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.
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.
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!