Chantelle considered herself to have little confidence and little control on skis. With some people this can be due to a nervous disposition holding back progress but in this case the only problem lay in the previous teaching. Chantelle has a positive attitude and a healthy respect for danger but nothing more. Prior to anything else it was important to record Chantelle’s skiing at this stage – before winding back the mess caused by previous instruction.
The video clearly shows the classic ski school product of very upright snowplough, weight transfer to the outside ski, instability and very little motion, awareness or edge control. Everything is missing so there’s no point listing it all. Due to this situation I decided to start with Chantelle as I would with a complete beginner.
Chantelle did not know how to skate on skis so we began with a brief skating lesson. I held a pole across in front of me and asked Chantelle to push me – her skis diverging and mine straight and between hers. The ground was flat so pushing should be easy. I explained that the feet and inside of the legs had to hold inwards to keep the skis on edge to get a proper push. This is the first time I mentioned rolling the feet and using the adductor muscles in the legs. Later, removing myself I asked Chantelle to hold the pole as if I was there and still push – the push now causing an acceleration. This is how you skate – falling forwards between the skis and then recovering the leg left behind.
The first turns we did were skating turns, incrementally into the turn, on very shallow gradients. I wanted to cultivate the feeling of turning by stepping the body inwards into the turn. It’s seen more easily when thinking of “centre of mass” being pushed or stepped into the turn. The key here was to develop the base of support so as to be able to move the centre of mass effectively. If there is no grip with the ski then the centre of mass cannot be moved effectively and other parasitic compensations rapidly take over . Most people push out the skis in a turn – but the skis should never be pushed away – the body should be pushed inwards instead.
Chantelle was struggling to maintain grip with the left foot – probably largely due to poor lateral support from the ski boots – but it was the best time to explain how to roll the feet from edge to edge properly inside the ski boots. I explained that it was the subtaler joint – beneath the ankle – that rocks the foot. To go left the feet are generally both rocked to the left with both on the left edges respectively. This is the opposite biomechanically to the twisting and flattening of the foot that happens usually in a snowplough. The foot that is rocked onto the inside edge will also tighten the adductor muscles on the inside of the leg (as in skating). When the foot rolls onto its inside edge the forefoot turns slightly outwards – away from the direction of turning – and the toes can lift slightly upwards. Chantelle had been doing the opposite and scruhching her toes together.
We moved on to then working properly on dynamics – the standard exercises were used and there is a dedicated page to this here: Dynamics Page
Within minutes of working on dynamics – with the basic supporting actions already developed – Chantelle was skiing parallel. We simply repeated this for a while, with some corrective feedback. The main correction necessary for Chantelle at this stage was for her to try to come off the backs of her ski boots – which she was using for false sense of security and “balance”. I also explained that as the ski went more on edge during the progression of the turn – due simply to the geometry of the mountain – the lifting up power of the ski increased so the second part of the turn required as much work to stay down and inside the turn as the initial motion into the turn.
The essence of the lesson was that – “the skier’s job is to fall over and the ski’s job is to bring the skier back up”. I explained this in the context of cycling and motorcycling, demonstrating dynamic range with some some higher speed turns with much greater inclination.
Chantelle herself sensed the “down/up” motion of the timing very early on without me explaining. I filmed her before lunch so that she could see the improvements and the areas needing to be developed. Her range of motion was good enough to allow dynamics to start to work but probably much less than she imagined. She also needed to see the image of how she was in the backs of the boots.
Sideslipping work was started to develop more confidence in sliding sideways – controlling with the feet. Chantelle had the classic snowplougher’s uphill ski issue of having to fight its tendency to try to jump involuntarily into a plough by switching edges. Sideslipping skill is not just a useful thing in its own right it is a prelude to learning how to pivot properly. Just to clarify issues I physically assisted both Chantelle and Andrew through a proper “pivot” so they could feel the difference. Snowplough points the uphill ski downhill on its inside edge like an vicious accelerator. It’s important to have an alternative to this and most turns are actually executed with this alternative. There is a dedicated page to the Pivot here: Pivot Page
Trying to break Chantelle’s attachment to the back of her ski boots we did some slow skiing hanging forwards in the fronts of the boots over the fronts of the skis. After this exercise I explained that the feet can sense where the pressure is on the actual ski and that you can try to pressure the middle of the front of the ski at the start of a turn. Failure to use the whole ski during a turn is a most common fault. When you use good dynamics there’s no need to sit in the back seat for security.
Trying to help with the positioning on the skis we had already worked at physically moving forwards at the start of the turn to anticipate the acceleration downhill. I’d explained about staying perpendicular to the hill and not vertical to gravity – but the issues remained stubborn. Andrew was also a bit in the back seat and this was affecting his dynamics too and also causing him to rush the start of his turns as he wasn’t relating to “perpendicular” – he was relating to “vertical” and rushing his skis around below him on the mountain.
Removing the skis I showed how by facing downhill and by sitting down (as if on a chair) the legs would come off the back of the boots and everything could relax. The sitting – bending at the hips and knees – does not cause falling backwards due to the slope. When skiing the turn accelerations have the same effect. Andrew as locking up his hips (not sitting properly) until this was pointed out. To encourage this relaxed flexion in actual skiing it was necessary to go back to skating exercises – because the bending is also related to timing and rhythm. Andrew looked much better centred on his skis and his skating rhythm looks natural in the video. By this time Chantelle was in pain with poor ski boots so it was time to get down and into a ski shop to get all that sorted out. Chantelle showed a good capacity for improvement and an instinct for natural movement – so investment in equipment was definitely a good idea.