Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Paul 2

Paul has worked on his skiing for two seasons in Chamonix since last visiting Tignes and has obviously made a lot of progress. His skiing is strong in difficult conditions and his dynamics, timing and pivoting skills have all moved up a level. More importantly he has been able to able to switch from a previously “goal oriented” learning to a “process oriented” development.  This switch can only be made when you have the right (counter intuitive) fundamentals to work with. It means that skiing becomes similar to a martial art in that open-ended improvement comes through many layers of self discovery – making the development process itself an attractive and key reason for practicing.


Paradigm Shift

The previous time we skied I had to work one by one through the core principles: Dynamics, Skating and Pivoting. Teaching the core principles is pretty much a straightforward job of communicating a new paradigm. All skiers (who don’t abandon) almost exclusively fall into one of two categories; they are either brainwashed by ski “education” into skiing Muppets or are naturally selected from racing. In either case they have no successful paradigm for “process oriented” and lifelong development. Paul only had one session but was able to make the necessary paradigm shift.


Today the first requirement from me was to observe. Paul was aware that he had improved but was also aware of meeting limitations and the need for feedback and direction. Knowing that I didn’t have to plough through all the basics I just needed to observe to identify his strong points and main weaknesses and then decide what to focus on to move forwards most effectively. The job would be to give feedback and direction rather than to revise the core model from scratch.

Basically, Paul had moved forward on all the core principles:

  1. Paul’s main strong point was his basic timing and pressure cycle from skating.
  2. This was followed by his improved pivoting skills (including angulation/anticipation).
  3. Dynamics were also more positive and deliberate.

The list of relevant things to work on gradually grew as more issues became apparent when working in detail:

  1. Initially I’d spotted that the timing pattern was very limited and wasn’t being adapted to terrain or circumstances.
  2. Pole use was sometimes partially interfering with the timing.
  3. There were some problems with dynamics, especially on the left side through the second half of the turn.
  4. Dynamics were not as solid as they should be.
  5. There was a persistent tendency to lift the inside leg.
  6. There was a constant “knee tuck” and problem with the stance (feet being held close through an incorrect mechanism).
  7. The “knee tuck” was contributing to the posture being pulled out of alignment.
  8. Angulation was blocked at the hips and leading to tension and inappropriate compensation – bending the spine sideways.
  9. Carving skills were completely absent – the whole paradigm being affected – and the above issues making exercises very difficult to achieve.

Within each of the listed issues there was a range of work to be done. Time was limited so Paul’s goals had to be to become as aware as possible of all of this and what to specifically work on for each issue and how they all affect each other. Some of those issues are a legacy from the Muppet theatre and some are just due to the need for further information. They are all however still only a stage in setting the basics on the right track.


When deciding to work on timing I mentioned that in bumps we have to “compress” and absorb – but that this is very similar to “leg retraction” used in race carving. Paul hadn’t yet shown me his carving so with the possibility of using carving to develop the timing I asked to see his current level. To my surprise there was no carving happening. The carving paradigm had completely escaped Paul. This is something I’ve seen frequently in older generation skiers and it’s very persistent and intriguing. Paul had no resistance to learning – he just couldn’t see it. I’d love to know what it is that literally blinds people to this – because it is a form of perceptual blindness. Part of my job is removing perceptual barriers – unlike MI6 and the CIA who’s job appears to be to create them! (Perhaps I could learn from their infamous Monarch Mind Control program how this all works!) Anyway I filmed Paul demonstrating his MI6 version of carving – for posterity…


(The second part of the short video is Paul working at controlling his “inside leg” to eliminate the knee tuck – following issues with carving exercises and other relevant connected issues with posture and angulation)

Compression Turns

Eventually, later on during the session we were able to directly address the timing issue. I specifically wanted to take a look at compression turns. We had looked at this before so Paul was already familiar and we didn’t lose time here. The exercise is artificial in that it is really “leg retraction” carried out on the flat. The important aspect here was the range of motion in the legs. Pivoting (uphill edges), pole use and anticipation were technical details which had nonetheless to be correct. When beginning from a static position the pole needs to be planted (behind the feet) before the turn (Paul tended to hold the tip suspended in the air). Weight needs to go on the pole – taking it off the skis. (When actively compressed this compression also serves as a pressure reduction and the pole is slightly later!) The legs need to bend to at least 90° at both the hips and knees. Hip rotation needs to be avoided when leaning on the pole – the pivot being controlled by a direct motion of the centre of mass downhill between the ski pole and the ski tips – then a pulling inwards of the ski tips – though this is more just a taught set of adductor muscles rather than a harsh pulling. The turn is completed with a full leg extension combined with anticipation (facing downhill) of the upper body (In reality the following first part of the compression is the turn completion). In bumps this extension fills the trough beneath the bump while the compression is on the shoulder/top of the bumps. (Most people forget to extend and end up too compressed after a few bumps) Whereas tight pivots on the flat require fairly restrained dynamics, pivots in bumps require strong dynamics – the profile of the bump facilitating the pivot because the ski tips and tails are airborne during the end and start of a pivot. The swing of the skis inwards along with the compression is very easy and natural –following the centre of mass. Small or widely spaced bumps are not conducive to compression, but bigger bumps and proper bump lines do require compression – with the legs being just appropriately relaxed and compressed by the bump instead of retracted.

There were no bumps available but we used a long ridge at the side of the piste to substitute the bumps.  The ridge was also used to highlight the difference between “compressing to absorb” and “jumping to leap from the bump” – opposite extremes. Paul clearly understood the compression but had a tendency to “step” again instead of jump. This is probably because of not linking the jump well to dynamics! Two of the jumps however were better timed and coordinated. Good “turn exit” dynamics keeps everything symmetrical and provides a good launch – the turn transition (edge change) taking place in the air.

When skiing bumpy terrain this full range of timing adaptability must be available (Including everything in between). Compression is also used in very deep snow when skiing in the fall line. When done right you feel the compression “happening to you” instead of being contrived. This now needs to be practised in bumps. If done correctly, with good dynamics, it is not stressful on the body – the dynamics, timing and pivoting combination vastly smoothing out the shock.

There is nearly always a small amount of compression blended into the end of any turn by a versatile skier.  Normally the turns are a blend – with a “checking” action (pivot) followed by a slight compression or retraction to exit the turn – which would be very quickly followed with a pole plant (pivot) from the dynamics of moving the centre of mass into a new turn.

Leg Retraction

When carving is developed then the timing of leg retraction becomes a very powerful tool as no force is being dissipated through skidding. In this case the retraction is a way of negating  the forces from the skis for moving the centre of mass instead of negating forces from the terrain. Very powerful legs are required for this in a race course – which is one of the reasons why top racers need legs like tree trunks. The strength is actually required for the turn initiation – as in this case a powerful extension is used to drive the centre of mass downhill by extending from completely flexed legs – sometimes using the power in both legs (if feet are close together ) – or one single leg in a wider stance.

Pole Use

The pole is only planted for pivoting. This is partly for support and partly to cue to positioning of the upper body and facilitate dynamics. One important thing is that the pole is NOT planted by either the arm or the body sinking down. Any tendency to do this is a legacy from the Muppet show and has to be eliminated because it throws off good timing. The pivoting “pole plant” is caused either by terrain (bumps) or a combination of dynamics and angulation/anticipation.

Skating timing requires a “pole touch” when the body is up high. It just marks the beginning of the entry into the next turn when the body falls over beyond perpendicular when crossing the slope. 

If there is a jump used (jump turns) then the pole can be planted early – the jump should be considered the previous turn “release” or “exit” – aided by an early pole plant – the pole continuing to support the start of the new turn and its dynamics. This early “jumping” pole plant is only a feature of extreme braking and deliberately getting the skis airborne for a pivot.

Even when linking short swings rhythmically the pole plant would tend to come just after the turn release – a bit like putting your hand on a railing to jump over a fence that you only reach after the start of the jump.

On normal terrain Paul’s pole use was fine – being a “pole touch”. In the bumpy terrain it was confused – but that’s probably just due to not absorbing the bumps anyway. I still think I saw a few Muppet moments – reaching with the arm and the pole -  so I’m mentioning this just in case!


I reminded Paul about the illusion of “centrifugal” force – which is bolstered by fictional mathematics which do not directly describe reality (think “economics” experts and regular unpredicted financial crashes). We have to work to increase the inwards “centripetal” force – which is how a ski works. This effect becomes amplified in the second part of the turn when gravity is against us. People are probably used to “resisting” gravity and when their vision of centrifugal force is added then they tense up and push outwards. Everything about skiing is a “pulling inwards”. There is no compromise here without serious loss of efficiency.

