Our warm up run would be on groomed ice so prior to setting off it was worthwhile giving a brief explanation concerning skiing on ice. International race courses are injected with water so that they become solid ice. Ice means that there is very little deformation of the course between the first and last skier in the competition. Extremely sharp skis are necessary for skiing on this type of ice but the racers have another advantage. All high level racers automatically use some variation of “down/up” timing and this gives a solid “on/off” pressure cycle the makes the ski grip. In fact the one parameter that makes a ski grip and turn tighter is greater speed! This is counter to standard advice which is always “ski ice tenderly – like you are treading on egg shells”. Sure if your skis are blunt and you are tired then just skid over the ice and then turn on a soft patch – otherwise good timing and greater commitment are the keys.
When the ski is felt drifting away on the ice then remember that if you are already turning then you are already succeeding in creating a deflection inwards - so the response should be to move more inwards and pull the foot over and inwards with the adductors. Most people try to back off instead and try to stand over the skidding ski - which flattens it and makes it skid even more!!!
Diane was still concerned with her tendency to rotate, particularly on the left side – and she reflected Chantelle’s concerns the day before about not being able to turn tightly or deal with bumps on the piste. Targeting the rotation directly we first of all worked on the hips. Although Diane’s understanding of how to correct the hip was correct she felt very unsure of herself about it. We worked for a while revising this in the context of dynamics. When I ski the hip correction is made visible by my lower back displacing against my rucksack which is really attached to my shoulders. The change takes place during the neutral phase between turns (dynamics) or when switching from one leg to the other. It is NOT a subtle internal movement – it is major!!!!! Even when Diane and Ian were managing to do this it wasn’t ever clearly visible.
Moving on from here it was obvious to me that it was time to develop Foot Forward technique so that turns could be made more tightly along with the dynamics.
Foot Forward Technique
Foot Forward Technique was introduced through static exercises. First the skis were removed and then facing downhill one foot was placed behind the body. The exercise is on the video so I won’t explain it in detail. When the foot is pushed with pressure along the snow then this simulates the feeling of the action required when skiing. It is necessary to prevent the hip (pelvis) rotating during this exercise so it is also a good exercise for working on hip rotation issues or for developing “Chi Skiing”. The body facing downhill and the foot starting behind the body is a prelude to dissociating the upper and lower body but I didn’t want to take us into this area of development specifically.
Ian and Diane immediately felt a strong impact on turn radius when trying this for the first time. Neither had been told what would happen. This is the primary tool for altering turn radius when combined with dynamics – and it gives the potential to “work the ski”. The outside foot never actually gets ahead of the inside one because it only alters the turn radius instead.
Combining Chi Skiing with Foot Forward Technique
Pushing the foot forwards can be likened to pulling the hip back – as they are relative to each other. They don’t have the same effect because the hip involves the spine – but they do compliment each other and it is very easy to combine the two of them – in fact they help each other. Both were able to combine the techniques and use all of this with dynamics – but although the effects were visible at the level of the skis sometimes the body movements were imperceptible. We tend to have a false concept of proprioception (positioning of relative body parts in space) and serious exaggeration is often necessary to even get close to what we actually think we are doing. Ian was letting his hands down again and this tended to drag his shoulders back and leave him a little in the back seat. He corrected this largely when skiing on the steeps later on.
Once the Foot Forward Technique was working it was time to move onto steep terrain to apply it properly. Some things can only really be understood in a context that exposes them properly. Steep terrain makes it clear how effective the combination of dynamics and Foot Forward technique really is.
Naturally Diane was apprehensive, but I explained that this is part of the excitement. There is always a sense of risk about launching yourself out of a turn on the lower ski – but the real risk is by NOT doing this! In reality of course there is very little risk – but this is the magic of skiing. Skiing can generate a thrill without life threatening measures being taken. Some like to get thrills from riding motorcycles on the road – but a good number of them are in bits or in the morgue.
The steeps really showed how Ian is now able to use his legs. His turns looked lively with plenty of up and down movement. We had tried the “Skate to Skiing” exercise first thing in the morning and there was a strange dip in his timing – a throw back from when he would have come down to “check” at the end of a turn previously. When skiing with Dynamics and Foot Forward Technique, hands held up (goalkeeper) and hip correction on the steeps then his timing looked good and the range of down/up motion overall was good – the legs clearly working independently.
Diane had to work to make herself commit to the “End of Turn” Dynamics – but she managed to ski well with control, tightness and no rotation. This only has to be drilled until is becomes automatic as a defence against apprehension.
