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.

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