I could see Paul sometimes partially pushing outwards – which was described by him as “pushing downwards” in an effort to increase pressure. This needs to be achieved instead by pushing “upwards” against the centre of mass or by trying to move the centre of mass. If you focus on that centre of mass the outcome tends to be different. When you focus on moving the centre of mass inwards – even by stomping on the foot - the pressure will be there. The second part of the turn needs a dramatic increase in effort inwards – or gravity combined with the centripetal force of the ski will overwhelm you. In Paul’s case I could see the knee and hip being pulled upwards, out of the turn far too soon. Awareness of how much you need to fight this needs to be developed and trained for. Slalom is largely about dealing with this issue – but in a relatively unconscious manner – as it is commonly simply related to being late or early into and out of turns. Slalom changes perception however because there is no loose subjectivity involved. You learn that if you are thinking about moving then it’s already too late!

Retraction becomes a tool for getting quickly out of a turn where big directional centripetal forces have been generated and when there is no time to travel across the hill at the turn exit and no possibility to extend the leg further anyway (see Ted Ligety photo below).

When Paul focused on dynamics through the whole turn he looked much more solid – which permitted me to more clearly see his angulation issues.


The undesired compulsive stepping of the inside leg is not due to a nervous twitch or bad habit – it’s usually due to a dynamics issue. While it can be a useful exercise to step to cultivate independent leg use – there is a serious limitation to this usefulness. Basically, the stepping is a sign that the end of the previous turn hasn’t been put together very well. We already covered the issue of centripetal force – and the need to increase it beyond the influence of gravity – but if this fails to happen then the mechanics of the end of the turn break down. In essence this means that the power, stability and direction of momentum of the turn completion become weak and so the stepping acts as compensation. If the organisation of the turn completion is effective then there will be generally no visible stepping. The power of the lower ski needs to be used to control the turn completion. In dynamic skiing (inside edge/racing) this means that the skier stays on that lower ski almost or partially into the next turn – right through the turn transition. When pivoting it may even mean pivoting partially into the next turn on that lower ski. In effect it doesn’t matter what ski the turn begins on because it’s all about the motion of the centre of mass – so if the centre of mass moves well (dynamics) then there is no stepping.

The same issue applies to jump turns or rhythmic short swings. The skis should move simultaneously.

We played a little with Silvain Saudan’s radical jumping from the uphill edge of the uphill ski – and it was interesting for me to see how alien Paul found this. Likewise Gareth had found it equally outside of his grasp initially – so this will be a valuable aspect for Paul to develop – especially as it actually appears to be the single most secure method to get skis around on scarily steep descents where speed control is critical. Basically when it’s so steep that you can’t get your skis near each other then stepping and stomping are not much of an option.

The jumping should preferably involve an extension that moves the centre of mass – not primarily a retraction of the heels – though sometimes for “survival” heel retraction works.  Most people who do heel retract tend to pivot around the tips of the skis whereas the most efficient pivot centre is at the feet – or just in front of them.  The swing/pivot centre can be varied but generally the most efficient “sweet spot” is preferred. The other things to consider when jumping (Short Swings) are whether to land on an edge set (no skidding)  - edge to edge - or whether to pivot and how far around to swing the skis in the air. Proper extension at take off also allows for proper flexion on landing and absorption of shock.

On steep ground you can also start to jump from the lower leg to get momentum then complete the jump from the outside edge of the uphill ski. This is similar to how the legs are also independently used in racing – where there is (frequently) an extension from the lower leg to come up out of a turn and then and extension of the upper leg to give pressure and drop down the centre of mass into the next turn – which is one good reason for a slightly wider stance (as Silvain Saudan appears to use).


We discussed the issue of a so called “pedal step turn” for tight turns on the steep.  It’s an exercise I’ve used frequently to get people to stand strongly on the outside leg and hip – sometimes asking them to try to imagine trying to stomp the ski about a foot through the hard packed snow (impossible of course). Pivoting however is how skis work in tight spots and if the snow is bad then that pivot needs to be at least partially airborne. The key to all of that is reduction of pressure – not increase. On hard snow the stomping would still work for tight dynamic turning but the pedalling shouldn’t be necessary other than to cover a weakness in dynamics or to act as a safety net in case the stomped ski doesn’t turn. In any case stomping combined with strong “turn completion” dynamics from the lower ski instead of pedalling is the best way to power through challenging snow in all but the steepest and narrowest passages.


OK. Here we go. So Paul apparently couldn’t perceive the “railing” quality of the skis that provide carving. Paul’s idea of carving appeared to be linked to his sensation of pivoting with strong pressure on the inside edge and with all of the directional effect coming from the ski. I think he considered pivoting to be different due to a perceived need to assist the swing of the ski (note that I avoid any reference to “steering”). In reality he was pivoting because pivoting most often doesn’t need any swing of the skis as the ski itself is built to drive the pivot to support the motion of the centre of mass. Only tension with the adductor muscles is usually required to ensure a tight pivot – very little actual force is ever needed.

I knew that we would have to approach this quite radically. My solution was to carve with just one ski initially – in a semi “snowplough” supporting stance. This is radical because it distinctly requires that the outside leg be “pulled” inwards to pull the foot over onto its inside edge inside the ski boot and to pull the ski onto its inside edge. Weight has to go onto the inside ski for support and for most people this is all very alien – but it gives the best chance to overcome any mental or physical habitual straightjacket and to get a new feeling of the ski railing. Regardless of this Paul struggled with tension, hip rotation and constant washing out of the ski when gravity had to be dealt with. This of course tied in directly with his other dynamics issues.

To overcome the ingrained problems I asked Paul to face his body completely towards the inside of the turn for the entire turn and to lean over the inside ski as much as possible. Eventually this worked and allowed him to incline enough to overcome all other issues and keep the ski on edge and railing for the entire turn. By now Paul could clearly feel when the ski was washing out and also clearly identify the objective.

There was increasing evidence however of a general angulation/hip rotation/postural  issue which I was starting to see more clearly in every aspect of Paul’s skiing.

We worked on traversing with rolling the feet and skis onto their uphill edges and Paul was clearly very uncomfortable with even railing the traverses on two skis. This instability was obviously due to his long term knee tucking habit. The idea of rolling the inside (uphill) foot onto its outside edge and having any pressure on it was alien to Paul. This issue was also directly contributing to the problems with feeling the carving in general. We worked statically on turn transitions – changing edges by moving the body from one side of the skis to the other (supported by poles).

I wanted Paul to realise that the skis absolutely lock on when carving and there is no question about the role of dynamics – disequilibrium. The skis are never pushed to the side or allowed to pivot. I did mention the exception of the rubbish new ski regulations that limit carve radius and encourage pivoting at the turn initiation – a limit wonderfully overcome recently by Ted Ligety…

The second part of the video clip was when Paul worked on just moving the inside knee “outwards” (relative to the body) in his general skiing. I knew that Paul would feel that it was very strange and believe that it would probably not look right – which is why I filmed it – for direct feedback – so he could see that it actually made the legs look symmetrical and improved his stance.

From this work I realised it would be necessary to look at angulation while still focused on the carved traverses. Paul felt that the carving was very stiff and static so wondered why we would want to do it. I explained that the whole universe of racing was built on carving – and shortly afterwards we saw several race training groups of ski club children carving their way down the mountain behind trainers. All of the dynamics of skiing are taken to another level with carving and the athleticism goes stratospheric. It’s another world of skiing.

Skiing down at the end Paul managed to increase the width of his stance so that he could move better from edge to edge and his grip improvement was visible by the depth of track he left behind.

