Monday, April 6, 2015

Luke 5

The sun was shining, the air was cold and the snow was fresh so today was Off Piste day – not a technical session. This would be the opportunity to take advantage of all the hard technical work.

Leonie was physically tired from yesterday and so was stiff and tentative on her first off piste run but soon loosened up and recovered her confidence. Both Luke and Leonie had a re-calibrated set of goals now and so were actively self-correcting and letting me know each time they became aware of something new.


Luke figured out that he was weak on his right foot (due to past foot pain) and that contributed to his frequent failure to stand on that foot at the start of the turn. However he appeared to suffer much less metatarsal pain now since avoiding the collapse of the ankle and this was allowing him to experiment. Luke also gradually managed to relax his outside leg more instead of locking it at the hip – however all the flexion appears to be at the hip and almost none at the knee. This development however did allow him to control his turn radius and speed better. The first off-piste video clip shows how the rigid leg caused an uncontrolled acceleration – and the second clip shows far improved dynamics, range of motion and control of rotation. This still didn’t prevent a brief lapse of concentration from ending up with crossed skis (weight back) and a proper face plant. Luke skied hard and was completely wiped out by the end – despite eating an extra pain au chocolat.




Leonie made amazing progress and once she had loosened up manage to bring rhythm and dynamics into her skiing on steeper off-piste. Her range of motion with the legs changed dramatically – with a good reduction of her (until now) chronic passive rotation (tractor turns). This is exactly what we had been aiming for.

Even more impressively Leonie coped emotionally with steep sections and didn’t once freeze up. She explained that clearly understanding the pivot had made a great difference to her confidence.

I’d explained that the pivot is for braking – always staying on the uphill edges of the skis and using the pole to hold back and control acceleration from gravity. This way of skiing is directly in the fall line and can involve jumping when the snow is not good or it is too steep or narrow. Serious steepness still requires some dynamics even for pivoting because the angle of the slope will prevent a change of edge anyway. In addition on the steep it’s best to retract the feet beneath the body in jump turns – to buy more time to swing the skis around – and to avoid excessive bouncing. We used jump turning today in tricky steep snow and Leonie negotiated it well. (Full dynamics – passing through the perpendicular and changing edges before starting the new turn develops more acceleration and is used in racing or off piste in snow where pivoting is impossible. The speed would be exclusively controlled through the line/direction of the turn.)

It would have been better if Leonie had managed a closer stance for a two footed pivot  - but the stance did generally narrow down naturally by itself as the legs softened and rotation came under control.





Back on the piste everyone was tired and Ella, who joined us after lunch, was recovering from a very late night out. Slightly sloppy skiing from everyone was acceptable with the general level of tiredness so there is nothing to criticise in the following video. Ella’s knee felt better when she remembered to pull everything “inwards”.

Both Leonie and Luke had better control over the downhill hip position on this tricky descent than in the previous couloir…

Spindrift due to wind at high altitude….

When waiting for Luke and Leonie to catch me up after a short stretch of hiking I was taking photographs of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley when there was a rumble and roar – obviously an avalanche somewhere – purely by chance my camera was pointing directly towards it…

Conclusion: A successful day!

(All music in the videos - Afro Celt Sound System – naturally.)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Luke 4

We started the day heading towards the glacier to try to break through the fog. The first run from the top of Solaise down the “L” gully would be a warm up and opportunity to revise and consolidate technique. After this run – we took the chairlift from the bottom of the “L” up to above the mid station at Le Fornet and then proceeded to ski down off piste – starting out on excellent snow and being able to pivot freely – but then ending up in dense fog and unable to safely advance. Due to my familiarity with the terrain we escaped without any lost time and made it back onto the piste without incident.


Inside the Signal restaurant with boots off we set about looking at how to use the feet properly. When standing facing me in socks and when asked to bend Luke bent his ankles and pushed his pelvis forwards locking the hip joints. It’s safe to say this was happening in his skiing too – with the weight on the front of the feet and the ankles collapsing. First of all I asked Luke to stand on his heels (toes still touching the floor) and then bend – with no weight shifting to the fronts of the feet. This forces the bending to take place at the knees and hips – causing the ankle joint to stiffen and the anterior tibialis to contract. From this stance the subtaler joints can be used beneath the ankles to rock the feet – in this case both onto their inside edges. While moving the bottom over to one side to place it on a bench (during the exercise) this showed Luke’s hip to once again be locked up. Actually relaxing the hip and sitting on the bench freed up the joint. This is the sort of freedom and relaxation required at the hip joints.

