Seyhan decided to join us this morning for a few hours of technical input. First of all I watched Seyhan skiing. It only takes two or three turns for me to get an overall idea of most people’s skiing – though with advanced skiers it can take several hours to read their movement patterns, properly separating cause and effect issues. Seyhan’s skiing was comfortable and competent on piste and even in tricky conditions with patches of ice and piled up snow.
Harsh weather made it impractical to focus on careful exercises or explanations – but to improve Seyhan’s skiing would require a few fundamental shifts in understanding. Her tendency to stem the uphill ski, a quick push outwards of two skis when not stemming, absence of hip angulation, lack of movement in the legs, “up/down” timing the wrong way round (“should be down/up”), constantly square stance to the skis (no upper/lower body isolation) were all just symptoms of the result of classic ski instruction. We can’t overturn this without at least some explanation and there are no “patches” to put it right – only fundamental changes will do that. Most skiers incorrectly assume such limitations in their skiing to be a reflection on their own athletic abilities and motivation – but the reality is that it all originates from being taught endless unintelligent nonsense in ski schools – beginning with the ridiculous “snowplough and stemming” to the total failure of the professionals to understand even the most basic physics of movement – namely “dynamics”. This physics is taught to 14 year old children so there is no acceptable excuse for such a dangerous failure of this profession. (In France ski instruction is a state ratified and protected “High Risk” profession where the minister of sport issues a license – even if those receiving it could never pass a high school physics exam – or those who did never understood what any of it was really about)
Given the weather situation I decided to dive straight into “dynamics” with minimal explanation. After only a very brief description of skiing as being based on deliberate “falling” to one side – instead to trying to balance – we went into the exercise where Seyhan had to push against my shoulder and feel the resultant force through her body and leg – once on the uphill side and then on the downhill side. I explained (rapidly) that although when skiing I wouldn’t be there to press on her shoulder – the swapping of that pressure with angular acceleration (cause by the skis) would produce exactly the same level of forces and security through the rest of her body. (Newton’s second law shows that “force” and “acceleration” are interchangeable) I’d have liked to have explained this more carefully but this was not the day for it – when it’s cold you have to move. I deliberately focused on the immediate practical aspects of this issue.
With some forwards speed and then falling over to one side the ski reacts almost immediately to pull you back up and as a consequence generates a turn. There is a slight delay before the response kicks in and this is why people fail to discover this for themselves and usually the only ones who do discover it are experienced racers. We first of all tried this by going straight down the fall line and then falling to one side to create a turn across the hill. No problems there! Next were complete turns – also no problems – so we went straight into using dynamics for linking turns. Like with everything else there is no such thing as perfection – so the most important thing is having the right intention and working mindfully and deliberately in the right direction. Development, once the fundamentals are correctly targeted is very progressive but constant, opening a portal to a lifetime of enjoyable self-discovery (exactly as with progressive martial arts or music). Initially though for some people the switch in concepts brings an extremely dramatic result. I was aware that this leap would not happen for Seyhan because she actually already had a good degree of natural dynamics in her skiing – it was just that this was not conscious and her prior coaching did not teach her to exploit it directly – it was actually conflicting with her natural actions.
In the video the first part shows strong stemming (pushing out of the top ski) and and when properly parallel an outward flick of both skis. This reduces from video clip to video clip as dynamics improve.
I asked Seyhan to initiate the turn by standing up on the uphill ski and falling (centre of mass) downhill into the turn. It does not matter which edge the ski is on for starting a turn so there is no need to stem outwards to find the inside edge. Falling into the turn from the uphill edge of the uphill ski in fact guarantees that the ski cannot be pushed outwards. The key to dynamics is that EVERYTHING goes inwards. (towards the centre of the new turn). Once again there was not really enough time to clarify this enough but I think that the basic idea was understood.
Seyhan was able to stand on the uphill ski some of the time – but this was compromised due to her vertical timing being incorrect. She had obviously been taught to come up to start a turn and finish with a downsink and poleplant – standard ski school dogma and totally incorrect. However, sometimes just standing solidly on the leg from before the very start of the turn can help to bring things back to a natural and reflexive movement pattern without any explanation necessary at this stage. ( Like a motorbike – you need to go down into a turn and come back up out of it ! )
Avoiding hip rotation (Core Activation)
Knowing that the session with Seyhan was going to be quite brief I didn’t want to embark on another big subject though I realised that “Skating” was the next thing we should really be looking at. Terrain plays a big role in teaching this too and we were forced away from the higher and flatter training plateau by the weather – so this all ruled out the practicality of teaching skating related aspects of skiing.