Angulation and Chi Skiing

Paul’s angulation and anticipation were needing some work so we began with classic “angulation”. The pelvis needs to be tilted upwards at the front and then the hip joints relaxed by “sitting” slightly. This combination of actions generates “neutral pelvis” quite accurately. With the whole upperbody tilted forwards – pelvis included  (all as one unit) – the body can be swung around on the one hip ball joint. Standing on the downhill leg and swinging the body downhill generates hip angulation and anticipation (of the next turn) – so that the upper body is effectively facing downhill but with no significant sideways kink of the spine. Paul had until now effectively been blocking his hip joint and kinking the spine sideways to try to increase his angulation and this is largely what made him static and stiff in his attempts to carve – and causing the ski to wash out. This incorrect stance has been partly caused by the chronic knee tuck, which was causing the pelvis to drop low on the inside and making the spine kink to compensate. This also linked up to the trouble with dynamics in turn completion – hence the stepping…

Once Paul could hold this more accurate and relaxed angulation together I made certain to point out a serious problem with it. Although this is the classic version of angulation (Upper/Lower Body Separation) it actually leads to the spine twisting at the base due to the shoulders leading the countering of the body and this causes a failure of all of the autonomous postural muscles and support and protection for the spine – which is why almost all top skiers and have back problems. The answer is to only pull back the hip on the support leg and not the shoulders. This is like winding up the body from the middle  instead of from above – giving an “Upper/Lower Body Integration”. The spine twists in the other direction at the base and causes abdominal tension and an opening between the ribs cage and pelvis. This also allows both strong angulation and a more natural anticipation. The switch from pulling one hip back to the other takes place during the turn transition and massively facilitates the turn transition – hence it facilitates dynamics. Paul clearly has to work on angulation so this is an opportunity to work on it the right way from the beginning. This “chi skiing” move is quite counterintuitive so it will take a while to incorporate. It’s best to work at it while walking, running and cycling also – so that it becomes a default movement. There is a fixed page on Chi Skiing  accessed here or at the top of the blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reality Check

I guess you don’t realise how much a bike leans over when cornering – until you look at the angle of the road!

Descending from Champagny

It’s always hard getting fit again after a winter skiing. Alpine skiing and aerobic fitness are incompatible! Even though the sensations of skiing are fantastic it’s hard to beat the feeling of wellbeing that comes from aerobic fitness. (Even though you suffer getting there!)

Today’s workout was just over 1hr 57 mins. I thought that despite being tired from yesterday’s 10k run that I was significantly faster than the previous time for this route – but was amazed to see only 40 seconds improvement! If anything this sort of outcome proves to me that there is nothing “psychological” involved – your “fitness level” is whatever you are trained up to. You couldn’t go out and deliberately match those times so well if you specifically tried to.

Inverting Reality

Coping with tiredness makes a workout interesting because you need to focus on form and can’t rely on brute strength. Though I have a strong dislike of the mystical “chi” concept I have to admit that there seems to be no better guide for identifying efficient form than by adhering to the physical principles proposed in T’ai Chi. If we can separate the practical principles from the obvious mystical nonsense then we have something extremely useful that surpasses our “western” insensitivity by far. Western education teaches us that we know everything “physical” with a high degree of certainty – but it’s complete brainwashing. We know almost nothing. Physics hit a complete dead end around the 1920s to 1930s – when mathematical “deductive” theoretical physics took over from empirical physics and “inductive” reasoning. We are caught in hypnotic spell that leads technologically nowhere – from spending billions on useless high energy particle physics to an obviously flawed (and related) “Big Bang” cosmology that yields nothing but layer after layer of illusion – keeping our Earth religiously and slavishly at the centre of it all. Consequently we still don’t even understand gravity! Our word “energy” is nothing but a numerisation of an amorphous entity we do not understand. Notwithstanding this situation we delude ourselves into thinking that we know it all and that other concepts like “chi” are just rubbish. Well, some of it (chi) clearly is extremely sloppy thinking too – but no worse than that our own magical mathematical illusionists manage to produce.  Plato considered that the “real” world was just a shadow and that we can never perceive what is behind it. To him mathematical perfection was heaven and the “reality” of his god – the physical world being an imperfect and degenerated copy . This trick of inverting reality is complete rubbish of course – leading to stupid “utopian” philosophies and political abuse accordingly. Plato wasn’t very original following his religious Gnostic beliefs. Reality is exactly what we are confronted with and when people start the all too common game of “inverting reality” then it’s time to kick them into touch.

Chi Organising

Reality is what we feel. Eat more sugar – a correct mix of sugars – then your performance and recovery improve dramatically – you feel it. Improve your mechanics of movement and you make life much easier – you  feel it. The body is fundamentally designed to exploit gravity – in the same way that a sail boat exploits the wind to sail against it. Chi to me is a study of how the body exploits basic things like gravity – both directly and indirectly. Our universe is governed however by “entropy” – the immutable second law of thermodynamics. “Entropy” effectively means “disorder”. Whatever we do brings about an overall increase in entropy. The best analogy I’ve come across to portray this consists of a giant waterfall being the “entropy” and the fine mist thrown up being the order and organisation that we can create during this whole process. Given then that almost everything tends towards disorder we have to be extremely vigilant not to be sucked into the waterfall. Chi seems to be the art of using the body to create the fine mist – the most efficiently possible. Newton’s laws of motion are another good effort – but in a more general sense. We use vertical gravity to generate horizontal propulsion when walking and running – but still need to eat sugar to provide more energy overall than we take from gravity. The body is designed to do this unconsciously – but entropy itself gets in the way and disorder easily dominates. If anything “chi” is not an equivalent to our “numerical”  energy – it is more about “organising” for efficiency. 

Chi is commonly linked to the “centre” of the body – between the navel and the pelvis – in front of the spine. It makes sense that the organisation of the body be coordinated around the centre. When running what matters most is the pulling up of the foot behind the body – towards the centre and the pulling of the recovery leg inwards from being extended out behind the body. Think of the path moving like a treadmill – the leg being taken behind the stationary body and recovery being the key – it’s not about “pushing” outwards but pulling inwards. (This appears to enhance the reflexive action of the opposite leg pushing upwards against gravity – to maintain height) When pedalling on a bicycle we cannot access the effects of gravity in such a direct manner – but some aspects are still present. If the recovery leg is left as dead weight on the pedal while just focusing on pushing on the other – then that’s pretty inefficient. In cycling mostly they discus just lifting the recovery leg enough to remove the weight and resistance from the pedal. Apply this to running (what the body is designed to do ) and you can see it doesn’t fit – it should be much more active. When you make it active then you feel a strong pulling inwards directly to the centre of he body. This “connecting” feeling is only present when actively pulling. It’s not a heaving about of the hips with a massive rotation of any part of the body – it’s internal. It feels right. It protects the back. It aligns the bones and joints effectively. It feels like a pulling inwards towards the centre. By using the hamstrings and hip flexors on the recovery leg while using the quads and glutes on the “pushing” leg the core muscles (abdominals and postural muscles) are automatically activated. The power load is therefore spread over all those muscles instead of being concentrated on a few which would rapidly be exhausted.

Bozel village (Valley below Courchevel)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Champagny No2

Second workout around the 3 valleys. The ski lift here are Champagny is actually still operating! It’s pretty easy to see why it isn’t a destination ski resort – but it joins up with La Plagne up above. This is where the Tarantaise Tour from Tignes links up with La Plagne and Les Arcs.

During this workout there was nothing in the legs and it was 2 minutes slower than the last one – 3hrs 12mins – despite the gearing working this time. Empty legs are empty legs – they hurt by the end and were verging of cramping several hours later on.  Still that’s almost 5000m climbing in a few days so it’s a good start. 75.6Kg has to get down to 67Kg – but the fat is a good reason for being on the bike – not a reason to avoid it.

The gearing problem on the last workout turns out to be that the rear sprockets are worn out. The temporary solution was to put the old chain back on while waiting for delivery of a new cassette. The existing cassette is Dura Ace and the largest four sprockets are titanium – which is why three of them have worn out! In addition I’d been using the large chainwheel in front because it is the Osymetric  dual camber one and I preferred to use it with the big sprockets (low gear) more than using the small chainwheel and the smaller steel sprockets. This situation just demolished the cassette – which to replace costs between €184 to €144! In the end I decided to just add 40 grams and get the Ultegra all steel version at only €44. Not a tough decision and no such worries again in the future. I’ll change the chain a bit more frequently from now on though. 7000km in the mountains is a bit too much for any chain – even if the amazing Continental tyres can manage that distance. I’ll make 5000km the change out point for all of this stuff now.

Once again 90 grams of mixed sugars – 2:1 maltodextrin to fructose did the trick and there was no tiredness after the exercise – even though there was no energy during the workout.

The moon was amazingly bright tonight so i couldn’t resist photographing it. Two things surprised me – the bright point on the left and the crater on the bottom right that makes the moon look like an orange.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Three Valleys Workout

First hard bike ride of the year! 70km with 2300m climbing. The photos are taken from Champagny ski station – opposite Courchevel. The Courchevel main slopes are behind the old bell tower.

Apart from a new chain skipping (old one had stretched about a centimetre!) possibly due to worn sprockets it was quite hard getting back into climbing with an over developed winter “cheese baby” belly!

Given that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sprockets (my favourites) were unusable this made climbing awkward. Either spinning in bottom gear and going nowhere or straining in 5th. I took 90 grams of mixed sugars and water. Even though the workout was over 3 hours this seemed to be adequate for the current performance level because there was no wave of tiredness later following the workout.

