and should be avoided. They have been produced to satisfy regulations in racing which prevent the use of carving skis. Carving skis were increasingly blamed on injury to young racers while the reality is that it was never the skis that were the problem but bad coaching, especially at higher levels. Only one modern racer appears to have overcome this regulation madness and that is Ted Ligety. Whereas the moronic coaches are all teaching their victims to stand up and skid the starts of the turns (now called “stivoting” instead of just “cr*p”) Ligety has managed to increase his dynamics and inclination and get the skis at almost 90° to the snow from near the start of the turn – which has the effect of getting the ski to carve tighter than its vaguely theoretical limits.

Alex is somewhere inside here again…

The regulation stupidity is pretty obvious because it limits the  “turn radius” of a ski – but anyone who understands skiing knows that even in classical design a ski has two turning circles – an upper and lower quadrant – and that the curve is not even close to being circular – being a golden mean spiral instead. The ski has at least two radii along its edge and the base and flex pattern and length of edge contact all have effects. Parabolic edge design (sidecut) also means there is not a radius. No “radius” can be measured on snow for the turning of a ski.

In skating along the flat the main propulsion should also come from gravity – but most people don’t see this. The person should “fall” between the diverging skis – aided by lifting one leg – falling forwards and at right angles to the ski still on the snow. The push with the leg should be to maintain height and the gravitational energy converts into propulsion (like a tree falling forwards) . This allows the bigger hip extensor muscles and the core muscles to be employed and not just the quads, so it is far less tiring. The feeling resembles just falling and picking up the trailing leg from behind. Additional muscular propulsion can be added in short bursts but should be reserved exactly for that purpose.

Mike  - not being a skater - discovered today that he could skate along the flat for the first time ever. It’s quite a natural action and very closely related to (correct) walking – but so heavily disguised by all the factors mentioned above that people are systematically driven away from it . It’s for this reason that ski schools produce droves of permanently technically impaired skiers with no hope of ever progressing. Mike has been able to benefit here from the catalyst of Alex’s rapid development and transformation – perhaps freed by the main focus being on Alex he has been able to digest and process information more effectively than in the past.

I reminded Alex to stay upright and pull back his hip (outside leg) when skating.

The main aspect of skating I wanted to work on today involved the turn completion. When completing the turn, if the turn is closed off (finished) properly with a build up of pressure then this pressure can be released by letting the ski bring you up  and out of the turn (by virtue of it continuing to turn and cut beneath the trajectory of your centre of mass). Timing the push up of the end of the skate with this turn completion allows the skier to become airborne. Tight high speed turns will create an airborne effect  even without trying to deliberately jump – but for the moment I wanted a deliberate jump. More advanced skiers actually have to absorb energy through flexing at this point to dampen the effect and avoid getting too airborne. Advanced skiing actually requires a blend whereby there is first a push up and then a retraction or compression right at the end.

Deliberately jumping out of a turn can be very playful – especially when there are small bumps or ridges available to use to assist the jump. The idea is to effect the complete turn transition in the air, landing on the new set of edges with the body already to the inside of the new turn.

Mike asked me why we might want to develop this. The reason is because the use of the supporting leg through the turn exit is fundamental. Whether bouncing with the whole ski loading up in powder or rebounding in jump turns when in crusty or wind packed snow – so as to allow the delicate turn transition to take place in mid air, or to direct momentum across the hill in a race course – this movement is basic and fundamental.

Short Swings

Both Alex and Mike were having trouble coordinating a proper “take off” – with Mike in particular tending to step instead of jump – so it was time to do some Short Swings. Short Swings are just exaggerated pivots. With exactly the same timing the powerful rebound (mostly downhill leg) makes the turn transition airborne and the tips of the skis are swung inwards into the new turn (much the same as they are in moguls when the tips are airborne.) This exercise succeeded in getting Alex somewhat off the back of his ski boots for a while. (The only other thing that worked for this was getting him to ski backwards!) Neither Alex nor Mike had enough angulation to be able to use their ski poles for support. The pole support in the pivot is what allows the body to be placed correctly for this very quick turn where the end and start of a turn combined take only a fraction of a second.

I explained to Alex that beginner skiers use a whole collection of “balancing” aids. They lean on the ski boots and the tails of the skis, stand with a very wide stance or snowplough for a large base of support, hold their bodies vertical (instead of perpendicular), block with the downhill ski at the start of a turn instead of falling into the turn and to top it off they try everything possible to stay in balance. Unfortunately the Ski Schools encourage all of this nonsense (except the back of the boots). The skier progresses by gradually removing every balancing mechanism until only the ski design is left – and that doesn’t work by balancing anything; it works by organising accelerations. We have to be flexible and dynamic with our legs having a large range of movement and in the right way.

