Thursday, March 5, 2015

Alistair Day 1 Time Loop

Alistair’s return to Val d’isère after an absence of err… 19 years… feels a bit weird, because not only has he physically not changed but neither has his skiing! It’s like time has stood still and suddenly the past became the present again. I had expected to see a worn out, fat old blob appear in front of me – but instead was delighted (for a change) to see a sensible human being who has managed to look after himself correctly! All of this just goes to support my theory that the “arrow of time” itself is completely dependent on skiing! When the entire world is falling apart the only sensible thing to do is go skiing.

The first video clip is just Alistair’s normal skiing – before working on anything. The idea here is to have a reference – not to use it to compile criticisms. His strength as a competent semi-pro level skier disguises fundamental problems – which would quickly become really obvious in challenging conditions – such as in a race course, bumps field or off–piste. After filming I had to take a moment to allow my intuition to go to work and decide for me where to begin. The key is not to be preoccupied by symptoms – but to get directly to the causes. Doctors treat many illness symptoms with drugs and practically never cure anything. Skiers deserve better than toxic prescriptions (such as delivered by BASI idiots!) so after some time I settled on the obvious stemming issue that Alistair displayed at lower speed – a permanent legacy from his instructor training. This indicates that he is fundamentally trained to look for the inside edge of the new turning ski and will have been brainwashed to believe (incorrectly) that a ski works only by being placed on its edge and bent through pressure. With this “ski school “ rubbish in his head no amount of attention to “symptoms” would ever change anything but instead the underlying cause could be addressed properly by working on the Pivot. Prior to starting Alistair told me he had been given a run through the new BASI technique and that it was all different. When he explained this in detail it was clear that nothing fundamental has changed at all and their technical descriptions are even more stupid and incorrect than before. Basically BASI is a good example of Hegelian Dialectic – where “consensus” replaces rationality – because its management is permanently a mixture of spineless creeps and self-interested morons. Let’s now move on… fortunately Alistair himself has a open mind and in the past 19 years my teaching has progressed non-stop – directly away from mindless BASI crap!

There would be essentially four fundamental elements addressed during the day – each crossing over and relevant to each other:

Pivot Mechanics

Dynamics (Entry)

Core Activation

Stance (Proprioception / Function)

The work on skiing – during the stormy weather – would take place between coffees and long discussions concerning the current hijacking of the world by the Rothschild bankers and all the inherent disastrous consequences. Unfortunately those bastards actually built the first commercial ski resort – in Mégève near Chamonix – and then started the ESF – of which BASI is a vastly inferior copy. (BASI stands for British Association of Spineless Imbiciles)


Pivot Mechanics

The use of the word “Pivot” here unfortunately just reflects my own lack of imagination and inability to generate a more appropriate term. Alistair is introduced here to proper pivot mechanics for the first time. Despite actually following this blog closely over the years he had not managed to transcribe this into physical reality for himself. Having travelled over 12,000 miles to get here he was not about the waste the opportunity to sort this out.

Unlike most people Alistair actually managed all variations of the pivot during the first session. The video clip is off each of the three forms – his early impressive successful attempts…

The key to the (pure) pivot is that the skis are at all times kept on their uphill edges. It is essentially an inherently “braking” form of skiing – for controlling speed in the fall line. Most turns in all skiing, by all skiers, at all times employ the pivoting effect at some stage of the turn. Skis work in three different ways mechanically – edge deflection (carving), base deflection (flotation) and pivoting. There can be a crossover between those elements – but without the ability to separate them the skier is effectively castrated and dysfunctional.

The three forms of pivoting are Outside Ski, Inside Ski, Two Skis. Turns (in pure form) always use only the uphill edges – at all times. Picture yourself in a steep couloir! Your life could depend on keeping those skis below you at all times – on their uphill edges! Same in a steep bump field. Unlike in racing – you seriously do not want to get on that inside (downhill) edge (accelerator) at the start of a turn.