Cycling back from Moutiers to Aime on the N90 was a bit worrying. One bus overtook at about 90kph leaving about a metre of space or less and an HGV passed less than a foot away. It’s very frustrating not being able to tackle those idiots. Most bus and HGV drivers are careful but it only takes one idiot. The tourist industry in the Tarrentaise – comprising mainly of inbred morons -  is not intelligent enough to see the value in cycling so there are no provisions made to help the situation (Whoever designed Moutiers must be a moron because it is a complete dump despite being the central axis to the entire regional skiing industry!). Cyclists need to go to Bourg  d’Oissans near Alpe d’Huez to be respected and catered for. Many thousands do.

Despite struggling with the chain I settled into working on breathing – nasal breathing – and chi cycling – focusing on form rather than performance. It will take about a month to get fit anyway so this is a good time to concentrate on form.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jim, Adrienne, Luke, David, Chloe

The last time I had seen Jim and Adrienne was at least 20 years ago in Aberdeen – long before Luke, Davis and Chloe were born. I was amazed to see that they hadn’t changed. There wasn’t a lot of time for reminiscing though because we were here to ski. I intended to pass on as much information as possible in the course of the day and as everyone seemed hungry for improvement the social side of things would just have to be squeezed in along the way. I don’t think anyone realised what they were in for regarding instruction! Jim had suggested that I give perhaps a few tips! With the level of receptivity being high in the family group I just pressed on with teaching.

Warm Up

During the warm up run I took a moment to look at everyone skiing. David was a strong skier who had a lot of natural dynamics but also some serious quirks to be straightened out. Chloe also had some good natural dynamics in her skiing  - probably from snowboarding. Luke, who represented Britain in skiing in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games was a confident skier. Adrienne was relatively stiff, rotating and unstable and Jim tended to rush the start of his turns displacing the skis more than the body. All the issues here were typical products of classic ski instruction. My goal at this point was just to observe and then make a decision on a common denominator as a starting point to begin making changes for the entire group.


The starting point was Dynamics. I used my normal set of static and moving exercises described in detail here on the fixed page: “Dynamics page

Everyone responded well to the movement with the “non snowboarders” feeling the greatest difference. Luke’s first attempts were more accurate and successful than anyone else’s.

During a drinks break I explained the origin of the the “Dynamic Balance”  confusion stemming from Jean Le Rond d’Alembert and his mathematical substitution of fictitious forces for accelerations. Dynamic Balance is a fiction and amounts only to being a mathematical tool not a physical reality. 

The goal at this stage was to build awareness of the motion of the centre of mass – and use of the active centre of mass to drive the skis.  I explained that the skier has one job and the skis have one job. The skier has to fall over (laterally) and the ski has to bring the skier back up. The skis are far more powerful than the skier so there is no chance of falling.

After some practice at this we tried to extend the dynamic range. Each skier watched all the others ski to see how far over they could fall. Most people are lucky if they can manage 25° to 30°

When skiing it is important that the centre of mass is driven inwards even harder during second part of the turn where we work against gravity and the mountain geometry. There is greater edge angle as the turn progresses and the lifting up power of the ski grows during the turn – so it is important to be aware of this and to drive everything inwards until the moment the turn needs to be given up. The giving up of the turn is called “Turn Exit Dynamics” and we will look at that towards the end of the blog. Jim and Luke missed this at the end of the day when it was used to help David skiing in the slush.

We used a small border cross run to exploit the banked tracks to help encourage dynamics. I explained that the skis and boots together actually give us banked tracks all the time and that we need to perceive this in 3D and not as a 2D flat surface with turning. Skiing is more akin to a “velodrome” type exercise.


First of all I checked that everyone could skate. There were no problems there. Normally I would go through quite a few skating exercises and build things up progressively but there was not time for that today. Once I could see that everyone could skate we went straight for the “direct method” starting with skating straight downhill. Once some speed builds up then the body can be allowed to fall over further to the inside on each skating stride. Adding dynamics (falling over) to the skating like this converts the skating into skiing. Most people however struggle to maintain the skating stance, leg action and timing initially. This sort of development requires practice.


Most importantly everyone could feel the timing and use of the legs and nobody had experienced this before – despite it being the basic timing required for skiing. The skating action of the legs  is a “down/up” action and this matches the down/up action of dynamics. (Think of a motorbike turning – it goes down into a turn and comes back up out of it.) The aim at this stage is to tune into a resonance with the skis and to feel the power of this. The legs should begin to become functional instead of static and just bracing against forces. This timing is natural for the human body and the pressure cycle created is what allows grip on ice. Skis have been designed to work with this pressure cycle since around 1970 – though ski schools still teach the exact opposite.

Skiing with dynamics and observing the pressure changes happening beneath the feet there is a sensation of skating imparted to the body – even when not trying to skate.

Getting the basic timing right is a primary goal at this stage but later on this timing is developed further with many variations to accommodate terrain and function (accelerating or slowing down etc.)

As a rule everything is skiing is either dynamics or skating.


Over on the Grand Pré flats it was the opportunity to take a look at carving. Carving is useful to develop at this stage because it requires pure dynamics. The first stage was to introduce the rolling of the feet from the subtaler joints below the ankles. This also meant introducing the idea of standing on the heels. I indicated that the rolling of the feet uphill – onto their uphill edges – also moved the centre of mass uphill. We all tried a traverse across the hill leaving two “railed” tracks in a wide stance.  From this we moved on to “edge changing” by using poles for support and moving the body across the skis to change edges – from uphill to downhill edges. Once this was accomplished it was time to try it while moving forwards on a very shallow gradient and avoiding turning too much across the hill.  Jim in particular had skis skidding throughout the turns instead of carving – but was unaware of how the difference should feel with the skis completely locked.

We did one exercise with the outside ski extended out like an outrigger and pulling against it – even turning the upper body inwards during the turn and weighting the inside ski which was acting as a stabiliser. The idea was to stop Jim from pushing outwards on his turning ski until he could feel it driving him inwards instead and feel his ability to hold everything towards the inside of the turn. 

Blasting down the rest of the slope to the lift everyone had the chance to try carving at speed on a wide slope of moderate gradient. Higher speed requires greater dynamics. The feedback from carving is very clear as the ski is locked on and the force is very strong. The only way this can function is with pure dynamics – motion of the centre of mass across the skis.

Slalom (Best times - David 26.16, Chloe 30.86, Jim 32.78, Luke 35.40, Adrienne 36.11)

Having worked on dynamics, skating and carving it was a good time to bring in the slalom. We ran through the etiquette of how to correctly make use of the slalom stade and we sideslipped the course to remove the worst of the ruts and banks of slush. My only advice was to use dynamics with the gates being an indication of the direction to move the body – and for David to use a wider stance . David in particular was moulded by the slalom course into something resembling a real skier! He couldn’t exploit his usual shoulder rotation and subsequent counter rotation to push the heels out – with hips locked up in a stance leaning backwards.


Indoors after lunch we went through the basics of how to work properly with the feet and ski boots. Standing on the heels the subtaler joints can be used to rock the feet onto their edges. We had done this earlier when carving but now with the boots off it was visible. Bending at the knees and hips when on the heels causes the shins to tighten (anterior tibialis) and ankles to strengthen up. There should only be a light contact with the front of a ski boot and the ability to bounce off the front. Support is from the legs not the boots. Flexing in this manner when on a hillside or turning does not cause a falling backwards – though it may do so when standing still on the flat inside a café. The foot rocked onto its inside edge should solicit the adductor muscles of that leg and this should be linked to the centre of mass moving inwards also. Everything pulls inwards!

Chloe had to avoid her tendency to stand on the front of her foot and collapse her ankle, twisting the knee inwards. The correct lateral movement inwards of a knee is very limited and best achieved from the support of a strong ankle when standing on the heel. Adrienne had to pull her hip backwards when initiating a turn to keep her femur in line – and also to prevent her tendency to do the opposite and let her hip lead the turn. This hip action comes from ChiRunning – referenced here on the fixed page “ChiSkiing”.

Foot Forwards

To assist in coping with steeper terrain I  introduced “ foot forward” technique. The exercise used was with the skis off and one leg being swung around to the outside in an arc, with the leg rotating in the hip joint. This is also a good way to practice the active pulling back of the hip to prevent hip rotation. The arc is then lowered to make contact with the snow and eventually pressure is applied to the ground to give resistance. The feeling given here is exactly the right feeling for applying to skiing. I didn’t say what was going to happen but just asked everyone to put their skis back on and try pushing the foot forwards during turns.

