Chantelle had no specific concerns about her skiing however Andrew happened to mention that she had “spun out” several times yesterday but saved herself from falling over. Watching her skiing during the warm up run clarified that the most relevant issue would be to develop some Cross Lateral activity within the body – in arcane and misleading skiing terms this would be “Upper Lower Body Separation”. In essence this means going beyond just limiting rotation to following the direction of travel as had been the case so far.
Pissaillas Glacier (3350m)… border with Italy on the distant ridge over the Maurienne valley.
When the hip is pulled back in skiing it should be very visible. I can demonstrate this well thanks to my rucksack which is attached at the shoulders. The hip being pulled back causes a displacement of the pelvis from one side of the rucksack to the other which is easily seen by someone following. The point is that the movement is internal and it is a big movement – not a subtle one. The aim is to open a space between the hip and the rib cage – involving a rotation at the base of the spine. The spine is twisted in a manner similar to wringing a cloth – with the mid point being at the 12th thoracic vertebra – where the ribs start. The tension this creates is due to the core muscles and reflexive postural muscles being activated. The action could be described as facing the pelvis towards the outside of the turn – always more so than the shoulders. Success with this would obviously prevent active hip rotation into the turn so it is a good place to begin.
Chantelle has a slightly hollow lumbar area when skiing, with the elbows carried behind the body. Before the chi mechanics can be implemented it was necessary to work a little on posture. The key to good posture is to raise the pelvis at the front and then sit slightly to relax the hip flexors while maintaining the pelvic tilt. This should normally achieve “neutral pelvis”.
With a bit of practice Chantelle’s hip action began to be visible.
Unfortunately around about this time Chantelle had a nasty fall on hard ice – when mounting the button lift – smack on the right hip – and then another fall on the same hip when getting off the lift. One heavy duty pain killer and she was able to live with it. Landing on the hip joint like that when there is no way of protecting yourself can be quite dangerous. Happily we were able to continue but it’s a bruise that will ache for weeks to come.
We did a retrograde snowplough exercise with the ski poles pointing outwards throughout the turn and coming to point forwards when in neutral across the hill. The plough allows neutral to be sustained and so for all the parts of the manoeuvre to be broken down into clear sequential steps. This involved turning the shoulders outwards even more than the hips (technically an error) which felt awful as the ribs and pelvis crunched together. The exercise is mainly to give a visual reference to the fact that the body counters the direction of turning – something that had not been clear to Chantelle before this session.
Connecting Hip and Foot Forward Technique
Using the static exercise of swinging the leg from behind the body for developing Foot Forward Technique we were able to combine this with pulling the hip backwards at the start of the swing. Initially we swung the leg with the hip following to feel what it was like. Then pulling the hip backwards at the start of the swing it was easy to feel how this prevented any rotation or “follow through” of the hip but even more how the hip folded in securely beneath the body.
We did this interesting exercise because Chantelle had mistakenly thought that pulling the hip back would also pull the foot back. The exact opposite is the case when it is done correctly. The combination of the two is important for dealing with steeper slopes – to tighten the turn radius and to deal with the consequently greater likelihood of rotation.
Now was the time to extend the control of rotation beyond a “passive following of the skis”. The pole plant for a pivot is done by pulling back the hip and then tilting the upper body forwards to generate an angle at the hip joint. This gets the upper body further downhill and more weight on the pole – while the skis remain on the uphill edges. The shoulders appear to face downhill, but this is not achieved by twisting the shoulders to face downhill as this would twist the spine in the wrong direction completely breaking down any muscle tension in the core. The 12th thoracic vertebra region has to be where the centre of the spine twisting is with the shoulders trying to face more in the direction of the skis. This “angulation” and “anticipation” are essential components of pivoting but should be present to some degree in all skiing. One aspect of the pivot is that it is so tight that most people spin out when the come around instead of slotting into an angulated and anticipated position for the next turn. In fact the angulation and countered hips are essential for controlling the end of the turn as well as preparing for (anticipation) and starting the next turn.
Chantelle worked for a while at this and made a marked improvement towards controlling the rotation. When she failed to control the rotation the lower ski had a tendency to jam on its edge then spin her around and make her fall between the skis – so the incentive to correct this was quite strong.
Short Swings were introduced to get the legs more active along with all the rest of the pivoting coordination. We started by just looking at jumping. To jump well the centre of mass needs to be moved upwards. Most people jump by just moving a little then lifting their heels and slapping back down with very little shock absorption. To jump well the legs need to be fully extended in the air and then bend on landing.
Pushing off for a Short Swing is mainly from the downhill leg – exactly as with “End of Turn Dynamics”. The jumping is technically the end of a turn. The skis can either be swung into the turn a few degrees or 180°, landing hard on edge or pivoting. There are many options. This might be the preferred way to ski down a steep and dangerous couloir.
We practised traversing with jumps and then using the final jump to initiate a pivoted turn. The idea was to work on the cross lateral (anticipation and angulation) aspects at the same time. Use of a pole plant shows that the body is in the right place and rotation is controlled. Short Swings require linking the jumps with a rebound and rhythm.
Part of my goal with the jumping along with the pivot and rotation control was to try to narrow Chantelle’s stance naturally. Her tendency towards a wide stance comes from her rotation and slightly stiff legs.
Andrew had a go at compression turns. Compression turns simulate the compression from a large bump – which pushes the knees up to a 90° bend or more. On the flat we retract the legs to simulate this and it is the opposite of jumping – with the body moving out of a turn by extreme flexing instead of jumping. This is an adaption to severe terrain to maintain the same effective motion of the centre of mass in either case. We only spent a moment on this subject just to show that it existed and has to be learned to master proficient bumps skiing.
I explained that the exercise for “Foot Forward Technique” with the foot behind the body – was not exclusively for pivoting. This comes from skating straight downhill and developing turns without the body rotating. If the body continues to skate directly downhill then the skating action can be more complete than if the body follows the skis around. The “push forward” is actually a push outwards from behind. It’s not always advantageous to ski like this – with the upper body constantly facing downhill – but on a groomed slope it is the strongest way to ski. When conditions are rougher it’s best to follow the skis with the upper body instead.
One of the major errors in standard teaching is to tell people to face downhill and come up to start a turn. They do this and then react by pushing the skis outwards sideways to get them around and below them - because they can easily twist them in that manner from this position. This parody of skiing mechanics has to be avoided at all costs.
We took a moment to look at carving – both Chantelle and Andrew managing to stand on the two edges of their skis – rolling the feet and moving the centre of mass across and leaving railed lines in the snow. I explained how the turn transition was made – going through neutral – by moving the centre of mass from side to side. With this exercise there is no way the feet can be allowed to slide so it is clear and pure dynamics through moving the body. Andrew did this well but it was too steep for Chantelle to manage immediately. The goal here was just to make sure that Chantelle had no confusion over how to distinguish carving from other things because the word “carving” is used a lot in skiing and some skis are specifically carving skis.
The day was completed by skiing all the way down from the glacier to Le Fornet at about 1900m. Chantelle kept a good pace behind me all the way and negotiated all the steep, icy and tricky parts with no issues at all – no spinning out of control, no falls and no hesitations.