Friday, February 20, 2015

Finn Day 5

Finn appeared to be on better form today – his last day with me on the mountain. Our first run of the day was used to sharpen up his technique a little bit before going for some fun skiing. Today I wanted Finn to be able to jump at least two or three times during a turn and to be able to swing his ski tips into the turn a little with each jump. I also wanted him to learn to make a stronger swing of the skis. Later on we revised side slipping and pivoting (once again assisting him through a few pivots) so as to reinforce the end–form mechanics. In the video it’s interesting to see Finn responding to my calls to bring his feet closer. Normally when he is behind me I can’t see if he is really responding on not.  When not jumping he was constantly reminded to move his body (belly/centre of mass) to make the turns happen. He was reminded also that the reason for putting his feet closer was to make this movement easier – and also to avoid jamming the outside ski on its inside edge too early at the start of the turn.

The music in the video is an arrangement of Paganini violin, Trip Hop and Acid Jazz – so I recommend using a good pair of headphones or speakers to listen!

Finn’s stance is actually very good. Most beginner children lean strongly on the backs of the ski boots but Finn has never needed correction for this. On day one we worked on his stance – shins touching the fronts of the boots - and it has stayed good ever since.

Today Finn was also relaxed enough allow me to take him over small bumps and banked tracks. Constant use of jumping exercises is one of the main reasons his legs are becoming more flexible and responsive (…and why his stance is generally good! You can’t jump if glued to the backs of the boots!).

It was great to hear Finn’s excitement and joy at skiing long uninterrupted runs with interesting obstacles – with a good degree of confidence and skill. In the video his spectacular loss of control and crash was because it was the first time his dad had been his guide and both were on a new learning curve in this respect.


Yesterday I explained to Finn how the learning process works. Unlike most animals we have the ability to change our own behaviour and actions but it requires training. To make this happen we usually step through a series of actions (some happening simultaneously) which we have to give our full attention – rolling the foot onto the inside edge, pulling inwards with the adductor muscles, swinging the ski tip inwards, moving the centre of mass inwards etc. Being mindful, giving full attention to all of this allows us to quickly learn how to do this automatically – so we can then think about other things and so be freed up to learn even more. What we are doing is really re-programming our unconscious mind (though I didn’t mention this detail to Finn!)


Today Finn was a little bit anxious so I reassured him that this was perfectly normal and that we all feel like that in certain situations. The important thing is to accept that anxiety and then put it to good use – either to motivate yourself to try harder or concentrate even more – or to prepare yourself for the difficulty ahead. To prepare yourself you need to visualise yourself doing the right thing and succeeding with it. You need to run through it in your mind’s eye and be sure of the outcome. When you do this then anxiety won’t cause you to freeze up when it comes to the real event. You also need to reflect on the consequences of messing up – and if there is no real risk of injury then you have to remind yourself of this. This process is also a re-programming of the unconscious mind.

Thomas – Off Piste

Despite the less than ideal off-piste conditions we decided to work a little off-piste. Thomas had mentioned in conversation a few days earlier “leaning back” so I used this as a point of entry.

Off-piste – at least in deep snow where there is a resistance due to either the ski sinking in or the force of the snow against the legs and boots – there is a need to have the centre of mass well behind the feet but this isn’t achieved effectively through leaning back (which locks up the leg muscles). This displacement of the centre of mass is done through sitting down – with the hips and knees bending as much as 90° at each joint. If you place a chair on a slope – facing downhill – and sit on it then you will slide off it and all your weight will be on your feet. Looking at this however perpendicular to the slope and the centre of mass is quite far behind the feet. This seated position is correct for challenging off-piste. The knees and feet being ahead of the body also permits bumps and compressions to be easily absorbed in a reflexive manner – the knees being able to move freely upwards. Thomas picked up on this idea very quickly and managed to feel a measure of security off-piste that he hasn’t experienced before. Despite skiing varied conditions – from crust to powder – he didn’t fall.

I had also reinforced the need to use dynamics – as we had worked on yesterday on the piste. Off-piste this can be a very intimidating thing to do – to use the lifting force of the downhill ski to exit the turn and plunge downhill with no ski below to catch you! However – it’s fun precisely because it’s this commitment that makes things really work.

In powder I demonstrated close stance, two footed pivot turns – where less dynamics is required – but the end of the turn is still used to set up the following turn.

Thomas – Carving

Long wide blue pistes are ideal for cultivating carving skills so we made use of them for this purpose. I showed Thomas his carving video from yesterday so that he could see the skis skidding the start of each turn. Video feedback is critical to change perception here. The actual issue is “proprioception”. Proprioception is the awareness in space of our relative body parts. Any complex physical skill needs video feedback to be able to correct faulty perception coming from proprioception. Trainee instructors for example need to learn to exaggerate all their movements because they invariably only actually move a fraction of the amount that they believe they are moving. We all have to re-calibrate our internal bearings in this respect. I guess it’s a bit like a fat person believing that they are thin – and even the mirror not working to change it. Video somehow does the trick in skiing because there is a mismatch between what is felt and what is seen.

We initially made “rail” carves on two skis from straight down the fall-line turning to one side – then did this crossing over the fall-line. Thomas managed this but would lose it again when trying to link turns together. This situation is only changed by working for a while on the most gentle gradients possible.

I explained that carving is where a wide stance can be useful – because it requires early use of one inside edge and then the other. Wide open stance permits access to the inside edge change almost instantly. The pivot in contrast needs to avoid the inside edge for anything up to the entire first half of the turn so a very close stance here can sometimes be useful.

Thomas – Skating

When Finn was asked to skate on day 1 he moved his feet back and forwards as if he was on figure skates! Thomas confirmed that he has only used figure skates. Ice hockey skating actions however are required for skiing – so in future he will need to use hockey skates. I wanted Thomas to be clear on the importance of skating even though I hadn’t been able to work much on that with Finn.

Down/up timing is dependent of feeling the natural skating action and rhythm in skiing. To skate you bend the leg – lowering your centre of mass – then you extend to push off and complete the skate. In a turn your centre of mass falls down towards the centre (as on a motorbike turning) and comes up to complete the turn. Both of those things combine to create powerful and natural skiing dynamics. The timing taught systematically in ski schools is the precise opposite –and wrong!

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