Off Piste

Off piste in good snow in the Pay’s Dessert Luke managed to ski some deep soft snow very well – with a good rhythm and improved mechanics. Leonie also managed well – perhaps her best yet. Unfortunately in the following video the snow was not as nice and this threw both Luke and Leonie back into survival mode and old habits. Luke is locking his hips and rotating into the turn, weight back. Leonie is just following the skis  (passive rotation) and losing rhythm and has the skis too far apart to make a stable platform. Basically neither Luke not Leonie are using enough range of movement in the legs and hips. Correcting this would become the main focus of the rest of the session.

The window of opportunity for off piste was quickly over as fog once again engulfed us. With Luke’s problems proving intractable and  Leonie struggling to break through to the next level the focus returned to technique for most of the day. (The last hour and a half of the day provided a lot of skiing where this work could be applied and appreciated)


It was apparent that both Luke and Leonie had trouble at the hip joints – but with some different issues. Luke was locking up the hips and Leonie was rotating. I first tried a skating exercise  - skating straight downhill - but saw that it was going nowhere so changed plan immediately. We did a static exercise instead with skis off – right leg planted in the snow facing downhill – left leg placed behind the body and swung forwards in an arc – wile the hip was pulled backwards. This provides the full range of feeling of the leg completely changing from pointing outwards behind the body to inwards in front of the body and terminating with sinking down low driving the centre of mass down and into the imaginary turn ( simulating building up pressure before the very end of the turn).

Despite this exercise providing the full range of motion required at the hip joints it didn’t have a noticeable effect when returning to skiing.

Dropping Into a Turn

I explained that relaxation at the hip can be used to simply drop down the centre of mass rapidly into a turn at the initiation. The relax/drop action is rapidly met with a reactive pressure from the outside ski despite the initial moment of free-fall. This exercise seemed to be understood but had minimal results for the time being.

Short Swings

We worked a little on jumping on the spot – but Luke had a tendency to bend in preparation by bowing with a hollowed lower back and poor posture – instead of using the quads (as when indoors working on the feet). I explained that the jump was the end of a turn or traverse (not the start) and the subsequent swinging of the skis downhill would be just a mid-air pivot. Initially we did this just to make turn transitions but then the idea was to link the jumps with no hesitation almost in a bouncing action.

Leonie’s initial attempt at linked short swings was revealing as there was no pole use at all – which fits her main limiting issue currently – being unable to sink appropriately into the turn (thus avoiding rotation).

Luke’s attempts brought us closer again to fully understanding his anomalies – because he was clearly trying to pivot his skis around an axis somewhere towards the tails of the skis – so the tips were coming up high in the air and a strong active rotation of the body was being used. This issue clearly stems from many years of defensive leaning back and then forcing the skis around with a whole body rotation.

Leonie improved when making a determined effort to get down and over her ski pole and Luke worked at trying to bring his pivot axis forwards – also helped by determined pole use.

Pressurising the fronts of the skis

To help Luke discover the turning power of the fronts of the skis we played about with stance – hanging in the fronts of the ski boots. This was tried both by standing up on the balls of the feet (extended ankle) and when on the heels. We took this into “rocking” fore/aft during the turn – beginning the turn by tilting forwards onto the fronts of the feet and skis – and ending by coming back onto the heels. Gradually Luke started to feel that his skis actually had a front half that could be used for something.

Core Activation – upper/lower body separation

Leonie revealed – due to hip pain – that she was somehow falling short of understanding the “chi-hips”. It’s clear that Leonie also has trouble maintaining posture and neutral pelvis – which is probably why the issue became confusing. The pelvis must be held (usually up at the front) in “neutral” to allow the pressure reflexes from the feet to trigger contraction of the deep abdominal muscles and muscles surrounding the spine. Those reflexes cause a hydraulic sac to compress around the spine which then distributes any vertical shock load over this entire cross-section instead of just through the spinal column. When the hip is correctly primed – pulled back – there is an even more intense contraction of the abdomen.

When I altered the emphasis of my description Leonie could finally see the correct action. Taking the rib cage and immobilising that in space the idea is to allow the entire pelvic basin to rotate beneath. This twists the spine slightly up to the ribs (12th thoracic vertebra) – which is the true location of upper/lower body separation.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Luke 3

Off Piste

After a warm up on the bottom part of the Face we immediately took advantage of the new layer of fresh powder on the Bellevarde plateau. The reason we have been working hard on technique is to enable real skiing – in real snow – just like this.

