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)

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