Saturday, January 31, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 5

Mindful Skiing

Due to the cold we only stopped for a minute to film Derin working on skating step turns. This is normally considered fairly advanced technique – but I consider it to be fundamental and to be taught from the very beginning. Skiing is really a variation of skating – most professionals even fail to understand this simple reality. People who unfortunately learn to ski in a snowplough almost never find this out – but Derin has never been taught to snowplough…

Pivoting Skills

Today started off on the Lanches ski run – going up to altitude before the weather deteriorated as predicted.  Although the whole family turned up the priority was to proceed with Derin’s coaching. While we were skiing to warm up I noticed that everyone in the family was looking constantly for the inside edge of the ski to begin a turn – with various stemming and other issues cropping up. When everyone was together I asked what happens to the ski to begin a turn and Derin immediately responded by pivoting her uphill ski downhill on the uphill edge – exactly right. Unfortunately I had to then try to explain that to everyone else – but due to general signs of impatience there wasn’t a lot of point developing the subject. I was really surprised to see that Derin had remembered this movement from previous years because it’s how she initially learned to ski – using the opposite edge of the ski from that used in a snowplough. The thing is that I’ve never properly explained this to her and made it clear to her what she is doing with respect to the alternatives – and how everyone else does the opposite to her. Her mother was the only other one to pick up on this on this occasion and to obviously manage to make it work ! 

Centred Stance

During the continued descent I had to correct Derin constantly to try to get her to keep contact with the shins on the front of the boots. When she is reminded she manages this quite well – otherwise she tends to fall onto the backs of the boots. She just needs constant feedback and correction here to re-centre her stance. If she skis without correction then this can set up a life-long bad habit and problem – so it has to be dealt with properly and constantly. Unfortunately I can’t explain too much here as she is so young – so I may have to invent a new way to explain how to be “perpendicular” to the mountain!


Later on (after hot chocolate!) we did a lot of jumping between turns. This is to help re-centre Derin and stop her from leaning on the boots. It also brings the skis closer together and gets her uphill ski back parallel and on its outside edge – ready for pivoting. To encourage the pivoting we even started to do some “jump turns” where the pivot of the skis into the new turn is done while in the air. This scared Derin slightly on steeper terrain – so when that happened we reverted to step turns where there is more feeling of pressure and security.


Derin had a brief lesson on skating – holding onto a pole across in front of her and trying to push me (me providing resistance) with her skis diverging and gripping with the insides of her feet and the ski edges. She rapidly improved her grip and strength (but there is still work to do on this). Keeping the pole across in front of her I then moved out of the way and told her to now push forward as if I was still there. This is what produces skating!

Skating Step Turns

We had already started to work on skating step turns earlier – which is when you change direction by stepping from ski to ski by diverging the skis and then stepping them back together again – always stepping to the left to go left or right to go right. We had already worked the previous session on doing this with one step to initiate a turn – diverging the new inside ski off downhill into the new turn. Derin was able to do this well and it is in the previous blog post and makes her look like a little ski racer. After her skating lesson she could then skate through whole turns – as in seen in the video clip above.

This is a major skill to develop because it is all about directing the centre of mass by using the grip from the skis and using the legs properly. Derin actually copies my movements very well and picks up remarkably clearly on some quite difficult physical movements. I only need to explain a little to her and she almost immediately understands.

Mindful Skiing

The overall goal with Derin is to use her obvious intelligence, capacity and courage to help her to become a “mindful” skier. This means that she will know very clearly what to do with her body and be able to focus on it – much in the same way as someone becomes a martial arts master or excels in yoga. The idea is to learn to centre the mind and body – to develop internal focus. Don’t underestimate the capacity of a child in this respect! Derin is already doing very well.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 4


2015                                                                                                                              2013













There’s definitely an improvement in the hot chocolate handling in the last two years!

Red Run – Blizzard!

Today was a blizzard at altitude but it was time to get Derin up a nice long red run for the first time – and with the snow scaring most of the reckless idiots off the pistes and new fresh snow instead of ice then today was the perfect opportunity. Derin was in fact the only small child to go up the Grand Motte – but not only did I have confidence in her, she’s also light enough to carry down the mountain quickly on my back if things ever do get out of hand. It turned out to be a perfect move and Derin skied the whole of the Lanches run without a single fall or problem – improving all the way down.

