Alex is in there somewhere! Yes there was far too much snow on the slalom course today so we stopped after one run to continue working on technique on the piste.
For our warm up run today I asked Alex to focus on his hips to protect his back and improve his performance. I was thinking about how to improve his overall dynamics for the slalom and what might bring the quickest and greatest changes for him. His lower back and dynamics were obviously being affected by his strong tendency to be stuck in the back of his ski boots and to bend over at the waist. At this stage it wasn’t clear how to go about changing those things because few issues can actually be changed directly. I decided to start with skating because it is one of the three most fundamental aspects of skiing which include Dynamics, Skating and Pivoting – in that order!
The idea of getting Alex skating was to make the legs active and thus get him off the back of the boots. One unexpected aspect that came to light is that by being bent excessively at the waist he actually couldn’t bend his legs to skate and he had no vertical motion or rhythm coming from the legs. I suggested that when he bent the leg prior to pushing up he should feel the shin against the front of the boot. This way the leg can function properly for pushing back up. There was only a partial success with this so I simply asked Alex to stand upright when he skied. In this case the cure was that simple! He stood up and skied like that with no difficulty. We then reintroduced the skating and he was able to use the legs better due to being more upright – and his stance came naturally closer together. Alex is simply progressing at a very rapid pace – thanks to having worked on technique and being exposed to all sorts of appropriate experience over the past two full days. It was clear that Alex now had to develop the skating timing much more. We need to see much more “down/up” motion in his skiing – from his legs and well as from his dynamics.
I asked Alex to just observe the pressure changes beneath the feet as he shifted his centre of mass from one turn to another. He felt it and described it as “weird” – which is great because it means he was sensing a different perspective. Alex wasn’t able to guess what this sensation resembles though. The pressure changes “happening to the body” resemble skating – even when you are not skating. This is how closely linked the skating is to dynamics. The skier has to identify this phenomenon and tune into it. The natural down/up timing is correct for the body and for the ski equipment design – but international ski schools still foolishly teach the opposite up/down timing. Unfortunately those who learn this up/down timing with a pole plant at the end of the turn tend to be led by their pole plant into this perverse movement even when they try to do the opposite with their legs (a problem affecting Mike on steeper terrain)
The skating exercises we used included simply skating straight downhill and then falling over more laterally (inside) to generate turning – but keeping the skating going. We also worked at skating several times inwards during each turn – starting with four skates and working down to a single skate. I pointed out that placing the hip correctly (pulling it back) lets the body skate much more easily right from the first skate into the turn.
We practised pivoting and sideslipping are each opportunity when the terrain was appropriate. This work has enabled Alex to naturally narrow his stance in just a few days. When on relatively flat terrain I had Alex work on 360° spinning by controlling his edges – always getting onto the uphill edges as the skis come around – and narrowing the stance to avoid catching an inside edge. Within a short time he managed this correctly and once again this narrowed his stance even more. When asked to ski standing upright later on he maintained his skis at hip width apart – which is new for Alex.
Dynamics Part 2
Keeping in mind that tomorrow is our last session I pressed on and started to introduce “end of turn” dynamics. The point is that the skating up action is to assist the lifting up action of the ski taking the skier up and out of the turn. This means that in flowing dynamics the skier ends the turn perpendicular to the slope having been supported by the lower leg well beyond the vertical. This of course means that the next turn is going to happen and the commitment has already been made. If we visualise the slope as flat instead we can see that this really corresponds with the image of a motorbike coming up out of a turn – the only thing is that for the bike vertical and perpendicular are the same thing and for the skier they are not. The skier has to separate those two things and is in a sort of “free-fall” state with gravity being the motor. If gravity is always resisted by not coming out of the turn over this lower leg then the motor can’t really get going – just like a real motor with the timing all wrong.
I demonstrated “hanger turns” by coming out over the lower leg and going slightly into the next turn on that same leg – but there were too many people around for either my demo to be great or for Alex and Mike to have a great chance of copying. We continued to focus on the push up from the lower leg to control momentum when skiing on the steeps of the Face in poor visibility. This was in contrast to previously focusing on pivoting when it was bumpier there and the bumps controlled the momentum more. This is how you learn to pick appropriate technique – emphasising one of the three fundamentals. Here, skating was the most appropriate – not skating for speed but skating to direct momentum and to check speed.