The pivot is developed directly from sideslipping. We began by controlling sideslipping by rolling the feet only – downhill to slide and uphill to stop. The “ankle” cannot be rolled laterally because it is a pure hinge joint. Rolling is through the subtaler joint beneath the ankle. Standing on only his uphill ski – uphill edge - Alistair was rapidly able to dissociate the edge of his ski from the edge of his foot. The goal here is to sideslip while on the uphill edge of the ski but downhill edge of the foot. This is basic preparation for pivoting. Maintaining the ski on its uphill edge means that pushing out the tails (stemming) is impossible – especially when standing exclusively on that edge. The ski can only slide into the turn through the tip swinging downhill – with no resistance from the lower edge (inside) as it is not in contact with the snow. I physically assisted Alistair through a few turns so that he would get the correct feeling of the mechanism. This would be the first time in his life he had felt a ski distinctly turn from its outside edge – and it would be the most rapid and effective pivot he had ever made.

Strong ski pole support is essential when pivoting (and not being assisted) and Alistair’s initial failure to use his poles reflects the fact that he has never made use of his poles in skiing. I explained that the pole permits a controlled motion of the centre of mass into the new turn – at a slow enough speed for the pivot to function. Gravity at 10 m/s/s acceleration would just massively overwhelm a controlled pivot so we need to hold it back a little here. It’s also important to avoid forward motion when developing the pivot – keep it pure and keep it directly in the fall line!

Use of the adductor muscles was introduced to both help to engage the core of the body and to give the impression of directly pulling/swinging the tip of the ski into the turn. In reality there are two mechanisms here – A - the lateral force of the adductor muscles and B - slip of the ski downwards combined with the motion of the centre of mass. We did one exercise – blocking the ski tip with a ski pole and pulling inwards against it – until Alistair could clearly feel the precise isolation of the adductor muscles. (There is absolutely NO twisting or steering action! The knee is NEVER forced inwards!)

When moving on to turning on the inside ski the role of the centre of mass becomes clear – because in this case the foot is rolled uphill over the uphill edge of the ski and the adductor muscles hold the leg uphill – only the centre of mass controlled by the ski pole support is used to make the turn! Alistair did an impressive job of this too!

Next we moved on to “Two footed” pivoting platforms – where quite simply both skis give a pivoting support simultaneously – ideal for off-piste in powder where more flotation is needed and the pivot can be extremely playful. Alistair’s tendency to stem appeared initially but by focusing on directing the centre of mass he was able to overcome this. With close stance two footed pivoting both sets of adductors are strongly activated – stabilising the platform and the core of the body. Two footed pivoting can also be carried out with a very wide stance!

The overall goal here was to make Alistair aware (and provide the skills) so that he did not need to depend on exclusively looking for the inside edge of the new turning ski to begin every turn. This is a fundamental and major shift.

Short Swings

Later in the day we returned to pivoting but in the form of short swings. The short swing involves jumping and swinging the ski tips into a new turn while airborne. The swing can just be a few degrees or in a dangerous couloir is can be 180 degrees. For most purposes a good clean extension is best when airborne – which facilitates good absorption and flexion on landing. On steep terrain however it’s necessary to retract the legs beneath the body while airborne and this reduces the overall vertical motion of the centre of mass – preventing you from bouncing off down the hill on landing. For 180 degree short swings leg retraction is also necessary. This is where light wood core skis seriously win over heavy freeride skis – because the light swing weight is an enormous advantage.

The actual jump should be seen as the end of a previous turn – or from a traverse it’s the preparation phase for a new turn. You are not jumping up at the start of the turn. When this applies to rebound in deep snow for example – the vertical rebound comes from the end of the turn – as the centre of mass exits the turn.

Alistair initially could only step and not jump his skis simultaneously. His work on the pivot combined with a few jumping exercises rapidly overcame this issue.


When Alistair skied with his pivot his timing looked great and extremely natural. When he did any longer turns where there was time to think and pose it degenerated rapidly. In the final video there is a slow motion section of a terrible “downsink poleplant” of BASI heritage.


Dynamics (Entry)

Developing the pivot introduces a very keen awareness of how the directing of the centre of mass controls a turn. It shows how destructive stemming is and the subsequent tendency to push the skis outwards or even just to brace against them – “park and ride” fashion. As usual most errors in dynamics are also linked to a failure to understand basic physics. People are easily misled by the illusion of “centrifugal force” – which although appearing to be very real actually does not exist in this context. The actual mathematics behind this is a trick developed by d’Alembert about 50 years after Sir Isaac Newton died. Centrifugal force referred to here is a fictitious “force” used in the context of “dynamic balance” – also a fiction – for the purposes of number crunching. It does this by pretending there are no accelerations. The name “dynamic balance” was coined in order to warn people that there was no physical “balance” – it’s only a fictitious mathematical “balance”.