Everyone noticed the turns being tightened.  This is a key mechanism for controlling turn radius. Dynamics and “foot forward” technique combined are how to determine turn radius.


There is a dedicated fixed page on pivoting: “Pivot Page”. I had already briefly shown how the pivot starts from the outside edge of the uphill ski. David had spotted that there was a difference in how I was using my edges – but couldn’t see the positive side of it. He thought I just “used my edges” towards the end of the turn. I was actively using the “other” edges in fact – as brakes.

While the stance being wide helps with edge changing for dynamics – to be able to stay on the uphill edge for the first half of a turn necessitates having the skis close together. (There are ways of pivoting with feet apart though!)

The key to pivoting however is to allow the uphill ski to remain on the outside edge while the foot rolls onto its inside edge inside the ski boot. This permits an active use of the adductor muscles for pulling the tips of the skis inwards as the centre of mass moves off downhill (supported and restrained by a pole plant downhill). Once again everything pulls inwards. I assisted Luke through a complete pivot so that he would have the opportunity to feel it correctly.

The point is that in skiing it doesn’t really matter much of the time with edge is used to initiate a turn! The centre of mass drives the turn! Fall line skiing in a braking manner on steep terrain requires a pivot – so it is used by mogul skiers and in deep powder. It is also used for jump turns and short swings in couloirs.

David had a strong tendency to push his skis outwards instead – resorting to his mixed up “shoulder rotation followed by counter rotation” error.  I explained to David that centrifugal force is an illusion and it doesn’t exist. There is nothing to brace or push out against in skiing. The only forces generated are by the skis pushing us inwards away from a straight line and so we must move inwards to help this and not push outwards. Using the analogy of a ball on a string being swung around my head the answers I received as to the direction it would travel when released were very interesting. Chloe said straight ahead, David indicated a tangent and Luke brilliantly suggested straight upwards! David was of course correct, but Luke’s originality stole the prize.

Turn Exit Dynamics

Jim missed this section but it is covered on the fixed dynamics page. I wanted to help David cope better in the slush by eliminating his rotation issues. Working on the turn completion can help with this issue. The goal is to use the power of the downhill ski to lift yourself right out of the turn over to the perpendicular to the mountain. Until this point I hadn’t mentioned the end of the turns and how to get out of the turns to link up the following turns.  It’s quite scary at first moving all the way out of a turn while on the lower ski – because the body actually goes beyond the vertical over to the perpendicular to the slope – while crossing the slope – which is only sustainable for a fraction of a second. This however makes the start of the next turn incredibly easy and removes the need for any rotational tricks.

Chi Skiing

I explained to  Jim and Adrienne the basis of ChiRunning (Danny Dryer) and how I adapted it to cycling and skiing. The fixed page is here – including an outline of the book: “Chi Skiing”. This is why I mentioned several times to pull the hip backwards (supporting leg). Skiing pulls this hip forwards and causes a postural collapse so the hip needs to be pulled actively backwards to protect the body as well as to improve technique and performance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stratos 2

Today a snow storm decided to coordinate its arrival with the start of our lesson.  One minute the skies were clear around us and the next minute we were in dense could and driving wet snow. Bravely, we went inside for a coffee and decided to look through yesterday’s video clips instead. When it became clear that the bad weather was here to stay we just accepted it and got back out on the skis. I told Stratos not to look into the cloud but to trust his sense of feeling instead.

I wanted to help Stratos to improve his skating skills so as to have better grip, support and stability plus more active use of his legs. I knew this was likely to be very tricky and difficult due to his 20 years of incorrect stance and deeply rooted habits.  Yesterday’s success made it clear that there was no physical reason for Stratos to have any difficulty and all of the trouble was coming from learned inappropriate movement patterns.

Side Stepping

Many years of allowing the skis to flatten and pull the feet onto their outside edges was not going to be reversed instantly. The ski does this when it is placed on edge. Racing ski boots are better for preventing this because they have a more rigid shaft that is closer fitting to the leg – hence the boots hold the skis on edge better. This is one reason why I would always put even a beginner into racing boots and never put anyone into lower level ski boots – except the shop owners and sales people selling the rubbish – and the ski instructors who teach snowplough to beginners as a way to ski. Stratos was still struggling just sidestepping uphill but any work at rocking the feet and using the adductor muscles in the legs helps to develop better awareness. Sometimes just patiently working at simple basic things such as sidestepping is important. If you can’t sidestep effectively and effortlessly then you certainly can’t ski effectively. Practice was helping and when concentrating properly Stratos was gripping better.


We did a bit of skating across the hill but straight away it became apparent that Stratos could not grip with the lower ski. The problems seen in side stepping were much worse when sliding forwards. This isn’t surprising because the ski when sliding forwards on its edge is always trying to turn and this would cause the foot to flatten and twist onto its outside edge even more  than when static and just stepping.

I had to watch Stratos carefully to look for clues as to why he was struggling so much. Eventually it became obvious to me – it wasn’t the feet or legs – it was the centre of mass! Each time Stratos stood on his downhill ski he moved his body actively towards the ski – causing it to flatten and skid away instead of gripping. This is the same move he would have made in the past to transfer weight to the new turning ski at the start of a turn – so it was also associated with intentionally flattening the ski and letting it turn as in a snowplough. The old habits were dominating.

The solution was to widen the stance with the feet further apart and then assure that when lifting the uphill ski to either skate or step that the body would fall uphill – not move downhill.  Moving the centre of mass uphill would pull the ski more strongly on edge and make it grip. This had been why I had wanted Stratos to either step or skate uphill – but with his body moving downhill and the ski subsequently slipping this hadn’t been happening. Stratos began to understand the situation and adopted a wider stance so he could “fall uphill” slightly instead. Slowly his old habits were changing and he was starting to grip with his edges.

I explained that the foot inside the ski boot (lower ski) should in fact be twisted outwards so that there would be pressure on the inside of the heel and also at the little toe on the outside of the ski boot. I have completely worn through liners on ski boots at the inside of the heel due to pressure there over a period of years. Stratos started to feel this for the first time when skating on the flat over to the chairlift.

I demonstrated skating straight downhill and by increasing the dynamics (falling sideways between the skis) converting this skating directly into skiing. Stratos wasn’t ready to manage this yet by himself but I wanted him to see how skating gives the rhythm and leg function in skiing.


One Leg

Once Stratos was able to “fall uphill” while gripping with the downhill ski I then wanted to take this further and get him to stand on the uphill ski and fall downhill – all the way through a turn – padding the (inside) ski up and down so that it would eventually become the uphill ski again. The wider stance helps the “falling” when one ski is lifted so I encouraged a wider stance. The goal was after all to drive Stratos away from his two footed skiing and all the tricks that are inherent within this.

Before getting to this stage I showed Stratos how “pvioting” works from the top edge of a ski (Fixed Pivot Page). I didn’t want him to try this as he had enough to deal with – but I did want him to see that you don’t need to be on the “inside” edge of a ski for it to turn. This means that when standing on the top ski prior to falling downhill into a turn it doesn’t matter which edge of that ski you stand on. What matters is that the centre of mass moves in the right direction!

Stratos worked hard at this and required a lot of feedback and correction. He had a tendency to stem the uphill ski out into a turn before standing on it and would already be partially into the new turn before lifting the downhill ski. I stood beside Stratos just downhill of his shoulder and asked him to lean against me and to then lift his downhill leg off the ground. Interestingly he couldn’t lift it off the ground to begin with and didn’t have the confidence to stand on that uphill ski even though he had me for support. Gradually he sorted this out and got the feel for it. All the time in his turns he was improving and I was pushing him hard because I saw that he needed to fall more into each turn to be secure and that he still tended to skid too much sideways (and too upright) for safety.

Earlier on I’d explained to Stratos that as a turn progresses the edge angle of the ski increases due to the geometry of the mountain. This means that the body needs to be held even more inwards towards the turn centre as the turn progresses as the lifting up power of the ski is even stronger. It’s not just a case of accelerating the body into a turn at the beginning, this has to be continued all the way through the turn and only when the change of direction is complete does the skier allow the centre of mass to come up and out of the turn.

Foot Forward Technique

We were going to have to negotiate a fairly steep and narrow passage so before getting there I introduced “Feet Forward Technique”. The exercise is shown on the video clip. During the exercise the foot is not twisted – only the whole leg rotates from the hip joint. The boot is swung in the air to establish the arc then a light trace is made by the boot edge on the snow and pressure increased until the boot needs to be pushed. This is the pushing sensation required for skiing.