After one run on a steeper slope I wanted to go up the Borsat to get a longer run of practising jumping transitions before going into slalom – but we were distracted by some skiable powder that was actually soft and deep enough to allow a degree of pivoting.

Off Piste

Alex definitely has improved dynamics and demonstrated that by staying in my deep off piste tracks. He still tends to incline much better when on his left leg and gets stuck over his right leg – which is the cause of most of his crashes (causing the flapping left ski to get caught and spin him around). Following my deep track however is good for his sense of rhythm and for giving him a physical (banked track) platform to improve his dynamics. Mike was spat out of his turns a couple of times – which only means one thing; not organising his dynamics appropriately! You either fight to keep your centre of mass inside the turn or you deliberately let it be brought up and out. When the result doesn’t match the intention then you fall. It’s not about being “out of balance” – you are always out of balance. It’s about organisation.

3D Banked Track

Following the example of Alex skiing in my ruts (which he did only because he thought it was a good strategy for avoiding rocks after we scraped over some on the ridge at the top) I explained to Alex how when skiing dynamically it’s best to visualise the skis banking over and literally creating a banked track for you. When a cyclist rides round an vélodrome he doesn’t have to turn the bike – it just runs forwards. Likewise it’s best to see the ski doing this too – in 3D - rather than turning on flat 2D ground. When you visualise this it’s easier to re-organise your body to create and respond to the forces involved in “banked track” skiing. I introduced this concept to help with potential issues with significant ruts in the upcoming slalom course!


Alex wasn’t ready for the ruts in the slalom so we stopped after he wiped out twice on his first run. The problem was as usual his lack of inclination when standing on his right leg. He did manage a great Ted Ligety impersonation but unfortunately it was for all the wrong reasons – his skis slipping away from him and making him fall over. Alex reverted to compensating for lack of inclination by collapsing at the waist again. He tends to revert to this now only when in difficult situations and has not been complaining of a sore back again.

Alex impersonating Ted Ligety…

Independent Leg Pivots

Working our way down the Face there were a few issues of speed control with the dynamics and Mike pointed out that he picked up speed with the skating. I explained that the skating worked both ways – if the turn finishes early it causes acceleration but if the turn is closed properly it checks the advancement of the centre of mass downhill and controls the direction of momentum. It was now time to do some pivoting with the feet apart, independent and kept at the same height on the mountain (so no uphill/downhill ski). We worked first of all with no skis on just facing downhill with the heels dug in and feet apart with both ski poles downhill for support. The idea is to feel the legs rotate independently in the hip sockets and not have any movement of the pelvis or upper body above it. This wide stance and independent leg use allows the feeling of the push up from the outer leg to feel clear and to encourage its use for controlling speed.  The pivot with each leg separately makes closing off the turn easier as there is less body rotation to deal with – and dynamics can be kept to a minimum. This exercise appeared to work particularly well for Alex who connected properly with the push up/skating rhythm in short turns for the first time.

Mike had to be advised to avoid the pole plant again as it confused his timing. Mike was generally not managing to link the turns and access the rebound effect (which we practised with skis off with the independent leg pivots), but he was managing to use a push off from the lower leg more effectively. At the very end (video) Mike did manage to start to link some effective turns together.

Alex was tending to push his skis away from his body instead of moving the body (Centre of mass) inwards instead – same reason he falls in slalom. This has now become clearly visible due to the short dynamic turns he is able to make. Alex’s progress however over a handful of days has been very strong. The main thing is that by the end of this session Alex was starting to show movement in his legs and a clear skating rhythm – mostly thanks to his progress in the shorter turns where he could feel a rebound. Both Alex and Mike were starting to look like real skiers with effective timing and functional movement patterns.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Maxwell 2

Maxwell was on good form today and looked keen to go skiing. He was clearly much more comfortable with both the skis and environment – even managing to put his skis on by himself. Being only 3.5 years old  means that everything is new to him – including such a demanding form of exercise. He whooped with joy however when we started to go fast and took great delight in the feeling of skiing. His left foot is not yet cooperating perfectly but this is very normal for a right handed child.

