Thursday, March 12, 2015

Leen Day 3 – On top of the World

Morning number three and we left the nursery slopes behind – comfortably. Before that there was still a bit of work to do but Leen had consolidated her new skills well and was able to follow each new instruction, rapidly improving with every run down the mountain. Until this morning we had only made turns on gentle gradients – establishing the basic movement patterns and confidence. Today’s goal was to safely move on to steeper gradients and then to longer and higher slopes.


Revision involved simply continuing from where we left off yesterday. Leen was clearly comfortable now using the chairlift and and making a circuit of the nursery slope. In reality the Val d’Isère “nursery slope” is far too steep and technical but we had put this to good use to work on various aspects of traversing and side slipping.

I reminded Leen that the aim was to stand on the uphill ski and to then move everything downhill into the new turn. This involves rolling the foot onto its inside edge, pulling the front of the ski with the adductor muscles and centre of mass – all working together. From the first descent it was clear that Leen was managing this strongly – and her “diverging traverse” was controlling her passage across the hill. After only one warm up run it was time to move on and develop the whole skill set.

Music is the “Afro-Celt Sound System” – use good headphones!

Commitment and Dynamics

When traversing a hill the uphill leg is naturally flexed and most of the weight is supported by the lower ski and foot. Standing on the uphill leg (when the body is vertical in relation to gravity) means that you have to “stand up” on it and remove that flex. This commitment to the leg actually removes all the weight off the lower leg and it can even end up with the ski dangling in the air due to the slope geometry. This is not an “up” extension – it’s just “engaging” the leg – making it truly the leg supporting the body. You can even think of it as “stomping” the foot into the ground – trying to dig it deeply into the snow.

Creating this commitment greatly aids the falling (dynamics) into the new turn because the inside ski is properly out of the way and there is no defensive pressure kept on it. Once this “one legged” feeling is understood and working then it is easy to progress – because this is fundament in skiing. Leen rapidly connected with this effect and strengthened her dynamics. We were still on gentle terrain at this stage.

Controlling Turn Radius (Active Dynamics)

Now that Leen was strong with the start of her turns – probably the most emotionally difficult part of the turn to master – she herself began to recognise that there wasn’t so much control through the rest of the turn. I explained that this is because the “lifting up” effect of the ski actually becomes stronger as the turn progresses (due to both geometry and working against gravity) so now it was important to realise that the “moving inwards” action wasn’t just to begin a turn – but had to be sustained and even increased as the turn progressed! This aspect of dynamics is very “active” and must be developed consciously – driving the centre of mass towards the turn centre until the moment it is decided to finish the turn.

Leen correctly noticed that this increased pressure under the foot – making the “one leg” effect even stronger. Active dynamics is the major tool for controlling turn radius.

Steeper Terrain

Once Leen had absorbed the idea of Active Dynamics we were able to tackle steeper slopes – which posed her no problems at all. Due to managing all the correct mechanics Leen’s first experience of steeper terrain was positive and she realised that it actually makes skiing easier. 

Now we were ready to leave the beginner’s area and head up the mountain to better snow, a brilliant view and far longer ski runs. Longer runs and far more mileage facilitate even more rapid progress.

Foot Forward Technique

On one long continuous run down the mountain I had deliberately varied the turn radius as Leen was following and she failed to stay in my tracks when the turns were short and tight. This prompted her to say that she was finding it difficult to turn tightly. Her prompting was with perfect timing indicating to me that she was ready for the next step – “Foot Forward” technique.

“Foot Forward” technique was the only really technical new feature that was introduced today. Most of the rest of the time we were just building on experience and awareness with only minor modifications. This however was a completely new element.

The above video clip shows the exercise (skis off). Pivoting around the heel of the supporting leg the inside edge of the other boot is pushed forwards – scribing an arc on the snow. There is no “turning” of this boot. The weight remains on the supporting leg. This provides several important feelings – the main one being focused on here being the feeling of pushing the foot forwards.

When this same action is applied to the outside foot/ski in a turn then it makes all of the effects of the ski much more active. The result is a much tighter turn radius and again a stronger “one leg” feeling is experienced. Active “pushing forward of the foot” is the second major tool for controlling turn radius. The foot never actually gets ahead – because the turn just tightens instead.

Both “active dynamics” and “foot forward” use are for controlling turn radius while on the inside edge of a turning ski. Pivoting has an even greater effect on turn radius – but this refers to using the outside edge of the ski. Those different skills can be blended to generate many effects.

(For the moment pivoting - as explained yesterday - is just to make it clear that turning can happen from any ski edge and the common principle is that everything must move inwards – regardless of which edge is engaged.)

Leen successfully reduced her turn radius and with short active movements of her centre of mass was able to follow my short turns.

Choosing a Line (Centring)

Filming Leen for the final part of the video for today meant that she had to choose her own line down the mountain. Choice of line actually requires a great deal of experience and is much more complex than people realise – so I did anticipate problems. Despite this Leen skied competently – only letting speed build up a little too much from time to time.

Due to being thrust into a new situation Leen initially lost focus on her skiing and so I had to call to her to think about her skiing – not just where she was going. Distraction is always easy and can come from many surprising sources – but focus keeps you centred and safe! Focusing internally – on the body and its actions or feelings – is how to keep the mind centred. Physically the focus should always relate to the centre of mass.

“Line” is the key to performance. The body should always be working actively with dynamics and the centre of mass – not just riding passively on the skis as a passenger. We will discuss “line” in the next session  - how it relates to racing and terrain and how it is the key to functional and effective skiing.

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