Leen has had one previous experience on skis when at age 12 she was told to snowplough and left to struggle on with no instruction. This is one sure-fire way to both traumatise and put someone off skiing for life. Fortunately she survived the previous experience physically intact and was brave enough to have another try. However I felt certain that this time we could do a great deal better… If Leen believed that this experience would resemble her previous one – or that she would once again be stuck in a dreadful snowplough – then she was in for a pleasant surprise!
The two fundamental building blocks of skiing are Skating and Dynamics. My objective here was to start from the complete beginning, rapidly develop the basic skills of skating and the awareness of dynamics and have Leen achieve basic parallel turns by the end of the first session. Key stages of the process were filmed where possible …
Introduction to Equipment
I took a moment to explain some basics of the equipment – how skis and bindings work - and how to carry the skis efficiently. During this process Leen was very attentive and picked up details very clearly without confusion or the need for repetition. She is very aware of her surrounds but still able to remain focused.
One Ski Circles (edges of the feet, adductor muscles)
We started off by putting on the left ski only. Leen is left handed. Using ski poles for support and the free foot for stepping we made circles – always turning to the right. The objective here was not only to get used to the ski and sliding but it was to introduce immediately some of the basic skills that would be used at all levels of skiing. The left foot would need to be rolled onto its inside edge inside the ski boot and he adductor muscles (inside of the upper leg) would need to be contracted to hold the foot on this edge. When the ski is placed on its inside edge it immediately tries to flatten and because the ski is wider than the foot it takes an effort and muscle power in the leg to continually hold the foot itself on edge. Feet play a big role in skiing but in most ski instruction this is totally ignored. The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 1/4 of all the bones in the body. In skiing the feet are our only direct contact with the ground and our only sure source of physical feedback – yet normally people clamp them into big ski boots and try to forget about them.
The inside edge of the left ski was used to grip for stepping to the right and so bring about an incremental change of direction.
When stepping the direction is changed through moving the Centre of Mass of the body – inwards into the intended direction. Just as in cycling the turns are dependent on the motion of the centre of mass – and this is the case for all skiing. We were not only working on the foot and leg skills while getting used to sliding, but we were also working on developing the feeling of directing the Centre of Mass.
The exercises were repeated with the right ski and turning to the left.
Two Skis (Diverging Skis) Circles
Circles were continued now with two skis on and to make this work the turns were made by diverging the ski tips – the inside ski (inside of the turn) stepping the tip inwards and then the outside ski stepping in and following it, closing back to parallel. Everything so far had been carried out on flat ground.
I explained that in skiing we could naturally diverge the skis in a skating action or have them parallel – but converging skis (snowplough) were nearly always to be avoided. Slowing down or stopping is achieved by turning across the hill – not by direct braking at this stage. Tight and completed turns stop you quickly.
Leen still had a slight tendency to converge her skis – a throwback to her trauma at age 12. She tries to turn and twist the left ski by force into the turn – this being an emotional response and reinforced by her snowplough experience. With a little bit of practice and development of more appropriate skills this will disappear.
Learning to Skate
Leen doesn’t skate so we had to go through a basic lesson on skating. This is done by getting Leen to hold onto my ski pole held across in front of her and with her two skis diverging push me across the flats. Only good grip with the edges of the skis by using adductor muscles and feet with a good wide divergence of the skis can allow a proper push. I was able to give the security for Leen to push without the fear of falling.
The following stage is to just use the pole itself and to “fall forward” when trying to push – which should generate a sliding skate and acceleration. Leen did well here but we will practice this a little each day to strengthen basic skating skills. Skiing is essentially about using one ski and one leg at a time – a narrow support like the tyre/ground contact of a racing bicycle. Skating exercises develop the confidence to slide comfortably on one leg at a time. Skiing is NOT about balancing on two feet.
Herringbone Step (and Side Step)
Climbing for the very first time was carried out with the “herringbone” step – using the diverging skis and the poles placed behind the feet to prevent slipping backwards. Once bringing the skis parallel across the hill we continued to climb a little using side stepping.
I explained that any steep or dangerous slope can be descended by careful stepping – and this is an important thing to always remember. If ever stuck on steep and dangerous ice then never remove the skis – use them (metal edges) to grip and step downwards – using both uphill edges.
Straight running for the first time Leen was looking at her feet. Next time she looked ahead and managed to forget the feet and skis. Her stance on the skis was very natural and comfortable – naturally aligning the body perpendicular with the slope. Some people have trouble here and remain vertical to gravity instead and end up on the backs of the ski boots with the leg muscles locked – but Leen had no problems here.
Skating Turn to One Side
Once we had some some straight running speed we could now use the skating step to turn and stop. This naturally takes a bit of practice – limited by the need to step uphill. All the stepping and skating uphill at this stage however helps to build the appropriate skills and awareness of edging, leg use and Centre of Mass.
Linked Skating Turns
With a slightly longer run we could begin to connect turns together. This means skating off downhill into a turn for the first time (instead of just turning across the hill as we had done up to this point) – which causes an acceleration – but on gentle ground the accelerations are manageable at this stage.
I explained that slightly larger movements to the inside of the turn would make the turn stronger and quicker – but this would cause the strange sensation of momentarily standing on the outside edge of the inside ski – and that this foot would however still be on its inside edge. The vertical shaft of the ski boot running up the leg stops the ski from flattening – so a big step of the right ski to the right (turning right) means often standing on the outside edge of that ski even though the foot itself is on its inside edge. This is a peculiarity of ski equipment and even at this stage it’s very useful to begin to build awareness of it (because we will soon use this to develop other important skills).
The important point to realise however was that a strong, confident step inwards would only increase stability and improve the turning. Leen was having some trouble stepping inwards to the left – due to not gripping with the right foot, adductors and ski edge. There was also some trouble stepping to the right – but this time due to not feeling comfortable to committing to the right (inside ski) for a moment during the stepping.
Introduction to Dynamics (Invisible Magic Wall)
Pushing hard against my shoulder I gave Leen an idea of just how hard she should really be moving her body (Centre of Mass) across. Whether pushing against my shoulder or just accelerating her mass inwards the foot (outside ski) would experience the same reactive force and she would have the same security and stability. The story of the Magic Wall was given – and that can be found in greater detail on the Dynamics page…
Leen understood how moving across more strongly would help – so after a brief explanation of dynamics we moved directly onto parallel turns.
Given a clear understanding of the role of dynamics Leen was able to achieve rough parallel turns immediately – simply by intentionally moving her centre of mass into the turn instead of skating to make that happen. Her immediate comment was that it felt really easy – which is the sort of feedback that confirms for me that everything has been correctly understood and executed. This means that all the struggle and fighting from the old snowplough nonsense was not present at all.
Completing the session we had to traverse across a higher and steeper hill. I explained that traversing is a way to effectively make a hill “less steep”. Just like people traverse back and forth when climbing a hill to make it less steep we can do the same when descending. The important thing was for Leen to keep her skis pointing across the hill and on the downhill ski to engage the adductor muscles and keep the foot rolled over onto its inside edge – so that the ski would simply track forwards. When tracking forwards with good edge grip the ski will turn uphill and stop – so it has to be brought to point slightly downhill again to continue. Leen had no problems with her first proper traverse and with keeping the skis parallel during it. In fact she was managing to grip well with both skis.