Given the above situation I decided to begin to address the “square” stance and lack of use of the core muscles that was inherent in Seyhan’s movements. She was basically following her skis around the turn – probably actually more than following as there might have been some active “whole body” rotation - so her entire body remained fixed in line with her skis all the time. This is commonly referred to as “tractor turns” when people are a bit more rigid than this. The lack of angulation (angles at hips and knees) induced by this is very limiting. However, there is an up side to it! Following the skis can protect the body because if just the legs follow the skis around then the hip is commonly brought in front of the pelvis and the lower back will suffer progressive damage. Perhaps “tractor turns” are a natural response to an instinctively perceived threat to the body – in the absence of a better solution?
The correct way to use the body when skiing is to isolate and actively pull backwards the hip on the outside leg of the turn – from the start to end of the turn. This sounds simple (and it is) but it is very counterintuitive and has to be learned. Skiing is unnatural in that when angles are made at the hips (through skating in reality) so that turns can be made with greater agility, power and effectiveness the turning leg is effectively forced in front of the body and pulls the hip around with it. This coordinates with a great increase in pressure through the leg (in addition, with correct timing there is a skating extension of the leg through the end of the turn – adding to pressure). Natural mechanics for the body require the opposite coordination of hip movement related to pressure – the runner’s leg and hip moving backwards and pressure and extension maximising with the hip behind - not in front. Actively isolating and pulling the hip backwards as the turn progresses sets up the core muscles and spine to deal with forces correctly and by reflex (as in running) – protecting the spine, generating natural hip angulation – isolating the relative motions of the upper and lower body (at the 12th thoracic vertebra – bottom of rib cage) – yet integrating the muscular action of the body as a whole through the core.
In simple terms – just pull the hip backwards on the outside leg – but do not allow the foot or shoulder to also be pulled backwards. The effect should be felt by a stretch (but under contraction) of the abdomen on the same side as the hip and a slight natural torsion of the spine. The tightening and activation of the abdomen creates a “hydraulic sac” with the internal organs and compresses against the spine to protect it. This active repositioning of the hip also greatly affects the ability to transition from one turn to the next – making it far easier to begin a new turn – especially in challenging conditions.
The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of The Parts.
Continuing with Ersin for one last session I wanted to try to improve his timing, his awareness of how to apply dynamics, the range of dynamics and the integration of overall body movements – working with skating and the core. It’s funny because I see and feel (“visualising” has both) all of this as one holistic thing – but like all holistic things the “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. I can only however describe it in terms of the parts that have taken me over 20 years of constant research to be able to properly identify.
The key here is “feel”. Control over the body is mainly reflexive and unconscious. We are also subject to powerful invisible organising principles such as rhythm (and breaking rhythm) and laws of “chaos” - all an interplay between stability and disequilibrium. The skier’s body and gravity provide the basic disequilibrium, the skis and ground provide a “countervailing force” and the brain and nervous system the feedback. Overall this is a “feedback driven disequilibrium system” – exactly as is used in experimental physics for developing chaos theory.
Every one of the 7 billion human beings on the planet is different. Every snowflake is different. Every turn on skis is different. However those differences reveal hidden patterns of organisation in the form of “fractional dimensions” – or just “fractals”. Mathematics however is NOT reality – it’s just a more precise vocabulary than we normally use (but frequently far less accurate – which is why Astronomer Royal, Sir Fred Hoyle never accepted the fundamentally mathematical “Big Bang” theory – even though he coined the very name itself!).
Learning to teach well is also a fractal process – with new levels constantly being revealed. It’s the classic Wordsworth “to see the world in a grain of sand”.
All of those qualities are the source of holistic self-organisation. Holistic things essentially build themselves! Humans weren’t “made” by some supernatural idiotic designer (well He would have to have been a demented idiot)! We are just wonderful examples of spontaneous self-organisation – of the sort that Erwin Schrodinger (father of quantum mechanics) called “life”! in his classic and very readable book “What is Life” (1944), which led directly to the discovery of DNA.