Initially where it is quite steep at the top Derin’s legs were getting tired because she was leaning back against the ski boots quite severely. We stopped so that she could sit down for a minute to recover and once again I explained to her the need to press the shins against the boots and not the calf muscles at the back of the legs. This not only takes all the strain off the muscles it makes skiing much easier. Quite impressively Derin succeeded in doing this much better for the rest of the descent and only needed a few more stops before the bottom.

The purpose of the run – while making the most of the ski conditions – was to stretch Derin a little bit further. She is at a stage where if this is done correctly she will respond with significant improvement. The main thing is to avoid taking it too far and to always be there for her when she needs support. Feedback and correction are important and ensuring that we are building on the basic foundation of the body movements that she has been cultivating from the very beginning – namely – the movement of the centre of mass. (Though she is not aware of this – she does it reflexively and naturally now).

After the epic red run Derin needed to feel slightly less challenged so we remained on the Bollin and worked specifically on exercises to strengthen her skiing and continue her overall improvement.


One great way to overcome the locking of the legs in the back of the boots – which stiffens then and wears out the muscles – is to practice jumping. The idea is to first of all do it standing still, bending at the knees and hips and then jumping up straightening the body. After that we do it when moving in a straight line. This also helps to bring the skis closer together – so for Derin I would get her to do one jump just before turning to naturally narrow her stance a little. In the video clip she is filmed just a little while before she understood how to straighten the body with the jump.

Stepping – repeatedly lifting the inside leg and padding it down on the ground.

The next exercise is quite tricky and until today I wasn’t even sure if Derin could understand it – but she actually did it really well. The idea is to just lift one leg then put it back down again. This also causes bending of that knee and hip – but also improves the coordination for standing on one leg and ski. Once this is done then the next stage is to begin a turn with lifting the downhill ski and putting it back down again – repeating all the way through the turn (where it becomes the inside ski). Derin understood what I meant about “inside and outside” skis with the aid of a diagram in the snow. In the video the first time she is filmed doing this she actually picks up the wrong leg – the outside one! Then she repeats the exercise getting it right next time.

The video for today ends with her skiing with both the stepping and jumping – showing great all round improvement while showing off to her big sister!

The images here show Derin starting to resemble a racer already! With stepping the skis naturally diverge at the tips and her weight goes effectively onto one leg.









Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 3


Unfortunately today there wasn’t much time for filming so we only have a few moments recorded towards the end of the day as Derin negotiates a natural “half-pipe” for the first time – followed by steep and narrow bumps and then a steep traverse out of the gully – all of which she managed unassisted.

We skied a lot of off-piste for long runs and Derin stayed in my tracks the whole time effortlessly – getting faster all the time and dealing with even some quite steep slopes and deeper snow – the snow often  being variable and not the easiest.

We only spent a few minutes on edging exercises – introducing side-slipping to add to the side-stepping down a steep slope. Derin was making progress constantly so my aim was just to proceed with this and allow it to continue – covering very varied terrain and as much mileage as possible. Derin did really well, is very brave and has a great attitude. The weather will perhaps not be so good tomorrow so we may focus on more technical exercises if that is the case. I’m very happy with her progress and that she can now get around the mountain quickly, ski comfortably off-piste beside a red slope and deal with all sorts of snow conditions with no problems (except steep ice at the moment – due to her wide stance). We can ease off and work on technical stuff now if we have to.


















Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 2


Day two and Derin is up and running. When the slope is not intimidating or tricky she can already  maintain a good speed – and even follows me off piste in varying snow without realising that anything is different. That’s exactly how it should be.

Derin until now has done precisely what all children do – that is she turns at exactly the same time that her coach turns – completely without regard for where the turn is actually made – and usually making a much tighter and slower turn. That was fine when we needed to be sure that she could turn quickly and stop to protect herself. The trick when teaching is for the coach to anticipate “where” she is actually going to turn and so time his turn accordingly! Today Derin was ready at last for the big step up that means actually following in the tracks of the coach. The goal now is to get her to take a line on the snow or ice that dictates her speed and control differently and to allow her to access increased speed – naturally – and that’s what she managed to do.