When Stratos first tried this in skiing I asked him what he felt and he replied that it slowed him down. This is correct – it slows you down because it tightens your turns. The push forwards does not cause the foot to advance it only has the effect of tightening turn radius. Dynamics and “foot forwards” are the two tools used to alter turn radius. Stratos picked this up quickly and skied the narrow passage with ease.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stratos 1

Initial Assessment

Prior to skiing together Stratos described to me his lifelong passion for tennis. This alone indicated to me that he should be well coordinated and able to move athletically. Skiing is based on lateral movements of the body and so is tennis! Later on I also found out that Stratos rides a motorbike so that again lends itself ideally to skiing. What was interesting was to hear that Stratos was not comfortable skiing. From chatting like this it was clear to me that Stratos was going to be a typical example of a good student who was applying classic instruction accurately – but that the fundamental errors inherent in the instruction were preventing  him from progressing.

During the course of the morning I found out that Stratos had been taught to ski in a snowplough, leaning the body to the outside of the turn to pressurise the outside ski, coming up to start turn and planting the pole at the end when flexed plus pressing forwards on the front of his boots and facing downhill. He had added a twisting of the feet and skis by himself.  This is standard ski school nonsense which will cause permanent trouble for anyone unfortunate enough to listen to it.

Watching Stratos ski I could see that there was no active use of the legs and that there was a slight body rotation to initiate the turns. Most revealing was a visible twisting of the outer foot and ski – a result of inappropriate coordination developed from a snowplough. Although he has a natural inclination a move towards the outside of the turn was sometimes visible during turn initiation. He was clearly unstable and uncomfortable with a tendency to be back in the ski boots. The most visible discomfort however was with the feet.

Stratos prior to coaching…



Having observed Stratos for a complete run I decided that we should start at the feet and work upwards. When I asked Stratos if he could skate the answer was a resounding NO! Skating is a simple way to help people to build awareness of the correct role of the feet in skiing, but sometimes as on this occasion the first lesson becomes a lesson on skating itself. Beginning with diverging skis I explained how the feet are rolled onto their inside edges and the adductor muscles engaged on the inside of the legs – then by holding the skis on edge in this manner the body can fall forwards and the legs recovered from behind in a stepping action – leading to skating. We used an exercise where Stratos pushed me so that he was forced to grip with the edges – then when I moved out of the way this push produced an acceleration.

After a few attempts at turning on the flat by using skating steps I asked Stratos to just skate across the slope stepping uphill from the downhill ski with each skate – but he could not hold the ski on edge well enough to do this. Rather than waste time it was clear that we had to go indoors to check the ski boot alignment and then remove the boots to work with the feet where everything could be visible.

I explained that the edge of the ski is not beneath the centre of the foot – it is quite far towards the inside so to stand on this edge it requires the adductor muscles to be working. The ski is always trying to flatten the and to pull the foot over onto its outside edge instead.


First of all the ski boot alignment was fine so there were no problems. This is just as well because the boots had no canting adjustment! Better always to buy more advanced ski boots! (for several reasons). We worked on centring the weight on the heels – just in front of the heel to be exact – beneath the ankle joint – so the entire foot remained on the ground but the weight on the heel. From this position the feet were rocked onto their edges by using the subtaler joints between the heels and the ankles. Stratos saw how the rocked foot turns away from the direction of turning instead of towards it as happens when twisting. The foot rocked onto its inside edge also activates the adductor muscles on that leg which allows the ski to be more strongly held on edge and the knee held inwards without risk of twisting it.  The other foot (inside of a turn) can rock onto its outside edge – keeping the body in symmetry.

Bending the knees and hips when standing on the heels causes the ankles to stiffen and become strong. The anterior tibialis muscles in the front of the legs (shins) contract. Ankles should not “flex” and become soft and weak.

Stratos felt how the centre of mass of the body moved across with the rocking of the feet – in the same direction.

All of this was to help to overcome his tendency to twist the feet into a turn and to improve his grip with the ski edges – which would then permit the development of dynamics.


My standard dynamics exercises were used to communicate the fundamental difference between “balance” and dynamics. (Read more on the fixed Dynamics Page – read “The Magic Wall”) This of course was the key issue holding Stratos back in his skiing and now that he had some support from his feet and skis some basic dynamics would be possible. The freedom and ease of movement that Stratos could feel as the dynamics kicked into action left him clearly amazed and delighted. This was obviously the first time ever that Stratos felt that he could relate skiing to his familiar lateral movements of motorcycling and tennis.

I demonstrated increased dynamic range and pointed out that the ski is more powerful than the skier. The skier’s job is to fall – laterally – and the ski’s job is to bring him back up. The ski always wins!

All movements must be towards the turn centre – always pulling inwards. We first practiced this indoors – foot, adductors and centre of mass all pulling in towards a table. I explained that centrifugal force doesn’t exist (it’s an illusion) and that we have to work with the skis to generate the only force that does count – the inwards force away from a straight line.

Down/Up Timing

The correct timing for skiing is down into a turn and up out of it. This is exactly the same as for a motorbike. I asked Stratos to observe the pressure beneath the feet when skiing with dynamics as the timing produces the sensation of skating – even when not trying to skate. The pressure comes on and off the feet automatically – one leg to the other.

Off Piste/ Border Cross

I explained that the ski makes a banked track (held in place by the ski boot shaft running up the leg) and so it is never “twisted” but runs forwards. To emphasise this effect we used the border cross course where there are actual banked tracks to encourage the right movement.

On the way to the border cross we went off piste into soft transformed Spring snow – so that Stratos could begin to feel that dynamics would support him there and to learn to trust that it would work just as well for him there as on the piste.

One Ski – Rounded Turns

After some practice we could start work on developing the dynamics further and the first thing was to round out and avoid rushing the start of the turns. A good strong stance on the uphill leg at the start of the turn (pushing against the magic wall) gives a smooth round turn with grip and stability from the beginning of the turn. Most skiers try to rush the start of a turn to get the skis around and below them but this is unnecessary and incorrect. The more the dynamics are efficient the more the skier is on one leg and can sustain this. One of he reasons people try to rush the turns is because they are taught with incorrect timing and no dynamics but also they are told to “face downhill”. While facing downhill itself is not a problem it becomes one when those other things are wrong because it is the reason why people then rush the turn to get the skis around below them. For this stage in skiing, even with correct dynamics and timing it is better to just follow the skis (like being on a motorbike) and not to try to face downhill.

Centred Stance

Stratos had tired quads around the knees but this was due to his tendency to end up against the back of the ski boots. I explained how the goal is to be perpendicular to the slope. When standing on the flat or a traverse we are vertical to gravity and there is no pressure either on the front of back of the ski boot. This is the sensation we look for even when sliding downhill by getting perpendicular to the slope. Most people make the mistake of staying vertical all the time and so end up in the back of the ski boots when sliding downhill. This is worsened if they fail to anticipate the initial acceleration on pointing downhill. Once you know what to feel in the boots the anticipation and adjustments are easily performed. You do not “lean forwards”! Our only solid feedback is through the ski boots and soles of the feet.

Stratos skiing with dynamics... early days yet!



(At Lunch) Atilla the gangster at age 14 making Robert de Niro look like a real amateur. Cigar, braces and Ray Ban aviator shades, metal teeth ornamentation and a killer smile!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Columba & Cameron Xtra

Forgot to mention anywhere – this was only Cameron’s second week of skiing ever! He is already handling slalom (icy and rutted), moguls (icy) and off piste (steep and varied snow) well. I told him that for me the pistes are only for getting access to more interesting places – and that’s all we used them for on the last day. Think Off Piste, Slalom and Moguls! (…bit of snowpark and border cross too.)

Chi Running / Chi Skiing

Walking uphill as mentioned earlier was an opportunity to introduce “chi walking”. Columba is a distance runner so this information could be very useful to him. When asked how to run and how to increase speed Columba’s answer was very standard – “use more muscle power and reach ahead for a longer stride”. This of course is completely incorrect and it’s a paradigm we are driven into by our shoe wearing culture. Modern shoes allow us to land on the back of the heel and so we can reach ahead – but it develops all the wrong running mechanics. Forward propulsion should come almost exclusively from gravity – which makes it surprisingly closely related to skiing. This might seem to be a strange comparison considering running might be on flat ground – but it’s about toppling forwards and using a stride extending behind the body to maintain height. In skating and skiing we also topple forwards and in this case laterally inwards (relative to a turn).