Ella immediately panicked at the idea of going off piste – but the fresh snow was perfect for pivoting and the base beneath had frozen during the night and was solid. Unfortunately I had woken during the night with a headache and this translated into a slightly grumpy mood – so Ella didn’t receive much sympathy and was told to just get on with it. Everyone skied well in the powder – including Ella – so hopefully this should contribute to increasing her self-confidence.

Both Ella and Leonie were also given a hard time for constantly snowploughing when getting on and off the chairlifts – the most certain way to guarantee having the feet taken from under you and to end up with a snapped ACL. Mr Grumpy was on a roll…. 

We had to take advantage of the snow and weather opportunity so there was no time at this point for technique – but everyone had a good enough level to be able to gain useful experience and to enjoy the snow (for the most part!).

…. anyway when Luke finally did manage to ski a steeper and slightly deeper pitch he reverted to survival mode (start of video clip) – mainly due to not being able to see anything at all due to very poor contrast. The reality is that there is still a lot of work required on technique – so after a drinks break and with the weather starting to close in we shifted back to focusing on technique.


Luke was able to remember some of the key points that we had worked on yesterday – but revealingly, not all of them! There were several bits missed out. The problem here is that it’s a complete system: Stand up on the uphill leg – uphill edge – pulling the hip backwards – realigning the leg and pulling inwards with the adductor muscles – rolling the foot onto its inside edge – moving the centre of mass into the new turn.

Our goal was just to practice this mindfully for a moment on the piste to get back to where we were yesterday – before moving on.

Inside Ski Pivot

Our off piste adventure demonstrated to me that everyone needed to move the pivoting skills forward so as to have a two footed platform – but in order to get there we would first of all have to develop the “Inside Ski” pivot. The pivot is made from the lower ski which is on its uphill edge. The foot is rolled onto its uphill edge too – this shows that the adductors always pull inwards towards the centre of the body – not the centre of the turn. The turn itself is controlled by the motion of the centre of mass – with the ski pole preventing gravity from taking over. Initially the task is to stop the ski changing edge too early but the hardest part is finishing the turn on the ski after the edge change because most people fail to keep moving the centre of mass inwards to compensate for the change in geometry, edge angles and relation to gravity. In fact the exercise is also a very useful lesson in dynamics and how to work the centre of mass through the turn.

Two Footed Pivot (Close Stance)

Going from being able to pivot on the inside ski to coordinating two skis together as a single platform is now very easy to do.  The goal is to use the adductor muscles now to keep the feet and skis close together – this provides a wide flotation platform for soft snow. The close stance is also very important for bump skiing where the if the feet become separated the body can be tossed around unpredictably. This was also the problem everyone had been having off piste with the outside ski sinking in and pulling the body out of the turn inappropriately. The close stance corrects such issues.

Ella managed this very well off piste showing significant improvement. Later on when she became too tired and lost concentration this all disappeared and she reverted to pushing out her skis again with a wider stance.

Two Footed Pivot (Wide Stance)

When using two footed pivoting for direct fall line skiing on a narrow piste it’s far better to use a wide stance – each ski pivoting independently but simultaneously. This way the real work is being done by the outside ski which takes nearly all of the pressure and the legs can turn independently in each hip socket giving greater freedom of movement.

Dynamics (End of Turn)

Moving away from the pivot to dynamic flowing turns we continued yesterday’s work with Luke on “end of turn” dynamics – passing the body over the lower ski to complete the turn. I supported each person in turn physically moving the body (stationary) into perpendicular over the lower ski. When there is significant forward momentum this is how dynamics have to be employed to efficiently enter into the following turn on the inside edge of the outside ski. This is a major key to racing and for skiing off piste in difficult snow (when the ski cannot pivot) where it  guarantees success in starting each subsequent turn – but requires great commitment. I wanted everyone to have this option for future off piste skiing and for going into the slalom course at some point. Luke required it also for ensuring he would make the turn on his right hip correctly – however this eventually stopped working when his left foot developed a very painful metatarsal arch and he simply could not stand on the leg properly. This then revealed the real reason (the feet) why he could not support the end of the turn properly on his left leg (leading to a big rotation to compensate when initiating the following turn to the left).

Working the Centre of Mass (Purposeful Turning)

To control the turn speed and feel the correct build up of pressure Leonie had to work on using the hip angulation to sink into the turn during the second half of the turn – building up pressure – to then use this to come back up and out over the downhill ski. The shape of the turn and work with the centre of mass has function – which gives control of speed.