Bouncing the shins

While I was assisting Derin (pole support) going over to Val d’Isère I had her bouncing with her shins against the fronts of her boots – both during turning and straight running. The idea is to help her escape from the feeling of being locked against the backs of her boots. She managed this comfortably as we moved along.

Skating / Herring bone steps

Now that Derin had poles for the first time she could use them for pushing along the flats. To help her get up a slight incline – and avoid her tendency to slide backwards – we did a few minutes work on Herring Bone steps – the skis diverging and feet on their inside edges – skis on their inside edges and then stepping forwards. Children need to be reminded to place the poles BEHIND the feet so that they can push. They tend to put the poles in the ground in front. Basically, Derin was a natural with her poles compared to most children so it was the right time to let he begin to use them.

Later – for only a few moments we had a look at skating – but that will have to be dealt with in much more depth. The important thing is that she is picking up an awareness of using the edges of her feet and skis – and how to point the skis in different directions for different effects.

Side Stepping

For the first time Derin managed controlled side stepping down a steep slope, keeping the uphill ski on it’s uphill edge and parallel. Like most children she has a defensive tendency to look for the familiar inside edge of that ski and so reflexively point the ski downhill by mistake. With only a small amount of correction and feedback she is already succeeding in overcoming this.

Returning to Tignes there were some steep, narrow and icy sections to negotiate – but Derin managed to ski them all unassisted – including some steep traverses. This requires good edge control and even some sideslipping – which she is managing to do naturally. She was pretty tired but it’s an impressive step up in one day! She did extremely well.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Derin 2015 Day 1

Today was Derin’s first day back on skis for a year – and she remembered everything from the very first run. The first hour was used just to allow her to become comfortable – but it was her insistence to ski unaided during the first descent. I videoed her skiing right at the start and when the slope was gentle her skiing was parallel and very well controlled. This is the first scene in the video posted below.

The slopes are quite hard and icy but this didn’t appear to worry Derin – who is quite comfortable travelling sideways because we have practiced that ever since she started learning to ski. I’m permitting her to be “over-controlled” and even to stem her skis a bit when going slowly (the stem being unintentional) because it’s far more important at this stage that she feels that she knows how to slow down than how to go fast! Speed is controlled by turning – and especially by finishing each turn.

At this stage Derin is not quite able to figure out when to let the skis run a bit more – so she sometimes grinds to a halt. She is a bit unclear about which direction to point the skis too – but those things come quickly with experience. When I ask her to hold onto my ski pole it’s so I can either take her safely through a difficult section, protect her from fast skiers or most often to let her feel the sensations of increased speed when travelling either straight or turning. When turning along with me I’m controlling her centre of mass – and this is what she has picked up on naturally by herself. Increased speed means increased forces so she will become familiar with the correct sensations. Derin was able to sideslip down some quite steep and icy sections with both skis parallel and on the uphill edges – something her body remembers from early training!

The best part of Derin remembering everything was that we could start immediately to work on new things. Her English is much better and she understands much more than a year ago so the time is right to introduce some proper technical elements into her skiing.

Correct Use of Feet

Indoors we pretended our hands were our feet and I showed Derin that the hands are rolled onto their edges  and pushed forwards – not turned. In the video this is shown properly with my feet – demonstrating what happens inside a ski boot. Derin understood this and immediately had more grip on the icy slopes for returning from Val to Tignes.

Foot Forwards

To help to ensure Derin had good control I explained to her to push the outside foot in the turn forwards to tighten up the turn. This is especially useful for narrow passages. She managed to use this to good effect straight away.


Perhaps partly due to pushing the foot forwards and partly due to the steepness of the hills Derin was tending to lean on the backs of her ski boots a little. I explained that it was important to be able to always touch the front of the ski boot with the shin instead. We did a few exercises for this both on the skis and in the restaurant without the skis to make sure that Derin understood.

Patience is necessary at this stage. She still has to become aware of edge control and to work on some basic coordination – but that will be added soon. Her speed will increase naturally when the time is right and the stemming (snowplough) will disappear again. We need to work a little on skating too – but that can be very tiring so there won’t be too much of that! With some fresh snow coming down we will be off piste soon too. Four hours with her seemed a little too short as there is so much to do and she is so much more capable now – however we should still take it easy at this stage.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Another day with nothing happening at Tignes….