In walking and running the correct mechanics don’t only make the body far more efficient – speed coming from increased relaxation instead of leg power – but this also develops good posture and ultimately protects all the joints and lower back. Nike running shoes can cause an aftershock of up to 7 times body weight – whereas landing on the front of the heel below the body gives no aftershock. It’s not necessary to land on the front of the foot unless sprinting. Skiing is also best centred about the front of the heel just below the ankle joint – which is how the foot can be rocked from edge to edge using the subtaler joint between the ankle and the heel.

Postural muscles are not voluntarily controlled so this makes good mechanics vital. If mechanics are wrong then the reflexes fail and posture collapses. In skiing this is made worse due to the ski pulling the hip forwards through the turn – hence the extreme importance of chi-skiing and pulling the hip actively backwards. Most skiers end up with serious back trouble due to failure to address this relatively unnatural aspect of skiing – so understanding chi-skiing can save a lot of heartache and pain!

Columba did one small jump at the side of the piste  - not following me – where he hurt his back! He does have a vulnerability in this area and I have tried to correct his posture – so chirunning would be an excellent way forward for him. Posture is habitual so it requires training. Naturally I’m only skimming the surface of the issue here but suffice to say that most of the damage is done through inappropriate mechanics of movement in sport – not through sitting as most doctors imagine. The key is to activate the postural reflexes and poor mechanics such as running with a forward reaching stride does the opposite. In skiing this is even more important due to the forces being even greater.


Off Piste

On one occasion we had to change route due to poor snow conditions so this meant passing over a section of grass on a steep slope. Following the lead of the iconic Silvain Saudan we used our short swings launched from the uphill ski to ski down the grass with linked turns. Who needs snow?

In the photo below Columba was hanging over a cornice and ignored my request to move back in case it collapsed. The slope below wasn’t so dangerous so I didn’t grab his legs and pull him back.

Nasal Breathing

On one of the days the boys were tired and cold due to the weather. Cameron in particular had cold hands. Columba was always feeling a chilled face and chin. It’s important to try to breathe in and out through the nose when in cold air – or in fact all the time. The nose is the breathing organ. We produce CO2 through metabolism and this is one of the most important hormones in the body – and the only one to affect all the major organs. Our lungs are CO2 reservoirs – this gas is NOT a waste product. All life uses CO2 and there is not enough of it around with only 0.03% of our atmosphere composed of CO2. Early in human evolution the atmosphere had 7% CO2 and this is what our cells need! The nose restricts breathing to the right level – to stop over breathing. Higher CO2 build up causes a carbonic acid increase in the blood – this being the trigger for releasing oxygen to the muscle tissues and brain and dilating blood vessels to increase circulation to both the extremities and the heart. Air is warmed up in the nasal passages before it enters the lungs and cooled down before leaving the body – so heat loss is controlled. Nitric Oxide is also produced in the nasal passages and this also improves circulation and protects the heart.

The key to nasal breathing is quality not quantity! The aim is to breathe in low down in the abdominal area but not to take large breaths. For skiing or running the lower abdomen needs to remain contracted most of the time so ideal breathing appears to be through expanding and raising the rib cage (not high up in the chest) which can function independently to all the cross lateral actions going on lower down in the abdomen and back. I’ve found that it’s difficult if not impossible to maintain pelvic and lower back posture in action when relaxing the lower abdominals.


For the off Piste on the last day (not filmed) the boys were equipped with avalanche transceivers. Avalanche risk was at 1 on a scale 1 to 5 and where we were skiing there was no risk but the transceivers were being used to familiarise the boys with them. Most of the time there is a more significant risk of avalanche off piste. We took time over a hot drink (day before) at one point to look at how transceivers work. We didn’t have the opportunity to carry out practice search exercises outdoors. Indoors I showed how to switch a transceiver from  transmit to receive and how to alter the search sensitivity – explaining the procedure of searching by moving on a grid changing direction at right angles when passing the loudest signal. I only use old analogue transceivers with a range of up to 80 metres because the new digital ones only work up to 40 metres. Some transceivers combine analogue and digital but simpler is better in my view.

The most important thing to know about transceivers and all the other security paraphernalia is that your goal is to never in your life have to actually use it. My back pack is an airbag and I carry a shovel, probe and transceiver at all times – but have never used any of this in 27 full seasons. Decisions should never be based on thinking that equipment makes you safe – they should always be based on assuming the worst and completely avoiding it.

Quote of the week (Heard in the Gourmandine café)

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!”

The source of this quote turns out to be Hunter S Thompson:

9. Perseverance will get you everywhere.

- “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl” (Rolling Stone, February 1974)

Columba & Cameron 5

Our warm up run consisted of preparation for some steep Off Piste on the north face of the Borsat. We worked on technique so as to be ready for the challenge.

Chi Walking

Prior to climbing up to the ridge we had a brief session on chi walking. The goal is to avoid reaching ahead with the legs and feet and to extend the stride behind the body, with the hip following the foot behind and the other foot landing just beneath the body instead of in front. The extension of the leg behind the body uses the glutes and a straight back – instead of focusing the effort on the quads. Using the larger core muscles improves posture and spreads the load over larger muscles in general making climbing far less tiring.


On our way to the Borsat we worked on pivoting with a view to integrating it with the angulation that we had worked on yesterday. The idea is to use the pole planted downhill to be able to angulate the body, placing weight on the pole and getting the centre of mass downhill of the skis without changing edge – allowing an efficient pivot from the upper edge of the ski. It’s also important to complete the turn back in this position ready for the next turn in the opposite direction – instead of rotating the upper body around with the skis. This was in fact the first introduction the boys were given to “upper/lower body separation”. Being taught with the “chi” use of the hip it should become more of an upper/lower body “integration” than separation – but this isn’t an issue to be dealt with for the time being.

Cameron did a very good job of this with a clear ability to pivot correctly from the uphill ski – with everything moving inwards. He managed to use the pole for support and to use angulation and prevent rotation. Columba struggled with this one – tending to stem his upper ski out to look for the inside edge support. All this required really was a little more time and practice.

When applied to short swings Cameron’s coordination was much better than a few days ago with both legs working together. I mentioned that he had previously been struggling in short swings and jump turns due to being in the back of his ski boots but this had improved since yesterday and with the addition of angulation his performance was much better. Columba however was better at using his poles on the linked short swings whereas Cameron ended up not using his at all. This work was preparation for the steep winter snow on the Borsat north face.





















Compression Turns

Returning from Tignes we continued the pivoting work with an introduction to compression turns – for use in moguls. We can simulate the compression of large bumps on the flat by retracting the legs. In this case the turn exit is supported by the ski pole and a bending of both the legs to around 90° while pivoting with the skis in a narrow stance. This is a very difficult exercise and Cameron managed it remarkably well. Columba tended to bend the upper body forwards rather than bending his legs and his discomfort with pivoting from the upper edge of his ski was interfering with his progress too. This is normal at this stage because Columba has a lot more experience of skiing exclusively on the inside edges of his skis so there are more habits to overcome.

Taking this into the bumps where real compression could replace the retraction Cameron showed a significant improvement of his line and rhythm in the bumps. Columba experimented with compression in larger turns and traverses in the bumps and this was a good choice for him to make.

The bump and compression take over from the normal “extension” to complete a turn – but the overall motion of the centre of mass remains the same in both cases. The compression turn is an adaption to terrain.










Leg Retraction

Leaving the bumps behind we took the leg retraction into carving. This reverses the normal timing of skiing but in a way that keeps the centre of mass again travelling in the same overall pattern. The legs are retracted towards the end of a turn to allow the body to cross over the skis and out of the turn – followed by an extension down and into the  next turn. The idea of this is to enable quicker turn transitions in a race course when there is great pressure and the outside leg is fully extended already thorough the end of the turn so it would take too long to let it be used to lift the body up. It’s not a movement that is used all the time because it is very tiring, but it is nearly always partially present at the end of any normal turn. Both the boys had already naturally developed a small amount of leg retraction of their own in the race course – but they needed to know how to exploit this to the full – especially as a way to recover their line when getting “late” in the course. After practising this carving we took it into the race course.

I devised an exercise to help the boys feel this correctly from a static position. Standing downhill of one of them and holding my ski pole as a bar across in front of me I asked him to grab onto the bar and pull against it while inclining uphill as if through the end of a turn. Pulling hard I could pull him up and out of the turn. Next I asked him to bend down and relax the legs to let me pull him out of the turn instead of standing up. This provides a clear difference of feeling to distinguish the two opposite ways of exiting a turn. In both cases the centre of mass moves upwards – just less so with the leg retraction.

Slalom (Columba 27.53 Secs, Cameron 28.00 secs)

Cameron’s first run was 29 seconds – but he went through the finish line facing backwards! It would have been interesting to see the time had that error not cropped up. Both boys improved their best times by over half a second overall – with Columba still impressively holding onto his lead. The course conditions were not good due to large ruts, but the leg retraction is ideal for dealing with ruts so it worked out perfectly.






























