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.

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