Friday, March 13, 2015

Leen Day 4 - feeling the rhythm!

This morning Leen reported having picked up speed and frightened herself yesterday afternoon. No crash or damage but just a scary loss of control. Leen had never felt any fear while skiing with me and so was surprised at this arising. Yesterday however when filming our final video clip with Leen finding her own line down the hill I saw her tendency to pick up speed and referred to it at the end of the blog entry under “Choosing a Line”.

Rather than go through revision I decided to use our time to work on issues that would resolve the tendency to lose control as rapidly as possible. I wasn’t really sure of the cause – other than pure lack of experience on skis – but due to Leen’s excellent response to coaching we did rapidly manage to resolve the issue. I never quite got around to discussing “line” itself because I followed an intuition signalling to me that the problem was either due to tension or some technical weakness – or more likely a combination of the two – rather than an inability to read the mountain and terrain. After all the terrain was very basic and we had skied it together many times – so experience of choosing a line wasn’t really the problem.

We worked on the following fundamental elements:

Active Legs

Dynamics (End of Turn)

Upper/Lower Body Integration


Active Legs


Tension is paralysing! Yesterday on video we could see that Leen’s legs were not moving very much and there was quite a lot of tension present – even when skiing fully in control of speed. When Leen was trying to work on choosing her own route she forgot to focus on her skiing movements and this caused her to lose the dynamics at the start of the turn – sometimes stemming the uphill ski outwards – and accelerating too much downhill making it difficult for her to get the body into the turn from then on and control the rest of the turn. The extra tension from route finding was enough to cause emotional actions to take over and the Centre of Mass was no longer able to direct the turn.

To begin to address the tension issue I wanted to make Leen aware of how static her legs really were. This is absolutely normal at this stage of skiing development. On flat terrain with skis off I asked Leen to jump – by bending first at the knees and hips (not the ankles) and extending the legs straight while in the air to really launch the Centre of Mass upwards – landing by flexing the legs again for softness.  With both poles in the ground and shoulders fixed facing forwards the feet were swung in one direction then the other. This was then repeated with skis on. Landing pressure should be near the midfoot – just in front of the heel – as this causes a reflexive strengthening of the ankle.

The jumping was then repeated when sliding slowly forwards on skis – but this time by swinging the skis into the turn and jumping several times. The aim was to get used to freely jumping while sliding. Loosening the legs and body up like this is a great way to unlock and release tension. Simply being aware of the need to make the legs work is something that all beginner skiers are required to learn.

I explained that this jumping was exactly like the pivoting that we worked on two days previously – the same mechanics but with the skis airborne! Everything had to work inwards towards the turn centre. I demonstrated a 180° mid air swing of the skis, which is an extreme and more athletic move that might be required when stuck in a very narrow passage way.

Jumping clearly allowed Leen to take the benefit of the pivoting effect and make her turns much tighter.

Chi Walking

While we were working on the legs and jumping I realised that we could also begin to address “walking” correctly – with all of its incumbent side issues such as posture, alignment, body management (upper/lower body integration) and turn initiation. Leen was able to feel the amazing effect of Chi Walking and how it makes walking uphill effortless. This exercise was being used in order to encourage leg use in general and mainly to work on Leen’s tension. The real relevancy of the subject was being saved for later when we could bring it into skiing directly. There is a summary of the subject here under ChiSkiing…

Jumping to represent the preparation of a turn from a traverse or the conclusion/end of a turn.

Applying the jumping to skiing I wanted Leen to see the jump as being from a traverse – by bending and then springing up – mainly getting the jump from the lower ski. If turns were going to be linked without a traverse then the jump would be considered the last part of a turn – the coming up out of the turn.

Leen’s tendency at first was to allow the turn to begin and then try to jump. This mistake makes the jump happen at the beginning of a turn and causes a loss of control. It only took a short while to sort this out and Leen was soon jumping at the correct time – before the skis were heading off downhill.