Our day finished with a couple of runs down the fast border cross course in Val – which turned out to be much better than the Tignes version. Each time getting there gave us an off piste run in transformed Spring snow and our last run of the day was on perfect Spring snow further off piste above the Santon valley. Both boys had done exceptionally well in acquiring skills and applying them during the week with their skiing getting visibly stronger by the day.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Columba & Cameron 4

Chill Out day today! Both boys were physically tired and needed an easy recovery day.  They were a bit under-dressed for the wave of cold weather (they need more layers) so this combined with tiredness made it hard for them to resist the cold – but nothing a hot chocolate couldn’t sort out. The session focused around non demanding technical issues and just skiing within limits – apart from a few slalom gates…


Clouds Illusion

Wind and weather were coming in from the  South East with gusts of 130km above 2500m in some places. We were just on the edge of the bad weather with a line of dense cloud getting thicker from the Bellevarde towards Tignes and Mont Blanc where it was a sinister black. However, towards Solaise the sky was clearer. Columba thought that this meant the wind would blow the clear area towards us. The explanation of why that didn’t happed is interesting! It’s extremely useful to be able to read the weather in mountains or at sea – especially where hot chocolate is not available. The photo on the right from yesterday shows a cloud perched on the top of Mont Blanc – but it’s an illusion to think of this as an object – it’s a “process”. The air rises up the mountain and condenses as it passes over the top – so it becomes visible – then it evaporates as it descends on the other side and vanishes. You see part of a current of air with the “cloud” indicating a process.

Although the wind today was blowing from the South East the dense cloud was moving towards the wind – because the process of condensation was happening earlier and earlier in that direction.

Apparently the spiral arms in the Milky Way are the same thing – they don’t rotate but the galaxy does rotate – the spiral arms being a sort of traffic jam as the stars pass through those areas.

Skiing Illusions

I’d already mentioned a few of skiing’s primary illusions to the boys – the number one being “balance”. Skiing is an intelligent organisation of accelerations (intelligence of ski design and skier) and the opposite of balance. (Called dynamics in physics). People go to amazing lengths to try to justify their heart felt illusion – I’ve heard some wonderful attempts from PhD qualified engineers – all completely idiotic in the end.  Interestingly, Physicists never make this mistake!

One illusion we discussed concerned centrifugal force, because it is relevant for understanding slalom. I didn’t use this term with the boys – I just asked what would happen to a ball on a string, when being swung around in a circle above my head if I let it go when it was between me and them.  One answered that it would hit him – and the other answered that it would fly off to the side instead. The second answer is correct – because there is not outward directed force – it’s an illusion. Centrifugal force does not exist. The skier completing a turn needs to know this – because rather than fight to stay in a turn he has to know when to let go the turn. The boys were getting “late” in the slalom course because they imagined this force throwing them out of the turn and fought to resist it when they should have been letting go.

Another illusion is that you think you can look and work out what someone is doing. You cannot! When a baby is born everything works but it is blind because the brain has no database for interpreting the world. By using all the senses together a database is built in the brain and vision develops. This is why a very clear and accurate understanding of something complex like skiing is required before you can even see what is going on. Your brain needs the appropriate database – then you can see! This is why I will not teach any standard ski technique – because the database is completely wrong! Professionals are consequently unable to even see what I am teaching. (I have a lot of fun with this!!!)


Cameron had his issue of being caught on the back of the ski boots and we hadn’t found time to deal with that up to now. I had him stand across the hill and feel how he was perpendicular to the traverse and standing comfortably – not leaning on his boots. The trick is to head of down the slope and adjust to get perpendicular with the slope so that the stance feels exactly the same. Most people make the mistake of remaining vertical to gravity when heading off down the slope and this sends them to the back of the boots. Once the feeling is clear then it’s easy to use as a reference. In technical terms we relate to the “normal” force to the surface we are standing on – perpendicular to that surface. (We do not “lean forward”!)

Columba’s issue was his tendency to round his lower back. This is a trickier issue to correct. First of all we looked at pelvic tilt – raising the pelvis up at the front, then releasing the hip joints and bending at the knees and hips. This way Columba was able to bend at the correct joints – not in the spine. This is a hard issue to work at. For Columba learning “chirunning” would help him immensely to protect his back as his body grows and develops.

Foot Forward Technique

Once Cameron’s  fore/aft issues were dealt with this opened the door to being able to work on a major component of ski technique – namely “foot (or feet) forward” technique. Turn radius is controlled by a combination of dynamics and pushing the outside foot forwards. The driving of the foot forwards does not put it in front of the inside foot, instead it tightens up the turn. This gives the ability to “work” the ski. Essentially, it’s an element of skating. The exercise I have developed to communicate the sensation of “pushing” is done without the skis on and actually teaches several other things at the same time – which I won’t go into here. It’s an incredibly effective exercise which immeasurably simplifies the learning process – and is the result of many years of experimentation and evolution in teaching.










The foot is initially swung though the air with no ground contact. It’s important to not “turn” the foot – all the action is up in the hip joint only. The foot then makes a light line in the snow with the whole edge of the boot. Gradually pressure is applied so that resistance is felt and pushing is necessary. This simulates the pushing required for skiing. The pelvis must not turn during the swing of the leg. (This helps to develop hip angulation – which we will begin to look at later in the session)

Both the boys could feel much greater grip and tightness in their turns. Columba felt it was the single most useful thing he had learned so far.


Despite the poor conditions and strong wind I wanted the boys to work on this in the slalom. Fast times were not the goal today – just technical work. The foot forward technique helped both of the boys take a faster and tighter line – but with the consequence that by going faster they were struggling with the steeper sections. This is how slalom works as a training tool – moving from one challenge to the next as speed increases. Columba was clearly skiing more on one ski than before which is a great thing to see. Cameron looked amazing in certain turns but was caught out on his inside ski – probably due to a slight skid. Both were fighting to deal with higher speed. The answer to this is to generate more “proactive” dynamics at the start of the turn – to literally throw the body down towards the snow as hard as possible. We will look at this tomorrow if the conditions allow.














Both Cameron and Columba are in the “Silver” category for slalom. An instructor would be expected to be comfortably inside the gold category with the fastest racer at 21’45. The gates are about a second apart so the good racer would be finished when the boys were still six or seven gates back up the hill. This gives an idea of how much scope there is for development. However someone skiing that fast would have spent about ten full seasons race training normally – including summer and autumn! Working intelligently you can get into the gold with only one or two week’s skiing per year – I already have one 13 year old boy who has done this with no other race experience.


When filming I thought that Cameron’s fall was due to lack of hip angulation. In fact this was not the case – it was the other way around. He lost angulation due to falling. Nevertheless it was time to introduce hip angulation as a subject. Yesterday on the steep off piste terrain both boys were suffering from a lack of hip angulation. It’s one thing having angulation generated naturally though exposure to physical constraints in slalom (natural selection etc.) and another thing to understand and build awareness.

My simple way to show angulation is to use ski poles for support and to incline with the body straight. When inclined (say, to the left – uphill) I would pull back my right hip keeping the shoulders and feet still facing forwards. This causes my bottom to turn to face uphill slightly and then it can be moved uphill to create an angle in the middle of the body – “hip angulation”. Watching the skis they can be seen to edge much more as the angulation is increased. This is one set of parameters needed to control turning radius in slalom.

It’s important to realise that this is not how angulation is normally taught. It’s normally taught by facing the shoulders outwards (downhill). This is however completely wrong for the human body and it wrecks the lower back. I won’t go into that in detail here though – suffice to say – just pull back the hip.

We worked on this in general skiing and on longer carving turns where Cameron in particular could feel the edging effect. Cameron’s angulation was slightly too much sideways. The upper body has to bend forwards over the hip joint when it is pulled back – not sideways over it. Once again this is a skating action. (Everything in skiing is either skating or dynamics!)

Next thing was to combine the pushing forwards of the foot with the pulling backwards of the hip on the same leg. It’s important to make this connection because it stops the foot being pulled back along with the hip!

All of those actions with the hip work to prevent “rotation” and many other technical faults. This all becomes even more critical with pivoting, short swings and bumps – but it is much more easily introduced with dynamics as we are doing here. The reason the boys have struggled with short swings and bumps is mainly due to lack of angulation and control of rotation. This is the real reason I wanted to introduce this subject promptly.

The isolation of the hip (pulling it back) is directly from “chiskiing” – see the fixed page: Chi Skiing