Self- organisation works through the operation of a limited (but significant) number of separate parts through application of a limited number of rules. Get the parts and rules right and your skier literally bootstraps into the best skier he can be. Learning is NOT something we directly control or choose. Learning IS self-organisation. Edward De Bono coined the term “Lateral Thinking” specifically to describe how “self-organisation” works in the brain. Learning happens to us when provided with the environment and stimulus. When teaching my aim is to provide the the right environment for growth and only feedback to keep that environment in line.
Even the very shape of an efficient turn on skis is actually a spiral – approximating to the Golden Mean – a fractal and self-organising force in its own right. The joints in our body work in spiral motions.
I know when someone emerges as a skier because I can see it. Can I directly explain what I see? Probably no better than I could explain a piece of music or a work of art. Creating that work of art is the goal of good teaching. The reality is that good skiing is an emergent, holistic property.
The two skiers below – Ligety and Miller are serious works of art – but in their case they weren’t taught ! Their phenomenal athleticism is one “part” that most of us will never have access to – and so also is the specific environment that cultivated their skills. In their case it all sadly gets put down to “natural selection” which is just a clever way of coaches avoiding responsibility for the complete and in their minds “inexplicable” failure of everyone else in their charge ( except by dismissing them as just not having the required talent!). Start out with a big enough crop (10,000 to give a team of 8 in the USA) and you will find one or two good ones if you throw enough poles at them for 10 years. In my view coaches should be measured by their failures as much as by their successes.
Ligety – Tight Turns – more hip angulation Miller – High Speed – more inclination
Good boots are essential for good skiing. I’m currently using the sports superstore Decathlon’s own brand – which surprisingly works better than any other boot I’ve ever used. The “flex” standards are not universal for boots so the 110 flex of this boot is actually much stiffer than the 130 or even 160 of some other big brand names I’ve tried. The boot is stunningly cheap to buy and the toes and heels are replaceable. The shell fit is narrow (for racing) and so even with enough space to keep the feet warm in winter with good socks. There are no problems when skiing and even during those scary “life or death” jump turns in nasty couloirs with skis that are too heavy! I’ve simply never had a better, warmer or cheaper boot. When a shell works well it doesn’t need to be tight – except in serious racing. The only limitation here is that there is only a canting mechanism on the outside of the ankle but not on the inside – so somebody with serious alignment issues might not be able to adjust far enough. It’s worth noting though that club racing boots have no canting adjustment whatsoever – because this speeds up their moronic “natural selection” process! (If you aren’t naturally aligned to the norm then you are already finished!) If you know your foot size with any degree of certainty then order a pair from Decathlon on the internet. It’s almost impossible to go wrong here because the the price is a small fraction of current brand named boots so you’d need to end up with 3 pairs of different sizes to catch up expense-wise.
I find a Euro 42 (US 9, UK 8, JP 27) is usually a slightly too snug fit (toes) usually for a distance running shoe but here a Euro 41 (US 8.5, UK 7.5 JP 26.5) is about right for this skiing boot (though the length of my foot measures 26 cm) no toe damage – no circulation issues – enough room to move the feet bones and muscles but no loss of control. I get a slight bone pain on the outside of the foot but a small expansion of the shell would sort that. Currently I’m working on trying to deal with it through improving biomechanics instead. Perhaps a size 26 would give a more precise fit – with a definite shell mod at the forefoot – but this level of precision is just not necessary and usually causes all sorts of discomfort or temperature issues. If my goal however was specifically racing I’d however have gone for a 26. (In the 26.5 my narrow heels do move quite easily – but this never bothers me when skiing in this boot – and all my buckles are constantly on the very first clip all round.)
The shaft of the boot gives both excellent fore/af t resistance and lateral support.
It’s important that boots can be used effectively without supportive footbeds. Anything that prevents the muscles and bones of the feet being used constructively only presents an obstacle; We have 52 bones in the feet (total for both)– over 1/4 of all the bones in the body. Locking them up and forgetting about them is not the answer – learning to use them is!
Many people believe they have stability and pronation problems when walking and most supportive footbeds are built to limit this. Nobody questions whether walking on raised heels and foot-striking on the back of the heel is even sensible in the first place! Well, to get to the point – it isn’t! Walking on flat shoes or barefoot teaches us to avoid striking the back of the heel on the ground – landing in front of the heel instead. Pronation of the foot becomes a very different story then – just a natural shock absorber. The muscles of the foot are then activated in a different order and by reflex. This is why I run “barefoot” style and although I alternate cushioned shoes with true minimalist ones I refuse to run with raised heels or pronation support. Unfortunately in skiing we have no boots available that can truly deal with those issues – all of them having both heels and ramp angles – but at least we can avoid making the problems worse by adding contrived (and often expensive) inserts.
