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.
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.
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.
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.