Cugnai Valley – Off Piste
Today it was time to put into practical use some of the coaching from the last two days. Conditions off piste were generally tough but I had no doubts regarding the ability of the boys to cope. Everything learned on the piste or in the race course is ultimately to develop the freedom to ski in the wilds and to be able to be safe and to really enjoy it – instead of struggling.
Off Piste in the high mountains is inherently dangerous and the boys need to be clear about this. It’s one thing being able to technically ski something but another thing to understand the mountain environment. Pistes are controlled and supervised with about the only danger present being collision with others. Off Piste nothing is controlled – no avalanches are brought down by dynamite and everything is left to nature.
Our problem today however was simply that the snow in most places was set like concrete. The top of Cugnai forms a large bowl and we would have to traverse an icy south facing wall to get over to the sun sheltered north facing slopes and couloirs. I expected the north slopes to still be in good condition and was not disappointed. The photo on the far right is a long steep north facing descent with good snow and no ice, though slightly breakable in places. The camera lens perspective hides the steepness.
The other photo is from where we had to change route slightly, walking uphill to go from a narrow to a wider couloir. At this lower altitude it was slightly more icy so we couldn’t take any chances.
Cameron used jump turns on the steep and he did them well, staying in control the whole time. Occasionally his inside ski would get caught but this was because of his weight being too far back and not using his pole for support in the pivot/jump turn. The pole helps to get the upper body in the right place for tight pivoted turns.
Columba skied with good leg use but didn’t actually jump, making his turns longer and with a little more speed. He copied me because although I’d used jumps at the very top of the slope (above the boys) it was less steep further down so I’d not used jumps any more. I’d have preferred if he had either used jumps or had managed to keep his turns a bit tighter to show that he was dictating his line and not letting the slope dominate.
We found sections of good spring snow at some points and the choice of route worked out very well. Absolutely nobody else was in the entire valley! Part of the beauty of developing strong technique is that you escape the crowds, especially when they think that skiing there will be too difficult!
Skating exercises were carried out as we worked our way over to the slalom course. Cameron had improved his skating already and Columba was skating well but not managing to link dynamics to the skating action. Both boys were tending to try to twist the knees inwards so a bit of correction was required. I explained that the feet should be rolled onto the inside edges by standing on the heels and rolling the feet from beneath the ankle joints. This action from the heel area allows the adductor muscles on the inside of the leg to be used to hold the knee inwards without any twisting or without endangering the knee joint. This lateral movement of the knee is strong and limited to a short range of movement – ideal for holding the ski on edge when skating or skiing. The ski edge is well to the inside of the foot (not centred below the foot)so it is always trying to flatten the foot and to pull the leg outwards – so that’s why this sort of leg action is required when on skis. The video shows how the boys were beginning to connect the rhythm of skating to dynamics and to generate a resonance with the skis. Cameron didn’t complete his turns quite enough to build up force so he picked up a bit too much speed.
Earlier on I’d asked the boys to just feel the pressure cycle beneath the feet coming from the dynamics alone – and to observe how it feels like skating.
Slalom (Columba 28.17 secs, Cameron 28.86 secs)
Competition was getting fierce in the slalom and both boys improved their times once again. Columba managed to keep his legs apart and his advantage is that he anticipates his turns well and so gets a relatively good line. I asked both boys to take advantage of their wider stance and to push the body down into the new turn very strongly from the uphill leg – similar to the jump turn but pushing the centre of mass down instead of up – and from the inside edge! With this change they both realised their fastest times so far. Cameron is still a bit too far back in his boots and Columba bending at the waist so perhaps we can deal with that tomorrow. Cameron can certainly improve his line and Columba can generate earlier dynamics. Both need to now begin to learn how to use leg retraction to get the body to move more rapidly across the skis. Columba has some natural leg retraction and this appears to be how he manages to get a better line. Two of the photos here of the same gate show the difference between the lines of the boys. The bottom right photo shows how early Columba sets up his line.
The target today for jumping seemed to be just to execute a correct 360°. Both managed it and showed greater confidence and improved proprioception (awareness of relative body parts in space).