Skating - Timing
Skis are just big bent skates – with the edges displaced towards or beyond the sides of the feet. I wanted Ersin to return to skating to improve his awareness of timing. Skating is also a strangely “natural” action despite there being no examples of it that I can think of cropping up anywhere in nature. I guess that during the current 2.58 million year Ice Age our ancestors had plenty of experience of skating around – considering that about 90% of this time has been in cold glacial periods. The Scandinavians are supposed to have invented skating about 3000 years ago using animal bones – but why wait until our current interglacial warm period for this? For all we know our ancestors might have all been skating around playing ice hockey a million years ago! Actually this has just made me realise – bone might be a better ski material than wood! Perhaps a matrix of chicken bones with resin? OK – not all my ideas are great!
What I wanted to see was Ersin moving his body through the turns in time with the skating rhythm. People have such a strong tendency to let the body go static and allow the legs to move (or throw them) about that reversing this is difficult. We want the feet glued to the ground and all the forces to translate into direct motion of the centre of mass. Even with the feet glued to the ground it’s still possible to be unable to get the basic timing correct. During the turn transition (going from one turn to the next) the body must first come up, away from the snow then back down towards the snow into the next turn. This motion of the centre of mass becomes the basic driving force of the pressure cycle on the skis. It feels like each turn is a slow – one legged - trampoline bounce. Try trampolining with no movement of the centre of mass and you’ll quickly catch on to how important it is. We are looking for a powerful physical resonance and rhythm generated through this “down/up” motion.
Ersin was already much improved but there was still a slight tendency to constrain the motion of the centre of mass and allow the legs to retract instead – which kills the resonance (that’s how to stop the trampoline!). I explained that when skiing parallel the way to generate the skating pressure was to use hip angulation actively – literally dropping down into the turn like a brick by being completely relaxed at the hip. Before you hit the ground the skis kick in and stop you from bottoming out. This angulation generates much bigger edge angles and sharper pressure increases (greater countervailing force) so this can allow you to carve tighter turns at lower speeds – which is why Ligety’s bottom is on the ground in his slalom turns. It’s important here to isolate the hip when pulling it back so that the shoulder doesn’t come back with it – or the core will not activate correctly to protect the body and make the overall movement natural. To encourage the core activity I also asked Ersin to make sure the inside leg had the foot on its inside edge (relative to the body) and the ski on its outside edge (relative to the body/ski – not the turn) with the adductor muscles of both legs pulling inwards – exactly as happens during skating! (though with the edge of the skate centred directly underfoot there isn’t so much need for adductor awareness in ice skating).
Off Piste – Applied Dynamics in Crud
Before stopping for lunch we managed to fit in an off piste run down some steep and tricky “crud” – meaning the snow wouldn’t predictably support the skier’s weight – consisting of a thin layer of fresh snow covering a partially transformed (by heat and sun) base. This is precisely why absolutely nobody was skiing it. This also was precisely why I was making a bee line directly for it.
The better your dynamics, meaning ; the control over hip rotation, the ability to sink actively down inside the turn, the accuracy of your timing, the amplitude of your movement, the control over your emotions, the focus directed internally on your necessary actions – then the more successful you will be in adapting to those challenging skiing conditions.
Ersin did really well – no falls or obvious struggles and no hesitation. Lots of self-correction along the way but that’s what it’s all about and that’s a job that will never end.
Ersin had to be alerted at this point to the fact that “retraction” of the legs at the end of the turn is not always a bad thing – in fact it’s very desirable when used purposefully. We already see how retracting the legs during a bounce on the trampoline deadens the bounce – well in skiing it can be used to remove excessive dynamics from a turn and ensure a more rapid transition from one turn to the next.
We didn’t go into this in depth because at this stage it is much more important to master the basic skating timing, rhythm and resonance – before then learning to suppress it! Generally when in snow with any depth the basic timing is best – due to the entire ski base loading up and springing you clear of the snow in a complete rebound. Later on we can even add an instant of leg retraction right at the end to soften the rebound and get the legs into a secure form with the knees and hips flexed and feet ahead of the centre of mass – but for the meantime none of this was appropriate.