Swinging a ball on a string around your head the ball only experiences one force (other than gravity and air resistance)! The force is from the string and it is exclusively inwards. This force is called “centripetal” (inward) force and it does exist. There is no centrifugal force on the ball – it does not exist here! There is however a centrifugal (outward) force on my hand – but that is irrelevant! The skier is that ball – the only “turning” forces acting on him (other than gravity and air) are always inwards. The skier has to realise that this “inward pulling string” can never be allowed to go slack! All efforts must be made inwards and to encourage inwards impulses. Stemming or displacing either the skis or the centre of mass outwards is a disaster – and lack of action inwards is the most limiting issue in any skier development.

We are however only discussing here the “entry” of the turn – the “exit” being another issue altogether – and reserved for a later session.

After practising dynamics for some time Alistair went off piste in powder for the first time ever with his new pivoting skills and dynamics and quite honestly he looked great. This short section is captured in Video clip number 3 here…


Core Activation

Prior to Alistair’s off-piste exploits we had worked a little on Core coordination. This is based on the principles from Chi-Running – where the understanding is developed that upper/lower body separation is not at the base of the spine but at the 12 thoracic vertebra (bottom of ribs). I demonstrated to Alistair how this causes the spine to wind up in the opposite direction compared to conventional “upper lower body separation” and how this actually activates the entire core of the body – integrating not separating the upper and lower body – providing far better skiing mechanics and protection for the lower back. Some Chi-Walking uphill was used to show the link to other activities and explain exactly how this mechanism comes from our basic correct walking  mechanics and fits into skiing – in a very counterintuitive manner – due to the power phase of the leg occurring as it forced forwards instead of behind.

The key is simple – keeping the feet parallel and straight ahead and also the shoulders – just pull the right hip back to go left – and the left hip back to go right – far enough to stretch and activate the core – and to actively prevent any “hip rotation” in the direction of the turn. This gives the classic stance of a slalom skier hitting modern breakaway poles ( as opposed to the old solid poles which required upper/lower body separation). The hip and spine are isolated up to the rib cage. This makes turn initiation much easier and off piste this is exactly what Alistair felt.

Part of the visible problem with Alistair’s old skiing has been that linked to the “pushing out” or stemming there has been a strong hip rotation as the ski advances around the turn and the upper body is blocked facing downhill. His “base of the spine” upper/lower body separation causes a complete internal disconnection and deactivation of the core – compressing the ribs towards the pelvis).

Stance (Proprioception / Function)

Back on the open piste it was clear that Alistair had a narrow stance all the time – sometimes dropping his outside knee into the turn in a knee tuck. I explained that there are different stances for different purposes. The narrow stance is useful for pivoting as it puts the outside ski automatically on its outside edge – but in racing a wider stance makes access to the inside edge of that ski automatic. If you want to carve then it’s generally better to adopt a wide stance for this purpose. Asking Alistair to adopt an extremely wide stance just about put him at the correct width – exposing a proprioception issue. I filmed him and showed him on the spot so that he could get the right reference – and see that this “ultra wide” feeling for him was not very wide at all.

When trying to carve all of Alistair’s problems became evident.  The artificial blocking of the upper body facing downhill – the lack of active use of the centre of mass inwards – all being replaced by and ineffective rolling of the feet and faulty lateral displacement of the hips – simply cancelled out any real centre of mass use and caused the skis to be pushed out instead at the turn initiation. This faulty body “posing” cannot make use of the skis at the start of a turn. (This can be achieved correctly through a combination of dynamics and skating – as we will look at next time!)

Too many issues were now being addressed so I simply asked Alistair to turn his belly button towards his inside ski and avoid jamming his body facing downhill – then focus on always moving that centre of mass to make the turn – not the rolling of the feet and never a displacement of the hips. It’s the centre of mass that puts the skis on edge – not the feet. We already showed that even in the pivot it’s the centre of mass that controls the turn – and it’s far more obvious with carving – and especially “inside edging”!

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