Inside Leg – Outside edge

When skiing at higher speed with longer arcs – or carving – its important to still use the inside edges of both feet – even though this means that when inclined the inside ski will be on its outside edge – but the inside edge of the foot. Leonie clearly understood this. I was asking her to do this to prevent her edging the inside ski with the outside edge of her foot – which was artificially widening her stance in a manner that blocked her centre of mass from moving freely inwards.

Foot Mechanics

Luke’s painful metatarsal arch indicated to me that he was collapsing his ankles during the turns and relying on the ski boots for support. I first of all checked his alignment – which was fine – then re-explained how the feet work. Pressure should be focused beneath the ankle – front of the heel. This allows the anterior tibialis to contract (muscle next to the shin bone) and lock up the ankle joint so that the leg supports itself ( along with the active use of muscles in the feet). The foot is then rocked laterally from the subtaler joint beneath the ankle. None of this can function if the weight goes onto the ball of the foot with a flexing ankle. Luke found the sensation completely different – so clearly had not been using the feet correctly. The inappropriate use of and pain in the right foot clearly contributed to the main anomalies in his skiing.

Seated Stance

Right at the end of the session I saw that Luke was now unable to flex his legs effectively when working on his feet – but it was probably just due to pain by this stage. I introduced the seated stance principle regardless – just in case it could help. With skis off we stood facing downhill – sitting but feeling that even on the heels the relaxed legs came firmly against the fronts of the ski boots. This is how is deep snow and bumps we manage to place the centre of mass behind the feet without leaning backwards.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Luke 2

Today was a fairly extensive technical program. The goal was to fix as rapidly as possible all the stemming and rotating issues so we began immediately, taking advantage of the improvement in weather.

One Leg

I decided to start by securing the initiation of the turn on the outside leg. This means standing up strongly on the uphill leg – prior to beginning the new turn. Once standing up on the leg, which raises the lower leg off the snow, you then allow the foot to roll onto its downhill edge as the body falls over into the turn. The ski remains on the uphill edge initially so that it cannot be stemmed in any way. Yesterday we had already started work on feeling the isolation of the edge of the foot and edge of the ski – and how they are separate things. This took practice as nobody was used to the sensation of really standing on the uphill leg to initiate the turn – something which takes commitment and confidence and is somewhat counter-intuitive when plunging down a hill.

The end of the turn is an up motion (bike coming up out of a turn) so you need to stand up on the lower leg at the same time – thus actively stepping onto the uphill leg. It’s a natural walking action. This can also be condensed into perceiving it as a single action – standing strongly on the uphill leg at the start of the turn and then sinking into the turn on it – to stand back up on it again at the end when stepping onto the other leg.

Core Activation

Once everyone was more or less comfortable turning on one leg I decided to move directly to working on activating the core muscles. Not very long ago it came clear to me that the way to communicate this to people is to stand behind them and hold the foot and shoulder while they pull their hip backwards on the same side. Sometimes postural adjustments need to be made but today there wasn’t much time needed on this.

I showed how the pulling back of the hip aligns the leg, activating the adductor muscles and assisting in pulling the foot onto its inside edge. The aim is to do this immediately on standing up on that leg to begin a new turn – and to hold that hip relationship throughout the turn – preventing the damaging action of the hip being rotated around in front of the ribs.

Everyone immediately connected with this new feeling and when skiing down the Face de Bellevarde they all noticed the ease that it brought to the turn transitions.



From this point onwards we were aiming to ski mindfully, focused on the centre of the body and initiating movements from there – both muscular, internal movements and global movements of the body. The first action to make is to pull the hip back when standing on the leg then feel the adductors and foot engage as the centre of mass moves into the new turn.

We spent some time using pivoting to work on awareness of how to direct the centre of mass – always inwards towards the turn centre. There is only centripetal (inwards force) produced when skiing and we have to direct everything inwards to generate this – no stemming or pushing outwards. The centre of mass drives the turn – and the organisation of the body just supports this.

Working from the centre of the body – has the strange effect of also centring the mind and helping to focus internally. Mindful activity is necessary for effective and rapid training and skill development – reprogramming the unconscious mind so that new automatic patterns can take over. Apart from the meditative aspects of centring the mind (removing distractions) there is a whole process initiated leading to perceptions changing and developing on a constant basis. Awareness just grows – and this accelerates over time – apparently endlessly.

When we skied with this aspect of dynamics Leonie managed for a while to identify a resonance – where the skis lifted her back up out of the turn and into the next one. It’s when things start happening to you – instead of you trying to generate them – that you know you are on track! Feedback like this has always served me personally as clear confirmation when working things out.