Our only concession to retraction was briefly in the context of “compression turns” for using on the moguls just beside the Tovière chairlift. This is actually a very difficult exercise to do on flat terrain so I was impressed by Ersin’s success. He was clearly helped by his earlier quick mastery of his edges with pivoting – because once again we were required to pivot from the uphill edges. The compression turn exercise uses leg retraction to simulate the compression from a bump – but on the flat. The skier positions everything – including a pole plant – exactly as for any “two footed” pivot and then starts to flex down to 90° (knees and hips) while moving the body towards the pole. The pivot mostly takes place with the legs flexed to maximum – but in the final phase of the turn there is a full extension of the legs (simulating extension into the trough below the bump). Meanwhile the shoulders are required to avoid any rotation away from the fall-line and control over the core is required to protect the spine. Quite a monster sized handful of things to get right!
The goal here is to develop the coordination required for pressure control in dynamic bump skiing – where the “retraction” is taken over by direct compression of the legs when hitting the bump. Unfortunately, with the recent snowfall and crud the bumps were not in good condition so we couldn’t really work on this properly - but at least we tried. What was good was seeing Ersin managing to reach the full range of 90° flexion while controlling his centre of mass – which is always a very useful exercise.
After this we returned to the skating dynamics because Ersin was making good steady progress and needed practice. – plus it would be his final day of skiing for the season which means the extra mileage is appreciated! The naturalness of the timing was improving and probably the use of the adductors – but there was a constant tendency for the shoulders to follow the hips a bit too much. This isn’t surprising because it takes quite a while to learn how to isolate and control the core properly in the required manner. If we had more time available I would have properly covered the key aspects of chi-walking/running and cycling to provide the tools to enable practice of this coordination to become an integral part of normal heath –promoting daily life. I can see also that the centre of mass is not following an optimal trajectory and the resonance of the dynamics is not being fully tuned into – but the basic framework has been taken on board and the original major mistakes have all been very strongly addressed. (Hip Rotation, Heel Pushing, Up/Down Timing)
Although we did mostly carving work to access very clear feedback and make it very relevant to skating – the same basic actions apply across the board in all skiing.
Nutrition / Health
For a moment now I’ve been including a brief section in the blog over relevant incidents that might concern relevant nutritional and health issues. Without letting anyone know, during the last three days I had been experiencing an increasingly severe dental crisis – basically a wisdom tooth directly from Hell.
Dr Jack Kruse, who is one of my key nutritional/medical references was the reason why I spent the entire winter practicing direct periodic exposure to cold – for the purpose of stimulating Cold Thermogenesis. Kruse himself – a neurosurgeon – uses this with his surgical patients to reduce their sensitivity to pain and dependence on painkilling drugs and antibiotics. What amazed me here was that although by today (Sunday) the tooth was practically impossible to even touch – I had no trouble whatsoever completely ignoring and mostly forgetting the pain. On Monday morning I was extremely lucky to find a dentist prepared to see me almost immediately and had no argument about having the offending tooth extracted. (The wisdom tooth is the small molar right at the back) True to form it was tough as nails to extract but initially the anaesthetic hadn’t managed to get all the nerves to sleep (even though there was no inflammation) so when pulling the tooth to one side it was like there was no anaesthetic at all. My reaction of course was to “Arrrrgh!” a bit but then I started to laugh! Now Kruse does state the Cold Thermogensis is literally “brain surgery without a scalpel” in that it brings about a lot of neural rewiring. I’m not quite sure what it rewired here but I can guarantee I’ve never laughed in a dentist’s chair before while having a tooth yanked at with a failed anaesthetic and never imagined in a million years that I would. When the needle eventually found the right spot the pain was every bit as intense once again – but weirdly it made me laugh a little again instead of cry out for help. Two roots predictably snapped during the lengthy extraction and had to be drilled out – leaving me with a nicely beaten up jaw. I was subsequently floored by all of this and had a massive energy dip (hence a long delay in writing this blog entry) – but at no point did I need any of the prescribed painkillers. For about two hours after the operation I used ice on the outside of the jaw and that was all that was required. Throughout the entire event – all weekend and post operation no painkillers were needed. I wasn’t specifically avoiding them or concerned about “drugs” – if I’d required them I’d have used them. Once again Dr Kruse is simply spot on with his advice and observations.