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 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.