Diane mentioned that she had heard that when in powder it is necessary to “lean back” so it was time to explain a little about stance. I’d avoided the topic until now because Ian’s previous “squatting” stance would have muddled the issue. Taking the skis off and standing facing downhill I asked Diane to stand up and lean backwards. This lean causes great stress on the knees and quads. Next I asked her to go down into a sitting position and feel how the slope would still keep her over her feet and there would be a gentle contact with the front of the ski boots. This places the centre of mass behind the feet and knees – allowing the knees and hips to absorb shocks and to keep the centre of mass behind without “leaning backwards”. Skiing in bumps or deep snow necessitates this type of flexion – but not without a full range of motion of the legs when required. Ian’s previous “squat” actually had some merit in this sense – but all of the freedom of range of motion of his legs was missing at that stage.
Off Piste (Traverse/Kick Turn)
We went off piste again but the snow was crusted and I felt it would be too risky for Diane to try to ski it at this stage knowing that she had weak ACL in one leg. We backed out and traversed back to the piste. Diane let the situation get to her a bit and started staring at the ground when traversing. The snow was rough and sun pitted but not difficult so she exacerbated the problem by looking too close to her feet. Ground staring gives a false sense of speed and causes people to become paralysed. When this happens it’s important to lift the head and look ahead. Look out a train window at the ground and you will be overwhelmed by the speed. Look into the distance and that problem vanishes.
I explained that when traversing you can stand on either leg. If the lower leg gets tired then stand on the top one. When on the lower leg pull the hip back to create the most efficient alignment of the bone structure and this spares the muscles in the legs.
Once back on the piste we practiced Kick Turns. Both were able to do them without any difficulty. This is actually harder to do on the flat where we were – but it’s slightly scarier to do on a steep hill. It requires a little practice to be proficient. When stuck out in the wilds it can be the safest way to get down a mountain – Traverse and Kick Turn repeatedly all the way down - if the snow seems like it’s likely to require either a superhuman effort to ski or it’s likely to break your legs when trying.
The other way to get through very tricky snow – especially in steep narrow spots where traversing is impractical – is to jump turn, or link “Short Swings”. When jump turns are linked they are often called Short Swings. I first of all demonstrated how to do a single jump and swing the skis inwards as we had done when pivoting – this being to change direction inn place of a Kick Turn. Without much explanation we went on to linking them in Short Swings. We didn’t discus how to extend the legs properly of how to land – all I commented on was the need to jump mainly form the lower leg (same timing and motion as dynamics) – and to try to use the pole for support as we had done in pivoting. Both Diane and Ian had a good go at this. Most first attempts are very poorly coordinated but both managed good efforts. Diane needed to use more rebound and rhythm – as in her skiing in general. I’d explained that as an exercise Short Swings exposes the general weakness in your skiing. Ian needed to get more support from his pole. This brings us into areas of technique however that we haven’t specifically looked into – such as “angulation” and “anticipation”. My main intention here however was to develop the pivot mechanism and also the range of use of the legs – plus to show a little the context of why and where such actions are applied.
Back on the Grande Pré it was time to switch into carving mode for a while. Ian asked about when and where carving was appropriate. Moderate, wide and well groomed slopes are best – when there are few people around. Specialised short radius carving skis make carving possible on narrower passages without too much speed being generated. Even race course regulations put a lower limit on carve radius of skis because they are so powerful. Carving everywhere would soon exhaust you anyway. Race courses are the ideal playground for carving. “Freeride” skiing is similar for Off Piste though the entire base of a wide ski is used – the ski being wide to prevent it from sinking as the pressure builds up on it at speed.
Diane was still confusing the sensation of “carving” with a general skidding of the ski. She could do both – certainly at low speed – but seemed blurry about the distinction at higher speed. Ian needed to hold his adductors tighter to hold the knee in laterally when inclining. If the foot is rocked over (inwards) with the forefoot turned outwards then the knee can be pulled in slightly laterally. This is desirable most of the time. This is not to be confused with people telling you to flex the ankle and push the knee inwards with the big toe pressing inwards – which will cause the knee to twist inwards and expose the ACL to potential risk.
Here is a photo to show the issue with the knee and adductors. The photo is a frame from the Short Swing video and it was not happening all the time so this is just for illustration…
Using terrain with dynamics
Just before lunch I had the opportunity to demonstrate that with “End of Turn” Dynamics bumps can be used to launch the body up and out of a turn – so that the bumps become a help instead of a hindrance. With speed and good timing the same effect can be used to get air and to change edges (turn transition) completely in mid air. Diane could feel the advantage of using the bumps when following my line.
Centring (Self Confidence)
All of the technique that we had been working on involves building awareness of he body. The focus nearly all the time is directed inwards. Focusing in this manner centres the mind and removes many distractions and fears. This form of mental exercise is similar to a meditation and it while it gives us a deep seated contact with ourselves it also removes us form the worries that we went skiing to escape from anyway – which is a pretty good result! Strangely, skiing is also about moving the centre of the body – the centre of mass - and through “chi skiing” we develop the power and security of the core muscles and postural reflexes. All effective motion comes from the centre outwards. Centred actions and attitudes are trained until they become our new unconscious program – and self confidence begins here!