In the video above Ella is not allowing the turns to develop from standing on the uphill leg solidly. There is a “snatching” and braking then traversing instead of a smooth arc. There is limited leg movement, core activation and dynamics – also indicating a partial failure to form the turn on one leg and shape the turn purposefully by directing the centre of mass.

Leonie is moving well and applying everything that we were working on clearly – but she was not closing her turns and so gained too much speed. We worked on the “line” after this – turning almost uphill to complete the turn and control speed – lifting the centre of mass up and out of the existing turn.

Luke was struggling on his right side with trouble with rotation – though his left side was much better. Once again the turns were not being worked strongly or purposefully.

Off Piste

We explored a little off piste but Ella was feeling a bit too fragile. The feedback from the skis is much more powerful off piste and this can frighten people initially – but all they need to know is that movements need to be amplified to cope with this. Ella’s weakness is currently in dynamics so she just didn’t feel secure and the snow wasn’t forgiving enough to allow for timid dynamics or to facilitate pivoting actions. Tomorrow we will work a little on dynamics directly to prepare everyone for a more aggressive approach with such challenging snow – though the basic mechanics and principles remain unchanged.


Our final run touched on carving where the Core Activation can be much stronger and more pronounced than in any other aspect of skiing. We didn’t really spend enough time on this but I wanted to show how the lower and upper body integrate through the core much more extensively than we had looked at until now. I used the “plough-carve” exercise to begin to introduce the basic movement pattern and Luke did quite well with this for a first attempt. I won’t cover that here because we will return to that in greater detail again – repeating it a few times over the next few days.

On the final descent I asked Ella to stop adding an automatic “downsink poleplant” because it was preventing her from coordinating the timing with her legs. This is exacerbated when there is a break in rhythm and a traverse added between each turn. When Ella started to link the turns more she was able to stop poorly timed pole planting.

Luke – End of Turn Dynamics

Finishing up the day I skied behind Luke for a while to see what he was doing and saw a large rotation on the right side. This prevented Luke from using any of the technique he was working on for his left turns. My hunch was that this was caused by him naturally avoiding allowing the body to complete the turn by moving freely over the left leg – due to him being right handed. We hadn’t worked on this aspect of dynamics yet – as we had focused mainly on pivoting and internal mechanics. When sliding with forward momentum however pivoting won’t happen so we need more complete dynamics and so I demonstrated to Luke how to move over the lower leg. This immediately cured his rotation problem and allowed him to stand on his right leg correctly.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Luke 1 …work to be done!

Luke, Leonie and Ella returning for a late season long weekend  manage to make it to Val d’Isère in time for a very useful couple of hours skiing  – despite starting the day in the UK at 3:30 am. That’s a pretty good achievement on its own.

We only had a few runs in some fairly poor weather before finding ourselves on the narrow Mattis red run – with its fair share of bumps and ice. Ella had started out afraid due to having missed skiing altogether last year and having recently dislocated a knee. However she soon recovered her confidence during our first few runs on easy pistes. Everyone was challenged by the difficulty of the Mattis run so it was a good idea to video this. Even if with some practice everyone would have skied better the advantage here is that the video captures the main weaknesses very clearly so that they can be identified for working on tomorrow. We are best to strengthen the skiing before considering venturing off-piste.

There are a lot of positives in the skiing  - like good dynamics for instance – but here I’m focusing on the issues that need to be fixed ASAP!

Hip Rotation                                                                                                                                 Stemming









Stemming / Weight back









Stemming / Weight back / Skis crossed









The common denominator here is the tendency to always try to get the turning ski on its inside edge from the start of the turn – as in a snowplough, stem turn or flowing parallel turn. This doesn’t work well for pivoted turns in bumpy and steep terrain – hence the problems encountered here. For Luke this translates into accelerations which leave him in the back of the ski boots – for Leonie it causes strong hip rotation and big defensive stems and for Ella it causes a loss of control over speed and line.

We need to work on clarifying the necessary skills to overcome those issues – and we will get into that properly tomorrow. Meanwhile the two hours today was used constructively to get Ella her confidence back and to return everyone back to full skiing mode.

To encourage pivoting and to stop everyone trying to systematically feel for the inside edge of the ski at the start of the turn we did one exercise only on pivoting. Standing on the uphill edge of the uphill ski (poles for support) I asked everyone to allow the foot to roll onto its downhill edge inside the boot – separating the edge of the foot from the edge of the ski. This is what allows the ski to be pulled inwards into the new turn – instead of pushed outwards in a stem. The separation of the foot edge and ski edge is critical – but only one component so tomorrow we will work on other supporting aspects of the pivot and how to change perception of the entire process in a way which easy to focus on and repeat.