Royal Navy SuperG then a French ski club race at the Merle – with the crazy BunJride just by the side…

Chris and I climbed up to this couloir (I never manage to learn the names!) and Chris went in first and had to sideslip the first 100m – so I cut back at the top and came through a different couloir so was able to take a few photographs from below.

Later on after another couloir at the Petite Balm we found a stretch of deep powder that nobody had skied – but most of the snow was a bit more challenging – but fun all the same!



Monday, January 19, 2015

Tignes–The Jump to “Nowhere”!


I really like the new jump they have built at Tignes. What you can’t see from this telephoto shot is that there is a cable along side it that the jumper is attached to  - so it’s actually a ski “bungy jump”! However at 65€ a pop I might give that one a miss.

I was up the mountain to help with the Royal Navy annual races and it was a very relaxed event as usual.










The latest storm passing over the Grand Motte once again failed to leave a great deal of snow. In reality there is good snow cover because it has filled in the gullies between the rocks. The pistes are in good condition and there is quality skiing possible. Unfortunately people only see that there isn’t deep snow everywhere and they switch off and don’t want to ski. It’s weird! Conditions couldn’t be better for working on technique – both on and off-piste.



Work was finished early so I returned home to get out for a bike ride before dark. The days are already getting longer so returning home by 5pm it’s still daylight now!

Yes – T-shirt in mid January – but it’s close to freezing. Climbing makes you hot and it’s good for the body to get as much sunlight and cool air as possible!

















Great cloud formation on the border with Italy at la Rosière!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Alex, Daisy, Mike Day 5

Last day and Daisy was back with us. Despite Daisy missing out on the consistent training needed to build her confidence and technique at this stage (Each day adds a big chunk of experience!) she had a very positive attitude and was really keen to get into the slalom course. Knowing that two years ago she hurt her wrist very badly in the slalom I was maintaining silence on the subject myself – and the motivation came entirely from Daisy herself. Following the slalom we went on a proper off-piste excursion with deep and tricky snow – affected by yesterday's late temperature rise – and Daisy wasn’t in the least bit worried about that either. Alex had been great all week too – accepting that he wouldn’t be able to do the jumping that he had obviously been looking forward to (there was no airbag jump set up) and just adapted to make the most of any other opportunities. Despite Alex’s obvious improvement in technique this didn’t translate into a faster time in the slalom for him. Had the slalom timing equipment been working though I’m sure it would have brought a result as his line through the course would have quickly improved – but we stopped slalom thinking he already had a faster time – which at between 29.7 and 30 seconds was still in the “bronze”.

Alex Technique

Alex’s first run in the slalom course was a mess because he just thought about beating his previous time and not about the recent changes he has been applying to his skiing. He was then asked to have another run through the course and this time to think about pulling back his hip and increasing his dynamic range. This time he made the changes and his skiing and grip were vastly improved . It would have taken a few runs to translate this into a better time because with the new feelings involved the skis would take a different line and practically everything would change. Unfortunately an electrical fault in the slalom timing circuit caused us to be wasting too much time and to have no direct feedback – so it was time to move on to the off-piste.

Off piste in deep snow Alex actually did very well – but once again he was pitched over to the outside when the terrain surprised him. The answer to this issue is exactly the same as for slalom – get the body to the inside of the turn and work to prevent hip rotation.

Towards the end of the session we practiced pivoting on either ski or both skis (close stance – acting as a single platform) and Alex can now manage all permutations.

Daisy Technique

Daisy, when confronted with anything slightly challenging, has developed the habits of leaning back against her ski boots and using the inside ski as a stabiliser. Once we had finished with the slalom and off piste we spent some time working on “stance” to help to change this situation. Daisy was asked to lean against the backs of the boots while standing still on flat ground – to feel the muscles tighten in the fronts of the legs. she was then asked to lean against the fronts of the boots and to feel the muscle tension in the backs of the legs. After this she was asked to stand in the middle and not lean against the boots to feel how relaxed it is. The point is that when sliding downhill this should be the “basic stance” – with the skier perpendicular to the slope (explained visually using ski poles). We practiced running straight downhill on a gentle to moderate undulating slope so that Daisy could have the opportunity to feel how to make the appropriate adjustments.

On her next run we practiced pivoting – mainly to allow her to feel the ease of the pivot on on leg when an improved stance is adopted. Pivoting just won’t happen when locked in the back of the boots. Daisy had improved, narrowing her stance naturally in just the very short window of time that she had my full attention.