Dynamics (End of Turn)

Using the lift of the ski from the end of the turn

We had not just been working on making the legs active – there was another more important purpose behind this work. Until now we had only worked on the dynamics for going into a turn – but I had never mentioned the dynamics required for getting back out of a turn. Visualising a motorbike falling over to go into a turn – we also see that it has to come back up out of the turn. Skiing is exactly the same – only it’s on a slope and that seems to confuse everybody! It’s the lifting power of the ski the brings you up through the end of a turn – partly due to the effect of resisting gravity being maximum at the end of the turn and partly due to the ski/slope geometry increasing the edging angles. This power needs to be used constructively and the use of the legs – not quite jumping but just standing up instead – helps this to work to lift the body up to complete the turn. The skier is obviously then going to find it easy to then stand on the uphill ski as the centre of mass has already come out of the existing turn (skier now perpendicular to the slope instead of vertical).

Leen managed this very well and on the video she can be seen working with this new aspect of dynamics and gaining even more control over the tightness of her turns – without actually jumping. What started off as a jumping exercise has evolved into improved dynamics and an improved understanding of skiing.

Upper/Lower Body Integration

Applying Chi Walking to skiing – protecting the back and facilitating the turn initiation.

First of all we had to correct Leen’s posture with appropriate pelvic tilt and relaxation of the hip joints. The pelvis had to be tilted up to allow a reflexive contraction of her abdomen when the body is under load (getting her to pull upwards against my body weight).

First of all I demonstrated classic “upper/lower body separation” with the hip coming around the turn (shoulders not turning) and showed how the ribs compress against the pelvis. This problem is amplified if a skier stems or pushes out the outside ski and creates a problem which is commonly referred to as “hip rotation”.

Next I showed how by actively pulling the hip backwards (left hip if turning right) the space between the ribs and pelvis was stretched instead of compressed. The hip is moving relative to the upper body in the opposite direction now. This activates the core muscles and protects the body – plus it makes turn initiation much easier. Leen skied with this and immediately felt the turns became more flowing. When videoing it however – despite all of this improvement she picked up too much speed again and momentarily lost all the technical advantages she had been developing. This however exposed the fact that the initial control problem still remained. When tension built up and stemming took over the loss of control was still present.


One interesting point cropped up with the Upper/Lower body Integration. The pulling back of the hip activates the adductor muscles by re-aligning the leg – making it clear that commencing the action from the body centre (core muscles) is the best way to control the adductors and the rolling of the foot. Not only were we directing the Centre of Mass but all our actions were focused on beginning from this centre.


Control over speed.

I realised now that everything else had been eliminated the reason for Leen’s loss of control was that she was still unable to link turns using her dynamics. Control over speed comes from rhythm and racing is all about  rhythm and rhythm changes for this reason. (Slalom racing regulations stipulate a maximum of 6 turns of the same rhythm and minimum of 3). Now that we had developed dynamics for both going in and out of a turn it would be an easy step to develop rhythm. Using a demonstration of the “Hanger turn” I showed Leen an exaggerated version of finishing a turn completely on the lower ski – coming over the top of it and and changing to the new outside ski on the next turn quite late.

The goal was to avoid a traverse and instead make one turn flow directly into the next – using the energy from one turn to flow into the next. It’s this easy of entry into the “next” turn that really controls the speed. The final part of the video for today shows Leen linking turns with a good rhythm and looking fluid and active. This is truly excellent by any standards for only the 4th morning on skis!

Leen’s previous loss of control had been due to her only having the choice of either turning slowly and traversing or going slightly faster and trying to link turns without the full set of dynamics and understanding of rhythm – generating tension, stemming and loss of dynamics instead. The added pressure of her focusing on route finding was the catalyst for it all to fall apart. Bear in mind that most people would not normally be concerned with such problems at this stage because they would still be stuck in a horrible snowplough and not linking nice parallel turns in a good rhythm! Leen did not have the defensive mechanisms of the snowplough or deliberate stemming to rely on for security so her tension when encountering uncertainty was fully understandable. Understanding and feeling rhythm should sort this out in a constructive way.

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