The goal with Maxwell holding onto the pole is to carefully allow him to feel all the appropriate sensations for good skiing movements and coordination. The key to good skiing is the direction of the movement of the centre of mass (CM) – so to go left the CM has to move left – and this is how I move him when he holds onto the pole. The skis begin the turns on the uphill edges and do not change edge until the middle of the turns. This progressively teaches him how to slip into a turn without any need for the turning (outside) ski to be on an aggressive/defensive inside edge as is required with a snowplough. You can see in the video how his skis remain parallel through the turns. When he is ready to be “let go” his first independent turns will be perfectly parallel – and this is how he will control his speed. He is already able to slide comfortably on his own when I trick him by letting go of the other end of the pole myself!
For an example of another child who has learned without snowplough look at Derin from a few weeks ago… who in her second week of skiing (starting at age 4) can ski comfortably off piste and chose her own line with ease down a blue slope stopping at will.

Maxwell inclining left to turn left…  and right to go right….

Sun through the trees on the Solaise mountain (morning). This is the mountain Maxwell is skiing on.

Alex 4


This was the day for Alex to master his 360° jump, beat his slalom record, ski bumps and hit the off piste (which he did literally!)

Warm Up

I asked Alex if his back had hurt at all after our descent down the Face yesterday and he confirmed that there was no pain. Correspondingly I suggested that during the warm up run he should work on maintaining his upright stance and pulling the hip (chi-hips) back at the same time – this being because I noticed on yesterday’s video that when standing upright he had a tendency to let the hip rotate forwards.

Extending Dynamic Range

The main objective I had in mind was to try to extend Alex’s dynamic range so that he could be stronger and safer in slalom. It’s obvious when watching Alex ski that he is not trying to “fall over” he is trying to stay upright – so this error had to be addressed directly. I explained to Alex that the goal in skiing is to REALLY try to fall over – laterally – to the inside of the turn. As long as the body doesn’t do anything weird – like turn to jelly – then it is next to impossible to achieve this target. The skis increase in power exponentially as inclination increases and so the skier soon hits a limit – perhaps only 30° of dynamic range and nothing like the 80° or so that is possible with highly trained racers. The first task however is to have the correct target and to be at least trying to get there.

When Alex had previously inclined a lot in slalom it was because his skis were skidding away from him and he was actually falling inwards onto the inside leg – a technical error! The correct way to incline is the move the centre of mass and this makes the ski grip.

Slalom 33.85 Seconds

In the slalom course Alex was predictably faster and despite the increased speed still managed to stay in the course. This is an objective sign of improvement – 3 seconds gained in the course and with only a total of 6 runs since the start of the holiday – so not a lot of practice in the poles. H

His legs are still stiff due to being clamped to the back of the boots and there is no sense of skating rhythm yet – so those aspects will limit his ability currently to alter his timing in the course (to react earlier when the speed is higher). If we can develop some feeling for those things then the dynamics will improve again too.


We did one run in the Tovière bumps – working on pivot, sideslip and compression. Perhaps more of this would help to loosen up Alex’s legs. Tomorrow if the visibility is ok we will do some running over the bumps and absorbing with the legs. Mike was still tending to reverse his timing on the bumps – going up to start the turn instead of “compressing”. Until you ski fast in bumps it’s not really possible to know what “compression” is . Compression is similar to a car shock absorber being forcibly compressed. When the legs are correctly relaxed there is a reflexive selective muscle use that lets the legs work like shock absorbers. It resembles the way the legs bend automatically when you jump off a wall. The pivot should be timed along with the compression. Slow exercises with retraction of the legs does not really replicate the feeling – but Mike extending upwards does not even get into the ball park! The reason people revert to extending upwards is the anxiety of the steep drop  to follow – however it’s even higher if you extend upwards. Why do emotions always make us act so inappropriately? The other reason is that people are taught to move that way by default in ski schools and this can be hard to break when it it massages the emotions so well.


Alex repeated his 270° jump and then when asked to do a 360° in just his ski boots on the snow he couldn’t make that either – so we went to work on changing that. He needed to get his arms out wide to spin and build momentum – drawing them into the body  and the lead one upwards. Once the feeling was clear he then had to time this on skis so that the spin was generated before take off. Once off the ground it’s identical to being in outer space so there is nothing to generate rotation.


Off Piste

The Off Piste snow wasn’t good so there was no way of pivoting in this snow. The key to skiing this stuff is the  “end of turn” dynamics that we had worked on yesterday. You have to ski this aggressively with a strong platform from the lower leg taking you up and out of the turn. Emotionally you really want to do the exact opposite – as usual. Alex looked great until he caught a ski and was pulled over. Mike skied this difficult snow looking functional and effective.

Pole Use

Dynamic, flowing skiing,does not require a pole plant. Pole planting is reserved for tight pivoting where a support is necessary. There is however a “pole touch” as the skier moves into the new turn caused by the body inclining into the turn. It occurs with the down movement of the Centre of Mass into the new turn and the arm is not moved. The pole is swung out into position only by the wrist and the touch is very light.