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.

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