Mike Technique

Mike was really starting to overcome the “Zag effect” – were the extra ski width and aggressive parabolic sidecut of the ski had initially brought out all the worst gremlins in his skiing. During the off piste descent Alex was sure that his dad was going to face plant – but I was pretty sure that he wasn’t. Mike used his dynamics but still respecting the need to pivot – keeping the feet downhill from the body and relatively close together (to hopefully act as a single platform). The main limitation here was just lack of experience but the skis worked fine and there was a flotation effect. The legs needed to be used independently but simultaneously to create one platform when pivoting is being used in deep snow. This is one of the reasons why we spent a moment later on revising the “two ski” pivot.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Eve Off Piste

This was Eve’s only day Off Piste this season – so she is skiing brilliantly for such little time on snow!

Despite this being peak holiday season we had the off piste entirely to ourselves! Eve has fully understood the fact that the most important technical aspect of skiing is the smile! We did work a little towards the end on technique – to stop eve from letting her hip rotate around the turn (and twist her spine the wrong way in her case – accompanied with a loss of abdominal tension and hollowed lower back) – but only when there was no more off piste for the day and we had to get down a tricky passage with little snow.  The priority for the day was to find good snow and ski it – and to escape the manic madness of the pistes.

The wide skis – over 12cm under the foot – were very stressful on Eve’s ankles so we had to swap over skis. It took me a while to realise why she was complaining about the ankles or I’d have swapped skis sooner. Anything over 11cm wide beneath the foot will cause this problem – especially when – as with Eve – most of the ligaments are already missing in the ankle. I found it tiring on my “complete” ligament set up with those wide skis!










Alex, Mike Day 4

Today’s goal was to improve carving and to get Alex back into slalom. Alex set his benchmark on his second run at 29.78 seconds – obtaining the “bronze” level and only 0/35 seconds from the silver.


Most of the technical focus today was on Mike, but Alex was doing a good job of soaking up information and made some really big changes by the end of the session.

Even with the Ski stuck out far to the side like an outrigger Mike was initially unable to hold the ski on edge when sliding. Gradually it transpired that he was twisting his foot inwards and going along with the torque of the ski in this sense – instead of holding the heel of the foot inwards and making the leg resist the torque so that the entire system would turn instead. In addition to the foot being twisted the hip was also being pulled forwards. All of this would pull Mike’s centre of mass outwards and cause the ski to break off the edge and go into a pivot. The keys to correcting this were first to be aware of the foot issue and then to actively pull the hip backwards – without the shoulders coming back along with the hip. Mike rapidly remembered both of those actions and was able to employ them to lower the centre of mass down and into the turns more effectively. Alex, while picking up on all this stuff in the background did a brilliant job and literally transformed his skiing. I was sorry not to have managed to film it – but I’m sure he can reproduce it. Gradually Mike was managing to feel the proper carving power of his parabolic Zags falling into place as the old bad habits were thrown off (again!)  The hip action from “Chi Skiing” is the key that dramatically changed things for Alex – so it will be interesting to see where this takes him in slalom. (We also applied the hip action in pivoting on small bumps!)


I explained some tactics for slalom to Alex, but at this stage it’s more important just to strengthen basic technique. The main limitation for Alex has been his lack of dynamic range – which is only ever increased by accident when his lower ski slips away. The hip alteration he made was given in the context of using it to allow him to get his bottom nearer to the snow – and this seems to work very well for Alex – dramatically increasing his dynamic range and bringing his skis closer together naturally. Instead of using his inner ski as a stabilizer he now gets his stability from his dynamics.

The tactics I explained to Alex were to make his turns round (not to go straight to the pole and then turn too late) but pass by the pole very closely. I also explained that the apex of the turn needs to be towards the outside of the turn not at the bottom of the turn – which makes the linked turns appear like skating straight down the hill going from one outside leg to the other.


Both Mike and Alex had a go at “carving” off piste – which is essentially “freeride”. You “ride the ski” with pressure through the turn and the wider skis don’t just sink in and stop. instead of the ski tracking purely on the edge the entire base is deflected by the deeper snow – but the technique is the same as racing.

View of Tignes Glacier from Toviere